Tags Archives: News » Prison industrial complex

Visit the global News » Prison industrial complex archives for posts from all DGR sites.

(Not) Making Sense of Ferguson

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

Let’s be clear: The decision not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown Jr. was inevitable.

I do not write this to undermine, in any way, the justifiable rage being expressed around the country. I write this in the hopes that we can accurately diagnose the cancer characterized by the symptoms we have seen – symptoms like the death of another young black man at the hands of a white policeman, the failure of a grand jury to indict that policeman, and a mainstream media determined to paint acts taken in retaliation as somehow too extreme. Once we have accurately diagnosed the cancer, I want us to locate the tumors and remove them.

In the days leading up to the grand jury’s decision, I felt a certain amount of unease in the general message from the left. It seemed to me that the message went like this, “The Ferguson grand jury better indict or else.” This message, while completely justified, suffered from a lack of analysis and was the product of a misguided faith in the so-called criminal justice system to act in the best interest of the people it purports to protect.

I am encouraged by the displays of anger being displayed across the country, but I want us to be clear about what it is we want. The consensus seems to be that we want justice for Brown’s murder. But, what does that look like? Does it simply mean throwing Darren Wilson in prison? Does it mean a public statement from the Ferguson police department that they were wrong? Or, does it mean we convict an entire system for producing the murders of thousands of Michael Browns and sentence that system to the death it so clearly deserves?

BBC News/Getty Images

BBC News/Getty Images

In order to understand why the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson was inevitable, we have to dig to the very roots of our society. The philosopher Neil Evernden, author of the brilliant work The Natural Alien, explained that unquestioned assumptions are the real authorities of any culture. One of the unquestioned assumptions prevailing in our society is that police officers are here to protect and serve us.

It might be true that police officers get kittens out of trees, direct traffic, and sometimes even investigate crime, but is this why they exist? Is this their main function in society or do police officers fill a more sinister role?

One way to answer this is to trace the formation of police departments in American history. Noted police historian and Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska – Omaha Samuel Walker identifies slave patrols, emerging in the early 1700s, as the first publicly funded police forces in the American South. North Dakota State University’s Carol A. Archbold writes in Policing: A Text/Reader that these patrols – or paddy-rollers as they were called – were “created with the specific intent of maintaining control over slave populations.” Archbold describes the three major actions conducted by these slave patrols as searches of slave quarters, keeping slaves off roadways, and disassembling meetings organized by groups of slaves. From the outset, police forces have existed to enforce an unjust order.

Another way to examine the true role of police forces is to ask yourself: What would happen if you were starving, noticed the large quantity of uneaten food piled at Wal-Mart, and decided to eat some of it? The police, of course, would arrive to take you to jail. The police would protect Wal-Mart’s right to stockpile food over your right not to starve. On your way to jail, the police officer will probably tell you that the law is the law, stealing is a crime, and if the officer has a heart, he (I prefer my villains to carry the male pronoun) will apologetically explain that it feels unfair to him, too, but he is after all, just doing his job. In court, the judge will shrug and tell you this is a nation of laws, not of men (never women, of course) and enforce the abstraction of property rights over the reality of hunger.

Before I go any deeper, I know I must address one of the most common objections to my line of reasoning. The objection goes like this: “We understand, Will, that the police often do bad things, but what about enforcing rape laws? If there were no police, who would protect women from sexual assault?”

The problem with assuming that the police are actually protecting women from rape is that they aren’t. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that only 10 out of every 100 rapes will ever lead to an arrest and only 3 of these rapes will lead to a rapist spending even one night in prison. (https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates). Even worse than this is a national epidemic where police officers are being convicted at an alarming rate for on-duty sexual assaults. Rape victims are calling the police for protection only to be raped when the police show up.

***

My shovel has not reached the roots of our society yet.

Derrick Jensen gets to the heart of the matter in his work Endgame. He writes, “Our way of living – industrial civilization – is based on and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.” Civilization, for Jensen, is a culture that leads to and emerges from the growth of cities. And, cities are people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life. Civilization eventually strips a land base of its ability to support life, so the civilized resort to violence when people in the next watershed over will not or cannot provide the civilized with the resources they require. This is easily seen in the atrocities the American government is willing to commit to gain access to a resource it requires: fossil fuels.

Jensen supports his statement that our way of life is based on persistent and widespread violence writing, “Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.” The grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson is an example of how violence done by one higher on the hierarchy – a white police officer – to one lower on the hierarchy – a young black man – is fully rationalized.

Jensen goes on, “The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below…If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.” These words illuminate exactly what happened to Brown. Brown was accused of taking a $48 box of cigarillos from a convenience store and was killed because of it. Brown was lower on the hierarchy than the convenience store, and his life proved to be less valuable than a $48 box of cigarillos.

This is the system we live in. Michelle Alexander writes in her game-changing book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, “The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” I do not, however, believe that the so-called criminal justice system has changed. Change implies this system was designed for justice. It was not. We do not live in a broken system. We live in a system that was designed this way. The question is not, “How do we fix this?” The question is, “How do we destroy this system that is murdering so many?”

***

Finally, I do not need to prove that any one is intentionally driving the current system to perform the horrors it is to support my claim that this system needs to be destroyed. I do not need to prove that Wilson held hatred in his heart when he released a flurry of shots into Brown’s body.

As a public defender in Kenosha, WI, I saw first hand how terrorization by police officers benefited those in power. On November 9, 2004, Kenosha Police Albert Gonzalez shot 21-year old Michael E. Bell through the temple while two other officers were restraining Bell in the front yard of Bell’s home while his sister and mother watched on. No one knows why the police followed Bell to his home, but Bell was killed and Gonzalez was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Kenosha is not a large county and many of my clients knew Bell or the details of this story. On more than one occasion, I asked clients why they ran from the police when they were doing nothing wrong and were answered with incredulous stares and questions like, “Do you know what they did to Mike Bell?” I do not need to prove any police officer is personally hateful because the police operate to instill fear in the public.

Those of us engaged in resistance often look around, see the mess the world is in, and wonder why more are not joining us. Why are more of us not fighting back? The truth is most people are horrified of the police, of soldiers, of the government, of men – and I can absolutely understand why. The system will not correct the behavior of police officers like Wilson and Gonzalez in any meaningful way because it cannot. The system depends on the fear Wilson has instilled in all of us.

If we are going to achieve justice in the wake of Ferguson’s failure to indict Wilson, we must understand why this failure was inevitable, we must overcome our fear, and we must undermine an inherently hateful system.  I can’t help but feel the tinge of a wish that we would respond with the same cold, icily logical, workmanlike demeanor of the system producing Brown’s. We can see that jury’s eyes glazing over to the truth. Let our eyes glaze over to anything other than effectively stopping this shit. I cannot help but feel some shame that we have not escalated our responses to truly stop this madness.

 

DIY Resistance: Post-Modern Robin Hoods

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

255px-Robin_shoots_with_sir_Guy_by_Louis_Rhead_1912For the last year, it goes like this: My phone rings precisely at 6:30 AM. I groan in bed and reach towards the shelf holding my phone. By the time I locate my phone, I’ve missed the call. It’s from an area code I don’t recognize. They’ve left a message, so I curse, roll over, cuddle a pillow to my chest, and fall back asleep. When I wake up there are three more calls from three different area codes with three more messages. I listen to the messages.

They are all the same. The prerecording plays, “Hello, this is Heather from Sallie Mae Department of Education Loan Services with a message for” and there’s a short pause, a hiss, and a mechanized voice saying “William Fawk.”

I chuckle to myself. The machines never know how to pronounce my last name. Falk, like talk with an F. And poor Heather-from-Sallie-Mae-Department-of-Education-Loan-Services will never track me down, though she has been getting rather sly lately. She calls from an area code where I have friends or family like 414 (Milwaukee) or 317 (Indianapolis) forcing me to check my messages just to make sure I do not miss a call from someone who matters.

***

My student loan debt hasn’t always been so much fun. I remember a couple years ago, the first time I logged into my Sallie Mae account from my desk in the Kenosha, WI State Public Defender Office. It was my first week on the job and I was swept up in a newfound sense of adult responsibility. I was determined to design a personal budget where I would make my monthly loan payments, set aside a little money for my retirement plan like my dad told me to, and have a bit left over to spend in relaxation to offset the stress as a trial attorney trying to keep people out of prison.

I listed out my numbers before I accounted for my loan payments. My gross monthly income was $2600. Rent for my one bedroom apartment in Bayview – an old working class Milwaukee neighborhood famous for labor rights and a labor massacre – was $700 a month. Blessed with my mother’s furnace of a metabolism, I allowed myself $150 for groceries a month. I would need a tank of gas a week to get to work and back and forth from the county jail to see clients. For the gas, I set aside $200 a month. This left me armed with $1550 to attack my student loan payments and have some spending money for the weekends.

Maybe you can imagine the brick Sallie Mae threw at my forehead through the computer screen when I read my monthly student loan payment coming in at over $1900 a month?

I iced the emotional bruise I took from Sallie Mae’s brick and resolved to figure my loans out. $1900 a month was just the standard ten-year plan. I started reading about my options. I learned that I could put my loans on a twenty or thirty year plan, reducing my monthly payments, but also paying more in interest in the long run. At 25 years old, ten years seemed (and still seems) like an eternity. Committing to something for twenty or thirty years was simply something I could not fathom because I lacked any experiential reference.

I reached out to the University of Wisconsin Law School Alumni Services. They explained to me that, as a public sector worker, the federal government offered a forgiveness program where if I made my minimum payments for ten years and remained in public sector work, the government would forgive the rest of my loans. I realized this was my best option, worked out a deal with Sallie Mae to pay $400 a month, enrolled in the forgiveness plan, and started breathing easier.

Then, the reality of life as a public defender set in. I began working 60 and 70-hour weeks. I sat with clients in jail explaining to them how much prison time they were likely to get. I struggled to meet their gaze when they asked if me if there wasn’t anything else I could do. My fists clenched under courtroom tables as judges yelled at my clients for stealing from Wal-Mart, for lying to racist cops, for driving to work without a driver’s license, and then condemning my clients to cages.

Depression set in. Many days I walked out of the county jail, sat in my car, and wept. Some nights I got home at 7:30 pm and went straight to bed without dinner. Other nights I hardly slept at all haunted by my failures from the day before. I knew I could not keep this up. I was not cut out for a life as a public defender. But, what could I do? I was enrolled in the best possible student loan repayment plan the government offered. If I left my job, I would lose the plan and be forced to face twenty or thirty years paying off over $200,000.

I began to feel horribly guilty for considering walking away from the work.

Public defenders are doing incredible work. The American so-called criminal justice system is the nation’s most racist institution. Michelle Alexander points out that there are more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850. How could I turn my back on my clients? How could I live a life after gaining full awareness of this problem, after being in a position to help, and after leaving all those people to their fate in prison?

I was exhausted by the work. I was exhausted by the guilt. I felt trapped. And, as I’ve written so much about, I tried to kill myself twice. Luckily, I do not know how much Ambien or Klonopin it actually takes to kill a 6’2 190 pound male. I survived. But, in the time since my suicide attempts, my guilt surrounding personal finances has not.

***

I am engaged in full-time activism. I live out of an 80-liter pack where I carry a cold-weather down sleeping bag my mother bought me, a tent, four t-shirts, two pairs of pants, a set of long underwear, five pairs of boxer briefs, four pairs of hiking socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, several collections of poetry, and a red Wisconsin Badgers hoodie. I do not know where I will sleep in October. I have $79.60 (Canadian) to my name.

I could not be happier.

Everywhere I’ve been from Milwaukee, WI to San Diego, CA to Unist’ot’en territory to Victoria, BC, I see would-be resistors caught in the fear surrounding personal finances. It’s a basic truism. Our movements would be much stronger if people knew they could fully devote themselves to a cause and support themselves at the same time.

So far in this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series, I’ve focused on some of the emotional and intellectual hurdles resistors must deal with to engage in effective resistance, and now I want to address practical concerns. Money is an essential practical concern. On the one hand, serious resistors need money. Money grants you access to supply, gear, and materials. Money allows you to travel to where you will be most effective. Money buys the food you must eat to survive. On the other hand, the anxiety and shame that capitalism produces can neutralize would-be resistors because, after all, they “have to pay the rent.”

Before I go on, I want to be clear: I completely understand money worries. It is completely natural. It is completely rational. But, if we are going to mount a serious resistance movement, we must overcome the fear and guilt associated with a lack of financial security. I completely understand what that fear and guilt feels like. I have been there in the worst way. I write this in the hopes that people in a variety of financial situations will find ways to work through financial pressures to become effective resistors.

***

Because of the enormity of the problem facing us, resistance can take many forms. Resistance does not require living out of a pack, on a couple hundred dollars a month. It is simply the path that has opened up to me. We need it all. We need people with mainstream jobs making mainstream incomes who might not be able to occupy the frontlines to provide material support just as much as we need people willing to pick up and go wherever they’re needed.

The first step to overcoming money worries is realizing that this arrangement of power is not your fault.

You did not form this culture that long ago forgot who kept it alive. You did not ask to be born next to rivers that no longer flow to the sea, that have too many dams to support native fish populations, that hold too many poisons to drink from. You did not send blankets carrying small pox to intentionally wipe out the peoples who held the traditional knowledges necessary for living in the most humane ways on this land. You did not order the bison to be hunted damn near to extinction in an insane process that destroyed a relationship that provided humans with the protein needed to live in healthy balance with the natural world for millennia.

This nightmare of competition, selfishness, and shame that accompanies capitalism is not natural. You are alive. To live you need food, you need clean water, and you need shelter from the elements. Before civilization, humans gained what they needed directly from the land. Our present economic system forces us to pay for food, forces us to pay for clothing, and forces us to pay for shelter. In short, it forces us to pay for life. I use the verb “force” on purpose because this system is only maintained through violence.

The process began long ago with the dawn of agricultural civilization. Some cultures stripped their land bases clean of food, water, and soil, and then invaded the lands of more sustainable cultures. Soon, the Fertile Crescent was a desert. Then, Europe fell to the yoke of agriculture. Population boomed. European empires were forced to find their resources in other lands and European laborers unable to support themselves were pushed to the colonies. Indigenous peoples were murdered, driven off their lands, or pushed into tiny corners of the poorest sections of their traditional territories.

This process is ongoing wherever the dominant culture finds resources it decides it needs. In thoroughly colonized regions, the violence is harder to see. But, as the events in Ferguson, MO and the militarization of domestic police forces demonstrates, the system is willing to do great violence here, too. Another way to see the violence is simply to ask yourself what would happen if you ran out of money, were hungry, realized the supermarket has loads of food, decided to take some, and were caught?

Of course, perpetually overt violence may not be necessary once a culture’s ability to produce its own food is destroyed. This is why capitalism always works to make people dependent on the capitalist system for their needs. Once a society’s food security is destroyed it becomes both impractical and inefficient to constantly use open violence. Instead of employing brute force, it makes more sense to convince would-be resistors to police themselves. Capitalist logic encourages the notion that poverty is a sin, that happiness is most likely to be attained through financial success, and even to build shame around the smallest things like asking family for money.

It becomes easier to create and propagate narratives that extol the virtues of America’s opportunistic, rugged individuals than it is to massacre villages. So, once traditional cultures are undermined, the dominant culture focuses on creating institutions and stories to convince the civilized that they live in the best possible world. And the phrase “Kill your television” gains its relevancy.

***

Some are already making great financial sacrifices. I know a woman who saved up her vacation days for a year, cashed them in, and donated the proceeds to the Unist’ot’en Camp. I know others who have pledged to give a day’s wages every month to their favorite cause. I know others, still, who contribute by maintaining an open, welcoming home for full-time activists to stay in. The point is not so much how many dollars you can give. Rather, the point is to give up some of the anxiety and guilt surrounding finances. The point is to retake your dignity from a system determined to scare you into submission.

It took me a long time to relinquish the anxieties I felt around student loans and I still struggle with asking for help. Sometimes, it takes me too many skipped meals and too many skipped dosages of my anti-depressant to gather the courage to ask for help. I am lucky to have so much support from friends and family. I could not do what I do without them. But, the fact is we all need help, and we all are going to need a lot more help as the fires burning the world get hotter and hotter.

Part of my recovery from suicidal depression involves me recognizing poisoned thought patterns. Guilt over debt is poison. I have decided I will not pay my student loans back. I refuse to pay an illegitimate, occupying, imperial government engaged in genocide around the world for an education that should rightfully be free anyway. Now, when Heather-from-Sallie-Mae-Department-of-Education-Loan-Services leaves me a message, I am empowered to laugh.

Lately, for smiles, I’ve called myself a post-modern Robin Hood. Not paying my student loans is like stealing my education from the government. Just like Robin Hood of old, I stole my education, my intellectual experiences, and my degrees from the rich, and am using that education, those experiences, and the letters behind my name to fight for the poor. Come join me in a refusal to let money stop us from action. We can form a merry band and save the world while we’re at it.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

The Decision to Die, The Decision to Kill

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition 

It is long past time we honestly assessed our capacity for violence. Violence – unconscionable violence many seem unconscious of – rages on around us. I write “unconscionable” because what other word describes the images of Palestinian children on hospital beds with half their heads caved in? I write “unconscious” because how many of us actively sit in the despair these images produce?

Within violence there are two extremes: the decision to die and the decision to kill. The decision to die and the decision to kill can be as easy as deciding what to have for dinner. For the wolf, the decision to kill and the decision what to have for dinner are literally the same. For the moose hunted by the wolf, the decision to die becomes the decision to be dinner. For the moose, the decision to die means sacrificing her body to the sacred cycle so that life may continue.

It is becoming increasingly clear the dominant culture must be stopped. The more effective we become resisting, the more violence will be visited upon us. Will we be strong enough to decide to die for a better world? Will we be strong enough to decide to kill for a better world? If this sounds too extreme, then I ask you: what decisions were faced by Tecumseh, Nat Turner, Crazy Horse, Denmark Vesey, and Padráic Pearse when they picked up rifles and hatchets to meet bullets and swords?

***

I experienced the decision to die and the decision to kill simultaneously the two times I tried to commit suicide. I am compelled to write about my suicide attempts because in what was designed to produce my own death, I produced new life. And, in the process of healing, I see that I am privy to experiential wisdom that most never will be. I’m not saying that anyone should visit the dark places I have, but now that I have returned from those dark places I feel a responsibility to describe what I’ve seen.

The decision to die came slowly. It began during my senior year in college. The reality that I borrowed $90,000 to pay for my education started to sink in. I saw my future draining away while I was inevitably chained to jobs to make enough money to pay off my loans. I wanted to be a literature professor spending my life reading, researching, and writing about the stories that shape the world, but somehow I let myself be convinced that the best way to pay off my loans was to take out another $120,000 to go to law school.

From the moment I settled on going to law school, my decision to die solidified as I stuffed the messages of protest my heart sent me deeper and deeper into a hole dug by my own denial. I hated law school. I sensed the deep contradiction inhering to the practice of law. Lawyers are supposed to practice justice, but I read case after case of the United States endorsing genocide through Federal Indian law policy, genocide through upholding slavery, patriarchy through a concentrated attack on the bodies of women, and the constant destruction of natural communities in the name of “progress,” “the economy,” and “development of natural resources.”

Then, I became a public defender. The hole of denial I dug to bury my heart in simply was not big enough. My emotions – left to fester in their hole – seeped out to infect my body with a profound weariness. Each time I accepted my own powerlessness in the face of the system, each time I walked into a jail to sit with someone who should not have been held there, and each time I watched the face of a client being dragged to prison, my heart pumped out its poison. The poison spread into my limbs making my every move a struggle upstream against a strong current. The poison spread into my mind until it became impossible to see a future inhabited by anything other than the clinging, gray fog of numbness.

Finally, I made the decision to die.

The only person I’ve ever tried to kill is myself. It wasn’t hard. I even looked myself in the eye – my reflection in the mirror – as I ground a couple sleeping pills with the butt of a knife into a fine powder. I watched my hands as they stopped shaking for the first time in days to shape the powder into tidy, straight lines. I noticed the way the cowlick over my forehead conveniently fell out of the way as I bent to snort the lines. I even enjoyed the taste of the tap water as I drank down the twenty-odd pills and put on my pajamas before crawling into bed losing consciousness.

In my desperation, the decision to kill was that easy.

I survived the suicide attempts in a physical sense and I am very grateful. Parts of me, however, did not survive. I killed the last vestiges of my desires for financial and social comforts. I killed my self-doubt that I was capable of embracing an actively resistant lifestyle. I killed my denial that my heart truly knows what’s best for me.

In so many ways, I was left for dead – and it was the best thing to ever happen to me because I know how untouchable a dead person can be. Giving up on everything but the defense of those I love makes me more effective than I could ever have imagined.

***

I was recently part of a discussion about the practice of tree spiking. Tree spiking is a tactic used by land defenders to protect forests from logging. The tactic involves hiding a long nail – called a spike – in the trunks of trees. Typically, logging companies are alerted to the possibility of spikes in a proposed cut, so loggers are aware of the risks they’re taking. If the blade of a saw strikes the nail it can break the saw or cause the saw to careen off possibly injuring or even killing the logger or mill worker. Bad profit margins in spiked forests and pressure from logging unions to protect loggers make corporations reluctant to log in areas where tree spiking has occurred. In short, tree spiking can be an effective way to combat deforestation.

Many people are outraged that land defenders would consider a tactic that might lead to the injury of fellow humans. They remind advocates of tree spiking that many loggers have no choice in their profession. Tree spiking detractors ask advocates if they aren’t just occupying a place of privilege when they place a logger’s body in jeopardy through spiking. Detractors accuse advocates of being just like our corporate enemies if we even consider placing a human in physical harm’s way. And, as if this should end all debate of the efficacy of tree spiking, they ask, “Isn’t tree spiking violent?”

Imagine a logging operation. The spray of living flesh coats the loggers’ arms and chests and sticks to their beards in the form of saw dust. Behind the loggers is a stack of dozens of dead tree corpses. These trees were stretching their green nettled arms towards the sky in celebration of the sun’s warmth just moments before. Underneath the tree, in the soil and crawling up the trees’ skin, a whole network of mycelium was busily shuffling nutrients from strong, healthy trees to young or sickly trees in the community. In the tops of the trees, families of swallows have built their mud nests against the trunks. Many of these nests, full of chicks with wings not quite ready, are crushed as the trees collapse to the ground.

Then, a logger hits a spike. His saw careens off the nail. Maybe the saw strikes him and he is cut and bleeding. Maybe the cut is so bad he must be rushed to the hospital. Maybe the cut is so bad he dies. In any case, the logging stops – if even just for the time it takes to remove the injured logger.

When I imagine this logging operation and listen to people urging advocates of direct action tactics like tree spiking to think of the loggers that may be hurt or to disregard any option that involves violence, I cannot help but ask: What about the trees? What about the mycelia networks living in mutual relationship with tree roots? What about the chicks living in the treetops?

***

I am growing impatient. We are losing and losing badly.

Just this morning, I looked at a list of extinct species. West African black rhinoceroses will never again cause the earth to shake under their heavy tread. Pyrenean ibexes will never again dance their sure-footed way through the mountains of France and Spain. Sea minks will never again glide through the green foams along the coasts of Maine and New Brunswick.

What would these animals ask us if they were still around to communicate? Would they ask us to hesitate in the face of their total extermination, or would they ask us to help them survive?

It’s not just extinction either. The best-case estimate for old growth forest in the United States is that we’ve lost 95% since the arrival of Europeans on this continent. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says that 22-44 million trees are cut down per day around the world, or 916,000 trees cut down per hour, or 15,000 trees cut down per minute, or 250 trees cut down per second.

How many CEOs, politicians, or loggers have been cut down by land defenders? Any? A few? A fraction of the 250 living trees felled around the world in one second?

I need to be explicitly clear. I am not calling for wanton violence. I am simply asking those of us who love life on the planet enough to be engaged in active resistance not to remove tools from the table.

We must think about the negative impact of any action taken, but we must also remember that every second that passes means more trees felled, more forests eradicated, more topsoil spent, more water rendered incapable of sustaining life, more air poisoned, more species extinct, and more peoples killed and displaced. We must understand that the destruction that builds with every passing second brings us closer and closer to our own extinction.

***

Our own violence was long ago determined for us. The decision to die and the decision to kill are made through our complicity in this genocidal and ecocidal system daily. To think that we can somehow keep our hands clean ignores that they have been soaking in blood for centuries. There’s not one square inch of soil on this continent that has not been affected by the perpetual shedding of indigenous blood by the dominant culture. The comforts of civilization come to us greased in the human tallow of oppressed workers around the world, come to us over mangled corpses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, come to us through the psychic theft perpetrated by a world view trying to tell us that all of this is how it should be.

We are animals. Just like the relationship between the wolf and the moose, we must kill to survive and we must die so that others may live. We can choose to kill as the wolf does – carefully selecting a sick or weak moose to sustain the pack – or we can kill indiscriminately dropping napalm, bouncing betties, and carpet bombs. We can recognize that we are already killers, or we can hide in our comforts and deny the violent reality surrounding us.

There are those who for a number of valid reasons are not willing to engage in direct actions like sabotage or tree spiking because they might be deemed violent. I would encourage those who reject violence in all forms to consider whether they are willing to accept life-threatening violence on their own bodies. If you cannot do violence, are you willing to take violence? Can you place your body between the bombs and the bombs’ targets?

Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza

Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza

We have seen what will happen to even non-violent resistors who effectively impede business as usual. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a poet no less, was hung by the Nigerian government. These non-violent resistors all demand that we ask: Can you make the decision to die?

There are others who believe that we need to stop the dominant culture from destroying everything and are willing to consider a variety of tactics. I cannot take the place of your heart in your own journey towards understanding your limits. I can, however, tell you that as someone who has made the decision to die and the decision to kill before, I do not believe it makes you evil, wrong, or even any different from the rest of us.

We are all engaged in violence. Some are willing to take it, but will not engage in violence. Some are willing to give violence. It is time we decide our capacity for violence. Time is short. How we channel this violence will determine our very survival.

 

References:

http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Wildlife/2009/0102/earthtalk-how-threatened-are-us-old-growth-forests

ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/008/A0400E/A0400E00.pdf