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Save the Prairie Dogs: A Case Study

Deanna Meyer of Deep Green Resistance Colorado and Brian Ertz of Wildlands Defense teamed up to organize a 2015 campaign to delay construction of a Castle Rock, Colorado, mega-mall to save threatened prairie dogs. They discuss the campaign and some broader lessons for activists.

 

Book Review: This Changes Everything

Editor’s Note: This first appeared on Deep Green Resistance News Service

By Kim Hill / Deep Green Resistance Australia

Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything, is based on the premise that capitalism is the cause of the climate crisis, and to avert catastrophe, capitalism must go. The proposed solution is a mass movement that will win with arguments that undermine the capitalist system by making it morally unacceptable.

This premise has many flaws. It fails to acknowledge the roots of capitalism and climate change, seeing them as independent issues that can be transformed without taking action to address the underlying causes. Climate change cannot be avoided by building more infrastructure and reforming the economy, as is suggested in the book. The climate crisis is merely a symptom of a deeper crisis, and superficial solutions that act on the symptoms will only make the situation worse. Human-induced climate change started thousands of years ago with the advent of land clearing and agriculture, long before capitalism came into being. The root cause—a culture that values domination of people and land, and the social and physical structures created by this culture—needs to be addressed for any action on capitalism or climate to be effective.

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I’ve long been baffled by the climate movement. When 200 species a day are being made extinct, oceans and rivers being drained of fish and all life, unpolluted drinking water being largely a thing of the past, and nutritious food being almost inaccessible, is climate really where we should focus our attention? It seems a distraction, a ‘look, what’s that in the sky?’ from those that seek to profit from taking away everything that sustains life on the only planet we have. By directing our thoughts, discussions and actions towards gases in the upper atmosphere and hotly debated theories, rather than immediate needs for basic survival of all living beings, those in power are leading us astray from forming a resistance movement that could ensure the continuation of life on Earth.

This book is a tangle of contradictions. An attempt to unravel the contradictions and understand the thinking behind these arguments is what drew me in to reading it, but in the end I was left confused, with a jumble of mismatched ideas, vague goals, and proposals to continue with the same disjointed tactics that have never worked in the past.

This Changes Everything advocates for socialism, then explores why socialism won’t stop fossil fuel extraction. It is against capitalism, yet insists ‘there is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy’. Renewable energy is promoted as an alternative, yet the objections of people whose land and livelihoods are destroyed by these developments is acknowledged and respected. The book promotes the rights of indigenous people to live on their land in traditional ways, and at the same time claims they need jobs and development. It sees the extraction and burning of fossil fuels as the main cause of the climate crisis, yet recommends solutions that require more of the same. It supports economic development while opposing economic growth. It says that ‘compromised, palatable-to-conservative solutions don’t work’ yet is selling exactly that.

One chapter is devoted to promoting divestment from fossil fuel companies, even though this is openly acknowledged to have no economic effect. Apparently it will ‘bankrupt their reputation’ rather than actually bankrupt them. This strategy is unlikely to work, as corporations spend millions on PR campaigns, and control the media, so anyone outside this system will struggle to have any real effect on their reputations. And corporations are powered by money, not morals, so moral campaigns on their own can’t shut down a company. And if they did, this targeting of specific companies, rather than the entire economic system, will only create space for others to take their place.

Another chapter explains why ‘green billionaires’ won’t save us, which seems unnecessary in a book arguing for dismantling capitalism—of course more capitalism won’t help. Strangely, Klein is disappointed that Virgin CEO Richard Branson, despite investing many millions of dollars to invent or discover a ‘miracle fuel’ to power his ever-expanding airline, did not achieve this impossible goal. What difference would it make if he had been successful? Whatever this fuel might be, it would still need to be extracted from somewhere, and burned. Unless money really can buy a genuine religious miracle, and even then, the airline industry requires massive amounts of land, mining and manufacturing, and a globalised economy. If fuel costs were not a limitation, these industrial processes would expand more quickly, destroying everyone and everything in their path. A miracle fuel still leaves us with a culture of travelling the world at jet speed, rather than a localised culture of dialogue and relationship with nature. This is the disconnected thinking that comes from engaging with climate as an isolated issue.

The book concludes with a call for a nonviolent mass movement, and ‘trillions [of dollars] to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.’ The requested transformations are a transition to renewable energy, and building more infrastructure. These won’t stop capitalism or climate change, and would make the situation worse. A mass movement would require a mass of people who both share these goals and believe that a mass movement is the way to reach them. Given the compromised and conflicted goals, and the corporate influence on the climate movement recently, this is unlikely to happen.

Mass movements using only moral arguments have never changed systems of power in the past. The global Occupy movement is a recent example. While a great deal was achieved, the capitalist system is still with us, and it will take more than peaceful demonstrations to take it down. The infrastructure of capitalism needs to be physically dismantled, using a diversity of tactics, and the culture of domination that legitimises extraction and exploitation must be confronted, and replaced with land-based cultures that value relationship with all living beings.

Image modified from original art by Mark Gouldhttp://theartofannihilation.com/this-changes-nothing-why-the-peoples-climate-march-guarantees-climate-catastrophe-2/

 

How to Organize: 15 Points

A good friend recently reminded me that there is a big difference between activism and organizing. Activism is to be involved at some level in political struggle; organizing is to make that struggle effective by planning for success.

Organizing requires attention to the smallest details and the broadest overview. It takes a great deal of strategic thinking, critical self-evaluation, people skills, and persistence.

Organizing is hard. None of us are born with the skills needed for effective organizing; we have to pick them up as we go.  All we have is us, and so many of us are tied up with families, jobs, and other responsibilities. But if we’re going to win struggles for social and environmental justice, we need more organizers.

With that goal in mind, I would like to share with you this list of points on organizing. I’m by no means an expert organizer, but I have gained some experience in the past decade. This list is not definitive or faultless. If you think I got it wrong, or if you have more points to add, let me know in the comments.

15 Points on Organizing

1. Reliable people are irreplaceable. One solid person is worth a dozen who don’t follow through on their commitments.

2. Beware of abusive and toxic people, as well as those who are bring nothing but drama and distraction. Set boundaries.

3. Social skills are profoundly important for organizing. Cultivate these skills. Avoid stereotyping or dismissing people based on their lifestyle, job, or any first impression you may have. Movement building requires getting outside of our comfort zone and engaging with people as individuals. You can’t have political conversations if your prerequisite is that everyone should agree with you. This is a dead end for making change.

4. When organizing people, folks seem to respond well to individual requests for assistance. For example: “I’ve noticed that you’re really skilled about getting people motivated. Can you help with promotion for our upcoming event?”

5. In organizing, details matter. Small problems can grow into major ones. Pay close attention to what is happening in and around your organizing community. But be careful to avoid getting bogged down in the small stuff.

6. Build coalitions and relationships with a wide variety of people and resistance-oriented communities. Sometimes you will be surprised at who is willing to lend support. Draw out linkages between struggles and focus on the shared visions and overlaps in thinking. Radicals are scattered and disorganized, so solidarity is critical.

7. Humility, respect, and appreciation for others are the foundation of relationships. Shared hardship, struggle, and joy are the mortar that cements these bonds. Build friendships and caring relationship with the people you organize with.

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Swamp Cedars sacred site, eastern Nevada.

8. Do what you say you will do. Follow up on commitments and responsibilities. Don’t give your word lightly.

9. Ask for help when you need it.

10. Make time to recharge. Burned out and overworked activists are no use to the movement. Allow time for relaxation and self-healing after intense periods.

11. Focus on the long term struggle. Make sure that each action, event, and campaign you engage in leaves your group stronger and more engaged than before. Try to maintain positive momentum, while at the same time understanding that we fight regardless of winning or losing. We fight because it is the right thing to do.

12. Sometimes you have to take risks.

13. Never stop learning. Deepen your wisdom and plan to become an elder and mentor as you age.

14. Justice is on our side. Be heartened by the spirituality and community that comes from battling injustice and building beautiful cultures of resistance.

15. Be so stubborn they will never stop you. Never give up.

Max Wilbert is an activist and organizer from Seattle, and can be reached at max@maxwilbert.org

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

By Adam Herriott / Deep Green Resistance UK
We have had several months to reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Since his death, world leaders have attempted to coopt this legacy. It is especially interesting to see how many who once branded Mandela a terrorist are rushing to pay their respects. [1]

His freedom fighter past has been quietly forgotten. Mainstream writers, intellectuals, and politicians prefer to focus on his life after prison. A simple Google search for Mandela is dominated by articles about tolerance and acceptance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 2

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Don’t miss How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 1

Law enforcement has been so ineffective in preventing illegal ORV use that citizens are usually left to face the problem on their own. Stopping ORVs isn’t easy, but short of an end to gasoline—which we can’t wait for—impacts will continue to worsen if there’s no intervention. In remote areas like the Mojave Desert and Colorado Plateau, where would-be activists are scattered and overwhelmed and the police are essentially powerless and blasé, all strategies for stopping ORVs involve active and sustained effort. Here are a few:

Pressure law enforcement to do their jobs. Carry a camera with you always, and photograph illegal activity, if at all possible getting clear images of license plates. Document the time, place, and circumstances. Bring it to the attention of both the local and federal police, if on federal land. Be polite but persistent.

Physically close illegal trails. This can be surprisingly effective. Adopt an area and close off illegal trails with rocks, logs, whatever is handy and doesn’t further disturb the land. ORVers will keep trying to use the trail, but continued discouragement might eventually work.

Physically close legal trails. Similar to the last category, people may choose to carry out underground actions that close legal routes.[1] There must be a strict firewall between aboveground and underground activists: people or groups choosing to use underground tactics should not engage in aboveground actions, and vice versa.[2]

Close and reclaim established, authorized routes through administrative and legal channels. It’s the open roads that draw ORVs deeper into land they can then illegally violate, so every closed road is particularly helpful. This, too, takes a long and sustained effort. One helpful organization is Wildlands CPR (Now Wild Earth Guardians),[3] but don’t expect any non-profit group to have the resources to do the job for you. If you love the land you live in, be prepared to fight for it—a simple solution of hard, dedicated effort. Organize with those who agree with you, and fight.

Coyote Canyon Revisited

Private landowners neighboring Coyote Canyon in southeast Utah fought the originally illegal ORV use of the canyon, and tried to stop the BLM from sanctioning it. They pleaded with the public via every venue they could think of to write letters to the BLM opposing the move, yet ORV interests grossly outnumbered the effort. Fewer than ten opponents to the trail even bothered writing letters, and when the decision to open the canyon to ORVs was made the BLM didn’t even bother notifying the respondents, a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Otherwise, however, the agency had prepared its documents thoroughly and neighbors were advised that a legal challenge probably wouldn’t have been effective. Although the BLM offered a number of concessions—the trail is only open Friday and Saturday to registered users, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., among other restrictions—the agency legitimized crime, rewarding criminals with the sacrifice of another dwindling scrap of feral public land.

The Coyote Canyon example highlights several reasons why so few are willing to protect the land, and why they’re losing so badly. One is fear of reprisals from enemies (such as intentional trespass and vandalism of property, already an issue for neighbors of Coyote Canyon). Another is a reasonable assumption that their efforts will be ineffective—though of course making no effort will certainly be ineffective. Yet people tend to accept whatever situation they’re given. It’s uncommon to question an established arrangement, whatever it may be, and if one continues to question it life gets more uncomfortable. A resister will always face ridicule, accusations of poor mental, emotional and social adjustment, eventual ostracizing and occasionally murder. Yet social changes demand challenges to established practice.

When the BLM announced their decision to open Coyote Canyon to oil spills, noise, litter, piles of shit and soiled rags of toilet paper, almost everyone who was asked to help offered only a passing moment of sympathy. Not “what can I do,” not “what are our options,” but “that’s too bad.” It’s no wonder fights like this are frequently lost, when reactions are so feeble.

Industry and recreation groups, by contrast, are well organized and ready to rush to their own common cause. The right wing tends to be more accepting of orders; the boss says jump, they ask how high. They have something tangible they’re working for, a thing they like doing, a righteous maintenance of their privilege—such as driving anywhere they want. They stand to gain something where resistance stands only to prevent something—at least in situations like Coyote Canyon, where no comparable force opposes them.

Fighting Back

Resistance is tough. It means making one’s self unpopular, a hard thing to do among those who’ve been taught their whole lives that popularity is everything. Organizing can provide the possibility of overcoming our fear of reprisal, of ridicule, and of failure; it’s the only chance at effectively confronting injustices.   Those who wish to prevent agency actions like the Coyote Canyon trail, or to promote re-localization of food production—any defensive or restorative action—can become an effective force if they work together, consistently and reliably supporting one another. Many progressives have been bled off by dogmas of non-confrontation, by intoxicating feel-good-ness, and by the idea that individualism is of primary importance. They’ve become lazy, fatalistic, and cynical; committed, organized struggle seems to be the sorry lot of desperately poor people in faraway places.

The examples that we have of committed resistance movements often are of desperately poor people, immediately threatened by the activities of rich and powerful enemies. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is one good example, and so are the more than 130 First Nations governments in western Canada that have gathered against the tar-sands Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects.[4] We who are in a position to protect the land mostly lack the ability to respond, to turn our empathy for places like Coyote Canyon into action.

The situation at the frontiers of wild land is desperate, too. Wealth and privilege let us pretend it isn’t, because we get food from supermarket shelves and water from a tap. We see little or no connection between the health of the land and our own well-being. Public land use is an issue that can be influenced relatively easily—unlike, say, racism—because land managers so routinely ignore or violate laws and effective tactics usually have to do with citizen enforcement. But environmentalists continue to lose, partly because exploiters have miscast conflict as user-group obstruction—framing the terms of the debate to ridicule love of the wild world, separating its fate from human fate. By allowing this, would-be activists surrender the land and leave the future to sadists and imbeciles.

The destruction of the planet, however easy it is to ignore, will catch up with us all. The civilized economies that steal from the poor to give to the rich will eventually end. They need to consume limited resources to exist and those resources—fossil fuels, topsoil—will not last forever. When this happens, we will again depend upon the land to sustain us. If that land is stripped of its capacity to sustain life by industry, agriculture, and recreation, then there will be nowhere else to go, and nothing to do but wage war and starve.

Abuse of the land is now normalized by faith in nonexistent frontiers (of renewable energy and electric cars, for example) and by misguided tolerance. Naming abuse—the destruction of the land in the name of fun or individualistic pursuits and the destruction of our selves by abusive people and systems—is often portrayed as abusive in itself. This is outrageous and infuriating, but should be expected.

Though it is far less damaging than industry and agriculture, the evidence for ORV destruction is well documented and easy to come by. It’s not even really contested by ORVers themselves. Those of us determined to stop this behavior face the same problem law enforcement does: the damage is so widespread and difficult to regulate that there’s little anyone can do. But there’s also a serious lack of activists with effective tactics and a coherent strategy to follow through on. This doesn’t mean, though, that we should back down.

 

Identifying with the Real World

Once on Cedar Mesa, in Southeast Utah, I watched an ORV intentionally veer to crush a dozing snake. The reptile churned and writhed in the machine’s track, dead or near dead as its nerves popped and struggled and ran down. I went to it, to witness its pointless death. A thick and handsome bull snake, it spent its last moments bleeding out in the dust. Why? Why do this? What drives this sick, stupid behavior? Why does our culture hate every living thing?

I lifted the snake into the sage and blackbrush so it could at least die in its home. “If they can’t evolve to get out of the way,” someone once told me about road killed animals, “then that’s their problem.” Of course, not evolving to changing conditions is what causes extinction. There’s little doubt that our culture will not voluntarily evolve to halt the worsening conditions that industry and recreation are creating on the planet. So how does anyone fight activity like this? How do we stop deforestation, global warming, ocean acidification? And given those immense problems, is ORV land abuse something to focus limited energy and resources on?

In addition to the suggestions made in these articles, activists can develop tactics and strategies and their way forward will eventually become clear. With hard work and determination a chance of winning would almost certainly emerge. But in a world of Keystone XL pipelines and epidemic levels of fracking, is the effort worth it? If you caretake a few acres of land, blocking travel and pulling weeds, how much does it matter if you stop, or get distracted, or die? If those acres are again immediately vulnerable, is your effort a waste?

Few things anger me more that seeing wanton destruction for fun. I wonder, though, if this is an unhelpful distraction. It’s easy to get angry at something so obviously disrespecting of the land. In terms of permanent impacts, though, industry is much worse, and the scale of destruction is enormous. Of course what runs it is oil. Always this—the temporary, illusory power locked in a liquid hydrocarbon, driving ORVs, factory fishing trawlers, factory farms, and industrial agriculture. It’s warming the atmosphere and leading us to a horribly impoverished future, where most of us will be unable to afford the lifestyle we’ve been subjected and addicted to, let alone find enough to eat.

Remove the oil and the engines stop, and a besieged biosphere can begin to heal. This is part of the strategy that Deep Green Resistance has proposed.[5] But in the meanwhile…ORVs, just one part of the picture, continue to cut apart what little wild life remains, the last seed bank of evolution as we’ll ever know it. The momentum of established civilized practice is now enormous—seemingly unstoppable—and its terminal is in global destruction, the eradication of all complex life. Challenge to this system is so psychologically and practically difficult that most of us ignore it.

Fighting for the real, wild world can begin with the understanding that humans are not everything, and that the fate of the world is ultimately our fate. It is much different to fight for your own beloved family than for a rocky canyon you’ll never visit. We progressives like to talk about how hatred of “other” races cannot be tolerated (not that much is ever done about that). But we hardly ever extend this principle to the non-human world—constant victim of our culture’s violence—because we’ve been conditioned to believe that humans are all that matter. The loons, the snakes, the too-slow creatures smeared across the roads and ground under rubber tires into the dirt, they and the people yet to come who won’t be able to live as we have because the oil is gone—none of them will care about our abstract, self-indulgent moral wrestling. That is the wall that human supremacy has built around us; it must be torn down.

Imagine again that an occupying culture, whose every act is force and theft, was destroying the means of your survival. Imagine them extracting fuel to use the world as a playground. Of course, it is not enough to stop them from driving their toys in every possible place. To survive in the long term we must also stop the extraction, the root of the problem, and eliminate the fuel for destruction. We must reclaim our adult responsibilities and stand up to defend the land where we live, knowing that until oil extraction and consumption is ended, there will always be a new group of occupiers finding new ways to destroy the land.

Endnotes

[1] Foreman, Dave. Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. Tucson: Ned Ludd Books, 1987, 89-109.

[2] Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists (PDF)

[3] “Resources,” Wild Earth Guardians, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.wildlandscpr.org

[4] Carrie Saxifrage, “How the Enbridge Pipeline Issue Unified Northern BC,” The Vancouver Observer, February 13, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc

“Interior First Nations Pipeline Ban,” Dogwood Initiative, You Tube, December 2, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G5KtqPSW8Q

Carrie Saxifrage, “No Oil Pipeline Here: Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Smithers finds 100% opposition,” The Vancouver Observer, January 17, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/sustainability/2012/01/17/enbridge-northern-gateway-joint-review-panel-smithers-finds-100-opposition

[5] “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed August 28, 2014, http://deepgreenresistance.org/en/deep-green-resistance-strategy/decisive-ecological-warfare