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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.

Time is Short: Nonviolence Can Work, But Not for Us

By now we should all be familiar with what’s at stake. The horrific statistics—200 species driven extinct daily, every child born with hundreds of toxic chemicals already in their bodies, every living system on the planet in decline—haunt us as we go about our work in a world that refuses to hear, listen, or act on them. After decades of traditional organizing and activist work, we’re beginning to come to terms with the need for a dramatic shift in strategy and tactics, and indeed in how we conceptualize the task before us.

It is not enough any longer (if it ever was) to build a reformist social movement, one more faction among many attempting to fix the failings within our society. With industrial civilization literally tearing apart the biosphere and skinning the planet alive, we can afford no other goal than to build a resistance movement capable of—and determined to succeed in—bringing down industrial civilization, by any means necessary.

We know this will require decisive underground action to be successful, and starting all but from scratch, this begins with promoting the need for militant resistance; trying to garner acceptance and normalization of the fact that without militant resistance—including sabotage and direct attacks on key nodes of industrial infrastructure—there is little, if any, hope that earth will survive much longer.

However, the pervasive ideology of the dominant culture leaves most of its members unwilling to even consider dialogue on the topic of militant resistance, much less adopting it as a strategy. One manifestation of this is the all-too-widely held belief that nonviolent resistance is more always more effective than violent resistance.

The most common explanation provided to justify this idea is that violent movements alienate potential supporters, while nonviolent movements are more likely to mobilize “the masses” around a cause, and that without mass participation and support, there can be no social or political change.

For example, several years ago two university professors conducted a statistical comparison of violent and nonviolent social movements in the 20th century, with the goal of determining the relative effectiveness of violent and nonviolent strategies. The survey was limited to anti-occupation & anti-colonial movements, as well as those that sought regime change or the end of an oppressive government. In 2011, the findings were published in a book called Why Civil Resistance Works. The authors concluded that, based on their data, nonviolent movements are statistically twice as effective as violent ones, and they explained this as being due to the propensity of nonviolent movements to elicit greater participation from the general population.

An underlying premise—unstated by those who espouse this line of reasoning—is that without popular support and engagement, movements cannot achieve their aims. While it is certainly the case that mass movements can be effective in creating social change, that is by no means always the case. The simple (and perhaps unfortunate) truth is that some causes will never enjoy popular support, regardless of what strategies or tactics they use. In a deeply, fundamentally misogynistic and racist culture, a culture that has as its foundation the slow dismemberment of the living world, the support and enthusiasm of the majority is by no means a signifier that a cause is a worthwhile one. And a lack of that popular support doesn’t mean a cause or movement isn’t righteous.

We would do well to remember that the majority of Germans didn’t support any resistance against the Nazis, and even a decade after the war ended and the atrocities of the Nazi genocide were well known, most Germans still opposed even the idea of a theoretical resistance to Nazi rule.

Similarly, a movement to dismantle civilization will never enjoy the support or participation of a mass movement. Far too many people are completely dependent upon it, or too attached to the material privilege and prosperity it affords them for their allegiance, or simply unable to question the only way of life they ever known, or all of the above. The truth is that any effort to stop civilization will always be a minority, not only without popular support, but likely directly opposed by the majority of the dominant culture. This is a sobering fact that, while perhaps difficult to come to terms with, we need to accept and build our strategy around. Rather than starting from the abstract position of “nonviolence works” and building a strategy for our movement from there, we should start with the material realities of our situation—the time, resources, and numbers of participants available to us.

This is why framing the whole discussion within a ‘violent/nonviolent’ dichotomy is problematic. When we reduce the complexities of entire movements and strategies down to the simple categories of ‘violent’ and ‘nonviolent,’ we relegate all discussion about strategy to theoretical and conceptual realms, glossing almost entirely over the nuances and dynamics of particular struggles. And it’s these details that determine what strategies will be effective. If we want to decide on an effective strategy, we need to first examine closely and critically our situation, and determine from there what will be most effective.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we won’t ever have the numbers of participants required for strategies of popular nonviolence. It doesn’t matter how effective nonviolent strategies and movements may be in other situations; we’re not in those situations and without the necessary numbers, nonviolent strategies hold no promise for us. We need to halt industrial civilization in its tracks, and that position isn’t one that can muster a mass movement.

Which brings us back to the need for decisive underground action. Unlike nonviolent strategy, which is dependent upon mobilize huge numbers of participants, a strategy of militant attacks on key nodes of industrial infrastructures—a strategy of decisive ecological warfare—doesn’t require mass participation or support. Coordinated and repeated attacks against systemic weak points or bottle necks can cause systems disruption and cascading systems failure, resulting in the collapse of industrial activity and civilization—which must be our goal if we profess any love for life on this planet.

Given that industrial infrastructure is the foundational pillar of support for the function and existence of industrial civilization, and that these infrastructure networks are sprawling, fragile, and poorly protected; coordinated sabotage presents the best strategy and hope for a movement to bring down civilization.

Recognizing the need for underground action and the key role it must play if we’re to be successful as a movement doesn’t mean disavowing all nonviolent action. We need bio-diverse movements and cultures of resistance, and for some objectives nonviolent strategies are appropriate and smart and should be pursued. But we also need to recognize the limitations of various strategies, and especially the limitations of our own situation.

To reiterate, we will only ever be a small movement; we’ll never enjoy the support and participation required by mass nonviolent campaigns. The unfortunate truth is that most folks won’t ever willingly challenge the basis of their own way of life, much less organize to confront power and dismantle that way of life.

We also don’t have much time: according to conservative estimates, we have five years to stop the development and construction of fossil fuel infrastructure before being locked into catastrophic runaway climate change.

Those limitations—the lack of numbers and the short time available, combined with the fragility and vulnerability of the physical infrastructures of planetary murder—are what should point us away from mass nonviolence and towards a strategy of strategic sabotage. Coming to terms with and acting upon that reality isn’t always easy, but the sooner we’re able to let go of our misinformed and misguided dreams of a mass movement, the sooner we can start the real work of building a serious resistance movement.

Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran August 8, 2013, in the Deep Green Resistance News Service.  We are republishing the entire Time is Short series, and welcome your comments.

By Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey / Deep Green Resistance

Humans are storytelling creatures, and our current strategy as a movement is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.  We need to ask whether that story matches up with reality, and with the way social change has happened throughout history.

Resistance Rewritten part II

So here’s the story as it stands:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

We all know this narrative, we hear it http://localhost/chapters/ns/resistance/strategy/time-is-short-resistance-rewritten-part-ii/referenced all the time, and it resonates with a lot of people, but we need to examine it with a critical eye along with the historical narratives that are used to back it up. There are truths behind these ideas, but there is also the omission of truth, and we can decipher the interests of the historian by reading between the lines. Let’s take each piece of this narrative in turn to try and find out what’s been omitted and those interests that omission may be concealing.

So let’s start with the idea of “a shift in consciousness.”  The idea that we can educate society into a new and different state of consciousness has been popularized most recently by writers like David Korten, who bases his analysis on the idea:

“The term The Great Turning has come into widespread use to describe the awakening of a higher level of human consciousness and a human turn from an era of violence against people and nature to a new era of peace, justice and environmental restoration.”

Another way that this idea is often mentioned is in the form of the Hundredth Monkey myth. A primatologist named Lyall Watson wrote about a supposed phenomenon where monkeys on one island began teaching each other to wash sweet potatoes in the ocean before eating them. Myth has it that once the hundredth monkey learned to do it, monkeys on other islands who had no contact with the original potato washing monkeys spontaneously began washing potatoes, exhibiting a kind of tipping point or collective jump in consciousness. The existence of this phenomenon has been thoroughly debunked, and even Watson himself has admitted that he fabricated the myth using “very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay.” This hasn’t stopped optimistic environmentalists from invoking the hundredth monkey phenomenon to defend the idea that through raising our collective consciousness, by getting through to that hundredth monkey, we’ll spark a great turning of humankind away from the behaviors that are killing the planet.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking doesn’t pan out historically. Let’s take the example of resistance against the Nazi regime and the genocide it committed. And let’s look at some omitted historical information. In 1952, after the Nuremberg Trials, after all of the information about the atrocities of the holocaust had become common knowledge, still only 20% of German citizens thought that resistance was justifiable during wartime which, under the Nazis or any other empire, is all the time. And mind you, the question was not whether they personally would participate in the resistance; it was whether they thought any resistance by anyone was justifiable.

At the time that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, 80% of Southern whites still disapproved of giving legal rights to black people. So, raised awareness of the atrocities of the holocaust and of American slavery did not translate into an increased willingness to support resistance.  It was not a shift in consciousness that got the civil rights act passed – it was the hard and dangerous work of organizing, protesting, and putting pressure on the government not by changing its mind but by forcing its hand. [1]

This same unfortunate trend is true about current efforts to educate about climate change. A recent Yale study found that raised awareness about the facts of climate change is not the most powerful influence on someone’s attitude about the issue. Far more powerful on an individual’s attitude are the attitudes of their culture and their community. Right now, the culture we live in here in the US is dedicated to downplaying the risks and tamping down any kind of resistance. Our way of life depends on the very technologies that are causing climate change, and it’s difficult to make someone understand something if their salary, much less their entire way of life, depends on not understanding it. [2]

Pointing these things out is not intended to devalue education efforts. If we didn’t think education was important, we wouldn’t be writing this, and every social justice movement that’s had a serious impact has been very intentional about education. But it’s important to put education in perspective as just one tactic in our toolbox. If we’re looking to education and raising awareness as a strategy unto themselves as many seem to be, history tells us that we’re bound to be disappointed.

So who is served by the dominance of this narrative?  Those who are profiting from the destruction of the planet are the ones whose interests are served by this because the longer we wait for the mythical great turning, or the hundredth monkey, or the next level of consciousness, the more time we give this system to poison the air and water, gut the land, and chew up what little biodiversity we have left.

Ideas can be powerful, but only if they get people to act.  History tells us that more awareness often does not translate into more action.  Let’s take the focus off trying to change people’s ideas about the world, and start focusing on changing material circumstances.

Mass Movement

Part and parcel with the idea of a consciousness shift is the hope that such a shift will lead to a mass movement, and this idea is extremely prevalent among many environmentalists.

We have Bill McKibben saying things like, “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement. There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it.” – Bill McKibben

This is a very absolute statement, and it shows that folks like McKibben who have the most clout in the mainstream environmentalist crowd are telling us in no uncertain terms that building a mass movement is the only hope that we have to halt the destruction of the planet. I would hope that if he’s so sure about that, he has history and some evidence on his side to back it up.

And to be certain, there are examples throughout history of times when numbers mattered. Strikes, the Montgomery Bus Boycott – the key factor in some victories has been numbers.  But the omitted history here is that a mass movement is not the only thing that has ever worked.

One of the most successful movements against oil extraction to date has been MEND, which stands for Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. The area was being ravaged by Shell, and just a few hundred people took on both the Nigerian military and Shell’s private military. They’ve won popular support among the Niger Delta community, and more importantly, those few hundred people have managed to make significant reductions in the oil output from the region, which is something that mainstream environmental movement can’t boast by any stretch of the imagination.

The French Resistance to German occupation during WWII played a significant role in facilitating the Allies rapid advance through France, and active resisters to the Nazi occupation of France was composed of about one percent of the population. Supporters, judging by how many people were reading the underground newspaper, were as much as ten percent of the population, but the active resistance – those who were organizing strikes, gathering intelligence on the German military, sabotaging arms factories, attacks on the electrical grid, telecommunications, attacking German forces and also producing underground media about these activities – these folks were a very small segment of the population, about one percent, hardly a mass movement.

The Irish Republican Army, which fought the British occupation of Ireland, is a similar case with regard to the numbers.  At the peak of the IRA’s resistance, when they were the most active, they had 100,000 members, which was just over 2% of the population, only 15,000 of which were guerilla fighters.  And they had 700 years of resistance culture to draw on, while our modern environmental movement has been losing ground steadily in the fifty years since its birth.

This is not to say that broad popular support isn’t something we should hope for or something we should value, but we do need to call into question the idea, an idea that people like Bill McKibben seem to completely buy into, that a mass movement is the only scenario we can hope for.  The history of resistance tells us otherwise, it tells us that small groups of committed people can be and have been successful in resisting empire.

Who is served by the dominant mass movement narrative?  The people who are murdering the planet are served by this narrative. They are the victors, and they will continue to be the victors until we stop buying into their version of history and their vision of the future.  While we wait for a mass movement, they are capitalizing on our paralysis and our inaction.  And another 200 species went extinct today.

Dogmatic Pacifism

Recently we’ve seen the rise of the term eco-terrorist to define groups or individuals who use tactics involving force.  We’ve even seen recent legislation, like House Bills 2595 and 96 in Oregon, used to redefine tree sits and other nonviolent forest defense tactics as terrorism.  The FBI defines eco-terrorism as “”the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against people or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.”

When I hear the term eco-terrorism, I’m reminded of a bumper sticker that my friend has on her car, which says “they only call it class warfare when we fight back.”  In this case, they only call it terrorism when people fight back.  US imperialism, police violence, and the eradication of 200 entire species every single day – to the FBI, these things don’t count as terrorism.  But the destruction of property, even if it harms no humans at all, gets condemned not only by the FBI, but by mainstream environmental organizations as well.

“The Sierra Club strongly condemns all acts of violence in the name of the environment,” said Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club conservation director. “That type of criminal behavior does nothing to further the cause of promoting safe and livable communities.” I would like to hear Bruce Hamilton tell that to the living communities who are still alive today because of the use of forest defense tactics.  I think they would disagree.

A side note on the Sierra Club: Between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 MILLION in donations from Chesapeake Energy, one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the US and a firm heavily involved in fracking. Of course, the higher ups in the Club kept this from the members. At the time they ended their relationship with Chesapeake Energy in 2010, they turned their back on an additional $30 million in donations.  We have to ask if a corporation, which like all corporations is singularly capable of focusing on profits, would donate any money much less that much money to a group using tactics they felt would be remotely likely to put a dent in their revenue.

So people like Hamilton are not only condemning acts they calls violent, but they’re condemning criminal behavior in the name of the environment.  The problem with that is that the government, and the corporations that run it, THEY decide what is criminal and what isn’t, and they are increasingly criminalizing any action that has a chance of challenging their power or profits.

As activist Tim DeChristopher found out, something as nonviolent as bidding on land against oil companies is criminal.  As occupy protesters found out, occupying public space is criminal.

If activists accept the line between legality and criminality as a line that cannot be crossed, they accept the idea that activists should only take actions sanctioned by the very people whose power we should be challenging.  The state tends to criminalize, or classify as “violent,” any type of action that might work to challenge the status quo. Let’s keep that in mind as we look at the historical examples that are often used to back up this emphasis on the exclusive use of nonviolent tactics.

The fight against British occupation led by Gandhi is often the first and most prominent example used to promote exclusive nonviolence. Gandhi gained notoriety by leading large nonviolent protests like marches, pickets, strikes, and hunger strikes. He eventually was allowed to engage in negotiations with the occupying British who agreed to free imprisoned protesters from prison if Gandhi called off the protests.  Gandhi is sometimes portrayed as single handedly leading a nonviolent uprising and forcing the British to make concessions, but we have to ask – what is the omitted history here?

The truth is that the success of the movement against the British occupation was not solely the result of pacifist tactics; it was the result of a diversity of tactics.  While Gandhi was organizing, a socialist named Bhagat Singh became disillusioned with what he saw as the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of Gandhi’s tactics.  Singh went on to lead strikes and encourage militancy against the British occupation, and is considered one of the most influential revolutionary leaders in India, more revered by some in India than Gandhi.  The combination of economic tactics, peaceful and symbolic actions, cultural revival, and yes, militancy, had an effect together.  Most in the West, the activists that I’ve met that look to nonviolence as the primary guiding principle for their tactics have never heard of Bhagat Singh.

George Orwell had this to say on the topic of Gandhi: “Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British government. Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”

Another prominent proponent of nonviolence was Martin Luther King Jr. For a people terrorized by the violence of poverty, police violence, white supremacist terrorism, and other horrors, the power of King’s words and the importance of his work, his significance to the civil rights movement, cannot be overstated.  Other nonviolent groups and action like the freedom riders were very effective in demonstrating the reality of racist brutality.  However, the gains made by the movement during that time were not solely the result of nonviolent tactics.

The Black Panther party and other groups were advocating for self-defense tactics and militancy, and they were widely censured for it by more mainstream elements within the movement, much like militant environmental defense is being censured by the mainstream today.  A group called the Deacons for Defense and Justice was training black communities in armed self-defense tactics.

Again, in the case of the civil rights movement, it was not nonviolent tactics alone that produced the gains of that era; it was a diversity of tactics.

We already mentioned MEND, and MEND is not a nonviolent group.  They are an armed militia, and they use tactics from sabotage to kidnapping oil executives in order to defend their land and their people. The land is being utterly decimated by oil extraction.  The people live in poverty despite the Nigerian government making millions from the oil rich area.  The tactics MEND uses are a last resort.  Before MEND, the resistance in the Niger Delta was primarily nonviolent, and it was led by a man named Ken Saro-Wiwa.  Ken Saro-Wiwa and his group, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, never deviated from their commitment to nonviolence, even as Ogoni resistance leaders were being routinely murdered, both by oil company thugs and legally, through state execution.  In 1995, despite a massive human rights outcry from around the world, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed on false charges by the Nigerian government, along with eight other Ogoni resistance leaders.  As Orwell pointed out, the Nigerian government and the oil companies it serves can stand “moral force” until the cows come home, it has no effect.  But the physical force of MEND’s tactics was able to reduce oil output by one third between 2006 and 2008.

The movement for women’s suffrage is another movement often misremembered in the popular imagination as being won solely by nonviolent means.  In Britain, women started out with pickets, and lobbying, and letters to the editor. But when these tactics failed, some suffragists moved on to direct action, such as chaining themselves to the railings outside the prime minister’s home, and to actually going and casting ballots illegally, which got them arrested.  After a protest in 1910 turned into a near riot due to brutal police beatings of protesting women, the movement began to wage guerilla warfare, orchestrating systematic window smashing campaigns and arson attacks.  The slogan of this movement was “deeds, not words.” They were imprisoned and tortured for their efforts, but in 1918, they won the right to vote.  Again, this fight was won by a diversity of tactics.

So there’s a pattern here to which parts of history become mainstream, and which parts become marginalized and even forgotten.

Whose interests are served by omitting militancy from the historical record? It is in the interest of governments and corporations that we never seize the physical force to actually stop them.

However, plenty of people around the world ARE seizing that physical force, and they have been throughout history.  Instead of haggling with Monsanto over ineffective regulations of GMO crops, and the labeling of GMO products, Hungary decided to burn all of Monsanto’s GMO corn fields within their borders to protect the integrity of their other crops.  Another example of GMO resistance is that this past June in Southern Oregon, 40 Tons or 6,500 sugar beet GMO crops were destroyed by hand and the field burned over a three night period. There has been a complete media blackout of this in response, perhaps to avoid inspiring more folks from taking this type of action.

Fracking equipment was set ablaze around so called New Brunswick in Canada two weeks later. This is coming at a time of increased indigenous resistance to hydraulic fracturing in the region, after numerous direct actions, midnight seizures of drilling equipment, and a local man being struck by a contractor’s vehicle.

Another example of resistance through physical force is that instead of accepting the Brazilian government ignoring their voices and sentencing their way of life to be destroyed, hundreds of indigenous demonstrators occupied and began to manually dismantle Belo Monte Dam construction.

So let’s look again at the narrative we began with:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

I hope that we’ve been able to demonstrate that while there are underlying truths here, this narrative leaves out a lot of important information, and as a result, a strategy based on this narrative is not working.

Here’s a version of those ideas that incorporates some of the omitted information that we talk about today.

  • Education is vitally important, but we can’t expect raising awareness to galvanize most people into action, especially when action would threaten their privilege and entitlement.
  • Popular support is valuable, but resistance has often been carried out by small groups of determined people, not by mass movements.
  • Nonviolence can be a powerful tactic, but winning strategies are marked by a diversity of both peaceful and militant tactics.

What does this mean for our actions?  How can we incorporate this information into our strategy?

  • Vocally challenge these narratives
  • Support extra-legal resistance
  • Support political prisoners
  • Adhere to security culture

We tried really hard as we were writing this to not sugarcoat any of this.  When I’ve spoken frankly in the past about biodiversity collapse, catastrophic climate change, and the horror I feel in response to them, I’ve had some people say “tone it down.  Don’t be so doom and gloom, you’ve got to give the people hope.”  Let me say now for the record – fuck hope.  We don’t need it.  As one author put it, “hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.”  In other words, you only need hope in situations where you have no control, no power.  Those who do have power, who are using that power to murder the planet, have written a narrative that masks the power we could wield, that lies in order to make sure we never claim the tools to challenge their profits.

Every day that we abide by their rules and accept the narrative that serves their power is a day we waste.  But every day is also a new chance to rewrite that narrative, to change the story.  With a truer understanding of the past we can form a more effective strategy for the present.  With a more effective strategy in the present, we can reject a future on the dying planet they have us headed toward.

With everything, literally, at stake, it’s time to do what we can with what we have, and it’s time to claim the legacy of resistance that these and other examples of silenced history could teach us.

References

[1] http://books.google.com/books?id=kKv8PXwIiFkC&pg=PA237&lpg=PA237&dq=civil+rights+gallup+polling+1960&source=bl&ots=-TTg7n7EbO&sig=odTF9mCzMqJkuPH2xZoRYCDPYaI&hl=en&ei=HkLgS-WcFpKwNtWsmKsH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CCAQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

[2] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1981907

This is the second part of a two piece series on strategic resistance by Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey. The first piece is available here: Resistance Rewritten, Part 1.

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.

Time is Short: Where Do We Draw the Line? The Keystone XL Pipeline and Beyond

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran March 20, 2013, in the Deep Green Resistance News Service.  We are republishing the entire Time is Short series, and considering that the newly elected US Senate now has enough votes to pass approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline and has made it second on its list of priorities, we think this is especially relevant.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is without question the largest environmental issue we in North America face today. It’s not the largest in the sense that it is the most destructive, or the largest in terms of size. But it has been a definitive struggle for the movement; it has brought together a wide variety of groups, from mainstream liberals to radicals and indigenous peoples to fight against a single issue continuously for several years. It has forged alliances between tree-sitting direct actionists and small rural landowners, and mobilized people from across the country to join the battles in Washington and Texas, as well as at the local offices of companies involved in building the pipeline in their own communities. It has also posed serious questions to us as a movement about how we will effectively fight those who profit from the destruction of the living world.

But it’s time for a reality check.

While TransCanada continues laying pipe in Texas and Oklahoma, the Federal government is deliberating over the permit application for the Northern Leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will run from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. Despite the overwhelming (and inexplicable) sense of hope that pervades the movement, there’s little reason to be optimistic that TransCanada’s permits will be denied. So far, the Feds have neither done nor said anything that could lead any sane or rational person to believe the project will be rejected. On March 1st, the State Department released its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which concluded that the pipeline does not pose an unacceptable threat to human health or the environment.

Yet as we have heard only too many times already, climate scientists—including former NASA climate science chief James Hansen—have repeatedly said that the Keystone XL pipeline would be “game over” for the planet, as it would provide an outlet for the extremely dirty oil coming from the tar sands.

Obviously, the pipeline needs to be stopped. We can’t allow it to be built and to operate.

Fortunately, opposition to the pipeline is widespread, and thousands of people have been trying to stop it. A series of rallies in DC, spearheaded by 350.org, have mobilized thousands of people calling on Obama’s Administration to reject the pipeline, and inspired solidarity rallies across the country and protests at TransCanada offices.

Yet appealing to those in power isn’t working. When the leaders of some of the largest Big Green organizations (including 350.org and the Sierra Club) were being arrested outside the White House in an effort to appeal to Obama to reject the pipeline, the President was golfing with an oil executive in Florida.

Those in power are going to approve the pipeline. Asking them to change is failed strategy; at the end of the day, pipelines—like clear-cutting, strip mining, ocean trawling, hydraulic fracturing, and so many other destructive industrial activities—are legal. Those in charge of an economic system based on ecological destruction and endless growth will always favor the needs and wants of that system over the needs and wants of all those—human and non-human—harmed by their activities.

Meanwhile, more and more folks have started turning to nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to fight the pipeline. In North Texas, the Tar Sands Blockade has done everything it can to slow construction of the Southern Leg of the pipeline. Activists with TSB have erected tree sits in the pipeline’s path, locked themselves to equipment and vehicles, stormed TransCanada offices, gone on hunger strikes, organized protests and demonstrations along the route of the pipeline, and even locked themselves inside the pipeline. But unfortunately, it simply hasn’t been enough.

But despite their efforts, the pipeline continues to be built. There’s no denying that the sustained civil disobedience has delayed the project and forced TransCanada to fight hard for every mile of pipe laid in the ground; but they have the resources to ensure to overcome even the most strategic nonviolent direct action. When the Tar Sands Blockade erected a tree-sit in the path of construction, TransCanada altered its route and built around the protestors.

The reality is that TransCanada has the resources to outlast the delays and overcome direct action. They’ve already gone to great lengths to stop those who stand it their way; they hired off-duty police officers as a private security force and brought $50,000 lawsuits against the organizers of the Blockade. Make no mistake, TransCanada will go to whatever lengths it deems necessary to make sure the pipeline is built; they will threaten, sue, arrest, pepper spray, taser, torture, and force it through blockades and lockdowns. We don’t have the thousands (or tens of thousands) of people it would take to permanently stop the pipeline through civil disobedience; we’re fighting a losing battle.

Given all of this, it’s time to step back and take stock of the situation. It is clear that Obama and his administration are going to approve the pipeline, and there isn’t anything we can do to change that. It is also clear that civil disobedience has not been successful in stopping construction. So what options are left?

As James Hansen said, the Keystone XL pipeline will be “game over” for the planet. Stop a moment, and think about that.

Game over. Let that sink in.

Given what’s at stake (and what’s at stake is horrific), we need to draw the line. The Keystone XL Pipeline cannot be allowed to be built and operate. The tar sands cannot be allowed to be developed or extracted. They must be stopped. By any means necessary. When we’ve tried it all—everything from petitioning the powerful to civil disobedience –and at the end of the day, the pipeline is still being built, we need to recognize the need for escalation, including sabotage and property destruction.

That’s a proposition that makes a lot of folks uncomfortable. And that’s okay.

But when we’re left with the choice of either killing the pipeline or being killed by the pipeline, can we afford to rule out any tactics? When everything we’ve tried so far has failed, is there any choice left except more militant forms of direct action?

This isn’t a suggestion that anyone undertake any form of action they’re not comfortable with; we should all fight like hell, using whatever means we choose to use. But if some choose other means, such as sabotage or property destruction, we should not condemn or oppose them.

When the alternative is “game over” for the planet, anyone who chooses militant action to stop the pipeline is morally justified in doing so.

And yet, far from being extremist and unconventional, sabotage and underground resistance are threads common and integral to the cloth of movements for justice and sustainability. This is a rich history, and we should be proud to carry forth its legacy.

Even in regards solely to pipeline resistance, there is a definite precedent of movements using sabotage to fight otherwise unwinnable battles. In the Niger Delta, communities have been fighting oil extraction and systemic injustice, and wielding direct attacks on pipelines as a powerfully effective weapon. Following repeated failures of negotiations and nonviolent protest, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) began militant attacks on pipelines, pumping stations, offshore oil rigs, and other infrastructure in 2006. Their use of militant tactics has been devastatingly effective: they’ve decreased the oil output of the entire country of Nigeria by 40%.

On the other side of the world in British Columbia, a series of pipelines were sabotaged by the mysterious “Encana Bomber,” who repeatedly bombed pipelines and other natural gas infrastructure belonging to Encana, an oil & natural gas corporation. Local residents had tried to use the courts and regulatory infrastructures to protect themselves and their lands, but were trampled over by both Encana and the government agencies charged with regulating the corporation. Fed up with systemic injustice and environmental degradation, someone (or someones; the attackers remain anonymous and uncaught) decided to use any means necessary to fight back. Between October of 2008 and July of 2009, there were six attacks, and despite bullying and intimidation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, no one has been caught or arrested for the actions, and community members have openly expressed support for the sabotage. The attacks stopped in July 2009, when a letter from the bomber(s) gave Encana five years to “shut down and remove all the oil and gas facilities” in the area.

In both of these cases, those opposed to extractive projects (specifically including pipelines) tried to affect change through the established and legal channels: through government agencies and regulatory bodies, through negotiations, through lawsuits and court action. But when those tactics proved ineffective, they neither gave up nor continued with a failed strategy; they escalated. They knew they had to choose between taking militant action (and accepting the risk that entails) and destructive injustice. They chose to defend themselves, their communities, and the land, even if that meant taking more drastic action.

It’s time we did the same.

And while we so often consider even discussion of sabotage as a potential tactic as beyond the pale, militancy has played a critical role in past movements for justice—ones we are eager to support. The Boston Tea Party is upheld and oft-cited as a proud moment of American history, yet it was an instance of individuals destroying property; would we condemn the Boston Tea Partiers as “terrorists”? Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize and was elected president of South Africa after being freed from 27 years of imprisonment, yet he was in jail for sabotage and militant resistance; do we denounce him as well?

The Keystone XL pipeline must be stopped, and neither appeals to the government, lawsuits, nor civil disobedience have been able to stop the deathly march of the pipeline. If we’re not willing to even consider sabotage and property destruction—or support anyone who employs those tactics—when it’s that or “game over” for the planet, then we’re morally defunct beings, only hollow shells resembling those who hold any shred of love in their hearts. Do we really believe that the property of corporations is more important and sacred than the bodily integrity of real living people or the entire earth?

If not, then it’s time for a collective shift in the dialogue and culture of the environmental movement. We need to start talking openly about the possibility—and role—of militant action in the fight to stop the skinning of Earth alive. Make no mistake; this isn’t an exhortation to senseless violence or a call to walk away from other means of struggle. It’s a (truly) modest proposal that with literally the whole planet at stake, we put all the tools on the table. If we’re honest with ourselves about the situation we’re in, we don’t have any other choice.

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly 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

Time is Short: The Effectiveness of Sabotage

Editor’s Note: Though this article is newly published today on the Deep Green Resistance News Service, we will be re-publishing the Time is Short series every couple of days along with other regular news and articles, so please subscribe and watch for updates.

By Norris Thomlinson / Deep Green Resistance Hawai’i

To most of us with no military experience, the Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy (DEW) of Deep Green Resistance can seem abstract. The aboveground efforts of rebuilding local food systems, local economies, and local decision making are straight-forward and well known to citizens engaged in any sort of social justice or environmental activity. More confrontational public direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience are familiar to most activists, from historical examples of women’s suffrage and civil rights movements to modern fights like the tar sands blockade and the Unis’tot’en Camp. However, the crucial underground role of directly attacking critical infrastructure, though it sounds exciting in theory, has little grounding in our daily experience or even in the history we’ve learned.

Lagos_Pipeline_Sabotage-300x200

This is probably a deliberate omission from our history books, as sabotage is a highly effective tactic for small groups, outnumbered and outsupplied by opposing forces. In any situation of asymmetric warfare, sabotage plays an important role. This is precisely why the DEW strategy depends on one or more underground resistance groups carrying out unpredictable attacks on infrastructure to cause cascading systems failures. The aboveground work of slowing down destruction and building alternatives is crucial to easing the transition to a sane and sustainable way of living, but only decisive action by an underground can stop the entire juggernaut of industrial civilization in the time available to us before complete biotic collapse.

In 1987, Captain Howard Douthit III of the US Air Force published a thesis on “The Use and Effectiveness of Sabotage As a Means of Unconventional Warfare – An Historical Perspective From World War I Through Viet Nam.” Douthit performed an extensive literature search on the subject, and his report describes historical concepts and many specific instances of sabotage. He makes the subject much more accessible to the layperson, and demonstrates the effectiveness of sabotage in a wide range of circumstances.

Douthit provides summaries of different aspects of historical sabotage, distinguishing between forms such as passive (carried out by people forced to work for the occupying power) vs active, land-based vs aquatic targets, and targets of vehicles vs industry vs utilities. He found that among the most often used (and presumably most effective) forms of active sabotage were the use of explosives and mines, cutting power and communications lines, and arson. The most common targets included fuel depots, supply warehouses, oil pipelines, ships, railway infrastructure and trains, roads (including bridges & tunnels), communications infrastructure, and electrical facilities.

Sabotage groups that were better organized, trained, and supplied were able to pull off more complex and effective actions, often causing disruptions behind enemy lines in coordination with traditional military maneuvers on the front lines. But even small, amateur, destitute groups such as the Viet Cong were able to leverage the little they had to inflict disproportionate damage on their enemies.

Conventional forces had an extremely difficult time preventing the sabotage:

The only countermeasure that stopped sabotage was the manpower-prohibitive act of exterminating the saboteurs. Committing the number of forces necessary for effective counter-sabotage also produced too much of a drain on the front line. Indeed, as this fact became known, sabotage efforts increased in a deliberate move to force the enemy to guard against sabotage in the rear area. Thus, this research indicated there were no effective countermeasures to sabotage.

Douthit concludes:

[H]istory supported the thesis that sabotage is an effective means of warfare. Sabotage was used against both strategic and tactical targets. It was proven capable of being used near the front line, in the rear areas, and even in support areas out of the theater.

[…]

Sabotage can be used against both tactical and strategic targets.

Any nation, rich or poor, large or small can effect sabotage against an aggressor.

Sabotage is an economical form of warfare, requiring only a mode of transportation (possibly walking), a properly trained individual, and an applicable sabotage device.

To read more, download the PDF of “The Use and Effectiveness of Sabotage As a Means of Unconventional Warfare” (6.3 MB). For a detailed review of sabotage operations organized by chronological period and by country, start reading at page 13 of the report (page 25 in the PDF), or jump straight to the conclusions starting on page 92 (104 in the PDF).

Many films about historical resistance, especially about opposition to Nazi occupation, show successful examples of sabotage and other asymmetric warfare actions. Browse our Deep Green Resistance IMDB Lists for recommendations.

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly 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

DIY Resistance: Grasp Things at the Root

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

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

Tree roots

I recently attended another sustainability conference at a local university. The experts sat in a half-circle facing their audience in rank-and-file foldable chairs. I, like most of the audience, hoped to hear a brilliant solution to the ongoing destruction of the living world. The amount of experience and knowledge assembled in the experts’ panel was formidable.

There was an organic farmer, a local politician, a Christian minister, an executive director of an environmental NGO, a scientist, a green engineer, and a young indigenous woman representing the Native Students Union. My expectations were high.

Finally, the question we all came to hear answered was asked, “So, what do we do to stop this environmental catastrophe?”

The typical conversation topics were covered. “Is climate change real?” “What does ‘being green’ mean to you?” “What is sustainability?” I was prepared to sit through these questions patiently as the answers from the experts represented an introduction to Environmentalism 101 because I knew the pay-off question was coming.

Finally, the question we all came to hear answered was asked, “So, what do we do to stop this environmental catastrophe?” People took long draws from their coffee cups, cocked their heads forward, and scooted to the edge of their seats waiting for the words that would blow their minds and blow pipelines back to the hell they come from and cause. We wanted to find some enlightenment, some direction each one of us could take to stem the tide of destruction.

The organic farmer answered first. “If you care about the environment,” he said, “Never, ever go into a supermarket.” I looked around at the audience to make sure I heard that correctly. Was he suggesting that we could stop the destruction of the world by not shopping at the supermarket?

I noticed the young indigenous woman glaring at the organic farmer and knew I must not be completely crazy for disagreeing with the man. I settled myself down. I wasn’t going to let one insane answer ruin the conference for me.

The next answer came from the minister. “We need to recognize the connectedness of all living beings.” I waited for more and I started to get impatient. Yes, I understood. We are all connected. But, how is a spiritual process occurring exclusively in my own heart going to affect anything in the real world?

Then, it was the scientist’s turn to answer. When they handed him the microphone he paused for effect looking down the long ridge of his nose and over his glasses. His gaze was so intent and his pause so long that I felt we were finally going to be shown the way to environmental redemption. But, instead of answering the question, the scientist asked, “How many of you voted in the last election?”

“Voting!?” I thought. “His answer to the destruction of natural communities and the ongoing genocide of colonized peoples is…voting?”

We are going to stop the destruction of the world by stopping the destruction of the world. … Stopping the destruction means literally stopping the physical forces that are destroying the planet.

My head sank into my hands. My throat tightened in that mysterious spasm between wanting to burst into tears and wanting to burst into maniacal laughter. By the time I regained my composure enough to listen, I found the young indigenous woman berating the organic farmer for thinking the people most vulnerable to environmental disaster – the world’s poor – could afford to feed themselves on the wares of organic farmers.

She then, thankfully, turned on the scientist for claiming that anyone should consent to rule by an illegitimate, imperial government through the act of voting in that government’s elections.

******

We are not going to stop the destruction of the world by voting. We are not going to stop the destruction of the world by shopping. We are not going to stop the destruction of the world by opening our hearts to the reality of our connection to everything. We are going to stop the destruction of the world by stopping the destruction of the world.

You read that correctly. It’s a simple idea, but it’s true. Stopping the destruction means literally stopping the physical forces that are destroying the planet. This is not something we can wish away, pray away, write away, or vote away. Chainsaws need gas or electricity to run. Take away the gas and electricity and they cannot cut down trees. Mining companies need bridges and roads to access mines. Block the bridges and the roads and they cannot mine.

Governments need soldiers to drive indigenous peoples from their lands to access resources. Stop the soldiers and keep land bases in the hands of peoples who know how to live truly sustainably as evidenced by their existence on specific land bases for thousands of years.

Another way to think about this is to envision the typical, mainstream approach to political action. Say you’ve realized that fossil fuels are a problem. Say you’ve realized that climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is one of the most pressing problems facing the world today. Say you’ve realized that stopping pipelines carrying fossil fuels to be burned in communities around the world is essential for the survival of life on this planet. What can you do to stop these pipelines?

Yet another way to look at this is to analyze any of your proposed actions for whether or not they depend on someone else to stop the problem.

Well, you can do your best to wade through the rhetoric spat at you by political candidates to find who might espouse the most responsible stance towards pipelines and cast an informed vote. Of course, your candidate might lose the election. Or, your candidate might win and then decide that jobs are more important than breathable air. Never mind the fact that voting turns your voice, your body, yourself into simply a vote cast – one number in thousands.

Meanwhile, corporations are preparing their right-of-ways for their pipelines. They’re buying up land, clear-cutting it, and surveying it for the cheapest route.

Maybe your vote didn’t work out like you wanted it to so you circulate a petition. Worded with your most vitriolic political language, you gather thousands of signatures and send it to your elected representative hoping that he or she even sees it – much less reads it. While you’re doing this, more of the forests on the proposed pipeline routes are clear-cut. Hundreds of thousands of trees, millions of birds, and countless insects lose their lives.

After several months trying to get through to your elected representative, you decide to escalate your tactics. It’s time to take this issue to the courts. First, you have to find an attorney willing to take your case. Then, you have to raise the requisite retainer. Once you find a suitable attorney, you begin work on your arguments. The research begins to cost more and more money as your argument gets more and more complex.

Finally, you get the case in front of a judge and start the years-long process of litigation. In the end, of course, you’ll be relying on the skills of your attorney and the wisdom of the judge to decide in your favor and stop the pipelines.

In the end, the judge congratulates you and your attorney for making such a valiant effort while apologizing that the law is unfortunately squarely on the side of the oil corporations. You lose in court and have exhausted all political and legal means to stop the pipelines. What can you do?

You can deprive the ability of the government, of politicians, of lawyers, and judges from making the wrong decision. You can make it physically impossible to build the pipelines. The goal is not to vote for the right candidate. The goal is not to buy the most eco-friendly soap. The goal is not to put thousands of names on a nasty letter to your politician. The goal is to stop the pipelines.

The survival of life on earth is being threatened. Every day that passes brings us closer and closer to the black precipice of utter destruction.

Yet another way to look at this is to analyze any of your proposed actions for whether or not they depend on someone else to stop the problem. When you place your hopes in voting to stop environmental destruction, you’re depending on politicians to do the stopping.

Do we need to talk about politicians and their environmental record? When you place your hopes in a petition to stop social injustice, you’re depending, again, on politicians to do the stopping. When you depend on the courts to make the right rulings, you’re depending on judges to do the stopping. Maybe the courts have a slightly better environmental record than their counterparts in the executive branches of government, but with a livable planet at stake, are we willing to place our survival in the hands of judges?

This brings me to the main point. The survival of life on earth is being threatened. Every day that passes brings us closer and closer to the black precipice of utter destruction. While scientists are arguing over the planet’s capacity to support human life in terms of years or decades, we simply cannot wait around for someone else to stop the destruction.

We wouldn’t write letters to a known serial killer asking him to stop murdering; we’d just go and stop him. Why aren’t we doing the same thing for the planet?

*******

Lately, I’ve been receiving messages from readers of this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series asking me for specific advice on how to engage in resistance. I hesitate before writing back because, truthfully, I’m not very smart, I’m not very experienced, and I’m not very wise. Sometimes, I get lucky and write an essay someone likes, but I’m really just writing from the heart trusting that honesty is helpful.

On top of this, I only know what’s going on in a few small corners of the world. It’s hard to tell someone in New York City, for example, how to resist because I do not know the land and its fight for survival in New York City.

If you feel inclined to vote, vote, but please don’t let voting be the only thing you do.

This essay represents my attempt to fashion a common-sense analysis for thinking about where to direct your precious time, money, and body in the fight to save the world. If it’s not clear already, I am radical. I hate that the term ‘radical’ has come to represent extremism in popular circles and I’ve heard it asked, “Is it so radical to desire clean drinking water?”

Angela Davis, the great civil rights activist, pointed out that radical “simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’” The major dictionaries back her up.

“That’s great, Will,” you might be saying, “but do I have to become a radical to engage in effective resistance?” Well, yes and no. You may not be cut out for the sort of front line direct action that at least some of us must be willing to do to stop the murder of the planet. You must, however, learn to grasp the environmental problems at their roots. You must develop an analysis that lets you see where the pressure points in this ecocidal system exist.

Most importantly, you must direct your resources at those pressure points. If you cannot occupy the front lines, make sure the front lines are well supplied and well supported. If you feel inclined to vote, vote, but please don’t let voting be the only thing you do. Please don’t restrict your activities to those already sanctioned by the State. They are sanctioned because they are ultimately no threat to the status quo.

If you sink your shovel through the decaying bones, rotting flesh, and pooling blood that fertilizes the soil growing this abomination we call civilization, your shovel will strike the physical processes – the roots – allowing the murder to continue. If you want to be an effective resister direct all your energies at stopping those physical processes. Grasp the roots and yank them out.

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

DIY Resistance: Resistance is Sexy

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

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

Love-Revolution-1_largeI suffer from a profound sense of loneliness. I always have. I do not know why. And, I suspect I always will. Sometimes, I wonder if I cling to some strange addiction to loneliness. There are too many decisions I’ve made in my life knowing full well the alienation that would follow.

I chose to study English in college knowing the strange looks I’d get from my coaches and teammates. These strange looks were only matched by the incredulity some of my professors viewed me with as I walked into a Shakespeare class, a classical tragedy class, or a women’s literature class in a Dayton football sweat suit hustling my way back from practice. I chose to go to law school knowing the student loan debt that would pile upon me stressing out my family and any potential romantic partners that might choose to build a life with me. I chose to pursue a career as a public defender representing people most of society despises for a salary forcing me to live paycheck to paycheck. I chose to foster the voice in my heart that demands I act in the face of the suffering in the world baring my breast to the vulnerabilities that accompany embracing the empathy we were all born with.

Finally – and most importantly – I chose the ultimate alienation, twice, when I drank down full bottles of pills in an effort to leave forever. Having survived suicide, I also feel the weight of worried gazes from loved ones who think I’m not aware. I’ve made myself a person that friends and family cannot fully trust to answer truthfully when they ask, “How are you, Will?” I’m marked in only the ways someone who has traveled to the nether regions of spiritual darkness can be.

Despite the choices I’ve made, when I look at myself from a healthy place I realize two things about the loneliness. First, the loneliness is not my fault and, second, the seriousness of the predicament facing us demands that I learn to work through the loneliness and fight back. I have written extensively that my continuing recovery from suicidal depression involves the realization that depression – by itself – is simply an emotion and as an emotion cannot kill me on its own. I can kill me, but the emotional experience some call “depression” cannot kill me. The same is true for loneliness.

I have not yet pushed this idea to its fullest. The omnicidal processes destroying life on earth are physical processes literally killing everything. It is true that our emotional state can prevent us from acting, but no amount of inner emotional work without a corresponding effort in the real world is going to save us. I know how horrible depression is. I know how horrible loneliness is. In this installment of DIY Resistance, I encourage you to learn how to fight through these emotions and to recognize the way these emotions are expressed through your personal choices. We do not have much time left and if we are going to win we must shore up our strength to act.

Monkey-love_Jet-Armstrong

***
It is embarrassing to admit, but one of the ways I’ve sought to ease my loneliness is through committed romantic relationships. I’m naturally introverted. I value quality over quantity in my friendships. Most of the time, I would rather dive into a deep conversation with one person than chitchat with ten. Desperately seeking connection and a release for the tension my inner dialogues produce, all interpersonal relationship becomes a strong source of anxiety for me.

Romantic relationships have acted as a medicine for the loneliness. Once I share an authentic experience with someone, I feel I am carrying a precious, fragile treasure that could break in my hands if squeezed too tightly or flutter away in the breeze if I do not hold on to it. Adding sex to a connection intensifies the medicinal effects. Sex is both terrifying and magical for me. It is terrifying as an external performance. I recognize sex as an opportunity to give my partner a gift, but also as an opportunity to demonstrate my inadequacy. Sex is magical because it comes oh-so-close to filling that lonely void as an expression of emotional trust while the physicality brings me literally as close as possible to another human.

The commitment involved in a romantic relationship reassures my poor self-esteem that at least someone loves me. The commitment is something I can return to when I am caught in my self-pity. Common scenes from my romantic relationships show me replaying conversations over and over in my head – “Is she saying she loves me?” -poring over text messages with compliments in them to squeeze out every last drop of reassurance left in them, and listening to saved voicemails from years ago as proof that I am, in fact, lovable. I only recently was able to delete a voicemail an ex-partner left me the morning after my first suicide attempt where she said many compassionate things about me. I had to delete it because I have to learn to rely on myself for compassion.

Maybe it’s obvious to you how sick I’ve been and the mistakes I’ve made? But, it’s taken me over 27 years to realize that relying on another person to alleviate my loneliness is incredibly selfish. No one can take my feelings of loneliness away from me if I do not know how to take the loneliness away myself. Ultimately, my frustrations with my partners’ inabilities to heal my own loneliness have turned into resentment leading me to walk away from the relationships.

Of course, seeking redemption in the form of romantic relationship is damned from the outset for the simple reason that our emotional needs were never meant to be fulfilled by only one other person. The incessant search for a romantic partner that so many of us engage in is an expression of the way the dominant culture destroys true community by forcing us to spend too much of our time laboring to support ourselves and encouraging us to define ourselves as individuals instead of members of natural communities.

***
Clinging to romantic relationships can also work to limit resistance. My fear of being alone often leads me to remain in relationships far longer than I should. In my failed relationships, I found it difficult to make the decision to devote myself to resistance because I knew my decisions could hurt my partners. Resistance is far from lucrative. Resistance often takes you away from your partner. Resistance often affects your mood. It is difficult to share your life with a partner who will rarely have much money, who is often traveling to put his body in front of the forces destroying the world, and who struggles with the depression and anxiety that so often accompanies activist work.

I lost my last relationship when I decided to leave San Diego for the Unist’ot’en Camp. To travel to the Camp, I had to spend all my savings and give up weeks of work with the income that comes with the work. This meant I would not have been able to go on trips my partner and I were planning. This meant I might not have been able to contribute my half of the rent. This certainly meant I would be away from home for at least a few weeks. It wasn’t until my partner asked me, “Will you always love the cause more than you love me?” that I realized what I had to do – I had to go to the Unist’ot’en Camp.

I realized I will always love the cause more than I love any one person.

This realization caused me a tremendous amount of guilt. This former partner is a truly wonderful woman. She realized what was happening and called the paramedics from San Diego the night I tried to kill myself in Milwaukee. She realized what was happening and rushed me to the emergency room the morning after I tried to kill myself in San Diego. She stood by me when so many others would have left. She loved me when so many others couldn’t have.

I’ve learned to let the guilt go. One of the ways I’ve done this is by understanding that her question, “Will you always love the cause more than you me?” is essentially meaningless. Embracing the struggle to defend the land is embracing love for everyone including your partner. It is my hope that more of us will understand this. While ever more of our loved ones are murdered by environmentally induced cancers, by the diseases of civilization, by male violence against women, by suicidal depression produced by the alienation this culture creates, how long will it take us to realize that to love anyone demands that we devote ourselves to resistance?

But, that’s not even the point. Romantic relationships are not the point. My loneliness, your loneliness, any emotional state, being loved, not being loved, who you love, or who I love is not the point. The point is the world is being murdered in front of us. Seeking a healthy romantic relationship must simply take a backseat to the destruction of life. If we do not stop the forces burning the world, it will no longer be possible to engage in romantic relationships.

I am not saying that romance and resistance are mutually exclusive. They are not. I am saying putting your emotional desires above the health of your land base spells disaster for the real world. I am asking would-be resistors to stop asking “How do I make time for resistance around my relationship, around my family, or around my job?” and start asking instead, “Do I have time for a relationship, a family, or a job when our only hope is serious resistance?”

Finally, you just might find something beautiful when you embrace land defense as absolutely the most important thing in your life. You just might find people that love the world as you do. You might even find a pure kind of romance with someone who happens to find resistance sexy. Even better than experiencing romance, you might gain a true community that will strengthen your commitment to resistance.

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

DIY Resistance: Post-Modern Robin Hoods

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

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

I could not be happier.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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