Categories Archives: Culture of Resistance

Time is Short: Nelson Mandela and the Path to Militant Resistance


We have had several months to reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Since his death, world leaders have attempted to coopt this legacy. It is especially interesting to see how many who once branded Mandela a terrorist are rushing to pay their respects. [1]His freedom fighter past has been quietly forgotten. Mainstream writers, intellectuals, and politicians prefer to focus on his life after prison. A simple Google search for Mandela is dominated by articles about tolerance and acceptance.

But often lost in discussions of Mandela are the details about why he was sent to prison by the Apartheid Government. He rose to leadership in the African National Congress (ANC) against Apartheid and his role in the creation of its militant wing, the Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) which means “Spear of the Nation” in Zulu and Xhosa.

Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom is very well written bringing the reader on Nelson’s journey with him. He dedicated his life to the struggle to create a South Africa where all are equal.

For a detailed summary of Mandela’s path to militant resistance see the DGR Nelson Mandela Resistor Profile.

Mandela came from a privileged background and was groomed to council the leaders of his tribe. He received an excellent ‘western’ education. He moved to Johannesburg and trained as a lawyer. In Johannesburg, he came into contact with ANC members. His radicalisation began as he attended ANC meetings and protests.

On page 109 of Mandela’s autobiography he explains that he cannot pinpoint the moment when he knew he would spend his life in the liberation struggle. He states that any African born in South Africa is politicised from birth with the oppression and inequality Africans in South Africa suffer. “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments that produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”

In 1948, the Nationalist (Apartheid) Party won the general election and formed a government that remained in power until 1994. Following the election, the ANC increased activities resulting in deaths at protests by the police. In response, the government introduced legislation that steadily increased the oppression on Africans in South Africa.

The ANC National Executive including Mandela discussed the necessity for more violent tactics in the early 1950s but it was decided the time was not yet right. Mandela consistently pushed the ANC to consider using violent tactics. During the forced eviction of Sophiatown in 1953, Nelson gave a speech.

As I condemned the government for its ruthlessness and lawlessness, I overstepped the line: I said that the time for passive resistance had ended, that non-violence was a useless strategy and could never overturn a white minority regime bent on retaining its power at any cost. At the end of the day, I said, violence was the only weapon that would destroy apartheid and we must be prepared, in the near future, to use that weapon.

The fired up crowd sang a freedom song with the lyrics ‘There are the enemies, let us take our weapons and attack them’. Nelson pointed at the police and said “There are our enemies!”

Mandela saw that the Nationalist government was making protest impossible. He felt Gandhi had been dealing with a foreign power that was more realistic than the Afrikaners. Mandela knew non-violence resistance works if the opposition is playing by the same rules but if peaceful protest is met with violence then tactics must evolve. For Mandela “non-violence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”

This is a lesson that should be learned for the current resistance to the destruction of our world. The current strategy of non-violence in the environmental movement is simply ineffective.

The Sophiatown anti-removal campaign was long running, with rallies twice a week. The final eviction was in February 1955. This campaign confirmed Mandela’s belief that in the end there would be no alternative to violent resistance. Non-violent tactics were met by ‘an iron hand’. “A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle. And the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire.”

Following the Sharpville massacre in March 1960, where 69 people were murdered by the police and then the ANC was declared an illegal organisation in April 1960, the National Executive agreed that the time for violence had come:

At the meeting I argued that the state had given us no alternative to violence. I said it was wrong and immoral to subject our people to armed attacks by the state without offering them some kind of alternative. I mentioned again that people on their own had taken up arms. Violence would begin whether we initiated it or not. Would it not be better to guide this violence ourselves, according to principles where we saved lives by attacking symbols of oppression, and not people? If we did not take the lead now, I said, we would soon be latecomers and followers to a movement we did not control.

This new military movement would be a separate and independent organisation, linked to the ANC but fundamentally autonomous. The ANC would still be the main part of the struggle until the time for the military wing was right. “This was a fateful step. For fifty years, the ANC had treated non-violence as a core principle, beyond question or debate. Henceforth the ANC would be a different kind of organisation.”

The parallels with the modern environmental movement’s commitment to non-violence over the last fifty years are uncanny.

The military organisation was named Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation) or MK for short. Mandela, now underground hiding from the authorities, formed the high command and started recruiting people with relevant knowledge and experience. The mandate was to wage acts of violence against the state. At this point, precisely what form those acts would take was yet to be decided. The intention was to begin with acts least violent to individuals but more damaging to the state.

Mandela began reading and talking to experts especially on guerrilla warfare. In June 1961, Mandela released a letter to the press explaining he continued to fight the state and encouraged everyone to do the same. In October 1961, Mandela moved to Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, where the Umkhonto we Sizwe constitution was drafted.

In planning the direction and form that MK would take, we considered four types of violent activities: sabotage, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and open revolution. For a small and fledgling army, open revolution was inconceivable. Terrorism inevitably reflected poorly on those who used it, undermining any public support it might otherwise garner. Guerrilla warfare was a possibility, but since the ANC had been reluctant to embrace violence at all, it made sense to start with the form of violence that inflicted the least harm against individuals: sabotage.

Because Sabotage did not involve loss of life, it offered the best hope for reconciliation among the races afterwards. We did not want to start a blood-feud between white and black. Animosity between Afrikaner and Englishman was still sharp fifty years after the Anglo-Boer war; what would race relations be like between white and black if we provoked a civil war? Sabotage had the added virtue of requiring the least manpower.

Our strategy was to make selective forays against military installation, power plants, telephone lines and transportation links; targets that would not only hamper the military effectiveness of the state, but frighten National Party supporters, scare away foreign capital, and weaken the economy. This we hoped would bring the government to the bargaining table. Strict instructions were given to members of MK that we would countenance no loss of life. But if sabotage did not produce the results we wanted, we were prepared to move on to the next stage: guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

DGR is following a similar strategy in the hope that we can transition to a truly sustainable society. We think that its unlikely that those in power will allow this. So phase four of the DGR strategy Decisive Ecological Warfare calls for decisive dismantling of all infrastructure.

On December 16th 1961, MK carried out its first operation. “Homemade bombs were exploded at electric power stations and government offices in Johannesburgh, Port Elizabeth and Durban. On the same day, thousands of leaflets were circulated around the country announcing the birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe. The attacks took the government by surprise and “shocked white South Africans into the realization that they were sitting on top of a volcano”. Black South Africans now knew that the ANC was no longer a passive resistance organisation. A second attack was carried out on New Year’s Eve.

Nelson was arrested in 1962 for inciting persons to strike illegally (during the 1961 stay-at-home campaign) and that of leaving the country without a valid passport. During this trial he gave his famous ‘Black man in a white court’ speech. The speech can be found here. Nelson was sentenced to five years in prison.

In May 1963, Nelson and a number of other political prisoners were moved to Robben Island and forced to do long days of manual labour. Then in July 1963, Nelson and a number of other prisoners were back in court, now charged with sabotage. There had been a police raid at the MK Rivonia farm during a MK meeting where they had been discussing Operation Mayibuye, a plan for guerrilla warfare in South Africa. A number of documents about Operation Mayibuye were seized.

What become known as the Rivonia Trial begin on October 9th, 1963 in Pretoria. Huge crowds of supporters gathered outside the court each day and the eleven accused could hear the singing and chanting. The Crown concluded its case at the end of February 1964, with the defence to respond in April.

Right from the start we had made it clear that we intended to use the trial not as a test of the law but as a platform for our beliefs. We would not deny, for example, that we had been responsible for acts of sabotage. We would not deny that a group of us had turned away from non-violence. We were not concerned with getting off or lessening our punishment, but with making the trial strengthen the cause for which we were struggling – at whatever cost to ourselves. We would not defend ourselves in a legal sense so much as in a moral sense. We saw the trial as a continuation of the struggle by other means.

Then on April 20th, 1964, Nelson gave his famous ‘I am prepared to die’ speech. Three important sections are:

“I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites.”

“We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights.”

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Eight of the eleven, including Nelson were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. These eight had been expecting the death sentence. Nelson was released after 27 years in prison on February 11th, 1990.

He was aware that his family suffered because of his focus but knew that the needs of the many in South Africa were more important than the needs of the few. It is important to remember that Nelson Mandela and his family are only human, with faults and issues. His first wife accused him of domestic violence, which he always denied. His second wife is accused of ordering a number of brutal acts while Mandela was in prison. And some of Mandela’s children found him difficult. [2]

It is true that Mandela embraced non-violence upon his release from prison in 1990. But, he did this once he felt the disintegration of Apartheid was inevitable. Despite what the vast majority of media coverage would have us believe, a combined strategy of violence and non-violence were necessary to bring down Apartheid.

DGR is committed to stopping the destruction of the world. We recognize that combined tactics are necessary. As Mandela did, we need a calm and sober assessment of the political situation. It is a situation that is murdering the world. We need to leave every tactic on the table whether it is violent or non-violent. There simply isn’t enough time to restrict ourselves to exclusively non-violent tactics.

References

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/12/06/when-conservatives-branded-nelson-mandela-a-terrorist/
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2349335/Nelson-Mandela-death-ballroom-dancing-ladies-man-tempestuous-love-life.html

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at undergroundpromotion@deepgreenresistance.org

Let’s Get Free!: Escalate the Fight to End Male Violence

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

I do not have a creative introduction to start this article. I have only the seething rage of a spirit absolutely fed up with a culture that is at war with women, their fervent pleads for solidarity and their righteous actions of self-defense against the monster of male supremacy echoing in my mind. I have only the scenes of men torturing and raping women, filmed for the goal of profit and produced on an industrial scale like a slave trade, an auction where women’s bodies are mutilated and sold for entertainment and sexual gratification, to drive me ever forward to find ways to organize against this barbarity. I have only the cries of my loved ones as they tell of their own abuse and that of others, their wishes to somehow get their murdered or missing friends back from the endless night of death enacted by men who are supposed to be human but instead behave more like demons.

No, I am all out of creative words. All I have are the words of the reality of the world women live in, a reality that I can never fully know, a reality that I still do not truly realize no matter how angry I get about it. I have women’s words – the words they use to tell their stories, to recount their experiences – words I still find increasingly difficult to hear. But hear I must because I do not ever want to become apathetic. I want to be angry, I want to be furious. I must stay furious. And I must allow that fury to teach me how to be a human being once again, instead of a monster. I must allow that fury to inform my actions, and to constantly remind me that the world has had enough of men’s words. What the world needs – what women need, what children need – is men’s action to destroy male violence and patriarchy once and for all.

I have the shame of being a man, that sex-caste category that has socialized me to be abusive, and to be callous towards other men’s abuse of women and children. I have the shame of knowing that I benefit from large-scale violence against women, the subordination and objectification and public humiliation of half the world’s population in the name of masculinity and manhood.

But that shame is not enough. I can see that my shame has not changed men’s behavior. Shame has not prevented our fists from breaking women’s jaws, our penises from torturing women’s bodies, our words from dismissing their experiences.

No, that shame has not ended male violence, but our actions can, and they must.

Profeminist men must escalate the fight to end men’s violence. And we must escalate NOW.

Abusive and controlling men have already declared outright war against women and children. This war is not metaphorical, and it is not an exaggeration. With at least a quarter of all women surviving or fighting off rape (and it is widely known that is an underestimate), and men committing as much as 94% of all child sexual abuse, what else can we call it? These men will readily tell you that they are at war, and it is high time profeminist men take them seriously.

For too long men have left the dirty work of defense and prevention to women, opting to just talk about supporting and defending women but never actually organizing truly effective offensives against male violence. No more. No more complacency, no more lip service, no more disingenuous half-assed activism that has not resulted in real progress towards women’s liberation.

It is time now that profeminist men begin publicly calling for and supporting militant action against the institutions of male supremacy. Simply put, men must stop other men, physically and definitively. We must organize smart, strategic and highly informed offensives against the men abusing women and we must do so under the leadership of feminist women, actively seeking accountability to these women so that our actions are in accordance to liberation on their terms, not ours. We must challenge men in our families, workplaces and peer groups when they speak or behave in ways that normalize or trivialize violence. We must instead normalize respect for women and respect for life, not just supporting militancy which can so easily become glorification of male violence, but committing ourselves to completely dismantling masculine culture on the interpersonal level as well.

Many of us have traveled the world speaking, marching, picketing, and participating in myriad forms of nonviolent protest in support of the feminist and anti-violence movement. And yet, the rate of men’s violence against women is increasing. Our work has been ineffective in bringing about lasting change. The change that we do manage to see is the result of generations of brave and courageous women who bled and died and were imprisoned for fighting for their right to be treated as human beings.

No doubt, some men have done great work, and must continue to do so. But we also must come to terms with the reality of the situation. We must now be honest about what it will actually take to end the violence of this culture.

We have to do more than just recite the numbers, or watch the films, or attend the conferences. We must do more than just abstain from consuming sexist, violent media, or purchasing consumer goods sold on the marketing of women’s bodies. We must do more, a whole lot more. Some of us are going to have to stop abusive men. Some of us are going to have to put our bodies on the line – place our bodies in between these men and the women they intend to abuse. And while physical intervention in interpersonal violence is not the primary focal point of men’s work against patriarchy (and is not applicable in most cases), profeminist men should support such actions when done in a smart, strategic manner.

We have to start treating abusive men like the enemy. No more of these vapid appeals to their humanity or their inner child or whatever else pacifists are coming up with to avoid doing what it takes. Sure, abusive men were once children, many of them abuse survivors themselves. But now they are abusive men. They are not children anymore. They are adult men who make the decision to break women’s bones, blacken their eyes and blast bullets into their skulls. They are adult men who choose to be paid to abuse women on camera, and then laugh about it in porn documentaries. If you do not fume with rage, then you are not paying attention. Start paying attention.

The fact that porn shops are still standing instead of roasting in flames is an affront to women everywhere. The fact that international activist and humanitarian organizations are defending johns and pimps instead of women should cause the planet to stop spinning on its axis. Instead what we see are men locking women in basements for decades, starving and raping them and then standing in court talking about how they actually enjoyed the abuse.

Men as a sex-caste hate women. We hate women just as much as whites as a caste hate people of color, and members of settler culture hate the indigenous. Do those statements make you angry and defensive? Good, they should. You should be appalled that we live in a culture that facilitates and rewards such grotesque behavior. Use that anger to confront those who abuse, go take that energy to them, not us, not the ones who are actually fighting for justice. Go confront men, not the women they abuse.

And if you refuse to do that – if you refuse to examine your own masculinity, your own culpability in men’s oppression of women, then all I can say to you is that you had better get out of the way and let us get this done. Otherwise, you are the enemy, and we will treat you as such.

We do not have any more time to plead with men and ask them nicely to stop abusing and murdering women and children. We do not have time to continue asking our governments to stop dropping bombs and using chemicals to kill and maim people around the world. We do not have time to ask corporations run by psychopathic men to stop destroying the planet. We have been asking nicely for hundreds of years, and nothing has changed. I am done with asking. I want to see porn studios burned to the ground. I want to see “men’s rights activists” fearing for their lives and hiding in their homes, because no one with the audacity to fabricate this fake movement should ever feel safe walking the streets. I want justice, and I will do whatever it takes to achieve it.

Escalation can mean physically intervening if we find ourselves witness to male violence, and it can also mean no longer allowing your buddy to speak or behave in sexist ways. It can mean publicly shaming abusers, speaking in support of women’s right to defend themselves however they need to do so, and actively challenging ourselves and other men to dismantle masculinity inside and out. Just as in any strategic resistance movement in which the very few capable resistors are on the front line and the rest are supporting, the vast majority of profeminist work should be undoing the culture. Ultimately, justice means that we have to start doing something about a culture in which men are either abusive or hardly doing anything at all to end abuse.

Profeminist men must escalate now, or we are not worth the two pennies our words claim. Every day we fail to be effective is another day women are tortured, enslaved and killed and I will be damned if I continue to sit back and let this happen. Profeminist men must say it and mean it: over our dead bodies will this culture continue.

Let’s Get Free! is a column by Kourtney Mitchell, a writer and activist from Georgia, primarily focusing on anti-oppression and building genuine alliance with oppressed communities. Contact him atkourtney.mitchell@gmail.com.

Frank Coughlin: The Humility of Love: A Lesson from Chiapas

By Frank Coughlin, Deep Green Resistance New York
Humility. An important word you rarely hear in our culture anymore. Our culture seems to be going in the opposite direction, everything with a superlative. Everything bigger, faster, better, stronger. Everything new, shiny, pretty, expensive. But never humble. “Dude, love that car. It’s so humble.” Yeah, you never hear that.

Politically on the left, in the “fight” as we call it, we’re just as guilty. We have a tendency towards ego, self-righteousness, hyper-individualism. We want our movements to be better, stronger, bigger. We want the big social “pop-off”, the “sexy” revolution, perhaps our face on the next generation’s t-shirts. But we never ask for humility. As we near what most scientists predict to be “climate catastrophe”, I’ve been thinking a lot about humility. I recently was able to travel to Chiapas, Mexico to learn about the Zapatista movement. I was there for a month, working with various groups in a human rights capacity. While I was there to provide some type of service, I left with a profound respect for a true revolutionary humility. This essay is not designed to be a complete history of the Zapatista movement, but perhaps it can provide some context.

The Zapatistas are an indigenous movement based in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. The name is derived from Emiliano Zapata, who led the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, which lasted approximately from 1910-1920. Zapata’s main rallying cry was “land and liberty”, exemplifying the sentiments of the many indigenous populations who supported and formed his army. The modern-day Zapatistas declare themselves the ideological heirs to these struggles, again representing many indigenous struggles in southern Mexico. While the Zapatistas became public in 1994, as their name implies, their struggle is the culmination of decades of struggle. Many of the mestizos (non-indigenous) organizers came from the revolutionary student struggles of the 60s and 70s in Mexico’s larger cities. In 1983, many of these organizers, along with their indigenous counterparts, who represented decades of indigenous organizing in the jungles of Mexico, formed the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

From 1983 to their dramatic declaration of war against the Mexican government in 1994, the EZLN formed and trained a secret army under the cover of the Lacandon Jungle. After a decade of organizing and training in the context of extreme poverty, an army of indigenous peasants, led by a mix of mestizos and indigenous leaders, surprised the world by storming five major towns in Chiapas. They chose the early morning hours of January 1st, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The connection with NAFTA was intentional because the destructive neoliberal policies inherent in the agreement were viewed as a death sentence to indigenous livelihoods. They used old guns, machetes, and sticks to take over government buildings, release prisoners from the San Cristobal jail, and make their first announcement, The First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle. With most wearing the now signature pasamontañas over their faces, they declared war on the Mexican government, saying:

We are a product of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, then during the War of Independence against Spain led by insurgents, then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism, then to promulgate our constitution and expel the French empire from our soil, and later the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz denied us the just application of the Reform laws and the people rebelled and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged, poor men just like us. We have been denied the most elemental preparation so they can use us as cannon fodder and pillage the wealth of our country. They don’t care that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education. Nor are we able to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor is there independence from foreigners, nor is there peace nor justice for ourselves and our children.

But today, we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH…

We, the men and women, full and free, are conscious that the war that we have declared is our last resort, but also a just one. The dictators are applying an undeclared genocidal war against our people for many years. Therefore we ask for your participation, your decision to support this plan that struggles for work, land, housing, food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. We declare that we will not stop fighting until the basic demands of our people have been met by forming a government of our country that is free and democratic.

Very true to the words of Zapata, that it is “better to die on your feet than live on your knees”, the EZLN fighters engaged in a self-described suicide against the Mexican government. As Subcommandante Marcos, now known as Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano, the public face of the EZLN, stated, “If I am living on borrowed time, it is because we thought that we would go to the world above on the first of January. When I arrived at the second day, and the following, it was all extra.”1

What followed was a war of government repression. The quiet mountain towns of Chiapas were flooded with advanced military equipment and troops. A twelve-day battle ensued, with rebel retreats and civilian massacres, finally ending with a cease-fire. Following this “peace agreement”, the EZLN no longer offensively attacked, but refused to lay down their arms. The government engaged in raids, attacks on civilian populations, and initiated a paramilitary war. Formal peace accords, known as the San Andres Accords, were signed between the government and the EZLN leadership in February of 1996. They addressed some of the root causes of the rebellion, such as indigenous autonomy and legal protections for indigenous rights. While signed in 1996, the agreements did not make it to the Mexican congress until 2000. There they were gutted, removing key principles as signed by the EZLN, such as the right of indigenous autonomy. Much has been written on the history of the EZLN after the failure of the peace accords, including the march to Mexico City, as well as the EZLN’s attempts at fostering a larger social movement force. The EZLN released their “Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle”, which highlights their call to the Mexican and international populations to work to ”find agreement between those of us who are simple and humble and, together, we will organize all over the country and reach agreement in our struggles, which are alone right now, separated from each other, and we will find something like a program that has what we all want, and a plan for how we are going to achieve the realization of that program…”

In 2003, the EZLN released a statement that began the process of radically restructuring the Zapatista communities with the development of autonomous municipalities, called caracoles (conch shell). The name caracole was picked because as Marcos once explained, the conch shell was used to “summon the community” as well as an “aid to hear the most distant words”. The caracoles and their respective “councils of good government” (as opposed to the “bad government” of Mexico) were designed to organize the rebel municipalities as well as to push forward the original mandate of indigenous autonomy. With the failure of the San Andres accords, the Zapatistas openly decided that they would follow the word of the accords that they had signed, regardless of the Mexican government’s policy. In line with their mandate to “lead by obeying”, the EZLN, the armed aspect of the Zapatistas, separated themselves from the work of the civil society and abdicated control of the Zapatista movement to the caracoles.

The objective was “to create — with, by, and for the communities — organizations of resistance that are at once connected, coordinated and self-governing, which enable them to improve their capacity to make a different world possible. At the same time, the project postulates that, as far as possible, the communities and the peoples should immediately put into practice the alternative life that they seek, in order to gain experience. They should not wait until they have more power to do this. “What has occurred in the past decade is that the Zapatistas have put the original demand for indigenous autonomy into practice by creating autonomous governments, health systems, economic systems, and educational systems. In doing so, they have stayed true to the ideals of “leading from below” and a rejection of the ideal to overtake state power. They have “constructed a world in which they have realized their own vision of freedom and autonomy, and continue to fight for a world in which other worlds are possible.”

Their fight is very much alive today, more than twenty years after its first public appearance. My recent visit was to the Oventik caracole, located in the Zona Alta region. Myself and three others were sent as human rights observers with El Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas (Fray Bartolome de Las Casa Human Rights Center) to the small community of Huitepec, immediately north of the mountain town of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Here the community is placed in charge of protecting the large Zapatista reserve of Huitepec from loggers, poachers, and government forces. As observers, our task was to accompany the Zapatista families on their daily walks through the 100+ acre reserve, keep track of any intrusions on the autonomous land, and document any infractions. We lived in a simple house, with a fire to cook on and wood panels for sleeping. There was no running water, minimal electricity, and no forms of electronic communication, even with the close proximity to the town of San Cristobal.

Through these eyes we learned of the daily struggle of the Zapatistas. The community consisted of eight Zapatista families. Originally fifteen families, many of them had left Zapatismo to suffer against poverty with the “bad” government. The families who stayed as Zapatistas were indigenous to the area, having struggled to protect the land long before the Zapatista’s uprising in 1994. The families lived in poverty, dividing their time between protecting the reserve, growing flowers for sale in San Cristobal, and working their rented fields two hours away. Their days started with the sunrise and often ended long after the sun had set. Their hands were strong and their walk through the mountains fast, evidence of a lifetime of hard labor. They told us of life before the uprising, coming to Zapatismo, their struggles with inner council decisions, and their hopes for the future.

We bombarded them with questions, testing the theories of the Zapatistas we had read in books and working to understand the structure of their autonomy. Most spoke Spanish fluently, but outside of our conversations, they spoke their indigenous language. Often times, long questions were answered with a pause and then a “Si!,” only to find out later that much had been lost in translation. The Zapatistas taught us to recognize medicinal plants on our walks, how to cut firewood, helped our dying cooking fires, and shared tea and sweet bread with us. For much of our time together we sat in silence, staring at the fire, each unsure of what to say to people from such different cultures. We, the foreigners, sat in silence in the reserve, lost in our thoughts, struggling to understand the lessons in front of us.

Fortunately, there was little work to be done in our role as human rights observers. As the families stated, most of the repressive tactics of the “bad” government in that area have been rare in recent years. Paramilitary and military forces still affect Zapatista communities, as evidenced by the assassination of José Luis López, known as “Galeano” to the community, a prominent teacher in the caracole of La Realidad in May of 2014. In addition, a week prior to our arrival, paramilitary forces had forcibly displaced 72 Zapatista families from the San Manuel community.

As I look back on my experience, I am forced to place it in the context of what we on the left are doing here in the US and I think back to the humility of the experience. The backdrop of the experience was always in the context of the severe poverty the community struggled against. The families cleaned their ripped clothes as best they could, walked for hours in the jungle in plastic, tired shoes, and spoke of their struggle to place food in their stomachs. They told us of the newborn who had died a few weeks prior to our arrival. They softly commented on the lack of rain in their fields, which meant that no crops had grown. When asked what they would do, they shrugged their shoulders, stared off into the horizon, and quietly said “I don’t know.”

One of the elders (names intentionally left out for security reasons) told us of what he felt for the future. He told us that little by little, more and more Zapatistas are asking the EZLN to take up arms again. He felt they were at a similar social situation as they were in 1993, prior to the uprising. And then he said something that truly humbled me. He said, “we love this land, and if we’re going to die anyway, it would be better to die fighting.” His face was filled with a distant look, touched by sadness, but also of determination. And then there was silence. No theories, no Che t-shirts, no rhyming slogans. No quotes, no chest thumping, no sectarianism. Just the honesty of someone who has nothing left to lose and everything to gain. In that moment, I was gifted the glimpse of the true humility of revolutionary thought. Here was a man who has struggled to survive his entire life. He fights in the way he knows how. He has a simple house and wears the same tucked in dirty dress shirt. He works in the fields as well as the communal government. He knows that the fight he and his community face are against massive transnational corporations who wish to extract the precious resources underneath his ancestral land. He knows that they will hire the government, paramilitary forces, and the police to intimidate and coerce him into submission, likely killing him and his family if he refuses. He lives in an area of the world that has been described as one of the most affected by climate change. And because of this climate change, a force that he did not cause, his children will not have food for the winter. He does not talk of Facebook posts, of petitioning politicians, of symbolic protests. There is no mention of hashtags, things going “viral”, “working with the police”, buying organic, fad diets, or identity politics. There are no self-congratulatory emails after symbolic protests. He doesn’t say anything about “being the change,” “finding himself,” or engaging in a never-ending debate on the use of violence versus non-violence. He simply states “we are part of this land and we will die to protect it,” and then continues walking.

I find myself thinking about that community as I re-enter the world of activism here in New York City. We are bombarded with the temptations of an insane and immoral culture of consumption. As I write this, young black men are being assassinated by police officers, inequality is at an all-time high, the newspapers are filled with “Fashion Week” events, and people are camping out in front of the Apple store for their new Iphones. On the left, communities are organizing around every type of campaign, with a growing focus on climate change. While there is some great grassroots work being done, even in the insanity of New York City, I can’t help but see the lack of humility that exists in our progressive communities. I include myself in this critique, and write as a member of the Left.

Our conversations are dominated with rhetoric and sectarianism. We talk in the language of books and posts, not in material experiences. We speak of “developing” the third world, as though our complicity in a globally destructive system of capitalism is somehow as invisible as we would like to believe. We use our politically correct language and speak of our “individual oppression”. We wait for perfection, for the “revolution”, wearing our “radical” clothes, speaking our “radical” talk in our “radical” spaces that are devoid of any connection to the material world. And at the end of the day, the destruction around us, the destruction that we are complicit in, continues. Something that has embedded itself in my thoughts this past year is exemplified by two quotes.

One is a quote by Che Guevara, in which he says, “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” The second is a lyric by the group “The Last Poets”, where they proclaim, “Speak not of revolution until you are willing to eat rats to survive, come the Revolution.” Quite different ideas, and yet, as I return to the craziness of New York City, I see how similar they are. Revolution is a term often thrown about without a clear definition. Some people see revolution in the context of an armed uprising of oppressed peoples, others, like the CEOs of Chevrolet, see revolution in terms of their new car line. Others see a “revolution of ideas” transforming the world. For the Zapatistas, it is based in the “radical” idea that the poor of the world should be allowed to live, and to live in a way that fits their needs. They fight for their right to healthy food, clean water, and a life in commune with their land. It is an ideal filled with love, but a specific love of their land, of themselves, and of their larger community. They fight for their land not based in some abstract rejection of destruction of beautiful places, but from a sense of connectedness. They are part of the land they live on, and to allow its destruction is to concede their destruction. They have shown that they are willing to sacrifice, be it the little comforts of life they have, their liberty, or their life itself.

We here in the Left in the US talk about the issues of the world ad nauseum. We pontificate from afar on theories of oppression, revolutionary histories, and daily incidences of state violence. We speak of climate change as something in the future. But so often we are removed from the materiality of the oppression. Climate change is not something in the future, but rather it is something that is killing 1,000 children per day, roughly 400,000 people per year. Scientists are now saying that the species extinction rate is 1,000 times the natural background extinction rate, with some estimates at 200 species a day, because of climate change. Black men are being killed at a rate of one every 28 hours in the US. One in three women globally will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. There are more global slaves than ever in human history, with the average cost of a slave being $90. It is estimated that there is dioxin, one of the most horrific chemicals we have created and a known carcinogen, in every mother’s breast milk. We read about “solidarity” with the oppressed and work for “justice”. We speak of “loving the land” and wanting to “protect” nature. But how can we say we “love” these people/places/things when the actions we take to protect them have been proven to be wholly ineffective and stand no chance of achieving our stated goals?

We are told to focus on small lifestyle reforms, petitioning politicians who have shown that they do not listen to us, and relying on a regulatory system that is fundamentally corrupt. We are bombarded with baseless utopian visions of a “sustainable world”, complete with solar panels, wind turbines, abundance, and peace. But these are false visions, meant to distract us. Our entire world infrastructure is based in an extractive, destructive process, without which our first world way of life is entirely impossible. Everything from the global wars, increasing poverty, the police state, and climate change are built around this foundational injustice. These injustices are inherent and are not “reformable”. If it were our child being slaughtered to mine the rare earth minerals necessary for our technology, would we perhaps have a different view of our smartphone? If our land were being irradiated by runoff from solar panel factories, would we think differently about green energy? If our brother was murdered by a police officer to protect a system of racial oppression, would we be OK with just posting articles on Facebook about police brutality? If paramilitaries were going to murder our family to gain access to timber, would we engage in discussions on the justifications for pacifism?

In the face of the horrific statistics of our dying planet, we need a radically different tactic. We need a radical humility. As an example, just to temper the slaughter of the 400,000 human beings being killed by climate change would require a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That means no more industrial food production, no more travel, no more development of green energy, no electricity, no internet, no police state, and I’m sorry to say, no fucking iPhone 6. Tell me how our movements even touch on the reality of our current situation? I think that for the majority of the Left in the “developed world”, if we truly had love as our foundation, our actions would have much more humility.

For me, this is what Che is speaking to. Those who truly want to change the world need to base their reality in a reality of love. It is love, with all its beauty and romanticism, but also with its inherent responsibility, that powers those who are willing to sacrifice. With that love comes a loss of self and the beginning of humility. Most of us here in the global north who fight for global justice must learn this humility. We, as a whole, are more privileged than any other population has ever been in human history. History has shown that we will not give up this privilege. We will not “eat rats” voluntarily, no matter how radical we may think we are. These things can only be taken from us. If we truly want a world of justice, we must understand this fact and accept the humility to forget ourselves.

The Zapatistas, like almost all indigenous movements, have at the base of their revolution a love of the land. By losing themselves into the larger struggle of the land, they allow the land to teach them how to struggle. But their fight is not our fight. They demand us to return to our cultures and fight. Because what will ultimately kill the Zapatistas will not be the Mexican government. It will be the Mexican government, hired by transnational corporations coming from the US and Canada, who will build dams, extract mineral resources, and create “free-trade zones” so that we can continue to enjoy our material comforts. Until we lose our identity-based politics, and allow ourselves to learn from those who are being oppressed by our lifestyle, we will never achieve the justice we think we desire. Author Drew Dellinger writes in a poem entitled “Angels and Ancestors”: “I pray to be a conduit. An angel once told me, ‘The only way to walk through fire…become fire.’”

If we work for justice, let us embrace this humility and allow ourselves to be led by those who know. Let us become fire. And perhaps in that way, we will be ready to eat rats.

Stand with Indigenous Peoples, Stop the Pipelines

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance
Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article.  The following Editor’s Note is theirs.

Editor’s Note: This week SD Free Press will be re-posting past articles relevant to our War and Peace theme. Given that Mary Landrieu (D- Gonna lose her senate seat) is asking for a vote on the XL Pipeline during the lame duck session, we thought this was appropriate. 

As so often happens, Native Americans are leading the fight to save the world.

Moccasins on the Ground workshop where participants are trained in the skills, tactics, and techniques of nonviolent direct action.

By Will Falk

While half of the world’s species are disappearing, while the remaining 48 hunter/gatherer societies are literally fighting for their survival, while 32 million acres of rainforest are cut down a year, and while three hundred tons of topsoil are lost a minute, we are again at war with those who would destroy the planet.

There have been many wars fought on behalf of our life-giving land in North America. The overwhelming majority of those killed in defense of the land have come from peoples like the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Nez Perce, the Sauk, and the Apache. Native Americans have long stood in the way of this destructive culture. It is time that we join with Native Americans and other dominated peoples around the world who are at war. It is time that we, the privileged in this settler culture, step off our pedestal and onto the battlefield to place our bodies in harm’s way like so many indigenous people have before us and continue to do today.

***

As a young white radical, I have admired the long traditions of resistance found in Native communities. I find myself wondering what could have been had Tecumseh won or if Crazy Horse was not betrayed. I find myself wishing I could have been there with Geronimo or King Phillip or Chief Joseph to shoot back at the pale skin and pale blue eyes I share with so many of the soldiers, miners, and settlers who have butchered Native peoples over the centuries.

But, mostly, my heart just breaks. And breaks and breaks again when I recall the long list of lost battles and cold-blooded massacres.

My heart breaks when I think of that frigid morning in December, 1890 when Lakota Sioux led by Spotted Elk woke up next to Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota to find themselves surrounded by 500 soldiers of the US 7th Cavalry. Some of the older women and the frailest children would have been wrapped in robes made from the skins of buffalo hunted to near extinction by the very soldiers taking positions over the camp.

They look up at the four rapid fire Hotchkiss guns pointed down on them from the hills above with their frosty breath foreshadowing the thick fog of gun smoke that would blanket the field in just a little while.

My heart breaks again looking at the photographs of Lakota men, women, and children strewn across the frozen ground. I see Spotted Elk’s body frozen in a half-sitting position in the snow. His legs bent one way, and his bullet-riddled torso bent another way. His arms curl up as his dead biceps tighten in the cold.

indigenous1My heart breaks when I read eyewitness accounts from the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 where Colorado-territory militia killed 200 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children who thought they occupied their camp under the protection of the US Army. I read of soldiers putting six-shooters to the heads of infants and “blowing their brains out.” I watch as white men jump off their horses with knives in hands to cut ears, noses, fingers, and testicles off corpses to take home as souvenirs.

***

Lierre Keith, the brilliant environmental and radical feminist writer, often diagnoses the problem with modern mainstream environmental activism saying, “We’ve got to stop thinking like vandals and start thinking like field generals.”

If we are to have any chance of surviving the devastation, we must espouse courses of action based on strategic objectives. In other words, we have to act like we’re fighting to win a war.

Even mainstream environmentalists recognize that one of the biggest threats to life on Earth is the use of fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide – the worst of the greenhouse gasses responsible for climate change. Scientists predict an 11 degree Fahrenheit average temperature rise by 2100 due to the effects of runaway greenhouse gas emissions.

If we are going to win this war of survival, we are going to have to stop both the present use and spread of fossil fuels. Many argue that the task is impossible. Many argue that we’ll never get people to voluntarily give up fossil fuels. We fill our cars with gas. Homes are heated by coal. The plastic screens we read the daily news on are made with oil. Giving up fossil fuels means giving up our very way of life.

But, what if the world is forced to give up fossil fuels because they cannot get access to them?

***

indigenous3The truth is the fate of the world is bound up in wars like the ones being fought by the Sioux and their allies and the Wet’suwet’en. The United States was built on stolen land and is maintained through the theft of indigenous resources both at home and abroad. So, not only should mainstream environmentalists pledge their support to indigenous peoples to reverse genocidal historical trends, they should throw their bodies down next to indigenous peoples in order to survive.

The brutally brilliant Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest explained the simple key to winning battles when he said, “Get there first with the most.” On a Civil War battlefield, this meant identifying strategic locations to be controlled and then arriving with more soldiers and firepower than your enemy. At the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, Union forces recognized the way two hills – Little and Big Round Top – on their extreme left flank commanded a view of the entire battlefield. Robert E. Lee and his right hand infantry general, James Longstreet, recognized it, too. Whoever controlled those hills could place artillery on their heights and rain deadly cannon fire on enemies in the fields below.

Ultimately, Union forces arrived at the top Little Round Top just minutes before Longstreet’s infantry and were able to beat off a Confederate attack, turning the tide of the battle in favor of Union forces in what many historians call the pivotal moment of the entire war.

The goals of these camps line up perfectly with Forrest’s idea to “get there first with the most.” The camps are being set up in strategic locations to stop the ability of the pipeline to function. If the oil is going to flow, big oil pipelines are going to have to defeat activists dug in at these camps.

Right now, indigenous peoples and their allies are there first with the most. They can win if we help them.

***

As so often happens, Native Americans are leading the fight to save the world. Battle lines are being drawn in British Columbia and South Dakota where indigenous peoples and their allies have vowed to prevent the construction of pipelines carrying fossil fuels across their lands.

In South Dakota, the Oglala Lakota and Rosebud Sioux (many of whom descend from the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre) are building resistance camps to combat the Keystone XL pipeline. They are calling the pipeline “the Black Snake” and are operating the Moccasins on the Ground project where participants are trained in the skills, tactics, and techniques of nonviolent direct action. These skills include blockading heavy equipment, workshops on strategic media, street medic training, knowing your legal rights with respect to civil disobedience, and building solidarity and alliances.

In British Columbia, the Wet’suwet’en have dug into the path of seven proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and LNG from the Horn River Basin Fracturing Projects in the Peace River Region at Unist’ot’en Camp.  Unist’ot’en Camp is calling for volunteers to help patrol their land, build permaculture, and raise permanent bunkhouses in the path of the pipelines.

***

There’s another feeling I get when I think of the massacres of indigenous peoples. It is even stronger than the staggering sadness. It is the desire to do whatever it takes to stop this culture from destroying indigenous cultures and destroying the land.

I used to imagine that I could go back in time and offer my help. I would learn how to shoot and offer my rifle to Crazy Horse or learn how to ride and ask Chief Joseph if he could use my help. As I listened to the rhythmic thump of soldiers’ boots marching on where they thought my friends’ village was, I would imagine approaching a fat officer in a powdered horse-hair whig with a smile coming from my white face. I would tell the officer I knew where the Indians were, only to lead him on a wild goose chase while he trusted me because I was white.

I have grown up now. I realize that there are wars being waged against the land and those who would protect the land. I realize that I can work to stop the black snakes that are being built to slither through this land, to choke her original people, and to wring the last few drops of oil from her.

All of us who have benefited from the rape of the earth and the destruction of so many of her people are being called. We are being called to kill the black snakes by those already engaged in mortal combat. We must do whatever it takes to stand with indigenous peoples and stop the pipelines.

Max Wilbert: Plows and Carbon: The Timeline of Global Warming

By Max Wilbert, Deep Green Resistance

In June 1988, climatologist and NASA scientist James Hansen stood before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the United States Senate. The temperature was a sweltering 98 degrees.

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“The earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements,” Hansen said. “The global warming now is large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect… Our computer climate simulations indicate that the greenhouse effect is already large enough to begin to effect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves.”

Hansen has authored some of the most influential scientific literature around climate change, and like the vast majority of climate scientists, has focused his work on the last 150 to 200 years – the period since the industrial revolution.

This period has been characterized by the widespread release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), and by the clearing of land on a massive scale – the plowing of grasslands and felling of forests for cities and agricultural crops.

Now, the world is on the brink of catastrophic climate change. Hansen and other scientists warn us that if civilization continues to burn fossil fuels and clear landscapes, natural cycles may be disrupted to the point of complete ecosystem breakdown – a condition in which the planet is too hot to support life. Hansen calls this the Venus Syndrome, named after the boiling planet enshrouded in clouds of greenhouse gases.

“If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale [low grade, high carbon fossil fuels], I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty,” Hansen has said.

If humanity wishes to have a chance of avoiding this fate, it is important that we understand global warming in detail. Why is it happening? When did it start? What fuels it? And, most importantly, what can stop it?

How old is global warming?

New studies are showing that the current episode of global warming may be a great deal older than previously believed – which may entirely change our strategy to stop it.

While fossil fuels have only been burned on a large scale for 200 years, land clearance has been a defining characteristic of civilizations – cultures based around cities and agriculture – since they first emerged around 8,000 years ago.

This land clearance has impacts on global climate. When a forest ecosystem is converted to agriculture, more than two thirds of the carbon that was stored in that forest is lost, and additional carbon stored in soils rich in organic materials will continue to be lost to the atmosphere as erosion accelerates.

Modern science may give us an idea of the magnitude of the climate impact of this pre-industrial land clearance. Over the past several decades of climate research, there has been an increasing focus on the impact of land clearance on modern global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in it’s 2004 report, attributed 17% of global emissions to cutting forests and destroying grasslands – a number which does not include the loss of future carbon storage or emissions directly related to this land clearance, such as methane released from rice paddies or fossil fuels burnt for heavy equipment.

Some studies show that 50% of the global warming in the United States can be attributed to land clearance – a number that reflects the inordinate impact that changes in land use can have on temperatures, primarily by reducing shade cover and evapotranspiration (the process whereby a good-sized tree puts out thousands of gallons of water into the atmosphere on a hot summer day – their equivalent to our sweating).

So if intensive land clearance has been going on for thousands of years, has it contributed to global warming? Is there a record of the impacts of civilization in the global climate itself?

10,000 years of Climate Change

According to author Lierre Keith, the answer is a resounding yes. Around 10,000 years ago, humans began to cultivate crops. This is the period referred to as the beginning of civilization, and, according to the Keith and other scholars such as David Montgomery, a soil scientist at the University of Washington, it marked the beginning of land clearance and soil erosion on a scale never before seen – and led to massive carbon emissions.

“In Lebanon (and then Greece, and then Italy) the story of civilization is laid bare as the rocky hills,” Keith writes. “Agriculture, hierarchy, deforestation, topsoil loss, militarism, and imperialism became an intensifying feedback loop that ended with the collapse of a bioregion [the Mediterranean basin] that will most likely not recover until after the next ice age.”

Montgomery writes, in his excellent book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, that the agriculture that followed logging and land clearance led to those rocky hills noted by Keith.

“It is my contention that the invention of [agriculture] fundamentally altered the balance between soil production and soil erosion – dramatically increasing soil erosion.

Other researchers, like Jed Kaplan and his team from the Avre Group at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, have affirmed that preindustrial land clearance has had a massive impact on the landscape.

“It is certain that the forests of many European countries were substantially cleared before the Industrial Revolution,” they write in a 2009 study.

Their data shows that forest cover declined from 35% to 0% in Ireland over the 2800 years before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The situation was similar in Norway, Finland, Iceland, where 100% of the arable land was cleared before 1850.

Similarly, the world’s grasslands have been largely destroyed: plowed under for fields of wheat and corn, or buried under spreading pavement. The grain belt, which stretches across the Great Plains of the United States and Canada, and across much of Eastern Europe, southern Russia, and northern China, has decimated the endless fields of constantly shifting native grasses.

The same process is moving inexorably towards its conclusion in the south, in the pampas of Argentina and in the Sahel in Africa. Thousands of species, each uniquely adapted to the grasslands that they call home, are being driven to extinction.

“Agriculture in any form is inherently unsustainable,” writes permaculture expert Toby Hemenway. “We can pass laws to stop some of the harm agriculture does, but these rules will reduce harvests. As soon as food gets tight, the laws will be repealed. There are no structural constraints on agriculture’s ecologically damaging tendencies.”

As Hemenway notes, the massive global population is essentially dependent on agriculture for survival, which makes political change a difficult proposition at best. The seriousness of this problem is not to be underestimated. Seven billion people are dependent on a food system – agricultural civilization – that is killing the planet.

The primary proponent of the hypothesis – that human impacts on climate are as old as civilization – has been Dr. William Ruddiman, a retired professor at the University of Virginia. The theory is often called Ruddiman’s Hypothesis, or, alternately, the Early Anthropocene Hypothesis.

Ruddiman’s research, which relies heavily on atmospheric data from gases trapped in thick ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, shows that around 11,000 years ago carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere began to decline as part of a natural cycle related to the end of the last Ice Age. This reflected a natural pattern that has been seen after previous ice ages.

This decline continued until around 8000 years ago, when the natural trend of declining carbon dioxide turned around, and greenhouse gases began to rise. This coincides with the spread of civilization across more territory in China, India, North Africa, the Middle East, and certain other regions.

Ruddiman’s data shows that deforestation over the next several thousand years released 350 Gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, an amount nearly equal to what has been released since the Industrial Revolution. The figure is corroborated by the research of Kaplan and his team.

Around 5000 years ago, cultures in East and Southeast Asia began to cultivate rice in paddies – irrigated fields constantly submerged in water. Like an artificial wetland, rice patties create an anaerobic environment, where bacteria metabolizing carbon-based substances (like dead plants) release methane instead of carbon dioxide and the byproduct of their consumption. Ruddiman points to a spike in atmospheric methane preserved in ice cores around 5000 years ago as further evidence of warming due to agriculture.

Some other researchers, like R. Max Holmes from the Woods Hole Research Institute and Andrew Bunn, a climate scientist from Western Washington University, believe that evidence is simply not conclusive. Data around the length of interglacial periods and the exact details of carbon dioxide and methane trends is not detailed enough to make a firm conclusion, they assert. Regardless, it is certain that the pre-industrial impact of civilized humans on the planet was substantial.

“Our data show very substantial amounts of human impact on the environment over thousands of years,” Kaplan said. “That impact really needs to be taken into account when we think about the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases.”

Restoring Grasslands: a strategy for survival

If the destruction of grasslands and forests signals the beginning of the end for the planet’s climate, some believe that the restoration of these natural communities could mean salvation.

Beyond their beauty and inherent worth, intact grasslands supply a great deal to humankind. Many pastoral cultures subsist entirely on the animal protein that is so abundant in healthy grasslands. In North America, the rangelands that once sustained more than 60 million Bison (and at least as many pronghorn antelope, along with large populations of elk, bear, deer, and many others) now support fewer than 45 million cattle – animals ill-adapted to the ecosystem, who damage their surroundings instead of contributing to them.

Healthy populations of herbivores also contribute to carbon sequestration in grassland soils by increasing nutrient recycling, a powerful effect that allows these natural communities to regulate world climate. They also encourage root growth, which sequesters more carbon in the soil.

Just as herbivores cannot survive without grass, grass cannot thrive without herbivores.

Grasslands are so potent in their ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that some believe restoring natural grasslands could be one of the most effective tools in the fight against runaway global warming.

“Grass is so good at building [carbon rich] soil that repairing 75 percent of the planet’s rangelands would bring atmospheric CO2 to under 330 ppm in 15 years or less,” Lierre Keith writes.

The implications of this are immense. It means, quite simply, that one of the best ways to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is to move away from agriculture, which is based upon the destruction of forests and grasslands, and towards other means of subsistence. It means moving away from a way of life 10,000 years old. It means rethinking the entire structure of our food system – in some ways, the entire structure of our culture.

Some ambitious, visionary individuals are working in parallel with this strategy, racing against time to restore grasslands and to stabilize Earth’s climate.

In Russia, in the remote northeastern Siberian state of Yakutia, a scientist named Sergei Zimov has an ambitious plan to recreate a vast grassland – a landscape upon whom millions of herbivores such as mammoths, wild horses, reindeer, bison, and musk oxen fed and roamed until the end of the last ice age.

“In future, to preserve the permafrost, we only need to bring herbivores,” says Zimov. “Why is this useful? For one, the possibility to reconstruct a beautiful [grassland] ecosystem. It is important for climate stability. If the permafrost melts, a lot of greenhouse gases will be emitted from these soils.”

Zimov’s project is nicknamed “Pleistocene Park,” and stretches across a vast region of shrubs and mosses, low productivity communities called ‘Taiga’. But until 12,000 years ago, this landscape was highly productive pastures for a span of 35,000 years, hosting vast herds of grazers and their predators.

“Most small bones don’t survive because of the permafrost,” says Sergei Zimov. “[But] the density of skeletons in this sediment, here and all across these lowlands: 1,000 skeletons of mammoth, 20,000 skeletons of bison, 30,000 skeletons of horses, and about 85,000 skeletons of reindeer, 200 skeletons of musk-ox, and also tigers [per square kilometer].”

These herds of grazers no only supported predators, but also preserved the permafrost beneath their feet, soils that now contain 5 times as much carbon as all the rainforests of Earth. According to Zimov, the winter foraging behavior of these herbivores was the mechanism of preservation.

“In winter, everything is covered in snow,” Zimov says. “If there are 30 horses per square kilometer, they will trample the snow, which is a very good thermal insulator. If they trample in the snow, the permafrost will be much colder in wintertime. The introduction of herbivores can reduce the temperatures in the permafrost and slow down the thawing.”

In the Great Plains of the United States and Canada, a similar plan to restore the landscape and rewild the countryside has emerged. The brainchild of Deborah and Frank Popper, the plan calls for the gradual acquisition of rangelands and agricultural lands across the West and Midwest, with the eventual goal of creating a vast nature preserve called the Buffalo Commons, 10-20 million acres of wilderness, an area 10 times the size of the largest National Park in the United States (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska).

In this proposed park, the Popper’s envision a vast native grassland, with predators following wandering herds of American Bison and other grazers who follow the shifting grasses who follow the fickle rains. The shifting nature of the terrain in the Great Plains requires space, and this project would provide it in tracts not seen for hundreds of years.

In parts of Montana, the work has already begun. Many landowners have sold their farms to private conservation groups to fill in the gaps between isolated sections of large public lands. Many Indian tribes across the United States and Southern Canada are also working to restore Bison, who not only provide high quality, healthy, traditional food but also contribute to biodiversity and restore the health of the grasslands through behavior such a wallowing, which creates small wetlands.

Grasslands have the power to not only restore biodiversity and serve as a rich, nutrient-dense source of food, but also to stabilize global climate. The soils of the world cannot survive agricultural civilizations for much longer. If the plows continue their incessant work, this culture will eventually go the way of the Easter Islanders, the Maya, the Greeks, the Macedonians, the Harrapans, or the Roman Empire – blowing in the wind, clouding the rivers. Our air is thick with the remnants of ancient soils, getting long overdue revenge for their past mistreatment.

The land does not want fields. It wants Bison back. It wants grasslands, forests, wetlands, birds. It wants humans back, humans who know how to live in a good way, in relationship with the soil and the land and all the others. The land wants balance, and we can help. We can tend the wild and move towards other means of feeding ourselves, as our old ancestors have done for long years. It is the only strategy that takes into account the needs of the natural world, the needs for a land free of plows and tractor-combines.

In time, with luck and hard work, that ancient carbon will be pulled from the atmosphere – slowly at first, but then with gathering speed. The metrics of success are clear: a calmed climate, rivers running free, biodiversity rebounding. The task of achieving that success is a great challenge, but guided by those who believe in restoring the soil, we can undo 8,000 years of mistakes, and finally begin to live again as a species like any other, nestled in our home, at peace and in balance, freed at last from the burdens of our ancestors’ mistakes.

Bibliography

Climate meddling dates back 8,000 years. By Alexandra Witze. April 23rd, 2011. Science News. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/71932/title/Climate_meddling_dates_back_8%2C000_years#video

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Global Emissions. Accessed June 23rd, 2012. http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html

The prehistoric and preindustrial deforestation of Europe. By Kaplan et al. Avre Group, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. Quaternary Science Reviews 28 (2009) 3016-3034.

‘Land Use as Climate Change Mitigation.’ Stone, Brian Jr. Environmental Science and Technology 43, 9052-9056. 11/2009.

‘Functional Aspects of Soil Animal Diversity in Agricultural Grasslands’ by Bardgett et al. Applied Soil Ecology, 10 (1998) 263-276.

Zimov, Sergei. Personal Interviews, June/July 2010.

DIY Resistance: Recover Empathy

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

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

The dominant culture kills our ability to empathize. Faucets deliver water over great distances silencing the voices of rivers. Super-markets place meat on chilled display shelves hiding the sacred ceremonial relationship between hunter and prey. Pornography produces orgasms without mutual vulnerability.

Sockeye salmon swimming upstream

Sockeye salmon swimming upstream

One way empathy is killed is through alienation. The comforts of civilization alienate us from our ancient roles as members of natural communities. Electric lights drown out the stars. Asphalt divorces our feet from the soil. Walls block the caresses of the summer breeze. The hole we’ve burned in the sky forces us to wear UV-resistant sunglasses dulling the vibrant colors of the day.

Another way empathy is killed is through the entitlement that follows this alienation. Living too long in a system that allows us to eat plants without ever seeing where they were grown, that gives us computers without ever seeing where their metals were mined, and that gives us clothing sewn by children in boiling warehouses we will never visit encourages us to forget.

Psychologist R.D. Laing explains the process brilliantly, “If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.” If Jill reminds Jack of the migratory songbirds killed everyday by cell phone towers, Jack might encourage Jill to forget by simply denying this is true. He might forbid Jill to mention the birds in his presence. Or, a more effective means to encourage Jill to forget is to convince her not to worry about the birds because we deserve cell phones. We have every right to communicate with anyone in the world wherever they are whenever we want. And, those birds are just birds, after all.

***

Consider the war being waged on women by men. How is it possible that men who are given their very lives by women can wage this war? How is it possible that men many of whom claim to love women can perpetuate this violence?

The first answer is the loss of empathy.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that 1 out of 3 women have suffered rape or attempted rape worldwide. (http://www.nsvrc.org/publications/fact-sheets/worldwide-sexual-assault-statistics) Every 17 minutes a woman is raped according to the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Another Canadian survey by DeKeserdy and Kelly reports that four out of five female undergraduates have been victims of violence in a dating relationship.

Meanwhile, the porn industry makes more money than Hollywood. (http://stoppornculture.org/about/about-the-issue/facts-and-figures-2/) A 2007 report by Bridges and Wosnitzer “Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography: A content analysis update” appearing in the International Communication Association is enlightening. Bridges and Wosnitzer report 88.2% of the top rated scenes contain aggressive acts. In 70% of these scenes, a man is the aggressor, and 94% of the time the act is directed towards a woman. Open-hand slapping occurs in 41.1% of the scenes.

Pornography is both an expression of and a leading cause for the destruction of empathy. When sex is mediated through a television or computer screen the viewer’s sexual satisfaction is alienated from its beautiful expression in true mutuality. Sex, in the real world, involves the building up of trust between partners. Sex, in the real world, involves the truly magical experience where lovers offer their vulnerabilities in order to share in one another’s bodies.

When sexual satisfaction can be ordered up by placing a DVD into a player or clicking on a link, feelings of entitlement grow. Just like Jack and Jill from Laing’s example, when Jill reminds Jack that pornography is not real, that the bodies of women do not look like that, that acting out the scenes depicted bring her no pleasure, Jack can ignore Jill and gain his orgasms through porn at the expense of the bodies of women he will never have a true relationship with. Jack can point to the prevalence of porn to argue that porn must be natural and undermine Jill. Or, Jack can emulate the men getting off in his favorite scenes and explain to Jill that men are entitled to these actions. We can hear Jack saying, “Look, babe, this is just how it is.”

Jill’s experience is negated for Jack’s entitlement. Jack’s empathy dies.

***

In the first installment of my “Do-It-Yourself: Resistance” series, I wrote that the first step towards a life devoted to saving what is left of the world is to fall in love. The next step is to recover empathy.

Too many in this dominant culture have lost or ignore their ability to feel the suffering of others. Civilization is based on the domination of others. Our comforts depend on the exploitation of others. Laborers are sweating, suffocating, and dying in mines that bring us the metals for our phones, computers, and solar panels. Children are starving due to policies such as the debts imposed on colonized nations by imperial instruments like World Bank. Leatherback sea turtles are critically endangered due to the pollution of the seas.

How would those destroying the planet act if they suffered from the lung ailments suffered by miners? How would those destroying the planet act if it were their screaming from the pangs of hunger? How would those destroying the planet act if they went to eat their dinner only to discover they were consuming a plastic bag too late to prevent the plastic bag from catching in their throats?

It is difficult to recover our empathy because the dominant culture encourages us so strongly to forget with television, with drugs, with pornography, but it is imperative that we cut into our hearts to regain the connections that have always been there. Resistance would become much stronger if more of us truly felt the suffering surrounding us.

Go outside. Let the wind play with your hair. Let the sun warm your skin. Take your sunglasses off and admire the vibrancy surrounding you. Watch the pattern of bumblebees in a camas field. Watch bear cubs wrestle in fireweed. Ask their mother what she needs for her family. And, listen.

Ask your lover to come with you outside. Ask your lover who she is. Ask him to tell you his dreams. Ask her what she wants, what makes her feel good. And, listen.

Look up at the stars. Watch them dance across the space between. Let their light pierce you. Ask them what they want. And, listen.

After listening, act. Act with everything you’ve got because you share in the emotions of those around you.

***

On Monday, August 4, 2014 while I’ve been working on this piece, the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond overwhelmed its dam and released 10 billion liters of polluted water and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand into the Hazeltine Creek near Likely, British Columbia. Over the past year, the Imperial Metals Corporation dumped 326 tons of nickel, 400 tons of arsenic, 177 tons of lead, and 18,400 tons of copper into the pond. The spill is depositing this waste through the entire Quesnel and Cariboo river systems. With the sockeye salmon beginning their annual runs up the rivers, this disaster could not come at a worse time.

I have heard many people express hope that maybe – finally – this is the disaster that will wake the world up to the seriousness of the world’s crisis. I remember many people expressing the same hope after the BP Gulf Oil Spill. I remember many people expressing the same hope after Fukushima. But, here we are again.

Have you ever seen the sockeye run up a river? Have you ever seen the brilliant flashes of their bright bodies in a cold current? Have you heard the rivers singing joyous greetings songs to announce the sockeyes’ arrival?

Can you see the poison seeping over the dam and down the channels? Can you taste bitter metals in your water? Can you hear the sockeye weeping?

If you can’t, when will you? If you can, what are you going to do about it?

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

DIY Resistance: Fall in Love

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

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Three months ago, I packed up my 80-litre pack with my tent, sleeping bag, four t-shirts, two pairs of pants, two pairs of thermals, five pairs of underwear, my toothbrush, and six collections of poetry (only the essentials) and made the journey from San Diego, CA to the Unist’ot’en Camp on traditional Wet’suwet’en land in so-called British Columbia.

Salish Sea

Salish Sea

I fell in love with the Unist’ot’en Clan, the Camp, and their work. I decided it was time to dig in to defend the land and I’ve been in Canada working to support the Camp ever since. It took me 27 years, two degrees, two suicide attempts, a failed romantic relationship, and a deserted legal career to finally devote myself to radical resistance.

It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the many reasons the environmental movement is losing so bad is we suffer from a lack of committed individuals determined to resist for as long as it takes. I am committed to saving what’s left of our burning world because I am deeply in love.

I have finally arrived at this commitment and I hope you will, too. Here is the first in a series of pieces I am calling “Do-it-Yourself: Resistance.” These are my reflections on my path to resistance. Everyone’s path will be different, but people who embark on this path should know that the trail has already been blazed. They should know they will not have to walk the trail alone and in darkness. There’s a community of us and we are growing stronger.

***

The first step is falling in love.

It is true that falling in love may make you vulnerable. Destruction rages on around us. When you’re in love and you shed the armor of denial, the truth might wound you. When you’re in love and you seek the filthy corners of this culture, the truth might stain you. When you’re in love and you dare to peer directly into the flames consuming life on this planet, the truth might burn you.

When you’re in love and your beloved is dying, how can you do anything but try to protect your beloved?

Opening yourself to love may make you vulnerable because destruction rages around us. With global temperature averages rising, clean water disappearing at astonishing rates, and human population growing exponentially, the planet’s ability to support life is in serious jeopardy. Every thing we love is under attack.

I must be honest: learning how to love dragged me into the deserts of severe depression. I think many are too scared of the truth and their own reactions to the truth to visit this desert. It can be dangerous.

Sometimes depression will not quit. Mine won’t. It’s been 16 months since my first suicide attempt and just under a year since my second. Because depression is characterized as an illness I reasoned that I would eventually recover from my illness and live a healthy life. The darkness would simply be a tough time in my life that would fade in my memory as the course of my life pushed forward.

In many ways, this view was encouraged by my therapists and doctors. After my second suicide attempt, I was checked into an intensive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) describes the methodology of CBT in treating mental illness, “By exploring patterns of thinking that lead to self-destructive actions and the beliefs that direct these thoughts, people with mental illness can modify their patterns of thinking to improve coping.”

What were the “patterns of thinking” that lead me to “self-destructive actions?” As a public defender, I loved my clients so much the thought of them in jail compelled me to work harder and harder, longer and longer hours until I was exhausted. As a member of a natural community, I loved my land base so much that the continual degradation of Lake Michigan by industry sometimes caused me to weep.

And, “coping?” Through CBT I was taught that if I could just learn how to cope, I’d heal myself of depression. The popular proverb “If you can’t change the world, change yourself” comes to mind. I’ve always hated this expression for the way it encourages inaction. If the world doesn’t change, so much of what I love will be destroyed. Therapy based on changing individuals instead of our destructive culture puts the patient in the horrible position of either ignoring her love or changing what she’s in love with.

And what could be more depressing than that? In some senses, isn’t denying the love you feel a sort of death in itself?

To me, the only true therapy will come from stopping the dominant culture. We all know what the consequences might be for seeking to change the world.

Sister Dorothy Stang, a Roman Catholic nun standing up for indigenous peoples in Brazil, received perpetual death threats from logging companies before she was shot six times on her way to a community organizing meeting in Anapu, Brazil. Anna Mae Aquash – a Mi’kmaq activist with the American Indian movement – was found on the Pine Ridge Reservation with a bullet in the back of her head. Fred Hamptom, the Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, was drugged by the FBI before they sprayed his bedroom with automatic gun fire and fired two shots into his head at point blank range to make sure he was “good and dead, now.”

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think Sister Stang, Anna Mae Aquash, or Fred Hampton developed mental illnesses through their work. I can even imagine a therapist asking them if their habit of demanding justice might be causing some of their anguish. But, Sister Stang, Anna Mae Aquash, and Fred Hamption never gave into the comforting acceptance encouraged by coping. They were in love with oppressed peoples. They wanted to change the world and they went about doing it.

***

I still feel suicidal sometimes. Death is a seductive whisper at the edge of my consciousness. I suffer from situational and spiritual vulnerabilities. I’m completely broke. I’m not sure where I’m going to live in three weeks. I’m not sure when my family is going to get sick of me being away and make their anxiety felt. I’m afraid that my new Canadian friends may discover the darkness my mind tends to and decide its too much work to be around me.

My heart turns the shade of gray that comes from profound weariness. I’m haunted by the sight of forests at Unist’ot’en Camp decimated by climate-change induced beetle infestations. The worst part is the way the once proud, tall, green pines are left standing when the beetles are done with them. The pines stand as towering grave-markers warning of the disaster this world faces if we cannot stop the destruction. My stomach fills with the gnawing acid of anxiety and anger as the radio lists the dead in Palestine. When the mangled bodies of children make it to my newsfeed I wonder how my stomach will keep the acid from burning a hole through my guts.

Besides being suicidal, you know what else I am?

Alive. I am, despite feeling all this, still alive.

Being alive lets me strip to my underwear and dip in the freezing Salish Sea. I step on sharp rocks watching crabs with delight. They play their own version of “King of the Hill” competing over pieces of seaweed on a submerged stone. As the green shadow of seaweed approaches their perch, crab siblings bump one another off the stone before snatching the seaweed in their pinchers and gobbling it down. I cut my heel on a rock and a gang of fish comes to investigate the blood. Their mouths are soft as they press against the cut. Before long the blood stops, and the fish settle in the warm spaces between my toes.

Being alive lets me enjoy the contrast of the hot sun on my back when I emerge from the cold sea. Being alive lets me taste the fresh ginger molasses cookies we brought to snack on. Being alive lets me hear the cries of wheeling sea gulls overhead.

Most importantly, being alive empowers me to be in love. I will not give into suicide because I’m in love with the Salish Sea, the crabs, the school of fish, the sun, the taste of ginger molasses cookies, and the cries of sea gulls on the beach.

Love will give you the strength to travel through the spiritual deserts of depression and even suicidal ideation. My continuing survival is proof of this. The continuing survival of countless others struggling with the emotional ailments facing us in these times is proof of this. Stand with us. Fall in love. Learn how to love at whatever cost. Love may make you vulnerable to feelings of despair. This is natural. It means you’re alive – and being alive is everything. It means you can resist and resistance gives your beloved a chance.

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

Earth At Risk 2014: The Justice and Sustainability Conference

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By Fertile Ground Environmental Institute

This November, some of the world’s preeminent strategists in environmental defense, social justice, and grassroots activism will come together to share their insights and speak toward ONE goal: crafting game-changing responses to address the converging crises we face.

Species extinction, racism, sexual warfare, deforestation, global warming, corruption — all stem from the same root.

For too long environmentalism has hinged on conformity to capitalism and the status quo. For too long social justice work has capitulated to this profoundly abusive culture.

We may live on an EARTH AT RISK – but with this great challenge comes a GREAT OPPORTUNITY. This is your struggle, whether you acknowledge it or not. Will you sit on the sidelines as the world burns?

Join this global conversation and know that lines have been drawn.

For more information: http://www.fertilegroundinstitute.org/earth-at-risk-2014.html

From Unist’ot’en Camp: What Does Solidarity Look Like?

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

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Each night Unist’ot’en Clan spokeswoman, Freda Huson, and her husband Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Toghestiy fall asleep on their traditional land not knowing whether the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are going to storm their bridge in the depths of night.

Each winter, when Freda and Toghestiy ride their snowmobiles down forestry roads to bring in supplies, to hunt, or to check their traplines, they don’t know whether they will find piles of felled trees maliciously dragged across their paths.

Each time Freda and Toghestiy leave their territory for a few days they don’t know if they will return to find another attack in an old tradition of cowardly arson perpetrated by hostile settlers on Wet’suwet’en territories leaving smoking embers where their cabin once stood.

I ponder this as I sit in a workshop with other settlers during the 6-day Unist’ot’en Action Camp – a series of workshops hosted on the traditional territories of the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to promote strategic planning and co-ordination in the struggle against the spread of fossil fuel pipelines. This particular workshop is designed as a discussion to promote understanding about how settlers can work in better solidarity with indigenous peoples struggling to protect their homes and carrying out their responsibilities to the land.

Most of the ideas discussed revolve around decolonizing our hearts and minds to learn to see the role non-indigenous peoples are playing in the genocidal processes threatening the survival of indigenous peoples. Some of the ideas involve material support for indigenous peoples engaged in front line resistance like the Unist’ot’en. A few even suggest that settlers become physically present next to indigenous peoples on the front lines.

But, I am troubled. We have skipped something. What exactly do we mean by “solidarity?”

***
A common scene from my life as a public defender shows me – a white man in a suit and tie – sitting next to a shackled African, Chicana, or indigenous mother in a courtroom. In front of us sits a judge – an older white man in black robes. Across from us sits the prosecutor – another white man in a suit. Directly behind us, where he is felt more than seen, stands a big white man in the brown uniform of a sheriff’s deputy. He has a gun on one hip, a taser on the other, and the keys to my client’s shackles on a loop on his belt.

My client stares at the judge in a mix of horror and hatred as she is sentenced to prison for stealing from a supermarket to support her children or for lying to a police officer about her name because she had outstanding parking tickets and had to get the kids to school or for punching a cop when the latest in a long list of arbitrary stops by police officers finally caused something inside of her to snap.

As the judge announces how many days in jail my client will be spending, she reaches for my arm with tears in her eyes and asks, “Mr. Falk, won’t you do something?”

I cannot meet her gaze. I tell myself there’s nothing I can do. There’s no argument I can make to sway the judge. There’s no way to stop the sheriff’s deputy behind us from leading my client back down the long concrete tunnel connecting the courthouse and the city jail.

I try to comfort myself. What does she want me to do? Yell at the judge? Tackle the deputy? Spit on the prosecutor for his role in sending this mother to jail?

***
We gathered to sit on wooden benches arranged in a half-circle on a hot and sunny morning during the Unist’ot’en Action Camp to listen to two indigenous men speak about their experiences on the front lines of resistance. Each man had been shot at by police and soldiers, each man had served time in jail, and each man received utter respect from each individual listening.

The first man faced 7,7000 rounds fired by the RCMP at the Gustafsen Lake Stand-off in 1995 when a group of Original Peoples occupied a sacred site on a cattle ranch on unceded Canoe Creek First Nation land because the rancher tried to prevent their ceremonies. For his part at Gustafsen Lake, he was sentenced to five years in prison. During the Oka Crisis in 1990 when the town of Oka, Quebec sought to build a golf course over a Mohawk burial ground, the second man and his comrades blockaded several small British Columbian towns shutting down their local economies. He, too, was convicted and spent time in jail for his actions.

The second man said the blockades were carried out “in solidarity” with the resistors at Oka. This was the only time either of the men mentioned the word “solidarity.” They spoke of supporting resistance, praying for resistance, and helping with ceremonies. But, it was only when engaged in actions where co-resistors placed themselves in similarly dangerous situations that the term “solidarity” was used.

***
I got back from Unist’ot’en Camp earlier this afternoon and checked my email for the first time in days. My inbox was inundated by emails from various list serves proclaiming “Solidarity with Palestine!”

Meanwhile, in Gaza, occupying Israeli bulldozers are demolishing the homes of Palestinian families with suspected ties to Hamas while colonial Israeli bombs are indiscriminately falling on men, women, and children adding to the pile of dead numbered at well over 500 corpses and counting.

“That’s terrible, Will,” you may be thinking. “But what do you want me to do about it?”

Put yourself in Gaza right now. Dig a pit in your back yard, turn your ear anxiously to the sky, and keep the path to your back door clear, so that when you hear the hum of jets overhead you can sprint to your makeshift bomb shelter.

Look down the street for bull-dozers. When you spot one, grab the nearest bag in a panic, shove as much food into it as possible, scramble for some clean underwear, find your toothbrush, and sprint out the door without a look back for the nearest safe space.

Stand over the broken corpses of your children in the pile of dust and ashes that used to be their bedroom. Moan. Weep. Wail. When you wake up for the first time without crying, feel the anger burn through your chest and down your arms into your clinched fists. Ask yourself what you should do next.

Ask yourself: What does solidarity look like?

***
Maybe there really was nothing I could do to stop my clients from being hauled to jail in those courtrooms of my past. Unfortunately, I tried not to think about it too much. Placing myself in that vulnerable of a situation was too scary for me. If I argued too strongly, too fervently the judge could fine me. If I yelled at the prosecutor I could be held in contempt of court. If I spit on him, I certainly would be held in contempt of court. If I tried to stop the deputy, I would be tasered and taken to jail. I might even be shot during the scuffle and killed.

The truth is indigenous and other resistors are being dragged to jail, tasered, and even shot and killed every day on the front lines. And, they’ve been on the front lines for a very long time. I’ve realized that freedom from the vulnerabilities frontline resistors experience is a privilege and the maintenance of this privilege is leaving resistors isolated on front lines around the world.

It is time we understand exactly what solidarity looks like. Solidarity looks like the possibility of prison time. Solidarity looks like facing bullets and bombs. Solidarity looks like risking mental, spiritual, and physical health. Solidarity looks like placing our bodies on the front lines – strong shoulder to strong shoulder – next to our brothers and sisters who are already working so courageously to stop the destruction of the world.

2014 Sacred Water Tour Report-Back

Max Wilbert, Susan Hyatt, Katie Wilson, and Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

In late May 2014, members of Deep Green Resistance (DGR), Great Basin Water Network, the Ely-Shoshone Indian tribe, and others toured the valleys of eastern Nevada and western Utah targeted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) for groundwater extraction.[1] The region is part of the Great Basin, a cold desert named for its lack of any drainage to an ocean. What rain falls in the Great Basin remains there in a few streams, ponds, lakes, springs, and aquifers. It is these aquifers that SNWA wants to pump into a central pipeline and bring to the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson. The Goshute and Shoshone tribes and many groups, local individuals, businesses, and governments oppose the project, now stalled by lawsuits. DGR initiated the Sacred Water Tour to help familiarize potential opponents with the land and the water conflict.

We met on the 24th at the Goshute Tribal Headquarters, in the tiny town of Ibapah, Utah, near the Nevada border.   More than a year earlier, DGR coordinators Max Wilbert and Michael Carter met the tribal council here for the first time, to offer solidarity and assistance with the water-grab fight.

Goshute Tribal Headquarters

Goshute Tribal Headquarters

It was the Goshute’s dilemma that first attracted our attention to the SNWA pipeline.[2] Both the Goshute and Ely Shoshone (the Shoshone in this region called themselves “Newe”) have reservation land in the affected area, and both have been fighting the pipeline since it was first proposed. Rick Spilsbury, a Shoshone man from Ely, Nevada, led the tour, which began with Spring Creek, near Ibapah in Antelope Valley.

Spring Creek sustains a rich diversity of life. Rare Bonneville cutthroat trout swim in the creek and reservoir, elk come to drink, and many medicinal and edible plants grow in the riparian areas. Watercress lines the creek, and stinging nettles and wild rhubarb grow under the shade of the rocks where the water emerges. The stewardship of the Goshute has been integral in the return of Bonneville cutthroat to their native waters, and Spring Creek is essential in the restoration of the native fish population.[3]

About a dozen Goshute people went along this part of the tour, including young children transfixed by the sight of water springing straight from rock. The small stream cooled a channel through hot, dry air. The Goshute seemed especially quiet here, though all laughed when one of us held up a handful of old elk droppings, apparently thinking we didn’t know what they were. There seemed a lightness of heart to the mood, maybe because all felt that for the time being, the spring was safe.

Pond at Spring Creek and Deep Creek Range

Pond at Spring Creek and Deep Creek Range

SNWA suffered a major legal setback in December, 2013, when a Nevada District Court judge ruled that the State Engineer’s decision allowing the groundwater pumping was “arbitrary and capricious,” and also “criticized the proposed plan to monitor and take action if damage to the environment occurs and stated there must be scientific triggers.”[4] “Triggers” are events—such as the drying of springs or wells—that would force SNWA to cease pumping water and re-evaluate how it’s impacting an aquifer.

Before this ruling, SNWA wouldn’t even negotiate the possibility of triggers, according to tour guide Rick Spilsbury. Though SNWA has appealed, and other federal lawsuits against the project are pending, the overall outlook for now is good. As Spilsbury explained it, SNWA owns the water rights but because they’re locked in litigation, the water must legally stay put. However, he also cautioned that in the midst of this wave of good news is the bad news that weary pipeline opponents are becoming complacent.

It is important to remember that no success is guaranteed to last as long as industrial civilization stands. And any loss will be effectively permanent. Overdrawn aquifers will not return to their original states on timescales meaningful to humans. It’s possible to stop the SNWA pipeline, but if organized action doesn’t materialize before it’s too late, the effects are irreversible.

“My people have lived here sustainably for over 10,000 years,” said Spilsbury. “We want that for all of the Earth for another 10,000 years.”

From Spring Creek, the tour proceeded south through Antelope Valley into Spring Valley. Spring Valley would be mined for 61,127 acre feet of water annually (one acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land a foot deep—about 325,850 US gallons). Along with other valleys targeted for wells—Delamar, Cave, and Dry Lake—the project may produce 200,000 acre feet of water per year.

That night, we stopped to camp at Cleve Creek on the eastern edge of Spring Valley. We did not see any of the “Indian Petroglyphs” indicated on the map, but the place’s coolness, its cottonwoods and willows, its little gurgling creek, the distant tree-spotted meadows in the Schell Creek Range above, all spoke of its endurance and durability. The vestigial ice-age water below the surface—not so long ago, these valleys were long fjords of inland seas, the many mountain ranges slender peninsulas and islands—had a quiet language of its own, too. This quiet of the Great Basin is immense, sometimes intimidating. At Cleve Creek that night, as small thunderstorms came and went and birds and bats circled in the twilight, the calm was overwhelmingly of peace and security.

The conversation turned to the topic of bears and, as if the sky were participating, the clouds parted to reveal the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear), whose seven brightest stars are also known as the Big Dipper.

The next day we went further south through Spring Valley to the Swamp Cedars, a place that is both sacred and horrible to Goshute and Shoshone peoples. For many generations, this was a gathering place, trading ground, and ceremonial area. But only two generations ago, Mormon settlers and the U.S. cavalry attacked Newe gathered at this location.[5] Over a hundred people were killed in three massacres.

Sacred Water Tour, 2014

Sacred Water Tour, 2014

After paying our respects, admiring the rare ecology of a valley-floor forest in Nevada, and contemplating the sobering fact that this site is surrounded by SNWA test wells and is constantly threatened (a nearby wind farm was originally sited in the cedars), we proceeded further south.

After passing through Ely for resupply, long dirt roads carried us further south in sagebrush valleys between several mountainous wilderness areas (including Mount Grafton Wilderness). These remote, life-filled areas are threatened by the water grab as well.

In the heat of the afternoon, we dropped down to the West to Hot Creek Springs and Marsh Area, part of Kirch Wildlife Management Area. We visited Adams-McGill Reservoir, an oasis full of fish, flanked by many birds and lined with thick bulrush. A great blue heron waited nearby to show us that life can thrive in the desert—if there is water.

Kirch Wildlife Management Area

Kirch Wildlife Management Area

The endangered White River spinedace live in these waters, and are directly threatened by the proposed pipeline which would drain crucial habitat for the few remaining spinedace populations.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “A recent environmental impact statement for the proposed pipeline project disclosed that major vegetation and ecosystem changes would occur on more than 200,000 acres, including wetlands that will dry up and wildlife shrubland habitat converted to dryland grasses and noxious weeds. More than 300 springs would also be hurt, along with more than 120 miles of streams.”[6]

We headed back into Cave Valley via an extremely rough road, and we guessed that it rarely travelled. No place to break down. Even though the herd of wild horses we glimpsed knew where to find water out in these dry open valleys, there is no guarantee we could find drinking water. There are few perennial streams or springs. Most of the water is held in the ground, and the shallow groundwater brings life. Every drop of water counts. Water stolen means death to many of those who call this land home.

As the Goshute put it, “even a slight reduction in the water table will result in a cascade of wildlife and vegetation impacts directly harming our ability to engage in traditional practices of hunting, gathering, and fishing on ancestral lands. As our former Chairman Rupert Steele has pointed out; ‘if we lose our language or our lands, we will cease to be Goshute people.’ SNWA’s groundwater development application is the biggest threat to the Goshute way of life since European settlers first arrived on Goshute lands more than 150 years ago.”[7]

Before reaching our next camp in a small pass along the side of Cave Valley, we passed beneath the great tilted limestone peaks of the Schell Creek mountain range.

 Schell Creek Mountains

Schell Creek Mountains

Our campsite that evening, with views into two valleys threatened by SNWA, reminded us of what happened to the Owens River Valley in California after a water extraction project. The valley was turned into a desiccated, dusty landscape largely devoid of life.[8]

That evening, we watched the sunset—a vibrant backdrop of rust, fuschia, and vermillion—from a remote limestone bluff above the pass until the light faded and hunger and darkness drove us back to camp.

Great Basin sunset, Cave Valley

Great Basin sunset, Cave Valley

The sun rose bright on our final morning, cicada song rising in volume with the light. We drove east along several more valleys before dropping into Lake Valley, where SNWA has purchased several ranches. The largest ranch was scandalized when SNWA fired a ranch manager for sexually harassing a female employee. According to Spilsbury, the money-losing ranch is an unpopular venture for the semi-public water agency, even in Las Vegas.

The day was warming quickly, reminding us this desert isn’t always cold. Lake is a broader valley than the others, the mountain ranges lower and gentler than those just to the west. Here the distance felt lonelier, more desolate, yet grazing antelope and circling ravens made their ways through the heat and bright sun. We made a final stop at another SNWA test well, and found beetles and ants and many other subtle crawling things in the cow-burnt soil. A sign in the bulldozed perimeter read “restoration area” with no evident irony at all. We said goodbye, wondering what would happen next, what we could do. The fate of this land seems in the hands of lawyers and judges, where a city’s agents have squared off against the scattered peoples of the dry valleys who only seem to want to be left alone. This is the old weary story of civilization—of legitimized theft, of an inevitable trajectory of civilized human endeavor that always ends in ruin. Yet the land wants to live.

SNWA Test Well site, Cave Valley

SNWA Test Well site, Cave Valley

As long as the cities of civilization exist near these wild places of sage and sky, they will have their eyes on the water. Even with precious little water evident in the landscape and ecology of the dry valleys, the judge in the December court ruling has noted that the SNWA water-grab is “likely the largest interbasin transfer of water in U.S. history”.[9] If the pipeline is approved the beautiful land will be permanently transformed into a dry dead place in the same way that other lands have been destroyed by this culture of extraction. As Derrick Jensen says, “Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.”[10]

DGR Southwest Coalition is searching for strategies to add defenses to the water and communities of the region. One possibility is being advanced by Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which “works with communities to establish Community Rights—such that communities are empowered to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents and the natural environment, and establish environmental and economic sustainability.”[11] We welcome any suggestions and offers to help; we also encourage you to join the yearly Sacred Water Tour next May.

 

[1] Michael Carter, “Groundwater Pipeline Threatens Great Basin Desert, Indigenous Groups,” Deep Green Resistance News Service, June 17, 2013, http://dgrnewsservice.org/2013/06/17/groundwater-pipeline-threatens-great-basin-desert-indigenous-groups/

[2] Stephen Dark, “Last Stand: Goshutes battle to save their sacred water,” Salt Lake City Weekly, May 9, 2012, http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-35-15894-last-stand.html?current_page=all

[3] US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Status Review for Bonneville Cutthroat Trout,” October 2001, http://wildlife.utah.gov/cutthroat/BCT/literature/fws/bct_status_review.pdf

[4] Lukas Eggen, “Opponents of SNWA pipeline earn ‘complete victory’,” The Ely Times, December 13, 2013, http://www.elynews.com/2013/12/13/opponents-snwa-pipeline-earn-complete-victory-2/

[5] Delaine Spilsbury, “Clark, Lincoln, and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project Public Comment,” October 5, 2011, http://water.nv.gov/hearings/past/springetal/browseabledocs/Public Comments/Delaine Spilsbury 3.pdf

[6] Center for Biological Diversity, “Top 10 U.S. Endangered Species Threatened by Overpopulation,” October 28, 2011, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2011/7-billion-10-28-2011.html

[7] Protect Goshute Water, “Southern Nevada Water Authority Groundwater Pumping & Pipeline Proposal,” The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, accessed June 24, 2014, www.GoshuteWater.org

[8] Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert. New York: Viking Penguin, 1986.

[9] Rob Mrowka, “Lawsuit Filed to Halt Massive Las Vegas Water Grab: Pipeline Would Dry Up Springs and Wetlands, Hurt Fish, Sage Grouse, Pronghorn and Other Species” Center for Biological Diversity, February 12, 2014http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2014/southern-nevada-water-authority-02-12-2014.html

[10] Derrick Jensen, Endgame (Volume I): The Problem of Civilization. New York: Seven Stories, 2006.

[11] Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, “Community Rights,” accessed June 25, 2014, http://www.celdf.org/section.php?id=423