Lierre Keith: The Oil Spill

By Lierre Keith / Deep Green Resistance

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Mother Earth News on July 28, 2010.  We are republishing it on the sixth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Everything that’s wrong with this culture is in the story now pouring out of a broken oil rig 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. I don’t mean story as in fictitious. I mean it as a narrative, the account of successive events that builds into a history. That history is now washing up on the shore as oil-drenched corpses; nothing more than a quick, bracing glance is needed to know how those birds suffered. It’s also a history that’s waiting to turn cells toward the fierce hunger of cancer, settling into the lungs of children, erupting into blisters on the skin “so deep they’re leaving scars.

We could find our beginning point, our once upon a time, in the first written story of this culture, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which chronicled the deforestation of Mesopotamia. The story hasn’t changed in four thousand years — it’s just quickened with the accelerant of fossil fuel. The pattern is basic to civilization, a feedback loop of overshoot, militarization, slavery, and biotic devastation, a loop that has tightened into a noose. That noose is planet-wide, encircling the earth in a siege beyond the wildest dreams of ambitious Caesars of the past. Nothing is safe, not the South Pole, not the strata 30,000 feet below the earth’s surface, not even the moon, which the power-mad had to “punch” last year. Ownership and entitlement have distilled into a sense of control so pure — and so rancid — that life itself is now being ransomed to the demands of the sociopaths at the top of a very steep, very brutal pyramid.

Where do we stand in that pyramid? Not where we were born — because anyone reading this is one of the globally wealthy — but where do we stand? That’s the question, baring the noblest values of which humans are capable: courage, moral agency, the loyalty that can slow-bloom into solidarity. Are we willing to face how corporations, on the steroids of fossil fuel, have gutted our democracy, our communities, our planet? That insight doesn’t require much intellectually, but it does require courage.

The loyalty will require letting our hearts open to break, as we watch the crabs trying vainly to escape the toxified water of their home and dolphins hemorrhaging. Include them in the clan of you and yours because they are already there; but we will have to fight for them once they become visible, real, a part of the circle called “us” that can’t be broken. Know, too, that two out of three animal breaths are of oxygen made by plankton: if the oceans go down, we go down with them.

Erased into nonexistence by the corporate storytellers are other “resources” as well. These resources dare to insist that they are human, humans with rights against the Kings no less. Most of the clean-up workers of the Exxon Valdez disaster are dead — their average life expectancy was around fifty. This is what it has always meant to be indentured, owned. The powerful get to use you until they discard you as worthless. But each human is priceless: our society is supposed to have learned that somewhere between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Besides the visible signs of trauma from losing their coast, their culture, and their livelihoods, there is an inchoate, bewildered grief in the faces of Gulf residents, a grief over the loss of their basic safety and hence their dignity: we are human, we have a right to our lives, how can it be that anyone is allowed to fill our lungs with poison? And the poison keeps coming, as the dispersant Corexit is dropped from planes “like Agent Orange in Viet Nam.

Here’s my version of the story. A tiny group of wealthy people, backed by the legal system, the government, and, as always, armed force, is allowed to gut an entire ecosystem. When the people organize a nonviolent resistance movement, the leaders are arrested, put through an absurd trial, and then hanged by the military. The outrage of the international community can’t stop the smug sadism of power.

It’s a true story. The group was called MOSOP (the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People), and the most famous of the murdered leaders was poet Ken Saro-Wiwa. It has a sequel, too: MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. MEND has said to the oil industry, “Leave our land or you will die in it.” Like the Gulf, the Niger Delta is knee-deep in oil sludge, and the once self-sufficient people are now impoverished, sick, and desperate. Think what you will of MEND’s direct tactics: they’ve reduced oil output by 30 percent and some of the oil companies are considering pulling out. That’s what happens when people resist: sometimes it works, happily ever after.

We need to break the spell of the corporate storytellers, the court magicians with their enticing tricks called CNN and MTV, what Chris Hedges — one of our last, true public intellectuals — calls the Empire of Illusion. In his words, they have us “clamoring for our own enslavement.” But all the fantasies and shiny toys in the world won’t help us when the planet is six degrees too hot for all creatures great and small, from brown pelicans to bacteria. This is being done for the benefit of essentially 1,400 people, the wealthy who control the world economy through the legal structure of the limited liability corporation. Yes, they have mostly destroyed our — that’s “our” as in “us, globally” — our ability to provide for ourselves, addicted us to their mass-produced culture of petulant cruelty, and won the rights that are supposed to adhere to human beings, not business entities. As Rikki Ott, Rachel Carson by any other name, makes clear, “Our government is beholden to oil and cannot imagine a future without oil. We the people have got to imagine this. We have to.”

And that’s where you come in, readers. It’s not just imagination for you: you’re already living another story, human-scale and woven into a living community like roots through soil. Your story is about patience and permanence, connection and commitment. It’s about people as participants in the world — in the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the physical, sacred cycle of life and death — not dominators. These are the values of animals who intend to live in their home for a long, long time. They are values that stand in direct opposition to the corporate masters. They are also the values that a real resistance needs.

A conquered people calls for a boycott. A sovereign people would shred BP’s corporate charter, seize their assets, and put the money of the world’s fourth largest corporation toward restoring the Gulf: the land, the people, the community. There are efforts to do exactly that. More, there are efforts to strike to the heart of corporate power: an amendment to the constitution that would strip them of the rights they have claimed: the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Sixth, the Fifth… rumor has it they have their sites on the Second. They’ve staged a coup and won, and they’ve done what conquerors do: gutted the colony. And it’s not just the earth they’ve scorched, but the oceans and sky as well as the lungs of children and the livers of dolphins.

Call it what it is: a war. It’s not a mistake. It’s not even a set of loopholes that some naughty boys in a bad corporate culture exploited. Whether the oil gushed or was pumped and then burned, the result would have been the same: a planet destroyed — pelican by penguin by Ogoni child — for the benefit of a wealthy few.

It’s time to remember the animals — brave and hungry and loyal — that we are. So with your front paws, turn off all the corporate media flooding our culture and our children with moral stupidity and go dig in the dirt. It’s your dirt, our dirt, the collective home of a tribe called carbon. It’s our place, our people, an indivisible part of the story of us.

As for your hind feet, stand up on them and fight.

Derrick Jensen: Culture of Plunder

Featured image: Mining in Seite Suyos, Bolivia. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Mach Marco)

By Derrick Jensen / Deep Green Resistance

When living the dream means others will die

I want to tell you three stories of winning and losing, of selfishness and sacrifice, of this culture.

Story one. Last spring I gave a talk in a small farming community in northwestern Illinois. I drove there from my previous talk in Wisconsin, passing through prime agricultural territory, which is to say cleared and plowed and empty cornfield after cleared and plowed and empty cornfield. When I got to my destination, a delightful retired teacher took me to see the last remaining unplowed prairie in the county. It was more or less downtown, between a busy street and yet another field devoted to agriculture. As he led me across the slender tract, I couldn’t stop weeping at the sight of flowers who were once common and now barely hanging on, butterflies who were once common and now barely hanging on, a mother goose protecting her nest. My (human) host told me that even though this is the last six acres left—just six acres out of 360,000 in the county—the neighboring landowner refuses to stop applying insecticides and herbicides, which of course drift across the fenceline.

That evening, after he introduced me, I took the stage, sat down, and faced a roomful of members of this farming community. I thanked them for their hospitality, told them of my experiences of the previous twenty-four hours, then said, “I think the plow is the most destructive artifact humans have ever created. It destroys every living being on a piece of ground and converts that land to solely human use.”

The members of this farming community looked back at me. One gave a grim smile, then said, “Those plows paid for our houses.”

I nodded, smiled just as grimly, and responded, “That’s precisely the problem, isn’t it?”

Story two begins with me receiving an issue of my alumni magazine from the Colorado School of Mines, which featured an article titled “Hitting Paydirt.” The article tells stories of several “tremendously rewarding” discoveries. There’s a twenty-six-year-old CSM grad who discovered a “virgin deposit” of 2 million ounces of gold. Another grad discovered what became mines in environmentally ravaged Ireland; environmentally ravaged, war-torn, and rape-plagued Somalia; and environmentally ravaged, war-torn, rape-plagued, and slavery- and child-labor-infested Mauritania (the article, of course, only listed the countries, not their misfortunes, many of which are caused or exacerbated by resource extraction). But the story I want to focus on happened in Bolivia, where CSM grad Larry Buchanan, in the employ of a transnational mining corporation (with an address in the Cayman Islands for tax haven purposes, and having since that time gone through bankruptcy and changed its name, emerging as essentially the same company but without the debt), saw what seemed like a promising geological formation. He looked more closely, and found at the center of the deposit a village, complete with ancient stone church.

Buchanan describes it like this: “The silver deposit lay on the surface, mineralized ledges cropped out everywhere around and below a little indigenous village of rock, adobe and grass thatch, called San Cristobal. The cobblestone streets were paved with silver-bearing rock. The rock walls of the houses literally were laced with silver veins. You couldn’t take a step without touching silver. But somehow [sic] it had been overlooked [sic] by everyone [sic].”

He unintentionally answers his own question as to why these indigenous peoples had never put in an open pit mine: “The Quechua culture of southwestern Bolivia is one of multiple gods and spirits, one with a profound respect for the earth in general and curiously [sic], for rocks in particular. They believe rocks are their direct ancestors, living souls that speak, think, feel emotions, and have distinct personalities.”

Buchanan again: “We discovered nearly a half billion tonnes of those silver-plated ancestors of the Quechua. [Yes, he actually said that.] After a year of work, the engineers calculated it contained nearly a billion ounces of silver, enough ore to last seventeen years of intensive mining. The computer models proved it feasible: the profits would be more than enormous and the mine would become a money-machine. [Yes, he actually said that.] It was a company maker, a world-class discovery, a perfect setup.” The only thing in his way was “that poverty-stricken little village right on top of it. If we wanted to make a mine, San Cristobal had to go.”

But the village didn’t go down without a fight—between white people. Buchanan’s wife was against moving the village and forced Buchanan to sleep on the couch, only relenting when Buchanan agreed that they would move to the village for a while to bear witness to the destruction they were causing (or, to use his words, “the opportunities we were offering the people”). This strikes me as a classic example of the conservative/liberal one-two punch of oppression, with the conservative perceiving the oppression as good in itself, while the liberal bears witness to the oppression without doing much of anything to stop it. So Buchanan and his wife watched as people dug up bones from the village’s four-hundred-year-old cemetery to move to their new compound eleven kilometers away. Buchanan joined village elders as they crawled around the cemetery to beg forgiveness for disturbing the dead. He watched as bulldozers leveled the village in just four hours. It was all very difficult for him: “There were times I was literally brought to tears when I would contemplate what the people lost due to my discovery.”

What was once a living village where people resided with their ancestors in the walls, their gods all around them, is now a huge toxic hole in the ground. But it’s all good. Buchanan believes the people now live better lives in the compound; transnational corporations have made 70 billion dollars; and, best of all, Buchanan and his wife wrote a book about it all. “I came to learn life holds so much more of value than just a few billion dollars worth of silver,” he says. Having learned this valuable lesson, Buchanan moved on to other projects, and believes he has just recently discovered another billion-ounce deposit somewhere else.

Story three involves New Zealand tae kwon do athlete Logan Campbell, who funded his dream of reaching the Olympics through being a pimp. He made a lot of money providing women’s bodies for men to use. He even made a video to recruit women into working for him. The advertisement had lots of pretty pictures of women leaping for joy in fields, standing contemplatively on beaches, and sharing warm hugs with happy children. One female voice-over gushed, “When I was a little girl, I used to dream of a life of liberty.” Another asked, “Did you enjoy that? I sure did.” One said, “I’m living the dream.” And another said, “You deserve it.” The ad never did describe precisely what the “it” is that women deserve, but I think most of us would agree that most little girls don’t dream of economically coerced sexual relations with strangers not of their choosing, of years of post-traumatic stress disorder, of broken psyches and broken genitals and broken lives.

The point, really, is that Logan Campbell did get to live his dream. He went to the Olympics on the bodies of women, just like Buchanan’s “tremendously rewarding find” came at the expense of San Cristobal and its deities, and just as plows pay for houses at the expense of everyone else in the biological community. These are all dreams of fame, accomplishment, money, even what we consider necessities, like the way we feed ourselves and the way we financially accumulate. The problem is, all these dreams are someone else’s nightmare.

These stories are not merely what is wrong with this culture, they are the fundamental ethos of this culture: the fulfillment of personal, social, and cultural dreams at the expense of all others. No sane culture would in any way extol any of these stories. So long as these stories are seen as the fulfillment of dreams, where the subjugation of others is not seen as subjugating them but rather as helping them to “live the dream”; so long as this culture considers actions that lead to the destruction of ancient ways of life as “rewarding finds,” where your own murderous behavior is seen as “offering opportunities” for the victims; so long as we find it not only acceptable but right and just to convert the lives of others and the life-support system of the entire planet itself into fodder for us, there is little hope for life on this planet.

Originally published in the January/February 2013 issue of Orion

Stopping Coal and Oil Trains Through Civil Disobedience

Stopping Coal and Oil Trains Through 
Civil Disobedience: Stories of Courage 
on the Front Lines of Climate Change
 Screenshot (139)
Saturday, April 23rd at 7pm
Spokane Community College – Lair Student Center
Free admission
Featured speakers:
Event host – Direct Action Spokane

News Round-Up: mid-April 2016

Recent news from various Deep Green Resistance chapters:

  • Will Falk published another essay in support of DGR Great Basin’s campaign to save the Pinyon-Juniper Forests: The Language of Pinyon-Juniper Trees
  • Derrick Jensen interviewed Cory Morningstar, a journalist with some surprising insights into the role of big green NGOs in our culture. DGR Seattle posted the audio interview with some commentary: Mainstream Environmentalism Protects Industrial Capitalism
  • Years ago, DGR member “Seymour Lyphe” produced a podcast working to build a culture of resistance via inspiring news, calls to action, and interviews with DGR members and other activists. We’ve resurrected the lost episodes at the Radio Against Global Ecocide archive
  • To accompany one of the R.A.G.E. podcast episodes, Seymour Lyphe shared his interview of the Saskatchewan River in a blog post, lost for years but now reposted: River, I Am Listening Now

Ngäbe Communities Facing Evictions Call For International Solidarity

Featured image: The Barro Blanco Dam will have a disastrous effect on Ngäbe communities inside the Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle and campesino communities also living on the banks of the river. Photo Oscar Sogandares

By Jennifer Kennedy/ Intercontinental Cry

Ngäbe communities in western Panama are calling for support from the international community after officials from the Honduran-owned energy company, GENISA, warn that they will soon be evicted from their homes to make way for the flooding of the Barro Blanco hydro dam reservoir.

Ricardo Miranda, a spokesperson from the Movimiento 10 De Abril (M10) resistance movement, told IC, “The situation for the Ngäbe people is critical and tense with the imminent closure of the Barro Blanco gates. The government has announced that the gates will be closed in April and before that people will be evicted.”

The 28.84 megawatt dam is being constructed by GENISA on the Tabasará River in the western province of Chiriquí. Although located in Chiriquí, the dam will have a disastrous impact on Ngäbe communities inside the Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle and campesino communities also living on the banks of the river.

Once the gates are closed and the reservoir is filled, the subsistence fishing practices of all nearby communities will take a severe hit; cultivable land will be irrecoverably lost and the Ngäbe themselves will lose their school, their cultural centre and two sets of ancient petroglyphs that are of considerable cultural and archaeological importance.

Before this happens, Ngäbe-Bugle and campesino communities in the impact area will be forced from their homes.

A celebratory gathering to honor the petroglyphs. Photo: Oscar Sogandares

A celebratory gathering to honor the petroglyphs. Photo: Oscar Sogandares

GENISA officials have reportedly claimed that the dam’s reservoir will be filled on April 15.

M10 has been fighting relentlessly to halt the project since the movement was founded in 1999, when a group of Ngäbe protesters were arrested for opposing the dam. Working along side them is Movimiento De Septiembre 22 (M22), an independent Ngäbe movement whose members follow Mama Tata, a religion that’s centered on cultural revival. M22 made international headlines in 2015 when they blocked the entrance to the dam for 38 consecutive days, until riot police, claiming to act in self-defense, unleashed pepper spray and batons on the Ngäbe activists, women and children among them.

Edilma Pinto, 17, suffered a fractured foot during the police crackdown.(Photo: Oscar Sogandares

Edilma Pinto, 17, suffered a fractured foot during the 2015 police crackdown. (Photo: Oscar Sogandares

Silvia Carrera, chief of the Comarca Ngäbe-Bugle, who is currently in negotiations with the government, was initially supportive of M10 and M22’s resounding calls to cancel the project. However, Carrera changed her position after the July crackdown, signing a document with the government in favour of the project.

Under that document, the dam is forbidden to proceed until an agreement is reached with the region’s indigenous and campesino stakeholders. Unfortunately, this provision appears to have slipped off the table. Flood tests are now taking place and according to the international NGO Carbon Market Watch (CMW), there remains a worrying lack of requisite dialogue between the government and the communities affected by the hydro dam.

GENISA itself has never sought the free, informed, and prior consent (FPIC) of the indigenous communities living on the banks of the Tabasará river.

Miranda says affected communities are as adamant as ever that the project be stopped. Together, they are urgently calling on the international community for support.

“We are asking for international solidarity in the struggle for water and the Tabasará River. We are asking people to demand the definitive cancellation of Barro Blanco and to demand an end to the violence against the Ngäbe which is being inflicted by the project,” he said.

GENISA isn’t the only one that’s failing to live up to stakeholder expectations.

The US$78M project, registered under the United Nation’s CDM carbon offsetting mechanism, has received significant financing from The Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), The German Investment & Development Company (DEG) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CBIE).

The FMO and DEG previously admitted to failing their own due diligence tests during the course of financing. A report published in May 2015 by FMO’s internal Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM) states, “Lenders should have sought greater clarity on whether there was consent to the project from the appropriate indigenous authorities prior to project approval.”

In June 2015, however, the lenders took things one step further by threatening the Panamanian government when it temporarily suspended Barro Blanco’s construction.

Denouncing the developments banks, Miranda told IC that “the FMO and DEG are complicit in the serious violations of human rights on the Tabasará River.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Please SEND A LETTER to show your solidarity with the Ngäbe communities, and call on President Varela to protect the rights of affected Ngäbe communities, including by ensuring that they are free from intimidation, repression, and forced eviction.

English: Barro Blanco Dam: take urgent action to protect the rights of the Ngäbes and ensure they are free from repression and eviction

Spanish: Represa de Barro Blanco: actúa para proteger los derechos de los Ngäbe y asegurar que estén libres de represión y desalojo

French: Barrage de Barro Blanco: agissez pour protéger les droits des Ngäbe et assurer qu’ils soient exempts de répression et d’éviction

Great Sioux Nation Defends Its Waters From Dakota Access Pipeline

Featured image: The spirit riders at Standing Rock show support for keeping the Missouri River waters clean.  Image by Steve Sitting Bear.

By Chelsey LugerIndian Country Today Media Network

In the coming weeks or maybe even days, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will issue a decision as to whether or not they will allow the Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as the Bakken Pipeline, to be constructed.

Until then, citizens and allies of the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation) will continue to protest the pipeline, urging stakeholders to recognize the devastation that would ensue should the pipeline be built.

“The DAPL poses a threat to our people, cultural and historically significant areas,” said Paula Antonie, Chair of Shielding the People and a Rosebud Sioux tribal citizen. “We will stand by our Hunkpapa relatives in defending against any major environmental, public health and safety hazards within our treaty territory.”

The proposed pipeline would stretch for thousands miles across four states beginning in western North Dakota and ending in Indiana. It would cross the Missouri River mere feet away from the northern border of the Standing Rock Reservation, threatening to contaminate and destroy the waters.

“When this proposed pipeline breaks, as the vast majority of pipelines do, over half of the drinking water in South Dakota will be affected,” said Joye Braun, a community organizer from the Cheyenne River reservation. “How can rubber-stamping this project be good for the people, agriculture and livestock? It must be stopped.”

While the oil industry would like the public to believe that pipelines are a clean and efficient way of transporting oil with little risk, the data suggest otherwise. According to the Associated Press, there were 300 oil pipeline breaks in North Dakota alone during 2012–2013, and none of them were reported to the public. North Dakota is the second-largest oil-producing state after Texas.

Delegates from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have already met with representatives from several federal agencies, including the Army Corps, urging them to reevaluate the environmental impact of the project. The interests of the Standing Rock Sioux were not taken into consideration in the initial environmental assessment. While the Corps decision will have an influence, it won’t be the end of the fight.

“The Corps will get sued either way,” explained Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault. “If they approve of the pipeline, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will sue them. If they reject it, Energy Transfer Partners will sue them.”

Archambault explained that unlike Keystone XL, which President Obama rejected last November, an executive order will not hold the same weight in this project. While Keystone XL was a federal project crossing the U.S.–Canada border, Dakota Access is a private project and does not cross an international boundary. In addition, most of the landowners along the way have already issued voluntary easements on their property.

Meanwhile, several grassroots groups, tribal citizens, and concerned allies who oppose the pipeline have banded together to work on getting their message out. This conglomerate of activists are calling themselves “Chante tin’sa kinanzi Po” or “People, Stand with a Strong Heart!” Their mission statement says this:

“ ‘They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away from her, and deface her with their buildings and their refuse.’ —Chief Sitting Bull. His way of life is our way of life—standing in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline is our duty.”

On April 1, Chante tin’sa kinanzi Po set up a horse ride to celebrate the founding of a Spirit Camp that they erected along the route of the proposed pipeline near the community of Cannon Ball in North Dakota.

The camp is called Inyan Wakhanagapi Othi or Sacred Rock, which translates as the original name of the Cannon Ball area.

Dozens of riders and supporters joined in the spirit ride. All are welcome to show support at the campsite, which will be active for an undetermined period of time, or until no longer necessary. They urge all supporters to write letters to the Corps on behalf of tribal interests.

“We do not need oil to live, but we do need water,” said Waniya Locke, a descendant of the Standing Rock nation. “And water is a human right, not a privilege.”

Men’s Rights Activists Gather in Support of Prostitution

Featured image: Men’s rights activists, known for their strong defense of women’s autonomy and freedom, at a pro-prostitution rally.

By Jonah Mix / Gender Detective 

As the discussion grows around prostitution law in Canada, New Zealand, Germany, and other nations, a common defense of the sex industry keeps coming up – the idea that laws against prostitution tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies, making them paternalistic and anti-feminist. According to these supporters of the sex industry, prostitution is a choice a woman makes; legislating against it (even indirectly, through bans on the purchase of sex) is just another example of patriarchal control over women’s sexuality and a denial of their bodily autonomy. As one commenter put it on a recent blog post of mine, “There is nothing feminist about telling women what kind of sex they should or shouldn’t have. Nothing.”

This question about the interplay between free choice and regulation is a valuable one to have. Unfortunately, almost completely absent from the discussion is a second question: Does prostitution itself tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies? How do the demands on behavior made by the sex industry itself compare to the demands on behavior made by legal sanctions against that industry? Supporters of decriminalization are passionate about the impact sex buyer laws might have on women’s sexual freedom – but do they care much at all about the impact of what they’re fighting to decriminalize?

Before I go deeper, I want to make clear that I’m basing this look on the idea of prostitution as a service, which is by no means the only way people understand it. I myself don’t think we should see the sex that takes place in prostitution as a service. But since the people who talk about the sex industry in terms of free choice and bodily autonomy are most likely going to frame it that way, I’m not going to argue the point. Instead, I’m going to argue that the sex-as-service model is incompatible with the idea that we shouldn’t tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.

So, from the start: If sex is a service, then it’s a service purchased like any other: A customer makes a request and offers compensation in return.  You ask a plumber to unclog your toilet, and you give him reason to unclog it by offering twenty bucks an hour. You ask a French teacher to help you learn the language, and the French teacher agrees because you’ve offered to pay an enrollment fee in her class. No matter what the service is, every transaction boils down to the simple logic of I want you to do this, and I’m going to provide you with enough of something else that you have reason to oblige.

Without one of those two parts, there’s no transaction anymore. Requesting a service without offering compensation is asking for a favor or making a demand, and compensation by itself is a gift if no request comes attached. Obviously, a client demanding free sex from a woman in prostitution would be rape, and a man giving her money without requesting sex is no longer a client. So for prostitution to be prostitution, we have to have these two features: A man’s request and a man’s compensation.

This notion of a “request” is important. In almost any transaction, the person initiating the purchase of the service is the one who frames the exchange. When you go to hire that plumber, he doesn’t turn around and say, “You know, I see your toilet is clogged, but I’d rather fix this leaky faucet.” Your French teacher doesn’t get to decide the day’s lesson will be on the Baltic languages whether her class likes it or not. Professionals in the service industry might provide advice to customers or guide them from a position of authority, but they’ll never provide a service that doesn’t at least meet some need or desire on the part of the customer. If they did, the customer wouldn’t pay (why would he?) and the transaction would be over.

This doesn’t mean that the service provider’s desires are irrelevant – only that they don’t, by themselves, determine the transaction. For example, I’ve spent years working as an appraiser of rare and antique books, something I absolutely adore. I don’t think I ever appraised a book I didn’t want to appraise, and I went out of my way many times to grow appraisal jobs and guide them towards the best samples I could find. Between poring over old classics and digging up obscure treasures, it was a job I very nearly would have done for free. But it was still the customer’s desire, not mine, that determined what, how, and when I performed my labor. Or, to put it another way, while I said that I may never have appraised a book I didn’t want to appraise, I know for damn sure I never appraised a book the customer didn’t want appraised. How could I? If they didn’t want it, they wouldn’t have been my customer!

Of course, prostitution isn’t comparable to bookselling, even for the people who say it’s a job like any other. But the larger point stands: We’ve all worked a job we didn’t desire, and we all have desires for jobs that don’t and possibly can’t exist. But no one has worked a job their employer didn’t desire be done. In any service industry, it’s the person fronting the bill – he or she who requests the service – that determines what the service will be.

A lot of this seems like boring theoretical busy work, and it very well might be. But the implications for prostitution are enormous. Because prostitution is a service, and because men are overwhelmingly the ones requesting that service, it’s reasonable to assume based on the previous paragraphs that men are the ones who define what prostitution is and how it plays out in the global marketplace. Considering that prostitution involves a physical act, that means that prostitution is an industry in which men tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

Just like a plumber is never going to leave your toilet overflowing while he redesigns your bathtub, and your French teacher is never going to start lecturing in Estonian, a woman in prostitution is never going to perform a sex act that doesn’t align with the desire of a male client. That’s not the same as saying she’ll never have any desire of her own for that sex act (although it’s worth asking if a meaningful proportion do). It just means that her desire isn’t the reason that sex act is being performed. Because I’m stuck at my parents’ house this weekend and their Internet is too slow for most of my video games, I decided to take the time and make a chart showing the intersection of male and female desire in the sex industry:

prostitution

If a sex act is desired by both the male client and the woman in prostitution, then of course it’s likely to happen. And by the same token, there’s very little chance of two people performing a sex act if both find it unappealing. After that, though, the pattern diverges. If a woman in prostitution actually enjoys a sex act, but her male client doesn’t, his refusal to pay outweighs her desire. But sex acts desired by men and not by women are performed in prostitution all the time, whether through the grudging acceptance of the woman or through unambiguous sexual coercion. Even with a generous estimate, it’s likely that hundreds of women endure unwanted sex acts in prostitution for every man who does the same – or, to put it another way, male desire is literally hundreds of time more influential than female desire when it comes to what sex acts occur in prostitution.

This asymmetry exists everywhere in prostitution, not just in the actual sex. A quick search online for brothels and escort agencies comes back with a range of mannerisms, clothing, and presentation choices that could charitably be described as, well… narrow. Beyond a few specialty schoolgirl outfits, nurse ensembles, and one punk-themed “sex dungeon,” the vast majority of women on display are thin, white, wearing heavy makeup, and displayed in some form of lingerie. (The women who aren’t white are specifically marketed as submissive Asians, “fiery” Latinas, and even more explicit racial epithets for Afrikan women.) Exactly as you’d expect, the vast majority of aesthetic choices made in prostitution align with what men generally find arousing.

Of course, it’s theoretically possible that every single woman in these brothel and escort advertisements has an authentic desire to dress like a schoolgirl or in lingerie (although, again, it’s absurd to actually think that). Regardless, that’s not a reasonable explanation for why those styles are so commonly seen. Many women have an authentic desire to wear jeans and t-shirts. Others wear overalls, sweaters with pictures of woodland creatures, ballroom gowns, or knit scarves. But those are rarely, if ever, seen in prostitution – and, if they are, they would only be seen by men who specified that they had those precise interests. Just like in any other industry, women in prostitution have financial incentive to privilege male interest over any personal desires they may or may not have.

Reading blogs and articles by women in prostitution – including those who explicitly support the industry – you can see this male control extending even further into things like speech patterns, mannerisms, the way a woman laughs, the way she walks, and even their basic identity. I just read a post from a woman who was busy trying to find a more “sensual” name after a few clients told her they didn’t like her real one. Another said she asks men beforehand whether or not they want her to smile, because both “too much” and “too little” smiling can be a turn-off depending on their preferences. Read that again: A woman has to alter how much she smiles, while being penetrated, based on what a man requests. And this is the industry that liberals defend in the name of bodily autonomy?

Prostitution, as a practice, just is men telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. It’s men telling women how to use their bodies, how to move their bodies, how to dress their bodies. What men tell women do with their bodies is the primal guide for how prostitution functions; if we stopped, prostitution couldn’t function. Like all markets, supply responds to demand and the customer is always right. The problem is that the customer wants a fuckable object, not a human being.

Real freedom – not just for women, but for any human being – is incompatible with an industry where rent and food money depends on fulfilling the demands of a stranger. And while all workers suffer under capitalism, we at least tend to see factory work as an expression of control, not liberation. A coal miner isn’t free just because no one tells him he can’t mine coal. The minimum wage shelf-stockers at Walmart don’t have real bodily autonomy just because no one said they can’t take instructions from their boss. It’s a mystery to me, then, why suddenly the legalization of prostitution is seen as a win for women’s freedom, when the result is just a larger set of demands put on their bodies.

Now, I understand the twinge of indignation when some people hear talk about abolishing prostitution. And I understand why “Let women do whatever they want to with their bodies” is an appealing slogan. But if you really aspire to that goal, let me ask: Does that include the woman putting on a miniskirt because she knows she’ll make more than if she wears the jeans she finds more comfortable? Does that include the woman wincing through painful, unpleasant, or just plain boring sex because the alternative is homelessness? Does that include the woman alternating between faking and holding back smiles while a stranger penetrates her? Don’t those women deserve the right to do what they want to with their bodies, and not what the men they depend on for survival want to see done? You may not like that the law sets limits on what a woman can choose to do, but remember: It’s not the law that told her to change her very name for the sake of a man’s erection.

Attempted Murder of Prey Lang Community Network Activist

By Cultural Survival

 We are the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), a group of Kuy ethnic volunteers who join together to protect the Prey Lang Forest, which has been part of our lives for many generations. We come from the four provinces surrounding Prey Lang, Kampong Thom, Preah Vihea, Kratie and Stung Trung and have volunteered, working together to protect Prey Lang for 16 years.

As part of our patrol routine, from March 23 to 27, 2016 activists from all four provinces traveled through Prey Lang patrol to monitor and suppress the illegal logging that is destroying Prey Lang forest. During these five days of patrol we confiscated many cubic meters of wood, 35 chainsaws, and other materials involved in logging activities. Over the past two months of 2016 we have confiscated 85 chainsaws and many more cubic of wood from illegal loggers in Prey Lang.

On the evening of March 26 we camped overnight near Ta Chuel stream, in the Bueng Char region. On March 27, between 1:30 and 1:40 in the morning, local time, a group of people slipped through our camp and attempted to kill one of our youth activists, Phan Sopheak, who was asleep in her hammock. We did not see their faces and do not know how many they were, but our activist was badly injured on her left leg. If she were sleeping the other way, they would have cut her throat. The criminal soon escaped after Sopheak yelled for help. This was clearly an act of attempted murder, with malice toward her and the rest of the activists. Sopheak is one of the young Prey Lang activists who was nominated to represent PLCN to receive an Equator Prize from UNDP in December 2015 in Paris.

Sopheak was sent to a local clinic for quick treatment on the same day and is now safe, but her left leg is seriously injured.

Sopheak is the third indigenous environmental activist to be attacked this month, the other two were indigenous activists murdered in Honduras on March 3 and 16, 2016.

We, PLCN, are in shock and are very concerned for our safety amid increased intimidation and threats on our lives like this attempted murder by illegal loggers and those supporting them. Meanwhile the level of deforestation in Prey Lang had increased dramatically since early 2016. Without support from the Cambodia government, Prey Lang will cease to exist and our livelihood will disappear. Therefore, we request the following to the Cambodia government:

  1. Fully investigate the attempted murder on Sopheak and bring those criminals to justice.
  2. Permanently criminalized all forms of timber trading, both legal and illegal, in the Prey Lang region.
  3.  Stop all logging activities in the Prey Lang region.
  4. Conduct Investigations to determine who is involved in the logging business.
  5. Help to intervene and cooperate with PLCN to protect Prey Lang.

For more information, please contact our PLCN members from all four provinces below:

  1. Mr. Pay Bunlieng member of PLCN from Kratie at 097 611 3807
  2. Mr. Houen Sopheap member of PLCN from Kampong Thom at 012 373 441
  3. Mr. Chie Sokhouen member of PLCN from Stung Trung at 096 316 2866
  4. Mrs. Phok Hong member of PLCN Preah Vihea at 012 948 682

UN urged to end mercury poisoning crisis in South America

Featured Image: Gold miners have been invading Yanomami land for decades. © Fiona Watson/Survival International

Mercury poisoning is devastating tribal peoples across Amazonia, Survival International warned the U.N today.

In a letter to the U.N Special Rapporteur for Health, Survival International highlighted the failure of South American governments to address the contamination.

The unmonitored use of mercury, such as in illegal alluvial gold mining, often takes place on tribal peoples’ lands. Discriminatory attitudes towards tribal peoples mean that little action is taken to control it.

In Peru, 80% of a Nahua community have tested positive for high levels of mercury poisoning. 63% of those affected are children. Symptoms include anemia and renal failure, and one child has already died displaying symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning.

The Peruvian government has known about the mercury contamination since 2014 but has done little to identify the source. It is possible that other tribal peoples in the area have been affected, including uncontacted peoples.

In Brazil, new statistics reveal alarming rates of mercury poisoning amongst the Yanomami and Yekuana. 90% of Indians in one community are severely affected.

Without medical attention, mercury posioning can be lethal. Children and women of child-bearing age are most vulnerable © Fiona Watson/Survival
Without medical attention, mercury posioning can be lethal. Children and women of child-bearing age are most vulnerable
© Fiona Watson/Survival

Illegal gold miners operate on Yanomami land, polluting the rivers and forest with mercury. Uncontacted Yanomami are particularly in danger as many miners work near where they live.

Indigenous spokesman Reinaldo Rocha Yekuana said: “We are worried about the results of this research. This pollution affects plants, animals, and future generations.”

The Brazilian authorities have known about the mercury contamination since at least the 1980s, yet have failed to put a permanent stop to the illegal gold mining. Little has also been done to treat the affected Indians.

In Venezuela, several tribes including the Yekuana, Yanomami, Piaroa, Hoti and Pemon are also being devastated. 92% of Yekuana women in one region have levels of contamination far exceeding accepted limits.

Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry said: “These governments are sitting on a ticking time bomb. Every week that they fail to act, more and more indigenous peoples are being harmed. When mercury poisoning is identified, the source must be halted immediately and those affected must be treated. The effects will be catastrophic if indigenous peoples’ lands aren’t protected.”

New Finnish Forestry Act could mean the end of Sami reindeer herding

Sámi representatives call for swift support from the international community
Featured image: Sámi and reindeer. Photo by Dutchbaby @flickr (some rights reserved).

An unprecedented land grab will threaten the last old growth forests of Finnish Lapland and the homeland of the indigenous Sámi Peoples if a new Forestry Act is approved by the Finnish Parliament this week. 130,000 people have already petitioned the parliament to stop the Forestry Act, which Sámi indigenous groups say would lead to the end of Sámi reindeer herding in its current form.

A State-driven land grab
This crisis arrives in a context in which the previous Finnish Government failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, leaving the Sámi vulnerable. Now the current government in Finland is moving fast to completely wreck the existing rights of the only Indigenous Peoples living in the European Union. If the new Forestry Act is passed, Sámi areas in Upper Lapland, including large tracts of boreal old growth forests, will be opened up to a range of economic uses.

The new Act would affect 2.2 million hectares of water systems and 360,000 hectares of land, mostly in the Sub-Arctic and North Boreal areas of Finland, the Sámi’s Home Area. This area constitutes the last preserved wilderness of Europe. The Act would transfer power over this region further into the hands of state authorities, opening up the Sámi Home Area and sub-Arctic ecosystems to railway construction, and with that, potential expansion of mining, forestry and other infrastructure projects.

The new Forestry Act would no longer require Metsähallitus, the Finnish state-run enterprise which already controls 90% of the Sámi Home Area, to liase with the Sámi Parliament and the Skolt Sámi Village Council on issues of land management and their potential impacts on indigenous people’s lives. The preparation of this Act has not been conducted with the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the Sámi People.

Sámi Culture Under Threat
There is an urgent need to ensure that Metsähallitus and others are prevented from undermining present or future opportunities for the Sámi to practice and foster their culture. The new Act needs to include clauses that provide a protective zone and mechanisms for the Sámi to safeguard their cultural practices. These are missing from the existing legal proposal leaving both Indigenous Sámi leaders and Arctic scientists concerned about the proposed new reforms.

“Sámi reindeer herding and the Sámi way of life are in danger of disappearing if the new Forestry Act legislation passes in the Finnish Parliament. In this case we will have few opportunities to influence the decision making over our lands. Rather, our territories will be controlled by market economy values,” says Jouni Lukkari, President of the Finnish Section of the Sámi Council.

Tero Mustonen, a scientist from the Snowchange Cooperative, and one of the Lead Authors of the Arctic Council’s Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA), adds: “Arctic peoples have thrived in a harsh environment for millennia, in no small part because they have acquired a great depth of knowledge about the land and waters of their homelands and the species that live there, which provide food, clothing and meaning to Arctic cultures. This traditional ecological knowledge is increasingly recognized as an important source of information for, among other things, understanding Arctic biodiversity and developing effective strategies to conserve that biodiversity, including indigenous ways of life.”

Furthermore, Mustonen says that “In this period of rapid climate change in the Arctic it is imperative that these northern ecosystems are preserved intact – they are central to the Indigenous peoples’ survival and a source of their knowledge in this new reality. The Forestry Act in its current form would cause severe negative impacts to Sámi society as we know it.”

Concerned about the threat to their culture and homelands, all of the Sámi reindeer herding cooperatives, the economic units through which reindeer herding is organized in Finland, are opposing the new Act. Despite decades of industrial forestry and road construction in Southern and Middle Lapland, the Sámi’s traditional trade has been able to cope and maintain its iconic socio-ecological complex. But the new Act threatens to change all of this.

Since details of the new Forestry Act emerged, the reindeer herding cooperatives, as well as the national Sámi Parliament and the international Sámi Council, have taken strongly-worded letters to Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä asking him to stop the Act in its current form.

The Act must be stopped
Considering both the historical damage they have sustained and the difficulties of adapting to rapidly-proceeding Arctic climate change, Sámi reindeer herding practices cannot cope with the imposition of the sudden industrial changes promised under the new Forestry Act, Mustonen explains. “There is an urgent need to stop the current form of the Forestry Act from proceeding further”.

Should the Act manage to pass in the Finnish Parliament this week, the Sámi will demand a full Moratorium on all state forestry and infrastructure actions inside the Sámi Home Area until such a time that the Indigenous rights over the area can be jointly agreed on.

Mustonen also suggests that a mapping of the Sámi Land Use, in accordance with international standards, should be enacted to document the historical and contemporary land and water rights of the Sámi. “This could then serve as a basis of a neutral re-start to Sámi – State relations in Finland; a re-start much needed and awaited by all parties,” he concludes.

In the meantime, Sámi representatives are requesting support from the international community.

For further information, contactTero Mustonen, Ph D Snowchange Cooperative HAvukkavaarantie 29FIN 81235 Lehtoi Finland

tero@snowchange.org +358 407372424

Strategic activism