- DGR Lower Columbia members report on publicy supporting underground resistance at a coal export terminal EIS hearing.
- DGR Seattle needs signatures on an open letter demanding that BNSF Railway stop transporting fossil fuels.
- A new DGR chapter has been started, in Santa Barbara.
- A member of DGR UK wrote a summary of land defence struggles in the British countryside.
Featured image: The Guarani have a deep sense of connection to their land, but have seen most of it stolen and destroyed by intensive agriculture. © Fiona Watson/Survival International
On the eve of the Olympics, a tribe in Brazil has made a powerful statement to the ranchers who are destroying their land and subjecting them to genocidal violence and racism.
This follows a recent wave of violence and evictions, and the death of a seven-month-old baby in Apy Ka’y community in July.
Aty Guasu, the organization of Brazil’s Guarani tribe, said: “You are killers and you continue to attack our tekohá [ancestral lands]. But we won’t retreat from the fight for our lands which were stolen from us. Every time you kill one of us, we will be stronger in our struggle. Every time you shoot at us, we will take a step forward. And for every grave, we will reoccupy more land. We guarantee this.”
Aty Guasu has also produced a video compiling footage of recent instances of brutality against the Guarani and featuring graphic footage.
Many Guarani Indians have been forced to live on roadsides and are attacked by gunmen or forcibly evicted if they try to reoccupy their ancestral land. In July, Guarani families were evicted from their ancestral land by almost 100 heavily-armed police officers. A baby subsequently died of malnutrition and exposure, as Guarani houses were bulldozed and the community was forced back into makeshift encampments on the roadside.
Earlier in 2016, several other Guarani communities were attacked by ranchers’ gunmen. One attack in Tey’i Jusu community led to one Guarani man being killed and several others – including a twelve year old boy – being hospitalized.
Watch: Gunmen attack Tey’i Jusu community
Over the past few decades, most of the Guarani’s land has been stolen by destructive agribusiness, and they live by the side of the road and in overcrowded reservations. Guarani children starve and many of their leaders have been assassinated. Hundreds of Guarani men, women and children have killed themselves, and the Guarani Kaiowá suffer the highest suicide rate in the world.
In a video made with equipment provided through Survival’s Tribal Voice project, Eliseu Guarani, a Guarani leader, said: “Brazil will host the Olympic games this year, the government will be on the world stage and is trying to hide the situation we indigenous people face…We Guarani are being attacked, our leaders are being killed… and our land is not being returned to us, but these Olympic Games won’t show any of that. People around the world will watch these games and cheer and they’ll also be cheering our suffering.”
In April Survival International launched its “Stop Brazil’s Genocide” campaign for the run-up to the Rio 2016 Olympics, to draw attention to the situation facing tribes like the Guarani. Their lands, resources and labor are being stolen in the name of “progress” and “civilization.”
On July 31st Survival supporters demonstrated outside the Brazilian embassy in London.
The campaign is calling for the Brazilian government to uphold the law by protecting the Guarani, demarcating their land, prosecuting murderers and providing food for starving communities until they get back their ancestral land. It is also concerned with uncontacted tribes – the most vulnerable peoples on the planet – and PEC 215, a proposed change to Brazilian law which would undermine tribal land rights and lead to the break up and exploitation of existing indigenous territories.
Watch: Guarani leader says no to PEC 215
Survival’s Stephen Corry said: “An urgent and horrific humanitarian crisis is unfolding across Brazil while the media’s eyes are diverted by the Olympic Games. The Guarani’s situation is not an anomaly, it’s the continuation of a centuries-old process of land theft, genocidal violence, slavery and racism. Scores of indigenous people are dying and being killed, tribes across the country are being annihilated. It’s difficult to exaggerate the severity of this crisis which will only end when tribal peoples are respected as contemporary societies and their human rights protected. Brazil needs to act now, before more tribes are destroyed.”
On Friday, July 29th, a coalition of 21 plaintiffs including local groups Riverkeeper, Sierra Club Lower Hudson, Food & Water Watch NY, Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE), and Reynolds Hill, Inc. filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seeking to overturn the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) March 2015 approval of Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Markets (AIM) pipeline project. Although many state and local officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, both New York Senators and Representatives Nita Lowey and Eliot Engle have come out against the pipeline, so far construction is still moving forward.
The coalition’s brief addresses some of the points they had raised in their Rehearing Request that FERC rejected in January 2016. First it argues that the Commission improperly segmented the Algonquin pipeline expansion by dividing it into three different projects to avoid having to address its full environmental impact. As one Spectra official told an industry journal “you end up with a lot less potential opposition if you do that.” The AIM project is the first of three expansion Spectra plans for the Algonquin pipeline. The other two, Atlantic Bridge and Access Northeast, continue precisely where Aim leaves off to create a greatly enlarged path for fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Canadian export terminals.
Approximately 2,159 feet of the AIM pipeline will run through property that is part of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The brief challenges the approval of installing the pipeline a little over 100 feet from critical safety structures at the Indian Point. It notes that the Commission relied on findings by Entergy Nuclear Operations, the company that operates Indian Point, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), neither of which have expertise in pipeline safety. Entergy and the NRC had concluded that the AIM Project would not impact safety at Indian Point, a conclusion challenged by both elected officials and independent nuclear and pipeline safety experts.
Lastly the brief argues FERC violated its own regulations by relying on a third-party contractor that had a financial interest in the construction of the AIM Project. FERC relies on third-party contractors to prepare the Environmental Impact Statements required for approving projects. Those contractors are identified by and paid for by the project applicant – in this case Spectra. To avoid conflicts of interest, potential third-party contractors must complete and submit an Organizational Conflict of Interest statement. No such statement has been found in the AIM record however. An investigation has also revealed that NRG, the third-party contractor that prepared the Environmental Impact Statement for AIM, was working for Spectra on another related project at the same time in an apparent violation of FERC regulations.
Nancy Vann, whose property is being taken by eminent domain for the AIM project, said “FERC has only rejected one pipeline project in its entire 40 year history. It’s shameful that the public must take a government agency to court in order to make it do its job. I’m so grateful for the determination of Riverkeeper, SAPE, Food & Water Watch and all of the other coalition members who have persisted in asserting these important issues and I’m looking forward to getting our day in court.”
We were not meant for this. We were meant to live and love and play and work and even hate more simply and directly. It is only through outrageous violence that we come to see this absurdity as normal, or to not see it at all. Each new child has his eyes torn out so he will not see, his ears removed so he will not hear, his tongue ripped out so he will not speak, his mind juiced so he will not think, and his nerves scraped so he will not feel. Then he is released into a world broken into two: others like himself, and those to be used. He will never realize that he still has all his senses, if only he will use them. If you mention to him that he still has ears, he will not hear you. If he hears, he will not think. Perhaps most dangerously of all, if he thinks he will not feel. And so on, again.
–Derrick Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe
Every morning between 8:00 and 9:00 am in this upwardly-mobile-yet backward district, the country-roads are full of children commuting to school, hoisting bags laden with what they believe is the wisdom and know-how of modern culture. They are going for vidyabhyaasam (education, or more literally speaking, ‘the exercise of knowledge’), and they go to the keepers of this knowledge, to teachers in schools. Everyone (parents, children, the state and society) deems this to be good and necessary.
For many years, I’ve been observing more and more of my rural and tribal neighbours pack their children off to school. While I’ve long been a champion of equal opportunities (including equal wages), I’m now starting to believe that a dark and dangerous psychic predicament is falling upon this land, in part aided by the simultaneous entry of television into village homes, and a slew of fickle government policies, in the bid for progress, modernity and the end of poverty.
I’ve been observing how self-reliance and land-based sustenance have been, more or less, replaced by a mobile populace commuting daily in the hope of finding skills, knowledge, support, wisdom and security elsewhere. I believe that the notion that the ‘other is better’ than self and home, that this ‘other’ can be acquired through hard work, enterprise, subsidies and bank loans which constitute progress, that everyone is now entitled to this ‘other’, is here in our midst.
Since mental and social strife are also increasing (in the form of various disorders and illnesses), perhaps this version of modernity, underneath all the glitter and promise, needs some examination. Is it for instance, instilling aspirations that can never be truly fulfilled? Is it exchanging one type of poverty for another? What happens to family and community relations once the young leave? Where do these children go on to, once schooled?
The subsidiary thesis of this essay is that modern education serves a version of Gulag, by forcing our young to suffer unspeakable conditions at an early age, by compelling them to do school work and home work for a greater part of their day. By sustaining this over long periods, at the most crucial time in their vulnerable years, it breaks them, to refashion them into a pliable workforce. By the end of schooling, the young are yoked, through fear and the promise of salvation if they succeed. If they fail, as indeed most do, they are consigned to lesser destinies. This arduous entrainment, under enforced routine and vigilance, is essential for the great global workplace, and can only happen with various forms of rewards, promises, threats, violence and incarceration.
Incarceration (both voluntary and involuntary), when sustained and normalized, leads to a range of issues—shutdown, frustration, disorder, escape, split psychologies, helplessness, dissociation, physical ailments and phobias. These can be seen amongst children, prisoners, slaves, caged and beaten animals, controlled peoples.
The primary thesis of this essay is that the psychic predicament just outlined goes hand in hand with the destruction of life, with the catastrophic end of the biosphere.
I am the resident environmental educator of the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, a tiny conservation centre in a rural setting at the edge of a forest in Kerala. My work is to enable educational processes ranging from the short-term single encounter to entire curricula based on nature. While my friends and I teach mainly about plants and animals and the tropical forest environment, our mission is to grow a culture based on nature. We believe this to be of paramount importance in the coming decades—to create places of resilience, where plants, animals and humans have a chance of surviving the ecological holocaust that is upon us all.
A DIY manual for starting schools in a new land might read:
First persuade, seduce, bribe or devastate the people. Break up their society, their beliefs, and their ways of life. Take over their rivers, and their forest. Do this by hook or crook. Or use plain force, no pretence. Convince them that it’s for their own good; even better, work on the young. Instil the idea that you have something supremely better to offer.
Draw them into the concrete jungle, into the cyber machine, into the factorial workplace, into the idea of the good life in the shining city. At all times control their food and water; this instills fear and compliance. Then, sever their allegiance to their bodies and psyches; hook them to the machine.
Be the mighty provider.
Evicted populations, trans-located communities, weakened land-based cultures, migrant workforces need to be dealt with; they need to be fed, watered, educated, employed, treated, housed and kept docile with entertainment. You have them when you’ve sold them the idea of choice while you’ve closed all the exit points, and they eat what you supply. Enter a new species of human bred on petroleum-driven food, petroleum-driven water, petroleum-driven health, petroleum-driven culture, petroleum-driven mind. The trademark of this taxon? Supreme entitlement.
Little bodies I’ve known, bodies tumbling, climbing, swimming, running, now sit still for long hours, with book/notebook/pencil in hand, in thrall, if not of the authority at the far end of the classroom, then of their fantasies. Little minds I’ve known, curious, aware, sensitive, attuned to the lives of creatures, rivers, land and each other thrown into the maw of the global machine, to be carried away to faraway lands and cities.
The word teacher comes with hefty lessons. The young are given thoughts, ideas and behaviours to follow or imitate, and to believe without question, to accept without dispute, and to ignore the call of their own bodies. By the end of schooling students take the following to be truths—everything comes with a price tag; it’s possible to have an economy without an ecology; the earth is irrelevant; other humans are irrelevant; life is a matter of goods, gadgets, cash transactions and services.
It’s a rare teacher who hugs a child, a rare school where children spend more time playing than sitting at desks; a rare home, and a rare community that does not send its children away to the cold vigilant ‘care’ of ever-distant adults of varying backgrounds and temperaments, teaching ever-distant things, for the sake of progress and human betterment.
This sending away, for many children, experienced variously as severance, uprooting or exile, is done with good intention, and full conviction. Indeed, the state of most homes, and most communities, is pretty bleak. Adults send their young ones away, to be saved mostly from themselves, from lives of mental, social or physical penury.
At school the attention-commanding teacher spawns inevitably a secret second life for the child, open eyes with still bodies, and minds ranging far and free. ‘The split’ that is now widely recognized to be at the root of social dysfunction and psychopathy is spawned by authority, in other words fear, and mostly in school. Forced bodies, forced behaviours and forced thoughts. Deviance is the only way out.
The Left, the fringe, the rebels and the spiritually-minded have clearly outlined how schools breed factory workers, zombies and psychopaths. I’d like to propose that schooling is necessary for building a hierarchy of egos by destroying the individual’s inherence in community through an insidiously brutal system of reward and punishment normalised in the name of education and social advancement. This hierarchy of egos, with an elite at the top commanding much of the world’s wealth and people, is essential to genocide and ecocide.
Today, I’m on a journey with a friend of mine, a Kurchiya tribesman. We’ve just come out of a forest to a town bursting with tourist operations, shops selling trinkets, hippie clothing, foods and multinational beverages. A protest march is spilling onto the streets. I look back towards the jungle, with its thousands of species of living beings, its hills, rivers, valleys, and rain clouds swirling, upswelling. Then my gaze cursorily moves over a famous quote painted on a compound wall, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world’.
My first thought is that different realities can be juxtaposed in one eye sweep. Second, obviously Mandela was not a pacifist. Third, there’s a premise here, that education is a positive thing, and that there is a shared definition of education. Fourth, Hmmm, that sounds like propaganda, it’s a statement aiming to change the world. Fifth, if the word weapon is being used, surely there’s a war going on, or theft, injustice, or unspeakable violence, and that education is part of militant struggle. My sixth thought is that that quote is now used by liberals, right-wingers, leftists, corporate-types and has over two million hits on Google! Just goes to show how great quotes can be co-opted to serve any agenda!
Are the following true or false, or just inconvenient?
Modern education serves the corporate mindset, which serves a psychopathic mind-set that is behind planetary destruction.
Modern education feeds young minds and bodies into the industrial machine. It does this, overtly or covertly, by destroying traditional forms of community and replacing them with notions of the global workforce, the global market. By doing this it ends up serving forces of capitalism, industrialism, and a system that rewards the elite.
Increasingly, modern education is predicated on authoritarian expertise, as well as what Lewis Mumford called authoritarian technics. These are indispensable to the dominant culture.
Modern education fetishizes abstraction. It rewards adepts of abstraction and standardization. By starting this early in life, the body becomes subservient to concept and clock, to the virtual, the distant and the measurable.
The standards set by modern education are impossible to achieve for a greater part of humanity. These are set by the dominant culture against its own people, let alone other cultures and traditions, and require a failure system, thereby providing the labour for industry. In other words, modern schooling fractures the individual in a number of irreparable ways, in the name of progress and human betterment.
The fractures are complex, and many: the child from sustained intimate body contact with mother, with family, and from neighbours; the child’s mind from it’s body, from the natural environment, common/community sense, the land-base; the real from the abstract; from the multi-dimensional, to the two, and the virtual; from local history to the distant and someone else’s future or past (presented as if it’s ‘ours’); the child from the organic; the child from wholeness, towards a fragmentedness (to a state of continual defensiveness); the child from magic, oral histories, gleaming cosmologies, peopled and alive to facts derived by unknown people and machines; the child from living beings to inanimate things; the child from rootedness and sense of place; the child from natural, cyclical, expansive time.
Through the process of indoctrination, enculturation, socialisation and a belief that the children are tabula rasa, and need to be filled, a splitting is achieved in a slow and deliberate way.
Life is thus reduced to a matter of negotiating between split worlds, split mind-bodies, split communities, split realities, split values, split responsibilities, split knowledge domains, split geographies (this is home, that is school), split identities, split loyalties.
How can a little human being possibly tolerate this?
R D Laing wrote:
In order to rationalize our industrial-military complex, we have to destroy our capacity to see clearly any more what is in front of, and to imagine what is beyond, our noses. Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste to our own sanity. We begin with the children. It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brainwashing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks. Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high IQs, if possible.
Is it a stretch of imagination that school life is a continuous process of disintegration and estrangement? By the end of formative education, study after study guarantees that few remain with healthy levels of self-esteem and self-worth, including the ones who worked hard, and proved to themselves that they could achieve their goals and desires. How many students leave school with vibrant connections to communities that they will contribute to, as it has contributed to them? How many are comfortable in their skins? How many remain ‘whole’? The subtext for graduates of schooling goes thus—her body is better than mine, their body type is better than our body type; his mind is better than mine; their minds are better than ours. Their culture is better than mine—television says it’s so.
My friend, a superlative tracker, now raises his children on a diet of Animal Planet and Discovery channels, homework, white rice, white sugar. No jungle meat, no walks on the wild side. I ask him if he intends to teach his jungle craft to his children, for what use would it be if they can’t hunt anymore, if there are bans on collecting wild medicinal plants. He says he will, that he wants his children to know healing with plants, and the ways of animals, but that he also wants them to go to school. Vidyabhyaasam is a good and necessary thing, he too declares. I ask him about Kurchiya vidyabhyaasam. He misunderstands me and says they have no schools. I ask him how they teach their young. He replies that girls and boys are socialized to become responsible members of their community, with different sets of instructions for either sex, offered by elders in the community or their parents, through a variety of rituals, celebrations, guidance and tasks. Children start early to follow adults. Boys, for instance, have bows made for them when they are very small, just to play with, and then they start accompanying the men to the forest, where there is a lot to learn about every animal, and about the forest.
I figured out today that at any given moment in this decade, approximately two billion humans are at school- (and university-) going age. Whether they receive an education or not, that’s two billion human bodies in preparation for industrial capitalism’s greatest venture—converting the living body of the planet into profit through manufacturing goods and services.
The math itself is not hard, it’s far from cognitively challenging. Assuming that most of them get to the tenth standard, at any given point in time 200 million are either graduating or failing to graduate. Those failing to graduate will end up in factories, slums, the streets, the military, and of course detention facilities.
Those graduating will go on to higher education. Assuming that 10 per cent go on for higher education, twenty million are in universities. After three years of college, approximately seven million graduate or fail to graduate. Those failing to graduate go to factories. Those graduating go on for PhDs, and most of them will serve the corporate research agenda. It is guaranteed that all will serve the dominant culture in one way or another; all will serve the industrial production system. As will my Kurchiya friend’s children, assuming that the world’s still here when they reach adulthood.
Pink Floyd asked “Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” in the song Wish You Were Here (1975).
The Kurchiyas were mercenaries in the battle of a Malabar chieftain against the British colonizers. They were fierce rebels and proud fighters. They could read the forest better than you and I can read a book. Now they work for wages, and their children go to school. Once they’ve been educated and urbanised, their bows will be mass-produced for tourist outlets; their elders will recount tales of valour to travellers in homestays, between television commercials; and their amazing bodies will succumb to various forms of civilization-induced diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
An oft-touted development mandate goes something like this, ‘Get the children in school, the crime rates will drop’. The more I see the effects of modern civilization the more I think, “Get those children in school, make them extensions of the machine, and sure, the living world, the real world, including themselves, will drop.”
Krishnamurti writes in Education and the Significance of Life:
Where there is love there is instantaneous communion with the other, on the same level and at the same time. It is because we ourselves are so dry, empty and without love that we have allowed governments and systems to take over the education of our children and the direction of our lives; but governments want efficient technicians, not human beings, because human beings become dangerous to governments and to organized religions as well. That is why governments and religious organizations seek to control education.
A little more on Gulag, used here metaphorically to lift a veil of denial of a cruel and inhuman system of oppression under our very noses, one that most of us have been through, and even subscribe to. People survived Gulags, the official acronym of the Soviet penitentiary system, one intended to punish, or re-educate criminals, psychopaths, and tens of millions of political dissidents, a system that was promoted as a progressive and educational service to the state, through enforced labour. The conditions were brutal, saturated with death and deprivation, and more than a million died. Likewise, our schools are mostly brutal, saturated with fear, where billions of souls die in their hearts and minds, hardly the stuff of human betterment and progress. How many of us survive our schooling?
Coincidentally, as I do my final edits on this piece, a friend of mine shares an Occupy Wall Street protest movement poster on Facebook that reads:
Feeling sad and depressed? Are you worried? Anxious about the future? Feeling isolated and alone? You might be suffering from CAPITALISM. Symptoms may include homelessness, unemployment, poverty, hunger, feelings of powerlessness, fear, apathy, boredom, cultural decay, loss of identity, selfconsciousness, loss of free speech, incarceration, suicidal or revolutionary thoughts, death.
Krishnamurti also says, “It is no measure of health to be adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
And what a sick society it is leading to planetary collapse largely through the toxic end-effects of industrial civilization; a society that accepts systemic violence, overt and covert, threatening to destroy human societies and all of nature. What will it take to bring about a sane society in a world run by supremacists? Do current educational practices not serve this dangerous state of affairs? Can education, instead, bring about a new culture? More crucially, is there time left for a different education? How can the young, and the wild, survive this toxic era? In the face of collapse, can different kind of education bring about a new culture, one that is not based on hatred, domination and control (of humans and the environment)? Who is going to do it?
I encounter the dream, materialized, every time I enter Bangalore, through the ever-sprawling new towns of Nagarabhavi, Kengeri and Bidadi. Houses upon houses, tiny cement buildings, endless traffic lines of shiny new cars, smoking rubbish heaps, malls, the gargantuan nevercompleted flyovers. I join the millions who throng the city, where not so long ago, hills and streams and farmland used to be. Little children play cricket on the melting tarmac, pi dogs frolic in the filth, potholes grow treacherous; and the air is thicker, more toxic.
Being a biophiliac, however, I am drawn to bodies, living beings. I see the force of life surging through every attempt to cage, poison or smother it. Something wild and true surviving despite the worst nightmare it finds itself in. A thing that has never known a forest, and does not seek it, and yet is still wild, this play of nature through human bodies, in these creatures of the earth, these children playing cricket, these men and women going about their daily lives, these lungs breathing, these hearts beating. Now seeking a tap, now a bottled drink, a mobile phone, a slightly larger house, more paint on the walls, a uniform, a school bag full of books; an education. Salvation. All in order to find happiness, joy, fulfilment, security. This wild thing mistakenly identifies the source of its life to be the machine, a sleight-of-hand trick achieved through decades of relentless and systematic misdirection.
I place my hope on the fact that tricks can be undone. Like the last remaining wild places on the planet, surely at the core of every being is a fierce and deep awareness of what it’s like to be free.
Suprabha Seshan lives at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, a small plant conservation centre, at the edge of a forest in the hills of Kerala, India. She is an environmental educator and restoration ecologist, an Ashoka Fellow, and winner of the 2006 Whitley Fund for Nature award.
Originally published at inthewake.org
When some people hear that we want to “end civilization” they initially respond negatively, because of their positive associations with the word “civilization.” This piece is an attempt to clarify, define and describe what I mean by “civilization.”
One dictionary definition1 reads:
- a society in an advanced state of social development (eg, with complex legal and political and religious organizations); “the people slowly progressed from barbarism to civilization” [syn: civilisation]
- the social process whereby societies achieve civilization [syn: civilisation]
- a particular society at a particular time and place; “early Mayan civilization” [syn: culture, civilisation]
- the quality of excellence in thought and manners and taste; “a man of intellectual refinement”; “he is remembered for his generosity and civilization” [syn: refinement, civilisation]
The synonyms include “advancement,” “breeding,” “civility,” “cultivation,” “culture,” “development,” “edification,” “education,” “elevation,” “enlightenment,” “illumination,” “polish,” “progress,” and “refinement”. Of course. As Derrick Jensen asks, “can you imagine writers of dictionaries willingly classifying themselves as members of ‘a low, undeveloped, or backward state of human society’?”
In contrast, the antonyms of “civilization” include “barbarism,” “savagery,” “wilderness,” and “wildness.” These are the words that civilized people use to refer to those they view as being outside of civilization—in particular, indigenous peoples. “Barbarous,” as in “barbarian,” comes from a Greek word, meaning “non-Greek, foreign.” The word “savage” comes from the Latin “silvaticus” meaning “of the woods.” The origins seem harmless enough, but it’s very instructive to see how civilized people have used these words2:
- The quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane [syn: atrocity, atrociousness, barbarousness, heinousness]
- A brutal barbarous savage act [syn: brutality, barbarism, savagery]
- The quality or condition of being savage.
- An act of violent cruelty.
- Savage behavior or nature; barbarity.
These associations of cruelty with the uncivilized are, however, in glaring opposition to the historical record of interactions between civilized and indigenous peoples.
Let us take one of the most famous examples of “contact” between civilized and indigenous peoples. When Christopher Columbus first arrived in the “Americas” he noted that he was impressed by the indigenous peoples, writing in his journal that they had a “naked innocence … They are very gentle without knowing what evil is, without killing, without stealing.”
And so he decided “they will make excellent servants.”
In 1493, with the permission of the Spanish Crown, he appointed himself “viceroy and governor” of the Caribbean and the Americas. He installed himself on the island now divided between Haiti and the Dominican republic and began to systematically enslave and exterminate the indigenous population. (The Taino population of the island was not civilized, in contrast to the civilized Inca who the conquistadors also invaded in Central America.) Within three years he had managed to reduce the indigenous population from eight million to three million. By 1514 only 22,000 of the indigenous population remained, and after 1542 they were considered extinct.3
The tribute system, instituted by [Columbus] sometime in 1495, was a simple and brutal way of fulfilling the Spanish lust for gold while acknowledging the Spanish distaste for labor. Every Taino over the age of fourteen had to supply the rulers with a hawk’s bell of gold every three months (or, in gold-deficient areas, twenty-five pounds of spun cotton; those who did were given a token to wear around their necks as proof that they had made their payment; those did not were … “punished” – by having their hands cut off … and [being] left to bleed to death.4
More than 10,000 people were killed this way during Columbus’ time as governor. On countless occasions, these civilized invaders engaged in torture, rape, and massacres. The Spaniards
… made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mother’s breast by their feet and dashed their heads against the rocks … They spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords.5
On another occasion:
A Spaniard … suddenly drew his sword. Then the whole hundred drew theirs and began to rip open the bellies, to cut and kill – men, women, children and old folk, all of whom were seated off guard and frightened … And within two credos, not a man of them there remains alive. The Spaniards enter the large house nearby, for this was happening at its door, and in the same way, with cuts and stabs, began to kill as many as were found there, so that a stream of blood was running, as if a number of cows had perished.6
This pattern of one-way, unprovoked, inexcusable cruelty and viciousness occurred in countless interactions between civilized and indigenous people through history.
This phenomena is well-documented in excellent books including Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present, Kirkpatrick Sale’s The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, and Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. Farley Mowat’s books, especially Walking on the Land, The Deer People, and The Desperate People document this as well with an emphasis on the northern and arctic regions of North America.
There is also good information in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Eduardo Galeando’s incredible Memory of Fire trilogy covers this topic as well, with an emphasis on Latin America (this epic trilogy reviews numerous related injustices and revolts). Jack D Forbes’ book Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism and Terrorism is highly recommended. You can also find information in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, although I often disagree with the author’s premises and approach.
The same kind of attacks civilized people committed against indigenous peoples were also consistently perpetrated against non-human animal and plant species, who were wiped out (often deliberately) even when civilized people didn’t need them for food; simply as blood-sport. For further readings on this, check out great books like Farley Mowat’s extensive and crushing Sea of Slaughter, or Clive Ponting’s A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (which also examines precivilized history and European colonialism).
With this history of atrocity in mind, we should (if we haven’t already) cease using the propaganda definitions of civilized as “good” and uncivilized as “bad” and seek a more accurate and useful definition. Anthropologists and other thinkers have come up with a number of somewhat less biased definitions of civilization.
Nineteenth century English anthropologist E B Tylor defined civilization as life in cities that is organized by government and facilitated by scribes (which means the use of writing). In these societies, he noted, there is a resource “surplus”, which can be traded or taken (though war or exploitation) which allows for specialization in the cities.
Derrick Jensen, having recognized the serious flaws in the popular, dictionary definition of civilization, writes:
I would define a civilization much more precisely, and I believe more usefully, as a culture – that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts – that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from latin civitatis, meaning state or city), with cities being defined – so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on – as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.
Jensen also observes that because cities need to import these necessities of life and to grow, they must also create systems for the perpetual centralization of resources, yielding “an increasing region of unsustainability surrounded by an increasingly exploited countryside.”
Contemporary anthropologist John H Bodley writes: “The principle function of civilization is to organize overlapping social networks of ideological, political, economic, and military power that differentially benefit privileged households.”7 In other words, in civilization institutions like churches, corporations and militaries exist and are used to funnel resources and power to the rulers and the elite.
The twentieth century historian and sociologist Lewis Mumford wrote one of my favourite and most cutting and succinct definitions of civilization. He uses the term civilization
… to denote the group of institutions that first took form under kingship. Its chief features, constant in varying proportions throughout history, are the centralization of political power, the separation of classes, the lifetime division of labor, the mechanization of production, the magnification of military power, the economic exploitation of the weak, and the universal introduction of slavery and forced labor for both industrial and military purposes.8
Taking various anthropological and historical definitions into account, we can come up with some common properties of civilizations (as opposed to indigenous groups).
- People live in permanent settlements, and a significant number of them in cities.
- The society depends on large-scale agriculture (which is needed to support dense, non-food-growing urban populations).
- The society has rulers and some form of “aristocracy” with centralized political, economic, and military power, who exist by exploiting the mass of people.
- The elite (and possibly others) use writing and numbers to keep track of commodities, the spoils of war, and so on.
- There is slavery and forced labour either by the direct use of physical violence, or by economic coercion and violence (through which people are systematically deprived of choices outside the wage economy).
- There are large armies and institutionalized warfare.
- Production is mechanized, either through physical machines or the use of humans as though they were machines (this point will be expanded on in other writings here soon).
- Large, complex institutions exist to mediate and control the behaviour of people, through as their learning and worldview (schools and churches), as well as their relationships with each other, with the unknown, and with the nature world (churches and organized religion).
Anthropologist Stanley Diamond recognized the common thread in all of these attributes when he wrote; “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home”.9
This common thread is control. Civilization is a culture of control. In civilizations, a small group of people controls a large group of people through the institutions of civilization. If they are beyond the frontier of that civilization, then that control will come in the form of armies and missionaries (be they religious or technical specialists). If the people to be controlled are inside of the cities, inside of civilization, then the control may come through domestic militaries (ie, police). However, it is likely cheaper and less overtly violent to condition of certain types of behaviour through religion, schools or media, and related means, than through the use of outright force (which requires a substantial investment in weapons, surveillance and labour).
That works very effectively in combination with economic and agricultural control. If you control the supply of food and other essentials of life, people have to do what you say or they die. People inside of cities inherently depend on food systems controlled by the rulers to survive, since the (commonly accepted) definition of a city is that the population is dense enough to require the importation of food.
For a higher degree of control, rulers have combined control of food and agriculture with conditioning that reinforces their supremacy. In the dominant, capitalist society, the rich control the supply of food and essentials, and the content of the media and the schools. The schools and workplaces act as a selection process: those who demonstrate their ability to cooperate with those in power by behaving properly and doing what they’re told at work and school have access to higher paying jobs involving less labour. Those who cannot or will not do what they’re told are excluded from easy access to food and essentials (by having access only to menial jobs), and must work very hard to survive, or become poor and/or homeless. People higher on this hierarchy are mostly spared the economic and physical violence imposed on those lower on the hierarchy. A highly rationalized system of exploitation like this helps to increase the efficiency of the system by reducing the chance of resistance or outright rebellion of the populace.
The media’s propaganda systems have most people convinced that this system is somehow “natural” or “necessary”—but of course, it is both completely artificial and a direct result of the actions of those in power (and the inactions of those who believe that they benefit from it, or are prevented from acting through violence or the threat of violence).
In contradiction to the idea that the dominant culture’s way of living is “natural,” human beings lived as small, ecological, participatory, equitable groups for more than 99% of human history. There are a number of excellent books and articles comparing indigenous societies to civilization:
- Chellis Glendinning’s My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization (Shambhala, 1994). You can read an excerpt of the chapter “A Lesson in Earth Civics.” She has also written several related books, including When Technology Wounds: The Human Consequences of Progress (Morrow, 1990).
- Marshall Sahlin’s Stone Age Economics (Adline, 1972) is a detailed classic in that same vein. You can read his essay “The Original Affluent Society.”
- Anthropologist Stanley Diamond’s book In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization (Transaction Publishers, 1987).
- Richard Heinberg’s essay “The Primitivist Critique of Civilization.”
These sources show there were healthy, equitable and ecological communities in the past, and that they were the norm for countless generations. It is civilization that is monstrous and aberrant.
Living inside of the controlling environment of civilization is an inherently traumatic experience, although the degree of trauma varies with personal circumstance and the amounts of privilege different people have in society. Derrick Jensen makes this point very well in A Language Older than Words (Context Books, 2000), and Chellis Glendinning covers it as well in My name is Chellis.
1. Definition of “civilization” is from WordNet R 2.0, 2003, Princeton University
2. Definitions of “barbarity” and “savagery” are from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000, Houghton Mifflin Company.
3. I owe many of the sources in this section to the research of Ward Churchill. The figure of eight million is from chapter six of Essays in Population History, Vol I by Sherburn F Cook and Woodrow Borah (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971). The figure of three million is from is from a survey at the time by Bartolome de Las Casas covered in J B Thatcher, Christopher Columbus, two volumes (New York: Putnam’s, 1903-1904) Vol 2, page 384 ff. They were considered extinct by the Spanish census at the time, which is summarized in Lewis Hanke’s The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (Philapelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1947) page 200 ff.
4. Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1990) page 155.
5. de Las Casas, Bartolome. The Spanish Colonie: Brevisima revacion (New York: University Microfilms Reprint, 1966).
6. de Las Casas, Bartolome. Historia de las Indias, Vol 3, (Mexico City: Fondo Cultura Economica, 1951) chapter 29.
7. Bodley, John H, Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States and the Global System. Mayfield, Mountain View, California, 2000.
8. Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Human Development, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1966, page 186.
9. Diamond, Stanley, In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, 1993, page 1.
By Will Falk / Deep Green Resistance
This year’s Fourth of July week grew in horror as it passed. Each day brought new nightmares that struck me at a dizzying pace. By the end of the week, after I decided I was sick of weeping, I turned off the television, shut my Facebook tab, and remembered that the best antidote for despair is action.
My week started hopefully enough in Eugene, Oregon where I participated in a training hosted by members of Deep Green Resistance called Extraction Resistance: A Three Day Training in Direct Action. One of the goals of the event was to normalize direct action tactics, and I was asked to write a primer on the topic. This is that primer.
When I got home from Eugene, I found a video news story from Karachi, Pakistan showing men digging mass graves in anticipation of the number of heat-related deaths caused by soaring summer temperatures. The ghosts of people not yet dead climbed from trenches dug in the dry Pakistani dust. I could almost see the bodies piling in the grave-diggers’ shadows.
The next day I watched as two white police officers pinned Alton Sterling, a black man, to the ground, put a pistol to his head, and shot him execution-style. I went to bed wondering how the cops were going to get out of this one only to wake to see Philando Castile slumped over in the seat of a car, blood seeping through his clothes, as his fiancé, Diamond Reynolds, explained in a video that Castile was just shot four times by a police officer in a routine traffic stop.
Then, during an otherwise peaceful rally protesting the murders of Sterling and Castile, twelve cops were shot, five of them fatally, and two civilians wounded by Micah Xavier Johnson, a military veteran who had served in Afghanistan. The Dallas Police Department then killed Johnson with a robot bomb.
Now, I am white, and I will not comment on the efficacy of Johnson’s actions. I will, however, direct a suggestion to white people who benefit from the white supremacism that the United States is founded upon and perpetuates. Let me suggest that the same culture producing climate change is the same culture producing the cops who murdered Sterling is the same culture producing the cops who murdered Castile is the same culture that trained Johnson “to shoot and move” is the same culture that employs police departments who possess robots with bombs that can be remotely controlled to kill citizens.
Let me suggest to those white people who are truly interested in undermining racism and stopping white supremacy that to do this we must dismantle the dominant culture. If we want to live in a world where Pakistanis are not digging mass graves for the victims of climate change, if we want to live in a world where people of color are not being murdered by cops, if we want to live in a world where veterans are not sniping from parking garages, if we want to live in a world where humans are not made into veterans in the first place, then we must look to the roots of the problem. Finding those roots, we must dig this poisoned tree out.
And, how do we dig these roots out? The answer begins with serious, militant resistance movements that correctly identify the dominant culture’s sources of power. Once those sources are identified, resistance movements must engage in direct action to undermine the dominant culture’s power.
First, we need to understand power. Quite simply, power is how the powerful do what they do. Power is how the cops murder and get away with it. Power is how corporations extract fossil fuels, burn fossil fuels, and drive the planet ever-closer to runaway climate change.
Power is best understood as a physical phenomenon. Power is not merely a mental event. Power is not simply an emotion. Cops may or may not personally hate the people of color they are murdering. Corporate decision makers may or may not personally despise the Earth that gives them life. What matters is that cops are armed with real batons, real pepper spray, real tasers, and real guns and they are supported by an entire governmental system that can protect them with even more batons, pepper spray, tasers, and guns. What matters is corporations are armed with real machines, real poisonous chemicals, real labor forces, and once their projects have been granted permits by the government, they can call on real cops with all the real weapons I’ve already described to protect their projects. What matters is physical power in the real world.
There is perhaps no person on Earth who has spent more time understanding the importance of power in contemporary politics than Gene Sharp. There is also perhaps no person in the world responsible for more successful revolutions than Sharp. This is no coincidence.
Sharp describes his theory of power in his brilliant book, How Non-Violent Struggle Works. His work helps us identify the dominant culture’s sources of power and provides insight into how those sources of power can be undermined.
Sharp begins by explaining the central importance of power, and writes: “Power is inherent in practically all social and political relationships. Its control is the basic problem in political theory and in political reality. It is necessary to wield power in order to control the power of threatening adversaries.” In short, the goal of any serious resistance movement should be to undermine the opposition’s power while enhancing the movement’s power.
Sharp defines political power as power “which is wielded for political objectives, especially by governmental institutions or by people in opposition to or in support of such institutions. Political power thus refers to the total authority, influence, pressure, and coercion which may be applied to achieve or prevent the implementation of the wishes of the power-holder.”
According to Sharp, the sources of political power are authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material resources, and sanctions. These sources of power are interconnected and benefit and build off each other. Increasing power through one of these sources often enhances power in all the sources. This truth, while scary, also highlights weaknesses in the dominant culture’s power. If a resistance movement can undermine one source of power, it can deal a heavy blow to the others.
Sharp quotes Jacques Maritain to define authority as “the right to command and direct, to be heard or obeyed by others.” Taking this idea deeper than Sharp does, I want to point out that rights mean nothing if they are not enforceable. On the surface, it is easy to confuse the right to command and direct bestowed upon elected leaders, in the United States, as being derived from the results of an election. This is not completely true. Think, for example, what would happen if Barack Obama refused to yield the Oval Office to the winner of this year’s presidential election. Eventually, a governmental decision-maker would order police or soldiers to remove Obama at gunpoint.
Sharp describes how power is derived from human resources with, “The power of rulers is affected by the number of persons who obey them, cooperate with them, or provide them with special assistance.” These human resources come with the next source of power: skills and knowledge. Sharp writes, “The power of rulers is also affected by the skills, knowledge and abilities of such persons, and the relation of their skills, knowledge and abilities to the rulers’ needs.” Understanding this point, we see why the dominant culture is so obsessed with developing science and technology. It uses science and technology to enhance control. We see, too, why Western science has been a disaster for life.
Next, Sharp describes intangible factors as “Psychological and ideological factors, such as habits and attitudes toward obedience and submission, and the presence or absence of a common faith, ideology, or sense of mission.” To illustrate this point, imagine if rulers could convince people that this world isn’t real, that the sacred exists in an abstract sky God, and that the point of life is to suffer in this world to prove your devotion to this abstract sky God so you can join him, after death, in his abstract sky kingdom.
For material resources, Sharp writes, “The degree to which the rulers control property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, communication, and transportation helps to determine the limits of their power.”
To supplement Sharp’s analysis, here, we see one reason why the dominant culture is hell-bent on ecological destruction. Resource extraction yields power. Industrial agriculture – which requires the displacement of indigenous peoples, the extermination of animal populations, the theft of water from natural communities, deforestation, and the destruction of the world’s most important carbon sinks (grasslands) – yields a controllable food source. Mining – which also involves the displacement of indigenous peoples, the extermination of animal populations, the poisoning of groundwater, and mountain-top removal – yields energy sources for industrialization. And these are just two examples.
Sharp quotes John Austin to define sanctions as “an enforcement of obedience” and writes, “Sanctions are used by rulers to supplement voluntary acceptance of their authority and increase the degree of obedience to their commands…Violent domestic sanctions, such as imprisonment or execution, are commonly intended to punish disobedience, not to achieve the objective of the original command.”
We see, here, one of the primary roles of the police. Police exist to enforce obedience. Part of enforcing obedience is the performance of violent domestic sanctions like imprisonment and execution. To understand how this works think about a saying from the battered women’s movement: “One beating a year is enough to keep a woman down.” For a battered woman, it’s enough to keep her down that she merely be threatened with violence once she has experienced a man’s violence. The same is true for would-be resisters. After seeing videos of police murdering citizens, it only takes the threat of police violence to keep us in line.
Understanding that power is physical and identifying the material roots of the dominant culture’s power is only the first step. Now, we must act to physically dismantle those sources of power. Physically dismantling power requires direct action.
So, what is direct action?
The term “direct action” has been used so often within environmental and social movements in so many different contexts that it is in danger of losing its meaning. It is difficult to find a clear definition of direct action in activist literature rooted in a radical analysis, so I have formed my own. It has three parts: First, direct action involves a clearly defined and obtainable goal. Second, the success of that goal is demonstrable by a quantifiable reduction in the opposition’s physical power. Third, it is primarily the actions of those engaging in the direct action that produce the desired goal.
It is important that a proposed action begins with a clearly defined and obtainable goal because an action involving a poorly-defined goal makes it difficult to determine the scope of the action. And, proposed actions with unobtainable goals will be, by definition, ineffective. Planning to change the world through an educational program designed to illustrate the evils of the fossil fuel industry, for example, is neither clearly-defined nor obtainable. What does it mean “to change the world?” And, how will you possibly reach enough people to effect this change? Planning to delay the construction of a pipeline for a day, however, is both clearly-defined and obtainable. Resisters can, without too much imagination, envision a successful action.
Once a clearly-defined and obtainable goal is established, the direct action must reflect an understanding of power and be designed to materially affect the opposition’s physical power. Let’s say activists come up with a plan to drop a banner that says “Stop the Tarsands!” from the rafters of the Utah State Capitol. The plan is both clearly defined and, with some clever security dodging, obtainable. This action cannot be considered direct action, however, because there is no way to quantify how, or even if, the banner affects those in power’s ability to destroy.
Let’s look at another hypothetical plan: Activists plan to blockade, for 24 hours, trains carrying oil through the State of Washington where they will be loaded on to tankers to fuel the US Navy in Hawai’i. This plan has a clearly defined and obtainable goal. The goal also reflects an understanding of where the dominant culture gets its power. The US Navy, one of the weapons the United States uses to perpetuate imperialism, literally requires oil. Depriving the Navy of a little oil for one day may not be a big hit to its power, but it is quantifiable.
It is primarily the actions of those engaging in the direct action that produce the desired goal. Another way to say this is: There is a clear causal link between the direct action and the desired goal. If the goal is to block the construction of a pipeline, for example, then the planned action must literally stop the pipeline’s construction. If the goal is to liberate individual children from human trafficking networks, then the planned action must literally involve the means to escort children from human trafficking networks to safety. Yet another way to say this is: direct action does not leave it to external decision makers (governmental, corporate, or otherwise) to produce the desired goal. Direct action is not an appeal to those in power. It does not rely solely on moral persuasion, shame, or economic cost-benefit analyses.
A lawsuit, then, that is filed to gain protection for a species that lives on land where a mine is planned to be dug in order to stop the mine has a clearly defined and obtainable goal. If the lawsuit is won, then it will materially affect one of the dominant culture’s sources of power. But, this lawsuit is not direct action because it relies on a favorable ruling from a judge for its success. The actions of the lawsuit’s planners are necessary, but ultimately the planners themselves cannot produce the desired goal.
I’ve called this essay a “primer.” One definition of primer is “a short informative piece of writing.” Another is a “compound used to ignite an explosive charge.” I hope that this essay serves as both. We need to see the problems we face clearly and we need a spark to ignite the change that is so drastically needed.
Featured image: Break Free protesters at a fracking site in Colorado on May 14. (Photo: Christian O’Rourke/Survival Media Agency)
When more than 300 protesters assembled in May at the Holiday Inn in Lakewood, Colorado — the venue chosen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for an auction of oil and gas leases on public lands — several of the demonstrators were in fact undercover agents sent by law enforcement to keep tabs on the demonstration, according to emails obtained by The Intercept.
The “Keep it in the Ground” movement, a broad effort to block the development of drilling projects, has rapidly gained traction over the last year, raising pressure on the Obama administration to curtail hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and coal mining on federal public lands. In response, government agencies and industry groups have sharply criticized the activists in public, while quietly moving to track their activities.
The emails, which were obtained through an open records act request, show that the Lakewood Police Department collected details about the protest from undercover officers as the event was being planned. During the auction, both local law enforcement and federal agents went undercover among the protesters.
The emails further show that police monitored Keep it in the Ground participating groups such as 350.org, Break Free Movement, Rainforest Action Network, and WildEarth Guardians, while relying upon intelligence gathered by Anadarko, one of the largest oil and gas producers in the region.
“Gentlemen, Here is some additional intelligence on the group you may be dealing with today,” wrote Kevin Paletta, Lakewood’s then-chief of police, on May 12, the day of the protest. The Anadarko report, forwarded to Paletta by Joni Inman, a public relations consultant, warned of activist trainings conducted by “the very active off-shoot of 350.org” that had “the goal of encouraging ‘direct action’ such as blocking, vandalism, and trespass.”
The protesters waved signs and marched outside of the Holiday Inn. The auction went on as planned and there were no arrests.
“I believe the BLM reached out to us,” Steve Davis, the public information officer for the Lakewood police, told The Intercept about preparations for the protest. He added that the protest was “very peaceful.”
“Our goal is to provide for public safety and the safety of our employees,” says Steven Hall, the BLM Colorado Communications Director, when asked about the agency’s undercover work. “Any actions that we take are designed to achieved those goals. We do not discuss the details of our law enforcement activities.”
Despite a relatively uncontroversial protest, the tactics revealed by the emails, recent public statements, and other maneuvers suggest that the federal government is beginning to take a more aggressive stance toward the Keep it in the Ground movement.
“I’m really wondering what more the BLM is up to,” said Jeremy Nichols, a climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Some of the emails indicate more extensive intel gathering on their end.”
“Why are climate activists, who are only calling on the BLM to follow President Obama’s lead and heed universally accepted science, facing this kind of uphill response?” Nichols asked rhetorically. “It’s a shame that the BLM has turned climate concerns into a law enforcement issue instead of a genuine policy discussion.”
During a congressional hearing in March, Neil Kornze — the agency’s Director and former senior policy advisor for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid — appeared to compare the anti-fracking activists to the armed anti-government militia members who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
“We have had a situation where we have had militia; we’ve had people raising arms at different times. We are on heightened alert and we are concerned about safety. And so a situation that we are not used to, separating out who is a bidder and who is not, gives us pause,” Kornze said, explaining to GOP congressman that his agency faced “abnormal security” concerns.
The bureau maintains its own force of special agents to investigate crimes committed on public lands. The website for the agency notes that “investigations may require the use of undercover officers, informants, surveillance and travel to various locations throughout the United States.”
In recent years federal and private sector groups have poured resources into surveilling environmental organizations.
In 2013, The Guardian revealed that the FBI had spied on activists organizing opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. The agency “collated inside knowledge about forthcoming protests, documented the identities of individuals photographing oil-related infrastructure, scrutinized police intelligence and cultivated at least one informant.” The FBI later confirmed that the investigation violated its own guidelines.
In 2011, an executive with Anadarko boasted that his company was deploying military-like psychological warfare techniques to deal with the “controversy that we as an industry are dealing with,” calling the opposition to the industry “an insurgency.”
Online Auctions to “End the Circus”
The focus on preventing the leasing of public lands for fracking gained national headlines in 2008 when activist Tim DeChristopher successfully bid on 22,000 acres of oil and gas land in Utah. DeChristopher, who served two years in prison, did not intend to pay but won the bid in order to disrupt the auction and call attention to the leasing program. That pricing regime allows private corporations to pay deeply discounted rates — as little as $1.50 per acre — for drilling rights.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General released a report calling on the bureau to do a study on “which auction process is best suited for oil and gas leases” in order to prevent the next Tim DeChristopher, whose action landed an explicit mention in the report’s introduction. An email exchange from the day before the Lakewood Holiday Inn action shows both a Lakewood police officer and BLM officer on high alert about the possibility of another DeChristopher-type action taking place. Among the choices laid out in the report as a possible new bidding method was online bidding.
Just days after the Lakewood protest, Kathleen Sgamma — a lobbyist for industry-funded group Western Energy Alliance — advocated for online bidding as a means to “end the circus.” In a May 18 email, BLM Office of Law Enforcement Special Agent-in-Charge Gary Mannino thanked Lakewood Police Chief Kevin Paletta for his department’s help and conveyed that public auctions could soon become a thing of the past.
Congress has followed suit. On June 24, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., and Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., introduced Innovation in Offshore Leasing Act (H.R. 5577), which calls for online bidding for oil and gas contained in waters controlled by the federal government. On July 6, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the bill and it has since passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee.
While the oil and gas industry has come out in support of online bidding, and one contractor in particular named EnergyNet stands to profit from such an arrangement, several environmental groups issued a statement decrying the shift toward online bidding. EnergyNet, whose CEO testified at the June 24 congressional hearing, will oversee a September 20 BLM auction originally scheduled to unfold in Washington, D.C.
Two recently-released studies concluded that phasing out fossil fuel leases on public lands is crucial for meeting the 2° C climate change temperature-rise goal, with one concluding that even burning the existing fossil fuels already leased on public lands would surpass the 2° C goal. After the release of those two studies, environmental groups filed a legal petition with the Interior Department calling for a moratorium on federal fossil fuels leases.
Featured image: Adelina Gómez Gaviria, an anti-mining activist in the Colombian department of Cauca, was killed in 2013. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.
- 534 political activists were assassinated across Colombia between 2011 and 2015, around 17 percent of them indigenous-rights or environmental activists.
- A report by the London-based NGO Justice for Colombia documented activist killings across the country between 2011 and 2015.
- On average two activists were killed per week over the five year period, according to the report.
- The figures are “at least” numbers that highlight areas of the country that require increased monitoring to obtain realistic figures; the actual number of killings is likely much higher, according to a Justice for Colombia representative.
- While many assassinations remain unsolved due to corruption or the state’s inability to carry out effective investigations, human-rights watchdogs say the majority is orchestrated by paramilitary groups.
In the oil-rich department of Casanare in eastern Colombia, Daniel Abril Fuentes was known as a campesino leader, defender of human rights, and constant critic of the oil interests he saw as a threat to his community and environment. Now, eight months after being shot dead outside a bakery in his native municipality of Trinidad, Abril’s name appears next to more than 500 others in a briefing documenting the assassinations of political activists in Colombia.
Published in April by the London-based NGO Justice for Colombia (JFC), the briefing lists 534 political activists who were assassinated across the country between 2011 and 2015. Of these, 83 were indigenous-rights activists and 10 were environmental activists — a total of more than 17 percent. On average two activists were killed per week over the five year period.
“These are horrifying figures, and seeing the names written out makes it more real. But this overall picture of political activists being killed [in Colombia] on a regular basis, unfortunately, isn’t a surprise to us, because it’s what we hear about every week,” Hasan Dodwell, JFC’s Campaigns Officer, told Mongabay.
The country is on the cusp of ending five decades of internal conflict between the state and leftist guerrillas, and violence between the two sides has steadily deescalated since peace talks began in 2012. However, contrary to this trend and the country’s declining homicide rate, data shows that murders of activists are actually increasing and are largely carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups, representatives of local organizations, including the human-rights monitor Programa Somos Defensores, told Mongabay.
Daniel Abril Fuentes, a human-rights and environmental activist in Colombia’s department of Casanare, was killed last November. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.Daniel Abril Fuentes, a human-rights and environmental activist in Colombia’s department of Casanare, was killed last November. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.
The JFC briefing collates information published by five different Colombian organizations, Programa Somos Defensores among them. According to Dodwell it represents just a snapshot of reality in which threats and attacks are carried out with impunity. The actual number of activists killed is likely to be much higher, he said.
As the briefing shows, Colombian activists are often targeted for their work against the expansion of natural-resource exploitation projects, according to Dodwell. An analysis this year by Irish NGO Front Line Defenders corroborates that assertion, finding that 41 percent of activist assassinations in Latin America are linked to the defense of the environment, land, or indigenous rights.
A more focused violence
The JFC briefing documents assassinations in 26 of Colombia’s 32 departments. Of these, Antioquia in the northwest had the highest number of activists killed, followed by Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño in the west, and then Cordoba in the northwest.
Carlos Guevara, communications coordinator for Programa Somos Defensores, told Mongabay that while these have been key zones in the internal conflict, the high number of attacks on activists is largely driven by economic interests. These include the cultivation of illicit crops and illegal gold mining — an industry the government regards as rivaling the drug trade in terms of revenue and the threat it poses.
Dodwell from JFC agreed, adding that the decades-long internal conflict has normalized violence in these areas and is now used as a façade for silencing activists.
“Generally, the conflict is being used as an excuse or platform for the murders of political activists. For example, peasant activists are targeted a lot as they are often defending their right to the land. And this is the concern: the peace process might be able to bring an end to the armed conflict but much, much more needs to be done to bring an end to the political violence,” he said.
Guevara described how the shift in violence across the country is creating an increasingly dangerous situation for activists.
“Civilian rights violations directly derived from the armed conflict have decreased drastically,” Guevara said. “But what we see now is that the violence is becoming a phenomenon that is more localized and focused. It is now being more effectively directed at community leaders.”
Much like Daniel Abril in Casanare, Adelina Gómez Gaviria was reportedly gunned down for her stance against illegal mining in the western department of Cauca. At 36, Gaviria was known as a charismatic community leader with a local land-rights group who had organized a Mining and Environmental Forum that was attended by more than 1,200 local campesinos and indigenous people. After receiving death threats by phone warning her to stop her activist work, Gaviria was shot dead and her 13-year-old son wounded in 2013.
According to Guevara, the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca are seeing a particularly strong intensification in violence as activists there push a human-rights agenda.
Adelina Gómez Gaviria, an anti-mining activist in the Colombian department of Cauca, was killed in 2013. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.Adelina Gómez Gaviria, an anti-mining activist in the Colombian department of Cauca, was killed in 2013. Photo courtesy of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado.
“These regions contribute the most to these figures, both in attacks and deaths of activists, because they have become laboratories for peace. Civil society there is talking more and more about peace in zones where they face real enemies,” he said.
Continuing influence of paramilitary groups
While many assassinations remain unsolved due to corruption or the state’s inability to carry out effective investigations, Guevara asserted that the majority is orchestrated by paramilitary groups.
Although these groups officially laid down their arms under an agreement with the government in 2006, many local rights groups highlight their ongoing activity. However, the government does not officially recognize their existence. Instead it has relabeled them as BaCrim (for bandas criminales; “criminal groups” in English) so as not to undermine the 2006 demobilization process.
“Paramilitary groups, neo-paramilitary groups, BaCrim, or whatever you want to call them, are the biggest threat to activists. In our [recent] report we identify that they are responsible for 63 percent of attacks this year alone. Last year they also had a high percentage; they almost always have the highest percentage,” said Guevara.
Yet the state’s reluctance to recognize the existence of these groups makes it difficult to focus attention on them and protect activists, he added.
“There are far right sectors in the country that are hiding under the facade of BaCrim, and they have been doing so for years, such as the Aguilas Negras,” he said, referring to a paramilitary group active in drug trafficking. “But for the state, the Aguilas Negras do not exist. So I can’t explain how in the last five years they’ve threatened more than 800 activists.”
The quarterly report Guevara mentioned analyzed 113 reported aggressions against human rights defenders in Colombia between January and March of this year. It documents a total of 19 activists assassinated during that period, two of them environmental activists. The report notes that although the number of aggressions decreased in comparison to the same period last year, the number of activists killed remained the same.
Partially republished with permission of Mongabay. Read the full article, Heavy toll for green and indigenous activists among Colombian killings
The Southern Autonomous Region of Nicaragua is home to nine indigenous and afro-descendant communities represented by the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government.
On May 3, 2016 Rama-Kriol Territorial President Hector Thomas signed an agreement with the Nicaraguan Canal Development Commission giving consent for the indefinite lease of 173km of communal land to develop the canal.
Communal representatives have denounced this action, claiming they have not been consulted and have not seen the terms of the agreement, which would remove several communities from their ancestral land.
According to international law (ILO Convenant 169 & The UN Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) the government must obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the communities to use their land.
Over the past month, community members have given documented testimony and are organizing a formal legal appeal against this illegal land concession.
This short film documents this series of events and the response of the communities.
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