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Derrick Jensen: To Protect and Serve

Originally published in the September/October 2012 issue of Orion. Now republished for the first time online.

In an era of government-sanctioned polluters, communities must defend themselves

Several years ago I spoke at a benefit for an organization working to prevent a toxic waste site from being built in their community. Yet another toxic waste site, the organizers clarified, since there already was one. It should surprise no one that their community was primarily poor, primarily people of color, and that the toxic waste was being brought in so that distant corporations could reap bigger profits.

The organization had been fighting the dump for years, on every level, from filing lawsuits to holding protests to physically blockading the dump site. Several people at the benefit commented on the bizarre role that the police played in all of this. Many of the cops lived in the community and were themselves opposed to the toxic dump. But when they put on their uniforms and headed off to work, their jobs included arresting their neighbors who were trying to protect the neighborhoods where their own children lived and played.

We’ve all heard of dues-paying union cops busting the heads of strikers because their capitalist bosses tell them to. And of cops arresting protesters trying to prevent the cops’ own water supplies from being toxified (while of course not arresting the capitalists who are toxifying the water supplies). And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had fantasies that at the next economic summit or World Bank meeting, members of the police will experience an epiphany of conscience and realize they share class interests not with those they’re protecting but rather with those at whom they’re pointing their guns. And in this fantasy the police then turn as one to join the protesters and face their real enemy.

At the benefit we shared all sorts of fantasies like these, and we all laughed at how unrealistic they were. There have been instances in which the police have worked with the people to stop government or corporate atrocities, but they’re too rare.

And then we shared some other fantasies, which all consisted in one way or another of police choosing to enforce laws that are already on the books, laws that protect our communities. Laws like the Clean Air Act, or the Clean Water Act, or for that matter laws against rape. We fantasized about what it might be like to have police enforce carcinogen-free zones, or dam-free zones, or WalMart-free zones, or rape-free zones.

And then again we laughed, since we knew that these fantasies, too, were unrealistic. It’s not the job of the police to protect you from living in a toxified landscape, even if that landscape is being toxified illegally.

In fact — and this may or may not be surprising to you — the police are under no legal obligation to protect you at all. This fact has been upheld in courts again and again. In one case, two women in Washington DC were upstairs in their townhouse when they heard their roommate being assaulted downstairs. Several times they phoned 911 and each time were told police were on their way. A half hour later their roommate stopped screaming, and, assuming the police had arrived, they went downstairs. But the police hadn’t arrived, and so for the next fourteen hours all three women were repeatedly beaten and raped. The women sued the District of Columbia and the police for failing to protect them, but the district’s highest court ruled against them, saying that it is “a fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.”

So there you have it. Time and again, many similar cases have yielded the same case law, at local, state, and federal levels. But a lot of rape victims already know this; only 6 percent of rapists spend even one night in jail. And the people in that community who were having a toxic waste dump crammed down their throats with the professional support of the police also know this. As do the human and nonhuman people of the Gulf of Mexico, who are still being killed or injured by the Deepwater catastrophe — and who will experience far more of the same, since the U.S. government is supporting more deepwater drilling. As one technical advisor to the oil and gas industry put it, “We are seeing deep-water drilling coming back with a vengeance in the Gulf.”

So here’s the question: if the police are not legally obligated to protect us and our communities — or if the police are failing to do so, or if it is not even their job to do so — then if we and our communities are to be protected, who, precisely is going to do it? To whom does that responsibility fall? I think we all know the answer to that one.

A lot of people seem to love to talk about the virtues of self- and community-reliance, but where are they when we need to defend our communities?

Fortunately there are many examples of communities rising up to defend themselves from wrongdoing from which we can and should learn. Pre-Revolutionary — or you could say revolutionary yet pre-1776 — American patriots, sick and tired of rule by a distant elite (sound familiar?), increasingly refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Crown Courts and other institutions, and put in place their own systems of justice. The same has been true for the Irish in their struggle for independence. The same was true of the Spanish anarchists: part of their project included pushing fascists out of their communities and another part consisted of putting in place their own neighborhood systems of justice and community protection.

I think often of something a former head of “security” for South Africa under apartheid said: that what they’d been most afraid of from the revolutionary group the African National Congress had never been the ANC’s sabotage or even their violence, but rather that the ANC might be able to convince the mass of South Africans to not believe in law and order as such, which in this case meant the law and order imposed by the apartheid regime, which in this case meant the legitimacy of the exploitative apartheid government, which in this case meant that their greatest fear was that the ANC would convince the majority of people to withdraw their consent to be governed by an elite that does not have their best interests at heart.

In our case, we don’t need an ANC to convince us of the illegitimacy of many of the actions of those in power. Those in power are doing a great job of convincing us by their own actions. If the Gulf catastrophe (and the continuation of deepwater drilling) doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. If fracking and the poisoning of our groundwater doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. If the governmental response to global warming — ranging from vindictiveness against climate scientists to denial to measures that at very best are completely incommensurate with the threat — doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. If the total toxification of the environment, with its inevitable health consequences for both humans and nonhumans, doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. I routinely ask the people at my talks whether they have had someone they love die of cancer, and at least 75 percent almost always say yes.

And when I ask people at my talks if they believe that state and federal governments take better care of corporations or of human beings, no one — and I mean no one — ever says human beings. Reframing the question to consider whether governments take better care of corporations or the planet — our only home — yields the same result.

If police are the servants of governments, and if governments protect corporations better than they do human beings (and far better than they do the planet), then clearly it falls to us to protect our communities and the landbases on which we in our communities personally and collectively depend. What would it look like if we created our own community groups and systems of justice to stop the murder of our landbases and the total toxification of our environment? It would look a little bit like precisely the sort of revolution we need if we are to survive. It would look like our only hope.

Owen Lloyd: Genocide as Progress

By Owen Lloyd / Deep Green Resistance

Indian people stood in the way of progress, and progress is a sort of madness that is a god to people. Decent people commit horrible crimes that are acceptable because of progress. -Linda Hogan

People who are engaged in utopian projects tend to envision the world in a state of being that precedes another state of being. The common wisdom among the converted is that things are progressing in a positive way toward the realization of the utopia. Inherent in true utopian thought, therefore, is a notion of progress. While the members of the group are awaiting its arrival– sometimes over very long periods of time– they are urged or coerced or terrorized in myriad ways to continue to believe that it will in fact arrive. -John Mohawk

When we demystify the term progress, we can understand that we’re actually talking about manifest destiny. Progress is a mythology that tells us where we came from and where we are going, that pushes us to actualize the values and ideals of our culture. It might be that the role of people in any culture is to manifest the ideals of their culture. But the ideals of any one culture may not be shared by those of another.

If the purpose of a culture is to keep its members happy, healthy, well-fed, sheltered, and grounded in place, then the actualization of these values will be harmless and benevolent. However, what happens when the purpose of a culture is simply to dominate? What does it mean for a sick culture to actualize its values?

Orientation

In her book Female Power and Male Dominance, anthropologist Peggy Reeves makes an important distinction between cultures with an “inner orientation” and those with an “outer orientation”.

Cultures with an inner orientation often place their origins within the earth itself, and locate power as centered within the community and the inner space where people live. Within these cultures, the people often see themselves as being an extension of the land. Paula Gunn Allen has said, “We are the land, and the land is mother to us all… To the best of my understanding, this is the fundamental idea that permeates American Indian life.” In a similar vein, Jeanette Armstrong writes that “When we say the Okanagan word for ourselves, we are actually saying ‘the ones who are dream and land together.'” And Winona LaDuke tells us that

in Ojibway, nishnabe akin means “the land to which the people belong”… Nishnabe akin doesn’t mean “the allotment to which the people belong,” nor does it mean “the land that belongs to the people.” It means that we belong to the land.

By contrast, cultures with an outer orientation find their origins in something outside: for instance, the Judeo-Christian belief in their creation by a male sun god who lives far away in distant space. These cultures tend towards seeing power as originating from without, and place value on those who can tap into those external sources of power.

Within this culture, and within any culture that we would identify as civilized, the orientation is clearly outwards. As a city cannot be maintained without extracting resources from the outside world, civilization cannot arise so long as a people locate their power solely within their communities and the land they see themselves a part of. These are fundamentally cultures of occupation, cultures that believe themselves entitled to the entirety of existence, and willing to utilize and justify any type of force necessary to obtain it.

When we start to identify power as something originating outside of our home or community, when we start to see other places and other peoples as objects to exploit for power, we forget that we live in a world of subjects, a world that, as Oren Lyons once said, is full not of resources but of relatives. We have not only forgotten this, we’ve sought to destroy any trace of the memory.

Culture of Occupation

The ideals that are pursued by those in power rarely concern such matters as harmonious relations among peoples or the regeneration of the ecology of a distressed region. They are almost always ideals that, if pursued, involve some level of dispossession, removal of populations, exploitation, pollution, economic devastation, or other evil. -John Mohawk

Cultural anthropologists have often struggled to define the word “culture”, treating it as a vague amalgamation of beliefs and behavior. It is far more useful to think of a culture as the base structure of a people, organizing together all superstructures (including economic and political systems) to actualize a vision of what life should be. That vision belongs to the culture itself and needn’t have any relation to that of the people who live within it.

A corporation doesn’t care whether its workers truly believe or even accept its corporate goals; what matters is that their work helps to accomplish them. Similarly, what matters to a culture is that people participate. And we are rewarded when we do so.

Systems of oppression such as patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy are necessary to the functioning of the cultural system, insofar as the culture cannot operate without rewarding and reinforcing antisocial behavior, and cannot operate without a small group of dedicated human agents. Meanwhile, these systems ensure that the heaviest costs are borne by those least important to the purposes of the culture. To provide one example among many, journalist Ken Saro-Wiwa (later put to death by Shell) writes of devastation in the Niger Delta:

Thirty-five years of reckless oil exploration by multinational oil companies has left the Ogoni environment completely devastated. Four gas flares burning for twenty-four hours a day over thirty-five years in very close proximity to human habitation; over one hundred oil wells in village backyards; and a petrochemical complex, two oil refineries, a fertilizer plant, and oil pipelines crisscrossing the landscape aboveground have spelled death for human beings, flora, and fauna.

We might assume that the culture is simply apathetic about those that are killed and violated to service its functioning, or about the damage that is borne by the land. That these assaults are simply side effects of a larger cultural raison d’être: the enrichment of a special class of rich white men at the expense of all others. But what if we have this backwards? What if the violent class systems this culture enforces exist to manifest the nihilistic vision of the culture, rather than the other way around? What if this culture doesn’t destroy for the benefit of elites, but actually benefits elites in order to better destroy?

We should remember that, from the perspective of this culture, there are numerous intrinsic benefits to displacing, colonizing, or killing indigenous people and people of color; there are intrinsic benefits to rape and prostitution; there are intrinsic benefits to plant and animal extinctions, to clearcut forests, to oil spills; there are intrinsic benefits to pesticide-laden rivers, to carcinogenic releases, and even to climate change. What all of these things share in common is that they reinforce our dependence on the culture.

By killing the planet itself, and by killing or colonizing indigenous people, the culture is intentionally foreclosing all routes of escape. We can’t depend on rivers for water or food when they are clogged with pesticides or mine tailings. We can’t depend on forests when they are all being destroyed. We can’t learn a way out from indigenous people if they are all colonized or killed. As the globe continues to burn, the same culture that set it aflame will give us a new choice: let us geoengineer the planet or die.

Conclusion

In saying all of this, I don’t want to suggest that there isn’t a class of people who are in power and who need to be stopped. On the contrary, we need to understand systems of oppression and privilege as the vital engine that empowers this culture to destroy any and all possibilities outside of itself.

We need to understand the culture is functioning as an actor for its own ends, and willing to do whatever it needs to in order for us to manifest those ends. For instance, while the culture inflicts extraordinary violence against both human and non-human communities in order to strengthen itself, it is also careful to frame that destruction in a positive way in order to justify it. Words like “progress”, “development”, and “growth” frame destruction as construction. Any violence that incurs on the way towards these ends can either be ignored as irrelevant (too far down the hierarchy to matter) or framed as an unfortunate side effect to be pitied. This mask allows us to continue doing the culture’s dirty work. It’s past time we started to look past this mask. It’s time we started to look this culture in the face. And then dismantle it.

In name of “conservation”, Kenyan forces torch homes of indigenous Sengwer people

By New Internationalist

Kenyan security forces have been burning hundreds of homes – belonging to some of the country’s oldest hunter-gatherers – in the last fortnight, in the name of ‘conserving forest biodiversity’ and safeguarding the area’s water catchment area for urban access.

The Kenya Forest Service Guard, along with riot troops armed with AK-47 machine guns, began razing the thatched homes of the Sengwer community, estimated at 15,000, after a government deadline for eviction of the Embobut Forest community expired two weeks ago.

The Sengwer people, also known as the Cherangany people, are being forcefully evicted as ‘squatters’ by the government.

‘The Sengwer people, who have cared for the region for centuries, have been labelled squatters, and the Kenyan government seems willing to breach the country’s own constitution and court rulings. It pledged not to use force, but now it seems that as many 1,000 homes have been torched, together with blankets, cooking utensils and schoolbooks. For how much longer will old-fashioned ideas of “conservation” be used to justify the violation of tribal peoples’ rights?’ says Freddie Weyman, Africa campaigner at Survival International.

Hundreds of Sengwer families have fled into high-altitude montane forest after having their homes and possessions destroyed.

‘I was in the house with my four children. All their uniforms, our cooking pans, water containers, cups were burnt. There was no consultation. The children are very upset because we have lost everything. The children and elderly people will end up getting pneumonia because we don’t have anything to cover ourselves at night,’ said one 25-year-old Sengwer widow.

Brazen defiance

The World Bank is currently being investigated by its own inspection panel after the Sengwer community complained last year that a World Bank-funded project, the Natural Resource Management Project (NRMP), was responsible for redrawing the boundaries of the Cherangany forest reserves, thus displacing and marginalizing hundreds of members of the forest community. The project currently stands accused of legitimizing and funding the Kenyan government’s illegal evictions of the Sengwer people without consultation, consent or compensation, through arson and intimidation in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

The Kenyan Constitution of 2010 decrees that the government must protect and preserve the practices of those indigenous communities that have sustained their ancestral forest habitat for centuries. However, the Kenyan government is acting in brazen defiance of its own constitution by forcefully relocating indigenous communities without their free, prior and informed consent. Article 63 (d) of the Kenyan Constitution recognizes the rights of communities, such as the Sengwer, to own ancestral lands traditionally occupied by hunter-gatherers.

No consultation was undertaken and no consent was given by the forest community for their homes to be burnt or for their ancestral land to be captured by the state. As well as undermining the Sengwers’ constitutional rights, the government is also rejecting international agreements such as international human rights laws and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, to which Kenya is a party.

Burning Sengwer homes is a perversion of the country’s constitutional commitment to ‘respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use’ of biodiversity, as stipulated under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Forced removal of the Sengwer group is also in contempt of an injunction secured at the High Court in Eldoret forbidding any such evictions until the matter of community rights to their land is resolved.

‘Crucially, the constitution also states that ancestral land and the land occupied by traditionally hunter-gatherer groups such as the Sengwer is “community land”, owned by that community. None of these legal provisions is being respected by the government of Kenya in the recent evictions of the Sengwer from Embobut Forest,’ says Tom Lomax, legal expert at the Forest People’s Programme.

A misinformation campaign has been launched by the government. In order to justify its human rights violations against the Sengwer people and its broken international agreements, it has labelled the indigenous group ‘squatters’, despite the forest community having lived for hundreds of years in the Embobut Forest in Western Kenya, where they practise traditional modes of sustainable living.

Where else is home?

By conflating a large population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), including landslide victims and victims of electoral violence who have settled in the Embobut Forest area, with the Sengwer community, the government is conveniently able to refer to all forest inhabitants as ‘squatters’ or ‘evictees’.

By doing so, the government is highlighting its own wilful refusal to recognize the rights of Kenya’s indigenous communities, or their conservation of ancestral land and resources. The Kenyan government has also insisted that the Embobut Forest inhabitants were ‘voluntarily evicted’ and that they have been adequately compensated for loss of livelihood and habitat.

In November 2013, the government indeed promised 400,000 Kenyan shillings ($4,600) per evicted family, enough to buy an acre of land or four cows. On 12 December, the local government announced that ‘the evictees were given the cash and have no reason to continue staying in the forest’ and that ‘by 3 January 2014, we expect all squatters out of that forest’.

However, the only people who had signed up for compensation were the IDPs, not the 15,000 Sengwer community members who claim the Embobut Forest as their ancestral territory.

‘Those who did not sign were Sengwer, who hold the forest as the last vestige of their greater territories, and also can’t for the life of themselves think where they would move to. Where else is home?’ says Liz Alden Wily, research fellow at the Rights and Resources Institute.

Wily says it is spurious for the government to declare ‘conservation’ as a reason for the Sengwer people to be evicted when they have protected and preserved the forest biodiversity of their ancestral habitat for hundreds of years.

‘The government is being congratulated on being hard line on the necessity to keep forests free of people, given their essential water-tower role. But this is not necessarily the way to protect forests, when you have to [evict] a committed indigenous forest dweller population which depends upon the trees remaining and who, given the chance, would protect these with their life,’ says Wily.

Livelihood desolation and eviction has loomed heavy over the Sengwer community since they were first dispossessed of land by the British colonial administration in the early 20th century. During the post-colonial administration in 1964, their remaining ancestral territory was gazetted and designated as a protected area, making their traditional hunter- gatherer lifestyle untenable. Since the 1980s, the Sengwer community have faced 20 evictions. This month’s eviction has been the most violent and systematic.

However, international rights organizations remain incredulous about the Kenyan government’s declarations that these evictions are in the pure interests of ‘conservation’.

‘Forests are profoundly fertile areas, and perfect for intensive tea cultivation and other commercial agricultural use. We need to look ahead, to keep an eye as to who in fact ends up using these areas. We have seen this repeatedly ever since the administration of President Moi [1978-2002]; a flurry of evictions, followed not by lasting conservation measures but by piecemeal excisions, turning these public properties into private enterprise areas,’ says Wily.

From New Internationalist: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2014/01/23/sengwer-forest-evictions/

Rachel Ivey: The Reality of Roe

By Rachel Ivey / Deep Green Resistance Eugene

Yesterday was the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that made it illegal for federal and state governments to make blanket, outright bans on abortion. For those who fight for women’s ability to exercise full autonomy and human rights, January 22nd is treated as a day of celebration and remembrance of those who fought before us. Nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and student groups from coast to coast held benefits and awareness events. Celebratory twitter hashtags and blurbs from liberal blogs are still piling up. Good news is scarce in the world of reproductive justice activism, and we’ll take it where we can get it. I won’t begrudge our beleaguered cause one day of hope – at least, not until the morning after.

The reality of our situation gives the lie to much of the hopeful rhetoric that comes rolling out every year on Roe’s anniversary. Our backward slide doesn’t look to be slowing anytime soon. If we face the the reality of what Roe has done, self-congratulatory reflections on how far we’ve come become not only ridiculous and out of touch, but insulting and dangerous as well. A prime example of the rose-colored view of Roe espoused by many in the mainstream is this sentence, written by President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America on the 38th anniversary of Roe, three years ago:

Thirty-eight years after Roe gave America’s women the right and the opportunity to plan for their families and control their reproductive health, this tenet of modern American rights is under assault. [1]

It’s deeply disturbing to see someone in Richards’ position giving credence to the fantasy articulated here, even while she acknowledges that our meager gains are under threat. After all the dust had settled, Roe and the relevant subsequent court decisions made it illegal for federal and state governments to ban abortion outright before the point of a fetus’s viability outside the womb– that’s it. There is no language whatsoever in the entire decision that guarantees women the right to an abortion. If there was such language, women would be able to use the precedent of Roe to sue their government if they, for instance, were prevented by lack of resources from obtaining an abortion. This is not the case.

The decision in Roe was based on the right to privacy in the 14th Amendment, a right most often invoked within the law to protect consumer decisions. Within a for-profit healthcare system, medical decisions are consumer decisions, and only middle to upper class (predominantly white) women have the resources to exercise meaningful choices regarding abortion. Roe doesn’t challenge that fact – it affirms and reinforces it.

Even more laughable is the idea that Roe gave “America’s women” the opportunity to access abortion. From the beginning, the only American women who were granted the opportunity to control their reproduction were those who could pay. The Hyde Amendment banned Medicare from covering abortion access just a few short years after Roe, effectively obliterating abortion access for millions of poor women. The oft-repeated mantra of “never go back” loses all meaning when in reality, only a select group of women were ever permitted to escape. The slow strangle of targeted regulation and domestic terrorism campaigns make abortion progressively more expensive to obtain, as women have to travel further to reach clinics. Roe does not confer rights or opportunity, it bestows privilege upon women of means.

In the three years since Cecile Richards wrote that sentence, more restrictions on reproductive freedom have been enacted than in the ten years prior. Eighty seven percent of counties have no abortion provider. Insurance bans and medicare prohibition like the Hyde Amendment, combined with geographical obstacles, TRAP laws, and the constant threat of violence against women and clinic workers, make abortion inaccessible or a significant hardship for the majority of women in the United States. Legislation granting personhood to pregnancies (and thereby taking personhood away from women) continues to advance, and record numbers of women are being jailed for failing to successfully carry their pregnancies to term. One hopes that in recent years, Richards and her organization have been disabused of such fantastical notions of Roe’s capabilities. Indeed, this year’s obligatory missive from PPFA takes a somewhat more urgent tone.

Roe is not enough, and we know it. But stopping at acknowledging Roe’s shortcomings still glosses over the reality of what Roe has done – and it’s not all good.

Most contemporary discussion of the “Pre-Roe Era” goes something like this: “Before this landmark decision, abortions were completely illegal, and desperate women had to resort to unsafe, backalley procedures, many of which resulted in their deaths.” [2]

The above narrative is a popular just-so story, but it completely obscures the reality of how women were forced into the horrific situations it describes. This narrative is not only incomplete, it’s also Euro-centric. Many indigenous cultures practiced a variety of methods for terminating pregnancy and controlling reproduction. European invasion, colonization, and the ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples has meant the almost total erasure of traditional knowledge including that of how abortions were performed. The systematic rape of indigenous women as a weapon of war continues today, further denying them any reproductive control. Starting in the early sixteen hundreds, captured Africans sold as slaves were denied any and all reproductive control. Female slaves and freed African women experience both forced childbirth and forced sterilization, both of which continue. Last year it came out that at least 148 women were forcible sterilized between 2006 and 2010 in the California prison system. [3]

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Supporters held a candlelight vigil in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2005, to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press)

The history of reproductive restriction on this continent dates back to well before the official inception of the United States, however the kind of criminalization that Roe attempted to address is a phenomenon unique to the last couple centuries. Abortion was surprisingly accepted among early European settlers up until the point of “quickening,” which referred to the first time a woman felt her fetus move within her womb. Individual women of course were often controlled in all aspects of life, including reproduction, by their husbands and fathers – something that continues today. But abortion was legal for white women up until that certain point in pregnancy. Practitioners were often midwives, or women without formal medical training. Many popular abortion techniques were medicinal and therefore there was no abortionist, only the woman. Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for “bringing on the menses” with herbs that could be grown in one’s garden or easily found in the woods. These were not always safe, but they were not illegal, and they were largely under female control.

In the 1820’s, states began outlawing abortion, and though these laws were couched in religious language just as they are today, the rise of abortion restriction mirrored rising fears that the higher birthrate of racial and religious minority populations would lead to a protestant minority and a white minority, an idea that still sends shivers down the spines of our white male leaders.

In 1868 Horatio R. Storer, one of the leading anti-abortion crusaders, is quoted:

Will the West be filled by our own children or by those of aliens? This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation. [4]

Unfortunately, Storer and other physicians were not satisfied to leave the answer to that question up to women or our loins. They decided to take matters into their own hands. In the late eighteen hundreds, the American Medical Association (which was then an entirely male controlled institution) lobbied aggressively for the criminalization of abortion.

The frightful extent of [abortion in the US] is found in the grave defects of our laws, both common and statute, as regards the independent and actual existence of the child before birth, as a living being. These errors, which are sufficient in most instances to prevent conviction, are based, and only based, upon mistaken and exploded medical dogmas. -1859 AMA Committee [5]

So according to these men, the prevalence abortion was not based on the needs or decisions of women, but on incorrect medical understanding. If this was true, then as the newly knighted elite of the medical industry, they were conveniently declaring themselves as the only authorities qualified to correct the medical misunderstanding that lead to abortion. This was a bid for control, because it ensured that the only people who had the authority to perform abortions were male, formally trained physicians. By 1900, every state had abortion restrictions on the books, and it’s been all downhill from there. There’s a lot of information and analysis out there about the medicalization of birth, and how the absorption of reproduction into the medical industry, and the reclassifying of birth from a natural process to a medical phenomenon, has been bad for women overall. This is also true of the medicalization of abortion. The practice of medicine during this period went from a more community based structure with widwives and female healers having a place particularly in reproductive aspects of health, to the absorption of this community structure into the commercial medical industry. The medicalization and the criminalization of abortion went hand in hand. Both increased male control and decreased female reproductive autonomy.

Roe does nothing to challenge this hostile takeover of female reproductive decisions by male dominated institutions. Roe codifies governmental regulation of abortion in law, and it institutionalized the total dependence of women on the medical industry with regard to reproduction. Never once in the text of Roe v. Wade is a woman referred to as having made a decision on her own; every single time a woman’s decision is mentioned, it’s as “a woman and her physician.” When we put this language into context with the usurption of reproductive control by the commercial medical industry, the effect of Roe becomes a lot more sinister.

In all of our romanticization of Roe’s effects, why do we never speak of the fact that in the pre-Roe era, women weren’t fighting the government over how abortion should be regulated – they were fighting over whether the government had the right to exercise any control over female reproduction. By accepting governmental regulation as a baseline, we’re giving up ground that pre-Roe activists fought for tooth and nail. NARAL – which now stands for National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League – was original named National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. During some demonstrations, activists would hand out sheets of paper with their ideal version of abortion restriction – and it was a blank sheet of paper. Our foremothers knew that if we accept any control over reproduction by the government and medical industry, we fail utterly to protect women’s reproductive autonomy.

The text of the Roe decision also left one obvious and frightening door to the total criminalization of abortion wide open, and it didn’t take the law very long at all to force through that door. The text of the decision says:

The available precedent persuades us that the word “person,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn. […] If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.

And unsurprisingly, in 1989 with Webster v. Reproductive Health Services the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of language in a Missouri statute that asserts that “the life of each humanbeing begins at conception” and “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and wellbeing.” The law being upheld required that all Missouri state laws be interpreted to provide unborn children with rights equal to those enjoyed by other persons – which effectively revokes legal personhood from pregnant women. This ruling set the stage for the several personhood law attempts we’ve seen recently. The first of these was passed into law in North Dakota and is now viable precedent. The door to criminalization left open by Roe has been effectively blown off its hinges.

The logical conclusion of codifying fetal personhood into law is that women are being criminally prosecuted when their pregnancies do not end in live birth. Over the last few years we’ve seen women in the US brought up on charges that they somehow caused their miscarriages. Bills criminalizing miscarriage have been proposed in several states, and in some, the courts have acted on them. In 2009 Nina Buckhalter was indicted by a grand jury in Lamar County, Mississippi, for manslaughter, claiming that the then 29 year old woman “did willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, kill Hayley Jade Buckhalter, a human being, by culpable negligence.” This was after Nina had a stillbirth at 31 weeks. The National Association for Pregnant Women has documented more than 400 cases across the country in which these laws have been used to detain or jail pregnant women for supposedly endangering their pregnancies. 71 percent of these are, unsurprisingly, likely to be low income women.

Instead of granting women the right to obtain an abortion, Roe v. Wade affirmed the right of the medical industry and government to make decisions for women. Instead of providing women with the opportunity to access abortion, Roe v. Wade affirmed that abortion is a privilege only afforded to a lucky, monied few. Instead of moving the fight for Reproductive Justice forward, Roe v. Wade conceded most of the ground that pre-Roe activists were fighting for. To top it all off, Roe includes a specific directive on personhood that has paved the way for those who would love to see abortion eradicated. Why are we surprised that things have become steadily worse since Roe was decided? Why have we let ourselves forget what actual reproductive autonomy even looks like? Next year on Roe’s anniversary, and the whole year in between, let’s stop being satisfied with weak reforms that simply reinforce the status quo. Let’s take a hard, honest look at what is at stake when we laud Roe for what it can’t do and completely forget what it has done – the good and the bad.

Notes

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cecile-richards/roe-v-wade-38-and-under-a_b_812531.html

[2] http://thequakercampus.com/2013/02/07/students-and-faculty-reflect-over-roe-v-wade-40th-anniversary/

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-stern/sterilization-california-prisons_b_3631287.html

[4] http://horatiostorer.net/AMA_vs_Abortion.html

[5] http://books.google.com/books?id=iQN0NsOUBGsC&pg=PA100&lpg=PA100&dq=ama+frightful+extent+of+abortion&source=bl&ots=ubgMYfYhDW&sig=1rkvS7-OezSXB7BLEQckdAzg_rA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=0IXhUpvmB9GCogTxuoLgCg&ved=0CEgQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=ama%20frightful%20extent%20of%20abortion&f=false

Press Release: Lierre Keith To Give Keynote Speech at PIELC

Lierre Keith has been selected to give a keynote speech at this years Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. The annual meeting will be held February 27th – March 2nd in Eugene, Oregon and features over 125 panels, workshops and multimedia presentations addressing a broad spectrum of environmental law and advocacy.

This year PIELC’s theme is “Running Into Running Out” and focuses on the escalating environmental crisis. PIELC will be a space for critical assessment of past strategies – honestly measuring failures and successes – and, of course, new solutions dedicated to ending the destruction. Lierre is a natural choice as a keynote speaker- as an impassioned writer Lierre has forcefully advocated direct action to address our dire environmental crisis for years. Instrumental to the creation and organization of Deep Green Resistance, Lierre continues to be at the forefront of the fight to save the planet.

Lierre is perhaps best known as the author of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, which has been called “the most important ecological book of this generation.” and as the primary author of the book Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet. Her writing and lectures focus on civilization’s violence against the planet, male violence against women, and the need for serious resistance to both.

As an outspoken advocate for radical feminism and a leader of the radical environmental movement, the selection of Keith as a keynoter continues a long tradition of controversial speakers at PIELC. Past speakers have included Ralph Nader, Julia Butterfly Hill, Ward Churchill, Winona LaDuke and Paul Watson.

The keynote speech also highlights the increased participation of Deep Green Resistance members at this year’s event. In addition to Lierre’s speech, DGR members will host four more panel sessions throughout the conference on topics including the failure of “green” energy, the pitfalls of radical subcultures, and the connections between misogyny and ecocide. DGR members participated in PIELC last year as well, providing two workshops- recordings of which are available on DGR’s YouTube page .

DGR is also expected to have a a large contingent of members and supporters in attendance at the conference. As a social and ecological justice network, DGR has experienced rapid growth in recent years, as increased numbers of activists see the accelerated destruction of our planet and the lack of effective action by traditional and mainstream environmental organizations.

Read more about PIELC on their website: http://pielc.org/

Corporation raiding Algonquin territory for minerals, selling to Toyota for Prius battery production

By Claire Stewart-Kanigan / The Dominion

“Eco-consciousness” and “green living” are centrepieces of product branding for the Toyota Prius. But that feel-good packaging has rapidly worn thin for members of the Algonquin Nation and residents of Kipawa, Quebec, who are now fighting to protect traditional Algonquin territory from devastation in the name of hybrid car battery production.

In 2011, after nearly two years of negotiations, Matamec Explorations, a Quebec-based junior mining exploration company, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Toyotsu Rare Earth Canada (TRECan), a Canadian subsidiary of Japan-based Toyota Tsusho Corporation. The memorandum confirmed Matamec’s intention to become “one of the first heavy rare earths producers outside of China.” In pursuit of this role, the company plans to build an open-pit Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE) mine directly next to Kipawa Lake, the geographical, ecological, and cultural centre of Kipawa.

Rare earths are a group of 17 elements found in the earth’s crust. They are used to produce electronics for cell phones, wind turbines, and car batteries. Rare earths are notorious for their environmentally costly extraction process, with over 90 per cent of the mined raw materials classified as waste.

Toyota has guaranteed purchase of 100 per cent of rare earths extracted from the proposed Kipawa mine, for use in their hybrid car batteries, replacing a portion of Toyota’s supply currently sourced out of China.

Over the last seven years, China has reduced the scale of its rare earths exports via a series of annual tonnage export caps and taxes, allegedly out of concern for high cancer rates, contaminated water supply, and significant environmental degradation. Despite China’s stated intention to encourage manufacturers to reduce their rare earths consumption, the US, the EU and Japan have challenged China’s export caps through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and are seeking new deposits elsewhere for exploitation. Toyota and Matamec are seeking to make Kipawa part of this shift.

Kipawa is a municipality located on traditional Algonquin territory approximately 80 kilometres northeast of North Bay, Ontario, in what is now known as western Quebec. The primarily Indigenous municipality is home to approximately 500 people, including members of Eagle Village First Nation and Wolf Lake First Nation, of the Anishinaabeg Algonquin Nation. The town of Kipawa lies within the large Ottawa River Watershed, a wide-branching network of lakes, rivers and wetlands. Lake Kipawa is at the heart of the Kipawa region.

Lifelong Kipawa resident and Eagle Village First Nation member Jamie Lee McKenzie told The Dominion that the lake is of “huge” importance to the people of Kipawa. “We drink it, for one….Everyone has camps on the lake [and] we use it on basically a daily basis.” This water network nourishes the richly forested surroundings that make up the traditional hunting and trapping grounds of the local Algonquin peoples.

“Where the proposed mine site is, it’s my husband’s [ancestral] trapping grounds,” said Eagle Village organizer Mary McKenzie, in a phone interview with The Dominion. “This is where we hunt, we fish, I pick berries….We just want to keep our water.” Jamie Lee and Mary McKenzie also emphasized the role of lake-based tourism in Kipawa’s economy.

The Kipawa HREE project would blast out an open-pit mine 1.5 kilometres wide and 110 meters deep, from the summit of a large lakeside hill. It would also establish a nearby waste dump with a 13.3 megatonne capacity. Rock containing the heavy rare earth elements dysprosium and terbium would be extracted from the pit via drilling and explosives, processed at an on-site grinding and magnetic separation plant, and then transported by truck to a hydrometallurgical facility 50 kilometers away for refining.

Matamec confirmed in its Preliminary Economic Assessment Study that some effluence caused by evaporation and precipitation is inevitable, especially during the snowmelt period. A community-led presentation argued that this could create acid mine drainage, acidifying the lake and poisoning the fish.

“There’s going to be five [truckloads of sulfuric acid transported from pit to refinery] a day….[I]n a 15-year span, that’s 27,300 truckloads of sulfuric acid,” said Mary McKenzie. “We’re worried about spills and the environment….They’re talking about neutralizing [the acid], when a spill does occur, with lime. I have [sources that say] lime is also a danger to the environment.”

In a 2013 presentation in Kipawa, Matamec stated that while “some radioactivity [due to the presence of uranium and thorium in waste rock] will be present in the rare earth processing chain,” its effects will be negligible. Yet these reassurances ring hollow for some, who point to cancer spikes observed in communities near rare earths projects in China. In the project’s economic assessment, Matamec itself indicated that waste rock is too dangerous for use in concrete and dikes.

“Whatever goes up in the air [from blasting and evaporation] comes down….A lot of those particles are radioactive,” said Mary McKenzie. “Our animals eat this [plant matter potentially affected by the mine]….We depend on our moose, we depend on our fish, so that’s a scary situation.” The refining process also uses strong acids and bases.

While Matamec stated in the Assessment that “most” of the water used in processing will be recycled, a portion of the post-processing solution will be directed into the lake or tailings ponds. The mine is intended to be operational for 13 years, but tailings ponds would require maintenance for generations, and leaching is always possible. Adding to this risk, Matamec has “assumed that [certain] tailings will not be acid generating or leachable” and will therefore only use watertight geomembrane for a portion of the tailings ponds.

With the approval process being accelerated by both public and private factors, production could begin as early as 2015. Quebec’s regulations  call for provincial environmental impact assessments only when projects have a daily metal ore production capacity that is considerably higher than the national standard—7,000 metric tons per day versus 3,000 in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. What’s more, by categorizing HREE in the same regulatory group as other metals, these tonnage minimums fail to reflect the higher toxicity and environmental costs of heavy rare earths extraction.

Because of this, the Kipawa project does not trigger a provincial-level assessment. It only requires clearance from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and a certificate of authorization granted by the provincial Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks.

On the private side, the assessment process has been fast-tracked by a series of multimillion-dollar payments from TRECan to Matamec ($16M as of April 2013). According to Matamec president André Gauthier in a July 2012 press release, this makes Matamec “the only rare earth exploration company to have received funds to accelerate and complete a feasibility study and an environmental and social impact assessment study of a HREE deposit.”

The chiefs of Eagle Village and Wolf Lake First Nations have been demanding a consent-based consultation and review process since the project was quietly made public in 2011—one that exceeds “stakeholder” consultation standards and acknowledges the traditional relationship of the Algonquin people to the land. Residents only became widely aware of Matamec’s plans following the company’s community consultation session in April 2013.

Jamie Lee McKenzie has not been impressed by Matamec’s consultations. “They come in and they have a meeting…and they tell us all the good things about the mine,” McKenzie told The Dominion. “[They say,] ‘It will give you jobs. We need this to make batteries for green living,’ but that’s it.”

Local organizers told The Dominion that a Matamec-chaired community focus group had been cancelled during the early summer after one local participant asked that her critical questions be included in the group’s minutes. Following what many residents see as the failure of Matamec and provincial assessment agencies to meaningfully engage with Kipawa residents, the community has taken matters into their own hands.

In the summer of 2013, Kipawa residents began to organize, with the leadership of Eagle Village and Wolf Lake members. Petitions containing over 2,500 signatures were sent to provincial ministers, demanding a provincial environmental assessment as well as “public hearings to review the Mining Act…to strengthen rare earth environmental monitoring.” As of late November, there had been no official responses to the petitions, and no positive response to letter-writing campaigns directed at the office of the federal Minister of Environment. (Quebec adopted a new Mining Act in early December, as this article went to print.)

But demands have grown beyond calls for review. “We’re not okay with the BAPE [provincial assessment]; we’re not okay with the mine,” said Mary McKenzie. “We’re against the [project] 100 per cent.” In September, McKenzie helped organize a 100-person anti-mine protest on the shores of Kipawa Lake. In November, the resistance network formalized their association as the Lake Kipawa Protection Society, committed to stopping the mine through regional education, local solidarity, and creative resistance strategies like a “Tarnish Toyota” day of action.

The Kipawa HREE project, if approved, would open doors for the numerous other companies exploring the watershed—such as Globex, Fieldex, Aurizon, and Hinterland Metals—as well as for heavy rare earths mining in the rest of Canada.

“We have mining companies all over in our area here,” said Mary McKenzie. “Matamec is the most advanced, but it’s not just Matamec: we want all the mining out of our region.”

The mine is not the only project on the fast-track: Algonquin and local resistance efforts are picking up momentum, and backing down on protecting the water and land is not on the agenda.

“This is ancestral ground,” McKenzie stressed. “We can fight this.”

Claire Stewart-Kanigan is a student, Settler, and visitor on Haudenosaunee territory.

From The Dominion: http://dominion.mediacoop.ca/story/toyota-prius-not-so-green-after-all/20373

Caltrans at Willits: Widening the Way to Pelican Bay

By Cal Winslow

Will Parrish needs your support. He now faces eight years in prison; in addition, $490,000 in fines, “restitution”.  And for what? For delaying a freeway, the “Redwood Highway” – the California 101.

Parrish is a journalist here in Willits, in Mendocino County. He is also an activist and a teacher. His trial is scheduled for the County Courthouse in Ukiah, at 8:30 AM, on January 28th.

Will’s crime must be peculiarly Californian, a crime against a freeway. It must, from the grave, be raising Ronald Reagan’s hackles, jolting his memory. We’re told, incessantly in the media, this delay also enrages our ordinary travelers; drivers, it seems, now delayed five minutes (or so) along the main street of Willits on the trip to Eureka.

Willits, Eureka, Mendocino, Humboldt, why here? In this wildest corner of the state? “California’s transportation infrastructure – once the freeway wonder of the world – now lags hopelessly behind…”, Mike Davis tells us this, and quite rightly, but you can’t say they’re not trying. The issue here is a bypass.

Mike’s down south, where the people are. Things are different here. There are fewer than 5000 people in Willits, its population in decline; there are just about 90,000 people in Mendocino County, a few more than in new Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Brooklyn neighborhood. But this is a big County, nearly 100 miles south to north. We have lots of elbow room. And that’s Mendocino; take 101 north and there’s hardly anyone at all. The shrewd driver, once in southern Humboldt, can easily make up the time. Then it’s the supermax at Pelican Bay in nothing flat.

But it doesn’t matter, it’s systemic.  Caltrans, the state’s mega transportation department is pushing the bypass at Willits; it’s wanted it for a long time.  It’s for our own good, of course. And Caltrans has a plan. A master plan? Indeed it’s had this very plan for twenty years (it seems it’s always a good time for a new freeway). Caltrans has proposed and is now building a $200 million, six mile, four-lane freeway the size of Interstate 5.

Willits is “the Gateway to the Redwoods”, drivers learn this from a large arch they pass under (not from actual trees). They also navigate a five mile stretch of two lane traffic, two lights, then an array of shops, etc., few really worth slowing down for. The one real problem, let’s be fair here, is the snag where state route 20, at Safeway and a light, turns off to Fort Bragg and the Coast. It is a bottleneck. I’ve seen rush hour traffic backed up two or three blocks, delays of five minutes or so. But let’s have some perspective on this. We’re out in the country, on our way to the Redwoods, the few remaining. We’re just not talking about the BQE on Monday morning or the Santa Monica Freeway on Tuesday nights.

So $200 million? California is just clawing itself out of the recession. We’ve hardly had time to catch our breath, how will we undo the damage done to our schools, our services, our health and welfare?  Costs still figure even here, even in this latest boomlet. Caltrans likes to keep it quiet, but the first stage of the freeway bypass will be only two lanes, though construction will prepare for an eventual four. Back to Mike Davis, there’s something more than meets the eye here, something “primal”.

Good, sensible people in Willits have been fighting the bypass here for twenty years; they’ve challenged Caltrans every foot of the way – they’ve demanded proper public input, attention to environmental regulations, a haven for rare birds, and protection of wetlands, this last elemental, primary in terms of survival here in (too) thirsty California. It’s amazing, the persistence of these people. And they’ve been willing to seek compromises – perhaps a smaller project. But Caltrans has been patient too (and with 22,000 employees, the state’s huge contractors on your side, also the local politicians, building trades unions, etc., I suppose it’s easy to be patient).

Will Parish is a new-comer of sorts to this (a new-comer in California? Is that an oxymoron?). He’s been up here in Mendocino County for just four years, and we’re very lucky for it. Will grew up in Santa Cruz, his parents teachers, his home fronting a Redwood forest, his childhood sanctuary. Will went to UC Santa Cruz, majoring there in Sociology and Journalism. The administration apparently considered the Journalism School a problem (a sure sign it was doing its job), and used the 2003 round of cuts to get rid of it. Will reckons he’s the last of its graduates.

Will, as a journalist, sought out issues of power and war; he dug into the roots of the Bay Area’s war connections, in particular those in the UC system – no shortage of material there. Nuclear weapons, nuclear power appalled him. And he combined writing with activism; he is a journalist in the best tradition of our muckrakers, a writer “with his boots on the ground”. This is a good expression, I think; I’m taking it from my mentor, the late Edward Thompson, in his own time a relentless opponent of the war machine, of nuclear weapons in particular, writer and activist.

Close Counterpunch readers will remember Will’s many contributions including:  How Imperial San Franciscans Loot the Planet (February 26-28 2010 with Darwin Bond-Graham) and Who Runs the University of California?  (March 01, 2010 with Bond-Graham).  And here in wine country his focus has been the burgeoning wine industry: see pieces including In the Shadow of the Gallos; Sonoma County, Banana Republic of Wine Grapes (January 21-23, 2011).

In Mendocino Will began with a focus has been the burgeoning wine industry, its owners, its workers and its place in the economy (see, for example, In the Shadow of the Gallos; Sonoma County, Banana Republic of Wine Grapes, Counterpunch, January 21-23, 2011). And on the wetlands of the Little Lake Valley.

“When I first came here, Willits, I fell in love with the tranquility here, with the mountains, the boggy marshes, the grasslands, the eco-diversity, the space. And no freeway. The 101 stops just south of Willits – that makes it a different world here.

“My journalism, my practice, has always been to scan the horizon, to look for the most pressing problems, to look for the problems that most need addressing.

“The bypass issue struck me as a really big problem, a thing that really needed addressing.  And that meant getting involved; I can’t write and not be involved.” (See “The Insanity of the Willits Bypass”, in the Ukiah Blog, January 8th, 2013)

Here’s an example:

“As Willits’ settlers set about gridding the land and marketing it to cattle ranchers and timber merchants, they rapidly removed the wetlands. They did the same to the Pomo villagers and wildlife — waterfowl, pelicans, vast herds of Tule elk and antelope, etc. — that had dwelled among the marshes and springs for so long. The early Euroamerican pioneers incised streambeds, redirected creeks, constructed artificial drainage ditches, and ripped apart the hardpan layers of topsoil that contained the water, allowing it to seep slowly into the ground.

“Some of the moisture that time had stored on the land remains, though, most notably within the marshy area on the north end of the valley, extending across Route 101 on the west and Reynolds Highway on the east. The area acts as a collection point for three creeks that flow through the valley. It is then drained by Outlet Creek, a tributary of the Eel River. Among its other contributions to what might be called the “real world” of inland Mendocino County, Outlet Creek provides the longest remaining run for the endangered Coho salmon of any river tributary in California.

In June, Will climbed a wick drain “stitcher”, a giant machine there to plant tens of thousands of drainage tubes along the path of freeway construction, tubes to drain the wetlands and stabilize the earth upon which the highway will be built – in the process destroying Little Lake Valley wetlands, the largest Northern California wetlands to be drained in any single project in the past fifty years. So David and Goliath again. Will: “Caltrans is a scofflaw agency that, by virtue of a failed political and regulatory system, is facing no other forms of real accountability for causing immense and probably irreversible destruction of Little Lake Valley.”

An important argument in this entire conflict is that the whole project is illegal, Caltrans having violated nearly every regulation possible.

“I threw myself in because the more I came to understand this the more upset I became. The Willits project epitomizes so much of everything that is wrong; it epitomizes the power dynamics that underlie all the problems I see in society.”

Will lived on a platform, more than fifty feet up, for eleven days. Will is six foot five, no, not a basketball player, rather tennis, a large, attentive, kind man, hair flowing like Clay Matthew’s, only dark brown. Gentle, yes. Passive, no. Will on the stitcher was a figure not to be missed. And the California Highway Patrol (CHP) took every precaution in bringing him down – precaution meaning that they overwhelmed him, attacking with swat teams, climbing specialists (a career path), hoisted in giant bucket loaders, prepared with saws specifically designed to cut him loose. But not until the entire project had been halted.

This story has not generated the emotion, the energy of Julia Butterfly Hill’s but it demands our attention, as do dozens of such projects here in California’s Northwest. They are fundamental contests. They are about our future. In the stitcher Will lived in a sort of house arrest, surrounded on the ground by dozens of the small army of CHP troopers brought into Willits. He was deprived of food; the CHP even arrested six people who attempted to bring him supplies. He went six days without food, surviving an unseasonal rain storm, also bitter cold.

Construction started in February, 2013, but was delayed until spring. Will was not the first to be arrested. There were others, tree sitters, people who sat down in the paths of bulldozers (West Bank weapons) – fifty people in all have been arrested, these people too demand our support. They include a core of those who have kept this crusade alive, all these years. In truth, it’s been a small group that has kept this issue alive; many were the young at heart – often 50, 60, even 70 year olds, but tenacious. Against them the troopers, the choppers, the armed vehicles.

Will is charged with trespassing, “unlawful entry”. (He is also charged with two “resisting arrests”.) So Will and his supporters expected him to be charged with two or three two misdemeanors. Some tree sitters have yet to be charged with anything. The Mendocino County District Attorney, David Eyster, typical of the small town bullies we suffer as DA’s, offered a plea bargain, but this left Will subject to restitution. Will refused, asked for a jury trial. Infuriated, Eyster made a package of the misdemeanors; charging Will instead with 16 misdemeanors, these with a cumulative maximum eight-year jail sentence. As it happens, Caltrans then piled on with a demand for $490.000.02 in restitution.  The costs of delay!

I have heard it said that the sentence demanded in this case is unusual, harsh in nominally liberal and eco-friendly Mendocino County. True, this isn’t South Carolina, and it is also true that there is something of a history of tolerance in this County. And there is radicalism of a certain kind; many here are on alert for peak oil, Fukushima, broken bridges, marine protectors, black choppers. And thank heavens for it. But, for the few who will remember, Tony Craver and Norm Vroman are gone. Still, there is a curious way in which Eyster relates to the growers, so he often gets a pass. But he’s not on his own, he’s certainly not the only bully in the County, and he’s not the only one who is happy to not see our biggest industries’ bad behaviors.

Will has lived up to his self-pledge to seek out the most pressing problems, and to get to the bottom of them.  In this case he’s found wetlands. And water, fundamentals for all California, and no small concern here in California, now in the grips of an historic drought. Wetlands take us to water and water to the growers. The grape growers here are not mom and pop operations; they are more likely Silicon Valley veterans, wealthy people with more money than they know what to do with.  They come here to concoct boutique wines; but premium wine production touches everything, from the price of land to the very structure of labor, and not for the better. They create the groomed landscape that the Anderson Valley has become. But they also consume the water; now, as we await our rainy season, we have dry creeks and depleted rivers. And they bring pesticides, and all the nasty environmental procedures that are the unmentionables in an eco-friendly County. And these are not on David Eyster’s agenda. And salmon that still don’t come back. Will Parrish is our Lincoln Steffens (The Shame of the Cities, 1904). And they don’t like him.

There is a similar story with our biggest industry, that is, with “the crop”, marijuana. Of course it’s an underground economy; of course it has its victims, its innocents. Yet it too is extractive in the worst senses; it too drains our streams, poisons them, it drives up the price of land, it too takes the profits away. It creates our culture of secrecy; ask no questions, it stretches out the class divide while thriving on illusions of community. No wonder Mendocino is still a poor County, its schools struggle, its public services all but non-existent. Our “infrastructure” crumbles – our County roads? No help from Caltrans for these. And Will has had the courage to say this.

So why is Eyster being the bully? I think we have a conspiracy here, but it’s an open conspiracy, its origins, its cast of characters is right here for all to see. Caltrans wants roads, big roads; the builders want to build. Eyster’s job, grease the wheels. It’s systemic. Why would he not be the bully? A few examples will quiet things down, or so he seems to think. He’s got Will Parrish on deck.

The 101 is named the Redwood Highway and for good reason. Its construction began in the twenties – for us in the North it begins on the Golden Gate Bridge; it then passes through a series of lovely valleys until it reaches the mountains of northern Mendocino County, then it follows the South Fork of the Eel toward Eureka and on to the Oregon border. Its initial construction was promoted as a pathway to a tourist’s paradise, that is, the motoring tourist. It opened up a new world, magnificent yet until then inaccessible. The 101 had on offer – for those with cars – giant trees, raging wild rivers, steep canyons, rugged mountains, there to see, yet all without a step out the door.

There was another intention, however. By the twenties, the coastal Redwood forests were all but exhausted; the depression of the thirties put an end to the “harvest”. There remained, however, millions of acres of old growth Redwood, just out of reach of the coastal mills. Not, however, out of reach of the truck, the bulldozer and the chain saw. The 101 cleared the way that led to the final ravaging of the forest; in sheer destruction it far surpassed that of the late nineteenth century, though the old images – man vs. tree – still dominate our imagination of this history. The result, today fewer than four percent of the old growth survives. Second and third growth forests still are cut; there is farming. But the great Redwood forests, once a common of unimaginable value, a true wonder of the world, remain only terribly wounded, and almost all as private property, no trespassing.

This part of California, its “wildest” corner, grabs people, it moves them. It’s got Will and the Willits tree sitters, Warbler and the others, the bulldozer blockaders (I think of Rachel Corrie), its geriatric Wobblies facing down the troopers. And Willits is not the only site of conflict. Caltrans wants the road widened at Richardson Grove; it wants the road up to Oregon straightened. Never mind our remaining giant trees.  Never mind the Smith River canyon, the path to the sea of California’s only undammed river.

I see the conspiracy when I drive home from the City, up the 101 to Cloverdale. It’s not hidden. The traffic on an afternoon is of course catastrophe in Northern Marin and on through Sonoma to Santa Rosa. So the solution? There are massive projects now in place, ever widening the highway, knocking down whatever is left in its path, so far almost to Windsor.

In its path, strip malls and giant box stores follow, one after another; sometimes it’s as if we’re in a tunnel of Mall. Then comes the sprawl.

And so it continues, the highways will soon be jammed again; Caltrans will push on northwards. Development. Plunder. Profit.  It’s a “primal scene”, Mike Davis (Ecology of Fear) again. The widenings, the bypasses, these are “the familiar tremors heralding an eruption of growth that will wipe away human and natural history”.

Will and his comrades see this, the insanity of it all. They understand that this will not stop at Cloverdale or Ukiah. They understand the damage being done – “to human and natural history”.

The wetlands in Little Lake Valley are small, really; they have already been damaged by the agriculturalists of a century ago. Are they worth saving? I wondered if the Willits fighters had not perhaps exaggerated.

Counterpunch readers will recognize Ignacio Chapela as the microbial ecologist and mycologist at the University of California, Berkeley, known for exposure of the flow of transgenes into wild maize.

Ignacio explains, “The highland wetlands are the basis of the health of the whole environment, this includes all the ecosystems downstream, they are the basis for everything, our water, the diversity of species, everything is at stake.”

“Will is a young investigative reporter, one of a kind. He’s not afraid of pursuing questions to their ultimate consequence. It’s not surprising at all to me that he’s working on wetlands, he understands environmental problems deeply and has the unique capacity to make these clear in his writings.

“It would be a terrible loss for California, also for environmental journalists everywhere, if he is silenced – even slowed down.

“I want to do whatever I can to do to support him and I want invite everyone to join us.”

So do I.

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Support Will in Court. Ukiah County Courthouse, 8:30 am, January 28, 2014

Send messages to: Mendocino District Attorney David Eyster at Eysterd@co.mendocino.ca.us

or to

Supervisor Fifth District, Dan Hamburg at Hamburgd@co.mendocino.ca.us

Contributions can be sent to: Little Lake Valley Legal Fund/Will Parrish, Box 131, Willits, CA  95490

Sawhoyamaxa organizing to reclaim territory in Paraguay, stolen 20 years ago by cattle ranchers

By Natalia Ruiz Diaz / Upside Down World

The Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community in Paraguay have spent over 20 years fighting to get back their land, which they were pushed off by cattle ranchers.

They started the new year by collecting signatures to press Congress to pass a bill that would expropriate their ancestral territory from ranchers, in order for the state to comply with a 2006 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Justice ordering the restitution of their land.

“More than 20 years after being expelled from our ancestral land and living [in camps] along the side of the road, watching the cows occupy the place where we used to live, we decided to return because that land is ours,” the Sawhoyamaxa said in a message accompanying the petition drive.

“Che rohenói, eju orendive, aldeia unida, mostra a cara” (I am calling you, come with us, the people united, show your face) thousands of people sang at the “Todos con (everyone with the) Sawhoyamaxa” intercultural festival in Asunción in mid-December.

The event launched the start of their new crusade demanding enforcement of the Inter-American Court sentence, which ruled that they be given back their territory and that they be provided with basic services, such as medical care and clean water.

The “Che rehenói” chorus was heard over and over again in a mix of Guaraní (one of Paraguay’s two official languages, along with Spanish) and Portuguese, sung by the hip hop ban Brô MC’S, whose members belong to the Jaguapirú Bororó indigenous community from Brazil.

The goal set by the Sawhoyamaxa leaders is to gather 20,000 signatures, to pressure Congress to approve the expropriation of the land.

The epicentre of the community’s two-decade struggle is the Santa Elisa settlement, where the largest group of families are camped out along the side of the road 370 km north of Asunción en Paraguay’s semiarid Chaco region.

They are living “in extreme poverty, without any type of services, and waiting for the competent bodies to decide on the land claim they filed,” according to the 2006 Court ruling.

The Sawhoyamaxa form part of the Enxet linguistic family. There are 19 indigenous groups belonging to five language families in Paraguay, spread out in 762 communities mainly in the east of the country and the Chaco region, a vast dry forest area.

According to the 2012 census, 116,000 of Paraguay’s 6.7 million people – or 1.7 percent of the population – are indigenous, with over half of that group belonging to the Guaraní people. However, the overwhelming majority of the population is “mestizo” – people of mixed European (principally Spanish) and native (mainly Guaraní) descent.

The Sawhoyamaxa, who had no title deeds to the land where they had always lived, were displaced from their land, which was taken over by large cattle ranchers.

“They don’t want us to progress in our way of life,” the leader of the community, Carlos Cantero, told IPS. “We want the land to dedicate ourselves to our ancestral activities, like hunting and gathering in the forest.”

He was referring to the powerful cattle industry, which has successfully lobbied to block implementation of the 2006 binding sentence handed down by the Inter-American Court, an autonomous Organisation of American States (OAS) body.

Cantero said it was important for the situation to be resolved immediately because “there is still a little forest left on our land, some swamps and streams; but if the state does not take a stance on this soon, those reserves are going to disappear.”

Cattle ranchers have steadily advanced on Paraguay’s Chaco region, where in November 549 hectares a day were deforested, according to the local environmental organisation Guyra Paraguay.

The Chaco scrub forest and savannah grassland, which covers 60 percent of Paraguay but accounts for just eight percent of the population, makes for good cattle pasture.

Since the 19th century, the worst dispossession of indigenous people of their lands in this landlocked South American country occurred in the Chaco, especially after the 1932-1935 Chaco War with Bolivia, when the government sold off huge tracts of public land to private owners.

Today, less than three percent of the population owns 85 percent of Paraguay’s arable land, making this the Latin American country with the greatest concentration of land ownership.

The Sawhoyamaxa community is fighting for 14,404 hectares of land.

In a largely symbolic move, when the final deadline set by the Inter-American Court expired in March, the native community began to “recover” their land, setting up small camps on the property to which they are waiting to be awarded a collective title.

Their fight for the return of their ancestral lands dates back to the early 1990s. After exhausting all legal recourse available in Paraguay, they took the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in 2001, which referred it to the Court.

The Sawhoyamaxa case is one of three in which the Inter-American Court has handed down rulings against the Paraguayan state in defence of the country’s native people. None of the resolutions has been fully complied with.

After the 2006 sentence, the government attempted to acquire the land in question in order to live up to the resolution and return the property to the native community. But it failed, due to the refusal by the rancher who holds title to the property, Heribert Roedel, whose 60,000-hectare estate includes the land claimed by the Sawhoyamaxa.

“The other route for expropriation is through the legislature, for which a bill was introduced, currently being studied in the Senate,” said Oscar Ayala, a lawyer with Tierraviva, which supports indigenous communities in Paraguay.

This local non-governmental organisation and Amnesty International Paraguay are the main civil society supporters of the cause of the Sawhoyamaxa.

The bill Congress is debating was presented by the government in August for the expropriation of the land, in order to fulfil the Inter-American Court order.

According to Ayala, there is a more positive environment than in the past. “The impression we have is that there is greater openness” for an eventual solution and for justice to be done in the case, he said.

On Dec. 18, the Senate commission for audit and oversight of state finances pronounced itself in favour of expropriation of the land.

“This first favourable ruling is a good indicator; these questions are always complex because caught up in the middle is that deeply rooted economistic view of land, but in this case those issues are no longer in debate,” Ayala said.

The bill will now go to the agrarian reform and finance commissions and then on to the Senate floor, before being sent to the lower house.

Some 120 families – around 600 people, half of them children and adolescents – are living in the Santa Elisa settlement.

The Court also ordered the state to provide food and healthcare assistance to the community. But while the situation in this respect has improved in the new settlements, much more needs to be done.

“We have a health promoter but no health post,” Cantero said. “The worst affected are the children, who are suffering from dehydration because of the bad quality of the water.”

The settlements receive clean water every month, but it is not enough, and they depend on rainwater, which is scarce in the semiarid Chaco.

To find a solution, Sawhoyamaxa men and women have been knocking on doors everywhere, showing people papers that describe the history of their community, their struggle, and the Court ruling, in search of support.

“We won’t stop until we are living on our land; our very survival depends on that,” Cantero said.

From Upside Down World: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/paraguay-archives-44/4629-sawhoyamaxa-battle-for-their-land-in-paraguay

Coal-processing chemicals spill into West Virginia river, polluting drinking water for 200,000 people

By Ashley Southall and Timothy Williams / New York Times

Nearly 200,000 people in Charleston, W.Va., and nine surrounding counties were without drinking water on Friday after a chemical spill contaminated supplies, the West Virginia governor’s office said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said early Friday in a statement that the federal government had approved a request of assistance in dealing with the chemical spill into the Elk River, which flows into the Kanawha River at Charleston.

“West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged not to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing,” Mr. Tomblin said in declaring a state of emergency. The warning affected customers of the West Virginia American Water Company in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane Counties.

Many stores in the area quickly ran out of bottled water Thursday night as residents rushed to stock up, according to local news media reports. Restaurants and businesses closed, and The Associated Press reported that schools as well as the State Legislature had canceled sessions on Friday.

The spill was discovered Thursday at a storage facility about a mile north of a water treatment plant on the Elk River, where a 48,000-gallon tank began leaking 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, or MCHM, a compound used to wash coal of impurities, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The chemical leaked from a hole in the bottom of the tank and then filled an overflow container before spilling into the river, said Thomas J. Aluise, a spokesman for the agency.

It is not clear how much of the chemical flowed into the river, which Mr. Aluise said looked like “cooking oil floating on top of the water.”

The chemical, which smells like licorice, is not toxic, but can cause headaches, eye and skin irritation, and difficulty breathing from prolonged exposures at high concentrations, according to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

Freedom Industries, the company that owns the storage tank, has not responded to emails seeking comment.

Liza Cordeiro, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education, said schools in at least five counties would be closed Friday.

On the Facebook page of the West Virginia American Water Company, dozens of residents expressed concern that they had not been immediately told about the chemical leak or the potential for health risks.

“Yeah, so I’m six months pregnant and drank tap water at a restaurant about an hour before the notice was sent out,” one woman wrote.

From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/11/us/west-virginia-chemical-spill.html?_r=0

Mapuche attack occupation helicopters used to deforest territory

By The Women’s Coordinating Committee for a Free Wallmapu

What can only be described as an act of defiance against the State of Siege imposed by the Chilean State was carried out this morning (December 31st), against the Chilean occupation and its Capitalist plunder in the province of Malleco.

The events took place nearby the town of Angol, a small distance away from a police station. It involved the complete arson of a helicopter belonging to Mininco Forestry Inc, and the partial damage of another.
The events also included the alleged assault of a police officer, who was subdued by the “assailants,” according to various media reports.

We should remember that the Chilean government had ordered more police presence to Mapuche territory, in which several reinforcements were brought from various parts of the country. This also included the use of surveillance planes, or drones, with infrared cameras and heat detectors, in order to control and monitor the movement in the area, especially at night.

Nothing worked; the permanent police presence used to prevent unidentified people from entering site proved to be a dismal failure. A private contractor is used to maintain planes and other equipment for Mininco Forestry Inc, where the two planes were set on fire, destroying one and damaging the other.

Second Helicopter Attack in the Area

This is the second time that Forestry planes have been targeted in the area of Malleco.  An earlier incident included a helicopter that was shot in a rural area of Ercilla.

Forestry Companies: The Ugliest Face of Capitalism in Wallmapu

The forestry companies represent the worst aspect that Capitalism has shown to Mapuche community members in Wallmapu. Their extreme extractive activities have only generated disaster for communities, including toxic fumes, the disappearance of rivers, brooks and streams, as well as the extinction of the natural flora and fauna of the area which serve as food and medicine for the Mapuche People. These are the main effects, among others, of the industry financed by the Chilean State through Law 701.

Moreover, the enormous extensions of land currently held by the Forestry companies lie on stolen land from Mapuche communities. These corporate properties are directly related to the territorial plunder of the Mapuche People.

Three Families against a People

This business not only is targeted against the Mapuche People; it also excludes the thousands of Chileans that have maintained this industry through subsidized taxes for the last 20 years. The property concentrated by the forestry industry lies in the hands of only three families: Angelini, Matte and Carey, whom own companies such as Bosques Arauco, CMPC and Masisa respectively.

Bosques Arauco alone encompasses almost 1.2 million hectares, with Mininco Forestry Inc at 700,000 hectares, which does not include the many uncertified estates in the area.

According to an official report, the forestry companies posses almost three million hectares in southern Chile – in other words – Wallmapu. This accounts to almost 30% of our traditional Mapuche Territory [south of the Bio Bio River], in comparison with only 700,000 hectares held by Mapuche communities, accounting for only 7% of traditional territory.

From Warrior Publications: http://wccctoronto.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/mapuche-resistance-defies-the-state-of-siege/