Pennsylvania Township Legalizes Civil Disobedience

New Law Shields People from Arrest for Protesting Project

By Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Grant Township, Indiana County, PA: Grant Township Supervisors passed a first-in-the-nation law that legalizes direct action to stop frack wastewater injection wells within the Township. Pennsylvania General Energy Company (PGE) has sued the Township to overturn a local democratically-enacted law that prohibits injection wells.

If a court does not uphold the people’s right to stop corporate activities threatening the well-being of the community, the ordinance codifies that, “any natural person may then enforce the rights and prohibitions of the charter through direct action.” Further, the ordinance states that any nonviolent direct action to enforce their Charter is protected, “prohibit[ing] any private or public actor from bringing criminal charges or filing any civil or other criminal action against those participating in nonviolent direct action.”

Grant Township Supervisor Stacy Long explained, “We’re tired of being told by corporations and our so-called environmental regulatory agencies that we can’t stop this injection well! This isn’t a game. We’re being threatened by a corporation with a history of permit violations, and that corporation wants to dump toxic frack wastewater into our Township.”

Long continued, “I live here, and I was also elected to protect the health and safety of this Township. I will do whatever it takes to provide our residents with the tools and protections they need to nonviolently resist aggressions like those being proposed by PGE.”

In 2013, residents in Grant Township learned that PGE was applying for permits that would legalize the injection well. Despite hearings, public comments, and permit appeals demonstrating the residents’ opposition to the project, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit to PGE.

Finding themselves with no other options, residents requested the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Grant Township Supervisors, with broad community support, passed a CELDF-drafted Community Bill of Rights ordinance in June 2014. The ordinance established rights to clean air and water, the right to local community self-government, and the rights of nature. The proposed injection well is prohibited as a violation of those rights.

PGE promptly sued the Township, claiming that it had a “right” to inject within the Township.

The case is ongoing. Last year, in October 2015, the judge invalidated parts of the ordinance, stating that the Township lacked authority to ban injection wells. Three weeks later, in November 2015, residents voted in a new Home Rule Charter. The rights-based Charter reinstated the ban on injection wells by a 2-to-1 vote, overriding the judge’s decision.

CELDF assisted the community with the drafting of the Charter and is representing the Township in the ongoing litigation with PGE.

Grant Township Supervisor and Chairman Jon Perry summed up the situation by saying, “Sides need to be picked. Should a polluting corporation have the right to inject toxic waste, or should a community have the right to protect itself?”

Perry continued, “I was elected to serve this community, and to protect the rights in our Charter voted in by the people I represent. If we have to physically and nonviolently stop the trucks from coming in because the courts fail us, we will do so. And we invite others to stand with us.”

Those others are showing up. Tim DeChristopher, co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, stated, “I’m encouraged to see an entire community and its elected officials asserting their rights to defend their community from the assaults of the fossil fuel industry, and I know there are plenty of folks in the climate movement ready to stand with Grant Township.”

CELDF community organizer Chad Nicholson has been working with the community since 2014. He added, “In our country’s history, we celebrate people standing up to challenge unjust laws. The American Revolution, abolition, women’s suffrage, the labor and civil rights movements, marriage equality – all required people to take action resisting illegitimate laws. All required creating new and more just laws in their place. We applaud the people of Grant Township for taking action as their community is threatened, and asserting their rights. It is an honor to stand with them.”

If you are interested in supporting the efforts in Grant Township, please contact Stacy Long, lemonphone28@gmail.com or 724.840.7214.

Stopping Coal and Oil Trains Through Civil Disobedience

Stopping Coal and Oil Trains Through Civil Disobedience

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

After Industrial Civilization with Lierre Keith

This episode tries to answer the challenging question: What comes after Industrial Civilization? In this part, Max Wilbert talks with Lierre Keith. Lierre Keith is the author of ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ and someone who has studied food systems, sustainability, agriculture and soils for many years. This is part 2 of an episode of the Green Flame. Part 1 where Max interviews Michel Jacobi was release a while ago. You can find it here.


 

Max: Okay I’m here today with Lierre Keith. Lierre is a writer, a radical-feminist, food activist and environmentalist. She’s the author of novels including Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel, and her non-fiction books include The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability, which is a fantastic book. It’s been called the most important ecological book of this generation. She’s the co-author of Deep Green Resistance: A Strategy to Save the Planet, the editor of the Derrick Jensen reader and co-author of the forthcoming book Bright Green Lies which she co-wrote with Derrick Jensen and myself.

So Lierre, thank you so much for being on the show. How are you doing today?

Lierre: I’m good and it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

Max: Glad to have you here. So I want to focus today on collapse and on the food system, I know food is something that has been a big focus of your work for a long time. Years ago, I read some of your more obscure interviews that were diving into the topic of collapse. I’m wondering if we can start by looking at collapse as you see it.

Is collapse an event or is it a process or is it both? Some people like to think of collapse as this sort of discrete thing that will happen one day where everything will just change, or will it be more of a slow process over generations and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how you see collapse playing out today and in the future.

Lierre: Yeah I’m definitely in the process camp. I don’t think there will be one day when things are sort of normal and then the next day everything is different. There’s no food. There’s barbarians at the gate. These things take a long time to come about. So every civilisation that’s ever existed, and I think there have been 3-4 total, have all ended in collapse because they’re based on drawdown and overshoot. This is what agriculture is and it’s what agriculture does.

You’ve got huge chunks of land that are just taken over to grow humans on. Nobody else can live there: none of the plants or animals that once called that place home get to live there. First of all, that’s just mass extinction. Over time, the soil is degraded. There’s no way to do this process that doesn’t involve soil degradation. That’s how civilisations end: their soil just gives out. They’re constantly conquering their neighbors because they have to get more stuff: the food, the water, the energy. They have to come from somewhere else since the city has used up its own.

That’s what a city is. It’s people living in those concentrations so high you just don’t have enough stuff. After a certain point it’s all just concrete. There’s literally nothing else that can be done on that land. So you have to go out and get it. And there’s nobody who wants to give up that stuff. Everybody wants their rivers and their fish and their trees so you have to conquer those people. That’s the pattern of civilisation. It’s drawdown and overshoot so it produces way more people than can be supported so you keep conquering and eventually you would reach the sort of automatic limit.

Then, of course, along came fossil fuel and that was just a huge accelerant on this whole process. Regardless of that, this is where civilisations end. They use up all the stuff and there’s no more food or water or energy. Then there’s a slow decline. We are now facing this on an absolutely vast global scale because the whole thing has gone global. And, we have added that incredible accelerant of fossil fuel particularly in terms of food. This is where stuff gets really scary.

There were six billion less people here. Because of fossil fuel, scientists learned this thing called the Haber-Bosch process. It was originally used for making bombs because they need a source of nitrogen. After WW2, it got turned to “peacetime” uses. All those bomb factories were turned into fertiliser factories. That was the beginning of the so-called green revolution and the human population quadrupled in response.

By adding gas and oil to the food supply, they were able to make various grains like rice and wheat that grew really short. The stuff we don’t want got shorter, we don’t eat the cellulose, but the grain head. The part which we do eat got really big. They were able to grow plants that would do that if they had the correct inputs and the inputs, of course, are chemical fertilisers.

So that happened. They pushed those plants to their absolute limit and created an absolute mountain of surplus grain. The human population responded the way that it does when there’s a lot of food, it quadrupled. So it didn’t actually solve any of the problems it just made them four times worse. That’s where we are now, this civilisation is going to end the same way that they all do. It is inevitable. You can’t fight physical reality. I get called all kinds of names for pointing this out which is honestly shooting the messenger. It’s not like I take any pleasure in pointing this out. We are in a really grim situation. That is the reality.

There’s a quote from James Howard Kunstler that I have always loved. He says that our planet needs reality based adults. That’s really where this has to start. We need to face reality. We need to face how bad this is. That’s the only hope we have of the best possible outcome for this situation.

A soft landing on the other side of this collapse, if humans as a whole, as a global population take charge of this situation we could support everyone’s human rights, redistribute what there is and repair the planet while we do that. We wouldn’t have to end in these grim, dystopian kind of scenarios that we all imagine and that popular culture has long since decided was the way this was going to go. We’ve all seen the Mad Max movies. We even know what we’re going to be wearing.

But the problem is I don’t see anyone, like the institutions in charge, headed in the right direction. I’m afraid that where we’re headed is exactly into those kinds of dystopian failed state scenarios. None of this is going to happen overnight. I think there’s a lot of people out there who do think that like one day, there’s going to be this thing called the collapse, and there’ll be a before and after. That’s not really how it goes. It’s a slow erosive process over time, over usually many generations. In the archaeological record you see there’s more and more signs of hunger, more and more signs of chronic malnutrition, people get shorter and shorter, their bones get more and more brittle. And then, at the very end of it, the last proteins in the cooking pots are human so they’ve turned to cannibalism because there’s nothing left to eat.

That’s the end then. There’s no more sign of them. And we just scratch our heads and go, “Wow! Couldn’t they figure out something better?” Clearly not. Here we are, are we going to figure out something better? Well I don’t know but I’m still hoping we do it anyway. No, I think this is going to take a long time and we’re seeing a taste of this right now. We’ve got the coronavirus pandemic. People are on lockdown and here we are. I live in the United States. Pretty much everybody who listens to this is probably going to be mostly English-speaking first world people. I’m glad you’ve got  listenership that is more diverse than that but I know mostly who’s going to be hearing this. We have not really experienced those kinds of shortages – not most of us in our lives.

Even if we didn’t have money we knew we could go to the store and get stuff. I think it’s a little bit of an eye opener for a lot of people my age and younger who really haven’t experienced war in the United States. My family background certainly went through vast amounts of these kinds of traumas in World War II. But I was born safely in America. I’ve never seen anything like this. I know it’s certainly possible. I’ve heard the stories but it’s different when you go to the store for the first time and you see everything’s empty. All the good stuff is gone. You think “Wow! all of this is really coming true like it really could be any time.”

We are utterly dependent on six corporations who control the food supply. Who thought that was a good idea?

Well obviously they did.

They’re the ones with all the power. Rest of us – I mean some of us have been out here fighting this.

I don’t think most people really get involved until their lives are directly impacted. As hard as this is on people,  I’m always trying to think what can we do as a political movement to use this experience to help people understand the layers of power that are controlling our lives and ways to fight back. I don’t find that a lot of the doomers are the preppers. I don’t know that they necessarily are. I don’t find them politically viable. It’s all about, “How am I gonna save my family, help myself?” Which is fine. We’re all going to have those reactions too. But the broader perspective is what are we going to do to make the world healthier as a planet and then also, more just for everyone, and for that we obviously need those political movements.

So how do we get from here to there? This is an opportunity. As usual, is the left gonna use this or are we gonna blow it one more time and not build that movement? Because I see the right be incredibly successful with their political program right now. They’ve got people storming the state house in Michigan with guns. They’re getting stuff done, at least from their perspective. It’s horrible. It makes my skin crawl, but they’re doing it. You have to have a little respect for the fact that they’re able to mobilise people in these times. We just don’t seem able to do it on our end of the spectrum. So that’s really my question: how do we use these, because these moments are going to become more and more frequent. We’re going to have more droughts. We’re going to have more horrible fires. There’s going to be times when the electric grid starts going down. How do we make use of that to get people to understand what the real problem is right now on the planet, and then what are the real solutions to it. Because this way of life is over. It was only going to last two or three generations and then the fossil fuel was going to be out. It always had a time limit on it. Can we get people who have lived very comfortable lives to understand what that was based on?

Max: A few interesting thoughts: I’m just reading about the Haber-Bosch process. There are a couple of the pretty stunning facts in this piece I’m reading. Nearly 50% of the nitrogen found in human tissues originates from the Haber-Bosch process which means that 50% of the nitrogen in our bodies is directly from mostly natural gas

Lierre: Yeah it’s just absolutely horrifying when you start reading about it. I get called like all these terrible names. This is the accusation always: “You want to kill six billion people. Of course, I don’t want to kill six billion people. It’s just absurd. Like, it’s just insane that I even have to answer that kind of thing. But that’s the point we have to face if we’re gonna find a way out of our dilemma. And that’s really all I’m asking for. Could we at least talk about it? Think about it like, try to imagine how we’re gonna get out of this mess because we’re backed up against the cliff now both as a planet and as a species. Whoever thought this could go on? Oil doesn’t reproduce! When it’s gone, it’s gonna be gone. And we’re already over the peak and we’re using more and more every day. It’s not like we’ve even slowed down using it. It just keeps accelerating. So you know like, what are we going to do folks? And it starts with a proper diagnosis which is that this way of life always had that time limit on it.

Max: It seems like so much of this, so many problems in the world really comes down to really simple ethics. It’s easy to get very complicated. You’re talking about being accused of wanting to kill six billion people. It’s making me think of another simple ethical way of looking at the natural world which leads into the next question.

And I’m looking out the window right now and I live in Oak Savannah – Oak Woodland habitat in the southern part of the Willamette Valley. I’m lucky to live in this forest of black oak and white oak trees who are beautiful long-lived native trees who produce abundant amount of acorns which can be a staple food source for humans and for a huge variety of other creatures. So this sort of oak forest habitat is one of the most biodiverse type of forests around.

And I’m contrasting this with further north in the Willamette Valley where you have industrial agriculture covering pretty much the entirety of the valley bottom. That’s the reason why around 97 or 98 percent of this Oak Savannah has been destroyed because the trees were cut down, the wetlands were drained, and it was all turned into agricultural fields.

And it seems to me there’s a pretty stark and simple contrast between an ecological ethic based on sharing versus one based on a fundamental selfishness where we take everything for ourselves. This is really a major topic of your book The Vegetarian Myth. Could you talk a little bit about comparing and contrasting those different ecological models of how we get our food?

Lierre: I live in a similar climate to you in the Pacific Northwest. In a climate like this, it would take about a square mile to support one human as a hunter-gatherer. Now you can compare that with an agriculturalist where it only takes one acre or two to support a human and you might think “oh wow what a better use of the land you can get way more people.” But like you’re saying, that’s just completely the wrong side of values. Why is the goal to maximize the number of humans you can support on a piece of land, especially when supporting that human is only temporary? You’re going to destroy that land by doing that. Ultimately, you might get more humans out of it but they’re all going to die. Like at the end, that’s where it’s going to. That’s where this story, that’s the conclusions of it there. Everybody there is going to die unless they expand and take somebody else’s land. It doesn’t even really work to say, “oh but you can get more humans.” Yeah you can temporarily but it’s not a way of life that can go on. It’s going to have its limits.

But the point is that when you are living in that hunter-gatherer way, which is what we did for 2 million years, all of our progenitors leading up to humans. That’s what we were doing. You’re sharing that land with millions of other species. You’ve got the ones you can see visibly. That’s the trees and the megafauna and the little animals and birds and reptiles and all those little guys. But then, there’s all the bacteria: the tiny little microscopic things that we can’t even see. Those are the creatures that do the basic work of life because they’re breaking down. As the plant or animal bodies die and bacterial bodies, as well, as everything dies, it needs to be be broken apart and then those nutrients made available again to the cycle of life. It’s those microscopic creatures – the bacteria of the soil – who do that work. And none of the rest of us can do it. Without them none of us are here. We can’t even see them now. Mostly where they live is in the soil.

When we destroy the soil that’s what we’re destroying. We’re destroying those basic processes of life. By doing that, we are making it near impossible for our own survival to continue. If you’re going to share the land, you can do it selflessly because we’re all going to die if we don’t. You could do it in a way that is – like with all on thanksgiving – respectful, in a humble way that says, “Wow! I’m a tiny little part of something so vast that has been going on for so long and am I not lucky to be here? All of what’s gone before me, all of what is happening in this moment, makes my life possible. I wouldn’t be here without any of it and that’s just a miraculous thing.:

You get this one life and I get to see the green leaves on the trees and there’s a little rabbit outside right now, I get to see this absolutely adorable little bunny rabbit. There’s fish in the stream and everything’s blooming because it’s May and how could I not be just utterly thankful that I get to experience this moment by moment.

It all depends on that dense web of relationships from the tiny little creatures on up to the really magnificent megafauna that we all enjoy that strike awe in our hearts. When we see an elk leaping or we see a wolf running or you know those just incredible animals but the little ones too have their own majesty and we are utterly dependent on all of that for our lives.

And it’s just amazing to me that we’ve had these cultures now around the globe that forget that and that make a point to destroy it all. They create a totally different religion that usually involves a sky god of some sort. You know god is a disembodied principle not a moment-to-moment experience of that wholeness and participation.

These are really our options, you can either participate in that cycle. That does involve death which is always a hard moment and I’m not going to make it pretty. There’s a lot of death going on as I look outside my window. But that’s what it is and we have to accept that as humans. I have no idea what other living creatures think about that. I don’t know what they experience. Do they dread it the way that we do? I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way to know.

I know that we tend to dread it, so we have to accept it if we’re going to do it well. It’s really our only option. That is to participate in that cycle, such that the cycle itself is stronger. That’s really all we’ve got and that means being a participant and not a dominator because the other model, that agricultural model, the civilized model, is about domination. You’re taking a piece of land, you’re clearing every living being off it down to the bacteria and then you’re just using it for humans for that brief period of time that it can sustain the humans and then you leave a desert in your wake.

So pretty much those are our options. We can do it well or we can dominate and do it terribly. There’s a price to pay. As a planet, we’re going to be paying that price really soon. We’ve used it all and now we’ve used up all the fossil fuels. There’s not really any way to extend it. We are going to have to face these facts. As grim as they feel at first, there’s hope on the other end. I am not someone who has given up. I think that nature can still, in really miraculous ways, restore this. But it needs our help and the number one thing we can do is stop destroying.

Max: Yeah this brings up an interesting question which is pretty nuanced. I feel like when people attack proponents of deep ecology or biocentrism or whatever you want to call our worldview, they often seem to take this approach that humans are inherently destructive, that everything we do is going to destroy the land and so therefore the best thing humans can do is disappear. This leads to those sort of accusations of eco-fascism like you were talking about wanting to kill six billion people. They assume that just because civilization is destructive to the land, that if we want that to stop, then we want humans to stop existing entirely.

And it gets to this more nuanced question, which I think maybe those people wouldn’t understand even or wouldn’t be prepared to engage in a discussion on. It’s sort of about the role of humans as a large mammal, as an apex predator, as a being that’s naturally evolved to fill ecological niches and like wolves coming into a natural community for the first time, are going to cause disruptions to almost everybody else in some way. They’re going to cause a lot of change.

And it’s an ethic that I wonder about myself because, for example, I’m not really a gardener. I kind of suck at gardening. I also have ethical questions about it because I don’t like the process of tearing up some of this beautiful native grass to expose bare soil so that I can grow tomatoes or whatever. I would rather just let the grass grow and eat one of the deer who eats the grass. Or acorns from the trees or what have you.

But it’s an interesting question to me regardless. You’ve probably heard of the book Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson right?

Lierre: Oh yeah

Max: Classic book looking at indigenous people in California and how they impacted and interacted with the land around them and how there are plants in what’s now California whose populations are fading or going towards endangered status because humans aren’t interacting with them as much. And here, where I live this type of oak Savannah and oak woodland was largely maintained by fires set intentionally by the Kalapuya and other indigenous peoples going back for thousands upon thousands of years, probably pretty much to the last ice age.

So what you had here when the first Europeans showed up or hundreds of years before that, or thousands of years before was a human – I was almost going to say human dominated but it wasn’t human dominated it was human sculpted as a better term – a human sculpted landscape. There, you had thicker denser Douglas fir, Ponderosa, maple forests in the riparian corridors on the moist north facing slopes where the fire couldn’t get to. But pretty much everywhere else in the Willamette valley and much of the coast range was this open meadow that was maintained by burning.

People were doing a lot of impact with fire which is a destructive force. I’m sure that that was killing a lot of creatures, a lot of plants and yet what they created was the oak Savannah ,which is as I said one of the most biodiverse habitats in the region. Now the oak Savannah is is struggling. So much of it has been destroyed for urban developments and agriculture and so on. Now a lot of those species who are dependent on the oaks are struggling.

I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on this sort of complex balance, or this nuance between the fact that we don’t want to be this destructive civilizational force imposing agriculture across entire landscapes and cutting down entire forests,  plowing up entire grasslands to convert them to just feed human beings. There’s also this nuance that human beings like other creatures can create some level of disturbance in natural communities that’s beneficial to biodiversity, that can create greater flourishing of life. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Lierre: I have had opinions across that scale for a long time. And I’m not sure I’m a hundred percent settled on what I think about it all. I tend to agree with what you’re saying at this point. I might change my mind with more information. A few things that I keep in mind is that all creatures have an impact on the place they live. Predators affect the prey species. The prey species have an impact on the plant species. The plant species interact with each other. It really is a very complicated a web where everybody is affecting each other.

So are we doing that in a way that’s okay? Are we helping there to be more life? Or is it slowly draining away because it’s being done badly? I think about what happened at Yellowstone National Park where they introduced the wolves. I think it was almost 20 years ago now, or maybe 15. There hadn’t been wolves at Yellowstone for a long time. A lot of the area was degraded because there was nobody to keep the ruminants moving. The elk and others would just stand and eat wherever they wanted. The places they really like to be is along the raparian corridors because it’s really juicy there and there’s easy water. There was no reason for them not to be there. They’re all going to hang out there. But it meant that they were completely destroying the riverbanks. There weren’t any cottonwoods or willow trees or anything coming up because all the seedlings were being eaten. It was just eroding slowly, year by year. This is a phenomenon you’ll see everywhere where there are not apex predators. The animals that are eating the grasses or the either browsers or grazers don’t naturally behave well. None of us actually are who we should be if we are taken out of our community. If the full cohort isn’t there, everything tends to just go crazy bit by bit. They’re destroying the place because there’s nobody to move them along. Then they introduced the wolves and overnight everything changed. The phrase they used is that it created “an ecology of fear” which doesn’t sound very nice but it did do that. Now you have elk and deer that are afraid that the wolves could come at any minute and try to eat them. So, they’re moving along. That’s the point. They’re tightly bunched. They’re moving quickly. Within a year, all of those riparian zones had repaired. You have way more plant diversity which, of course, means way more animal diversity. Now you’ve got all these birds that are able to nest there once more. They had all been driven out because there was no habitat for them. The waters themselves are way cleaner because there’s plants that are holding the soil in place. Now you’ve got all kinds of fish that weren’t there before.

The whole place comes back to life in a really short amount of time by simply introducing the correct apex predator. We all evolved together. That’s the thing. You can’t take out a species and hope that the web holds. There’s a hole now in that web. There’s a thread that’s been broken. The whole thing starts to unravel. We have that role too. That’s the thing about humans. We are also those apex predators. When we say apex, I just want people to understand that there’s a tropic pyramid where energy condenses. That’s all that apex means. It doesn’t mean we’re the best. It doesn’t mean we’re the smartest. It doesn’t mean we are worth more. It just means that energy condenses up that pyramid. You’ve got animals that eat plants and then animals that eat animals and that’s where we are. We’re at the end of that so all of that solar energy condenses up until you get to us. Eventually we all die too. We get recycled back into the soil. It’s not like we’re somehow not a prey. We are prey just not to other animals. Usually it’s bacteria or viruses that get us.

Regardless I see that that’s true in nature that apex predators play an absolutely crucial role. This of course is part of the problem with the way that people are doing grazing around the world with whatever pastoral kind of methods they may have. If the animals aren’t being bunched and moved quickly, you have all kinds of degraded landscapes. This is the work of people like Allan Savory or the different people who are trying to do this with cattle. They’ve had extraordinary results . They just act like the predators were supposed to be which is to keep the cattle tightly bunched and quickly moving. Everything gets better. You can’t remove ruminants from the land especially in grasslands areas where they’re needed. The grasslands will turn to deserts without the action of ruminants. Without the actions of predators, of course, you have the same problem. They will over graze. We all need each other to be properly behaved.

When I see that out in the world, I think that that is the place of humans. It’s not terrible that we do the things that we do because we definitely have a role. We all evolved together. Our role is to keep the animals moving. Then, you’ve got this issue of fire which humans have been using for what 500,000 years or something. You have landscapes that evolved with that and, like you said, that need it. There’s a lot of species like where I live in the West. There’s a lot of species that the seeds won’t open unless they’ve been through a fire. By suppressing the fires across the West, there aren’t any young trees to come as the old trees are leaving. All of these areas are just devoid of what should be here because there hasn’t been a fire in too long. Right now humans are suppressing those fires when we used to make them. There’s plants that evolved with that and they need the fire to release their seeds. That’s the thing people have done and it’s a thing people have done around the world. It’s a very common tool. It’s the first tool that humans really used on a broad scale.

I remember reading one article about England. It’s a very temperate kind of region. There’s a lot of rain. The basic tree is the oak. Oaks live 800 years. That’s about the age of an oak tree. What they found looking archaeologically in the levels of the soil was that every 800 years there was a fire. There’s no way that that’s just “natural.” It would be random if it was just lightning strikes which are also hard to start. I’s hard for lightnings to start a fire in a wet environment. Clearly people were setting them. It’s just fascinating to me that people understood how long an oak tree lives and that every 800 years would be about the right time to set a fire in this area of our territory. They were exactly right about the age of an oak tree. There is evidence of that kind of wisdom in the archaeological record that people figured out how to do this. It releases nutrients. It releases those seeds. There’s all this incredibly new green growth, very lush, easy things to eat. All the animals now have a lot to eat. They reproduce really fast. They get fat and happy really quickly. You’ve got ground-dwelling birds, and you’ve got deer. Whoever is there, they come in droves. They make that their place. They have lots of babies. There’s lots of food for people. It seems to work for everyone.

Without the fire, it’s not like creatures wouldn’t live there. They will but it’s going to be a different mix. It’s going to be a different mix of trees and a different mix of animals and different populations of animals and that’s where I start to go like, “I don’t know, is it okay that we’ve done this?” It’s still an open question for me. Where I’m not really sure is if there were no humans, what would it be like there? Is it better or worse? Is this even a moral judgment, As long as the cycle of life is continuing and it seems good and lush and diverse and lots of creatures are there and they’re building top soil and nobody’s being driven extinct?

It’s just like the natural kind of way that evolution prunes the tree is fine. That’s just what life is. But, us humans are accelerating that process. Then we’ve got a problem. I end up having to say yes that that’s a good thing because humans have managed to do it in ways that do increase diversity and that do make the web stronger. That’s sort of my moral. That’s where I’ll plant my flag. That seems to be the values that are the good values because it’s not about destroying everything. It’s about making it all better and stronger and more diverse. That should be the touchstone for all of this.

I’m left feeling uncomfortable by it too because a lot of anti-environmentalists will use it as an argument. They’ll take anything that anybody did around the globe as an indigenous person or prehistorically and say, “Well they did it so it’s okay that we do it. They cut down forest, so we should be able to do it.” Well they didn’t really cut them down, they used fire which is actually a really different tool. It was used for a very different reason and actually had the opposite effect of destroying the forest because it did make the forest stronger. So, I’m not really sure that it’s the best argument you can make, but people make those arguments all the time. It just leaves me kind of uneasy.

Like beavers, they’re a keystone species. This continent was entirely different when there were beaver here. They’re mostly gone. They were hunted to death both for agriculture and for the fur trade. They had a huge impact and still do when they’re allowed to come back on the places that they live. As a keystone species, they build dams. They stop rivers from moving very quickly. The water still flows but it’s at a much much slower rate. What they create is wetlands and wetlands are the most species dense habitat on the planet. By making these disturbances, by slowing down rivers, they actually make a whole bunch more life available to the entire cycle and that’s pretty cool that they do that. It’s like the same thing. They have an impact that’s pretty dramatic across entire landscapes. I don’t think it’s bad that humans can also do that as long as we’re sort of following the beaver model and making more life not less life. It’s just like, doesn’t it have to be a good thing. I hope so,because here we are as a species. Clearly it’s a role that we’ve played. If we could just get get back to doing it, it would probably be alright. Beavers do it, so we should be able to to play our role as well and have that be a good thing, not a destructive thing.

I’ve heard people say, “Oh well beavers make dams so why can’t we make dams?” Because when we make dams, we leave deserts behind. When they make dams, they leave wetlands behind which are fabulous places to be. It’s just a little interesting to think about what this continent looked like when all the beavers were here. Anywhere where there’s water – there’s free-flowing streams and little creeks and then larger rivers – none of that water would have been free-flowing. There would have been a beaver dam. There were apparently cities of beaver dams that would go on for like 100 miles. So it’s just incredible that they had that much impact.

We are living on a continent that is severely degraded in ways that we’re not even aware of. It seems natural to me to have tons of trees and fast flowing water and streams. That’s not what it would have looked like 500 years ago. There would have been a lot fewer trees along those riverbanks because the beavers would have taken some. It would have been a more dappled shade, not a deep shade. The water itself would have been very slow-moving. It would have been spread out because it would have been a wetland not a free-falling stream. It’s just amazing to think those millions of miles of streams would have looked completely different than what we have now. That’s probably what the world wants to be if we stopped destroying it and let the beavers come home. That’s what it would look like again. They are nature’s architects and that’s what they evolved doing. I have to assume that all the plants and animals around them would respond in a good way. They’re right now missing their architects because we killed them all. I’m all for it. Where I live, we were trying to get the beavers to come back. Of course people fucked it up as usual. It’s not going to happen anytime soon. It would be amazing to see that process in living color.

Max: So you organized to try and get some beavers in the area?

Lierre: Well it’s actually bigger than that. It wasn’t even me. There were people here who were trying to restore a local stream. The stream actually ends right at the Pacific Ocean.It literally empties into the ocean. The first few miles part of that runs through my neighbor’s land and a little bit through my land. There were attempts by the local environmental groups to try to repair it all because it was pretty well trashed. They had done a really good job. They had seen some fish and there were other animals coming back as well and different birds. It looked like it was the time for beavers. The habitat can now support it.

What happened instead, and of course this is that  level upon level of human tragedy, was that whole area where it opens out into the ocean, it runs behind a big supermarket. That whole area got taken over by the local homeless people. What’s back there now is essentially meth addicts and schizophrenics who clearly need help and they’re not getting any because there’s no money put to mental health issues. It’s just entrenched poverty and mental illness. All the horrors of modern day America are right there. They utterly trash the place. There’s no conceivable way now that the beavers are coming back anytime soon. Not until the human problem is fixed is the beaver problem going to be fixed.

It’s just tragic because the people who really were working on it to try to get the beavers back, they’ve just had to back away from it because they’re not getting any help. It’s all the reasons that nobody’s going to help the homeless people. So no beavers, it’s really sad.

Max: This is actually a good lead into the next question. Some people often argue that we should just have a single issue focus with any any sort of organizing, that we should just focus on one very discreet topic, get as broad a coalition of people together as possible and work on that issue. That is an approach that you see a lot of organizations doing effectively. I’m sure probably a lot of the environmental groups, like the ones you were just talking about, are doing that. I know in my community groups like the Watershed Council have a very specific focus and they just stick to that. It does allow them to build these broader coalitions. My response to that approach is always that it’s gonna work for surface level issues but when you start to get towards the deeper manifestations, everything becomes so interlinked. We can see that with the example you just gave. Relatedly, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about patriarchy and feminism and how those fit into everything that we’re talking about so far.

Lierre: It’s huge, and this is what we’re up against. Ten thousands years ago, people started to live this totally different way of life that involves agriculture. It involves cities and growing militarism and genocide and all slavery. All these horrors started on the planet that hadn’t been there before. One of the things that got very firmly entrenched is the system called patriarchy, which is essentially men ruling over women and owning women as property. Particularly it starts then because it’s about men having to control reproduction. Until you have the concept of private property, there’s not really a need for men to know or particularly care who their biological children are.

People may have to wrap their minds around this: for most of our time on this planet, in our history as humans, the basic unit of every culture was the mother child dyad. That was the most important relationship. Everything else was about supporting that relationship. Everything else was about helping the mother child. Humans are dependent for so long. We are what’s called a super social species because we are born premature. Our brains are so big, we would never get out otherwise. That’s why babies spend the first three or four months sleeping and not much else. That’s because we’re not really mature yet. You can compare humans to pretty much any other creature like horses or whatever. They’re on their feet and moving within the first hour. How long it takes a human baby to get to that stage?

So it takes a lot to raise a baby to become a self-sufficient adult. We need each other to do that. You need a whole collection of people to get that job done. Hence, we’ve always lived in these small groups can – very kin-based groups of maybe 75 to 100 people. That would be like your clan or your tribe or whatever word you want to use for it. And, at the center of it was that mother baby relationship. The adults in that child’s life would have been organized around that. Think about your own mother, her sisters and her brothers. The male role models in your life would have been your uncles, your mother’s brothers.

Her sexual partner, the the guy that either she married or she didn’t and a lot of cultures don’t even have marriage, but the biological father was not that of an important figure in that world. Nobody really expected those relationships to last. It’s generally called a walking marriage in the anthropological literature. When they got tired of each other, if the woman got sick of him, she would roll up his blanket put it outside the door and then he would walk back to his mother’s lodge which was really his home like for all important ceremonies and any big event. That was where he belonged, with his mother’s people. He was always there anyway, but he would sometimes spend the night over with his partner. But when they got tired of each other, it was just over. He would walk back. That’s why, it’s called a walking marriage.

Nobody put a lot of importance on that relationship. Romantic relationships just aren’t that stable compared to the mother bond dyad. Then, the bond between siblings were the important ones. These were the people you grew up with. Think about your brothers and sisters. Your sisters’ children are the ones that you would have been involved with raising. Not your romantic partner particularly, but those would have been like your family. That would have been the core of your family. That would have been your responsibility. The kids that you fed and the people that you raised to adulthood – they would take care of you when you were old. That’s how it went.

It’s completely different when you get to patriarchy now. It’s about private property. You have this concept that we have to inherit something. Men don’t really know who their children are. For women, there’s no way not to know because you gave birth to that baby. You know you did that. With men, it’s like “Well I don’t know. Who knows? She could have slept with somebody else.” It’s just that you can’t know. So women go into lockdown essentially as men’s property so that they can know for sure who’s going to inherit the property. With this comes all these restrictions on women’s bodies, women’s freedom of movement. Women essentially become their chattel property. They’re like broodmares.

That’s a huge switch from being the very center of the culture to being essentially a reproductive slave. That’s what patriarchy is. It’s women’s bodies, women’s labor used as some kind of resource for men. Any a good definition of patriarchy would probably start there. That’s where all of these civilized – the cultures based on agriculture and cities – ends. It may take a few thousand years to get there. It doesn’t happen overnight but that’s the inevitable end of that whole process.

Now here we are and there’s way more people than the planet could ever sustain. It’s still true that the key to all of this is about women and girls. You bring up the issue of there being too many people and immediately along come those same complaints that you’re a racist or an eco-fascist or any of those things. A lot of people, I think, are now afraid to even bring it up as a topic because it’s so fraught. It can be so difficult and so emotional. Friendships can end over it. We’ve all seen how destructive that can be.

But I don’t think that we really need to be afraid of this because the answer to any of it is honestly quite simple. This is an issue that really has been studied pretty thoroughly. The number one thing that drops the population, the one action you can take, the number one action is you teach a girl to read. Literally, that action alone is enough to drop the birth rate. It’s because when you give women and girls even the tiniest bit of power over their lives, they will choose to have fewer children.

I find this interesting for a lot of reasons. The first one is that we have this vague concept that people just keep multiplying because it’s what people do. There’s that sort of Malthusian ethic out there, but it’s not really true. When people honestly have some control over it, when they’re able to make a decision a rational decision about what they want to do with their lives, it turns out that most couples have about two children. That’s replacement levels. Actually most of us don’t choose to have ten, twelve, fourteen kids. There’s always going to be a few people who want to have really large families. That’s fine because there’s a lot of us who don’t want to do it at all. That balances out. The average ends up being about two children which is fine. That would not overpopulate the world if we had just stuck to that. It would have all been fine and it was for two and a half million years. In fact, humans didn’t do that to the planet. We were very good at keeping a very sustainable level of the human population

I’m not going to say that that was always fun. Like you read in the literature the kinds of things that people had to do for that. Most hunter-gatherers are very well aware of the ratio that you have to have between productive adults and dependents. If you’re having too many babies, you have to do something about it. I’m not saying that those are fun things, but everybody knew it was your responsibility. Then, there’s all kinds of other interesting things that people have done around the globe. Like, in a lot of places, if a woman has a baby then she doesn’t have sex again for three or four years. Everybody knows that it’s not a thing that you that you do after you have a baby, because: A, you don’t have the nutritional resources for it, your body has to build back; B, it’s not really the best emotional environment that you really need to be giving a lot of care to the very dependent young that you do have; and C, it’s just you’re gonna end up with too many kids. So, they know that that’s a thing that is very open in a lot of cultures. From hunter-gatherer places, all of that is a way to keep the population in a way that’s sustainable. Otherwise, everybody understands if there’s too many people we’re all going to be hungry very quickly. We’re going to destroy what’s here. There won’t be enough food. That’s not a taboo thing to talk about. Everybody gets that there are limits on nature. We just can’t have more of us. Everybody knows what the magic number is.

Then, you enter this whole other world where we’re doing drawdown and overshoot. It becomes like a symbol of men’s masculinity to have more children. Of course, they’re going to want to have more. Then, you have this high rate of infant mortality. Now you have to keep producing more children in order that some of them will live to be adults. For the last ten thousand years what’s happened. The countryside provides the population. The cities were actually a population sink. Here you are out in the country and you’re doing agriculture which is back breaking labor. You want as many laborers as you can get. You’re having more and more children to just to do the work. Then the problem is you can’t actually divide that plot of land up any smaller. It’s only so many times you can divide it in half before there’s nothing left. What happened until very recently is that most of those second third fourth sons would leave and head to the city to make their fortunes. They would join the army and a lot of them got killed so that took care of the excess males. They would go to the city and die. The average time that somebody would live when they arrived in the city across Europe was 18 months because there were so many diseases. There was no sanitation. People didn’t understand that. You would just die from smallpox or typhoid or whatever was going around. So it was a population sink. That all changed in the 19th century with better medication. Absolutely the public health methods too get better: sewage control and all that. They were able to put a stop to all of that. Then, of course, the population starts to grow. So, it’s still kind of a problem that we have.

My main point here is that if we give women and girls a little bit more power over their lives, if we fight back against that sort of patriarchal ethos, immediately the problem gets better. The countries where they have done that, it’s been actually really interesting to watch because they can do it really quickly. All you have to do is give everybody the information and then access to different kinds of birth control and information about it and they all want it. People want it. In fact, men will get vasectomies. They will line up to do it because as it turns out they don’t really want to have twelve children either. They don’t have any way to provide for that many children. They’re looking at a life of drudgery trying to do it. Most of them don’t want to do it either. So if you give people what they need, which is basic food, basic medical care and some information about what birth control is and how to get it and you let them get it, then, in fact, the population will drop. The reproductive rate will drop really quickly.

Again, as I said earlier, it’s really interesting that two kids seem to be about what people want, all things being equal. That’s kind of the average. That’s not an issue like we’re not just going to multiply like rabbits if on our own. That’s not actually a thing that people do. It takes a quite amount of political pressure to get that rise in population. That’s really the problem. All the political institutions and the economics of the situation are all headed in the wrong direction. There are all these pressures on both women and men to do that. If you take those pressures away, which means remove the ability of the rich to steal from the poor and remove the ability of men to exploit women, in a very good way the population will drop. We should be supporting the rights of women and girls anyway. As it turns out, that is the only way we’re going to save our planet. It was never people versus planet. It was always people plus planet. We belong here too. It’s okay but if we give everybody full human rights and everybody has basic food and basically medical care, then that’s what happens, just naturally and normally. That, in fact, fulfills people’s desires to reproduce and it’s not overshoot. It actually turns out that it’s a really reasonable amount of children that people want. We can do that, but it means we’re going to have to fight the Catholic Church. We’re going to have to fight capitalism. We’re going to have to fight all kinds of religious regimes around the world. We’re going to have to fight patriarchy. We’ve got our work it out for us.

Max: Thank you for that Lierre! Practically speaking, how can people start to reintegrate themselves into relationship with the natural world? In other words, if we turn away from the philosophical side of this and get down to the nitty-gritty, how can people start to build these relationships and change the dynamics of how we interact with and live with the rest of the beings on this planet?

Lierre: I think it depends on what your interests are, what your passion is, if you have a little bit of land. There’s all kinds of amazing things people are doing to rewild their land. There’s an amazing book that came out of England called Wilding that I highly recommend if you need a shot of hope. These people  (obviously wealthy) inherited a huge ancestral estate. I think it’s 12,000 acres or something. It’s just absolutely gigantic and it was dying. They didn’t know why. The book starts with them. They have these beautiful ancient oak trees on their land. One by one the oak trees are dying. They don’t know why. So, they call an ancient oak expert. These people are experts now because there’s so few old growth oaks that it’s an incredibly rarefied job. This guy takes care of the ancient oaks that are on Queensland. So, he’s the best in the country. He makes an appointment to come see their oaks.

He says the reason these oaks are dying is, frankly, because there’s been agriculture here for centuries. Especially the very toxic chemical agriculture that’s been done here for the last 50 years killed the microbial networks in the soil. There’s nothing helping these trees. They don’t exist without that network. They are part of a community and the community has been destroyed. That’s why, the oak trees are dying. Of course, they’re horrified. They love these old oaks. They don’t know what to do. They start researching as fast as they can. Then they realize that this agriculture thing is kind of a nightmare – what we have been doing.

They start reintroducing plants and animals that will help. Then, they just let it all take over. It’s an amazing journey through those first few years when they do this. Everything comes back to life including the oak trees. They’ve had species there that haven’t been seen for 100 years. They have found their way home on their own. There’s mushrooms there that nobody’s seen. There’s giant birds that have come back. There’s eagles that have come back. These incredible creatures, from really small to really huge, have found their way back. They just did that by 1) stopping the destruction and, 2) helping a little bit. That’s really all any of us have to do. If you have a little bit of land, just do those things. It means like researching some and trying to figure out what’s the best way, but it’s not actually a hard process. You’re working with life now you’re not fighting against it. You’re not fighting that war anymore.

A lot of this is going to involve ruminants. If you have an open grassy area, the best way to make that place stronger and better is to let it be grazed. Then, you have to be the apex predator and move it along. There’s plenty of people who can teach you how to do that. If you don’t have land, one of the best things you can do is figure out who is doing it well. Find the places in your area where there are farms that are grass-based farms.

The thing about grass-based farming, why this is so important is that it hits every high note in what has to happen. Number one, it repairs habitat. In a regular grassland, you should have something like 25 different plants per square meter, which is a lot of diversity. That’s what you’ll have in a functioning prairie. Anybody who’s doing this should have that. They should be able to reproduce that pretty quickly. The reason that you need ruminants is that it’s ruminants that are the ones who carry the bacteria that’s needed to break down the cellulose of the grass. Grasses without ruminants, honestly, it just degrades to desert because they need to be grazed. Grass evolved to be eaten. They did come about together in time. They come through evolution at the same moment. That’s why they need each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Inside the ruminant is the bacteria that can actually digest the cellulose. Without that, there’s not anybody to actually break down the bodies of the grass. Somebody has to do that work. That’s the ruminant grass dyad that has to happen.

Of course, those plants are very deeply rooted. What that means is rain has a way to now enter the soil again. Without those roots, it really can’t do it. There’s not a physical way for rain to get in. This is important. It recharges the water table. This is something that happens where we can’t see it but it’s absolutely crucial for essentially every living thing. During the summer when there’s no rain, it’s that huge sponge underground that is storing that water. Bit by bit, either the trees or the grasses will draw up that water and they make life available to the rest of the community. You and I can’t get moisture out of soil, but plants can. We can eat plants, or we can eat animals that eat plants so that we have moisture. That’s basically what’s going on. They’re storing it long term and then bringing it back up as needed. Without those deeply rooted perennials, there’s no way to store it. The rain does not penetrate in.

That’s another thing that is very much a part of grass-based farming: recharging that water table. Right now things are so bad in parts of this country, that they’re using oil drilling equipment to pump out the last of these ancient aquifers to grow wheat and corn and whatnot. When that water is gone, there’s not really going to be any getting it back. Again this is one of those draw down things that we don’t even hear about. It really is a massive emergency. Help people to repair those perennial plants and restore the water table. It is absolutely crucial for life on earth.

When you do that, of course, you’ve made habitat. Almost overnight, you’re gonna see all those creatures now have a home. They will find their way back. There’ll be reptiles and amphibians and birds and small mammals and even larger mammals. They all have a home again. You’re letting them come back. I just don’t understand why people don’t want that. How do you not miss all the animals? It just feels so lonely to me knowing that they’re gone. It’s just an emotional thing that I don’t know why that doesn’t trip the wire for everyone. Honestly, since I was four years old, that’s all I ever wanted. I could not understand why people made cities. I couldn’t understand why there was cement anywhere. I just wanted deer and wolves. That’s all I wanted. I just can’t understand this human impulse to kill at all. It just will never make any sense to me. But you can get them all back. That’s the thing. It’s not actually that hard. It’s not even that much work for humans. The plants do it. Then they call the animals to them. The animals know what they need to find a home. They know the plants they need to make nests. They know how to make burrows. They know the food. They need to eat. They will find it. They will come back. All of that comes back to life and pretty quickly.

In your area find the farms where this is happening. Find where they’re doing grass-based farming. Buy your food from them if you can. If you can’t, that’s fine too. Ask your local store to carry that food. find the other people who are doing that. In your area you can bet there are people who are working on this politically. There’s so much that we have to do on a larger scale: we have to fight the food bill, the farm bill. every year, it’s giving money to all the wrong people. It’s giving money to those six corporations that control the food supply. Those are our tax dollars. They are subsidizing the worst possible food for the environment, the worst possible food for the planet. There’s just nothing good about it.

In the meantime, there are farmers out there who really want to do it well. They don’t know how to do it. they’re being paid to do all this really destructive stuff, like corn and soy. If we could just get a little more money put toward training and restoration work, they can see how fast it happens, that they’re able to make a living by raising things like grass-based beef or bison. It happens really fast. It’s not a hard sell. They just need help doing it.

This is the stuff that the subsidies of the local agricultural extension funded by the federal government should be going for. They’re not. They’re just going toward the usual kinds of destruction and all of that. These are all battles you can fight, either locally on the state level, or on a national level on a federal level. There’s room for everybody in there. Even if you just take your food dollars and try to support the right people, you’re doing a huge thing. The final thing, of course, is that all of this sequesters an amazing amount of carbon. There’s been research now that’s around the world because there’s millions of acres under this restoration. It’s really the only hope we have to get the carbon out of the atmosphere. Just let the grasses and the ruminants take care of it. And they will. It’s not too late. So if we can put even our own food dollars toward the people doing that repair, it will make a huge difference.

Max: Thank you for that Lierre! I’m wondering, we’ve got these two elements here. So much of your work has been focused on shifting to these grass-based pasture-based restorative relational ways of eating. The other theme in your work has been about serious resistance. It seems like you’re painting a picture here of a movement that has two wings or two main elements essentially: an element that is doing the restoration of the land or at least getting out of the way and helping the land to restore itself, and then the more serious resistance side of the movement resisting the industrial systems that are destroying the planet. Could you talk about this a little bit?

Lierre: I like that sort of conceptualization that there’s two wings of this. I think a lot of people aren’t cut out for being on the front line of a resistance. That’s absolutely fine. Not everybody has to do that. It’s not up to me to tell people what their political work is. Whatever your passion is, that’s what your work is. Nobody else can tell you what that is. That’s between you and your soul, what you’re called to do. We all have that calling. For some people, it is going to be frontline. Some of us just do have that – a spirit – and other people don’t. There’s also a lot of reasons that people can’t do it that are about our other responsibilities. If you have children or you have family members that need your support, you can’t risk getting arrested. You have to be there providing. That’s good. That’s wholesome. That’s the thing you did when you signed up to be a parent. You need to take that seriously. There’s lots of people who can’t take risks for all kinds of reasons. and that’s perfectly legitimate. But you can do those other things. You can help be part of the repair.

You can help repair the human communities. They have to be repaired as well, because right now all the models are about domination and exploitation and just constantly causing pain to each other. We’re not taking care of each other. That’s what needs to be repaired too. We need better models. We need to be experimenting with ways to have that democratic culture where we know what the process is for making decisions and for settling disputes and for making sure that there’s justice and that everybody’s taken care of. That’s a lot of repair to the culture because we live in a very adversarial hierarchical culture. I know there’s places on the planet that are way worse. I’m not unaware of that. It could be a lot worse than it is here. But there’s still so much bad. That’s happening.

I think on any local level, those are things that people should be thinking about and trying to get started wherever they are, because the end of this is inevitable. If we don’t do something better, it will devolve. Essentially the biggest bullies are going to be local warlords. And we’re all going to be under their boot. That’s a lot of times where this ends and it’s ugly. I don’t think any of us want that. So we need to start preparing for all of that. That’s work anybody can do. Getting to know your neighbors and figuring out how you’re going to make decisions is the thing that anybody can do. here’s really good models about people doing this around the world on a more political scale, on a more, not informally, but on a more formal scale too. I think that’s all for the good.

But then there’s the people who really do want to do those direct confrontations with power. If we understand that industrial civilization is a war against the living planet, then how are we going to respond? Because it’s not enough to just educate. It’s not enough to just hope. We have to have a plan for how we’re going to fight on behalf of everything that we love. This isn’t even just that the people we love are being hurt, it is every last living creature is now under assault. It’s under threat of extinction. If we’re going to take that seriously, what I’ve been arguing is that we at least need to think about other options. Because right now what we have been doing is clearly not working. Every year the carbon goes up. Every day 200 species go extinct. Nothing is getting better. There’s not a single biological indicator that’s headed in the right direction. We have not even slowed the rate of acceleration, like let alone the acceleration itself, let alone repaired anything. It’s grim out there. If we acknowledge that, then what’s next?

Well I mean the two main ways we have to confront power would be either some kind of organized civil disobedience or non-violent resistance and I love the ways that people have been able to use that throughout history. I think it’s a very elegant political technique if you understand it. The problem is it depends on a lot of people. And I just don’t know that we have the people. If this was not a time sensitive situation, I would say let’s just keep building for that movement. I think the results are better and I’m very queasy about the idea of using any kind of violence. It does not usually end well when people go there. But I’m not sure that we have any other options. I would like somebody to tell me what the other options are. Because if you see one I want to hear about it. I don’t know what it is. I feel like we’ve tried everything and it hasn’t worked and time really is running out for life. so the only reason I’m willing to consider other things is because of that. It’s just the situation really is that dire.

So I don’t know that we want to unleash that, but I don’t see any other option when every last living thing is under threat. I don’t. I want somebody else to give me a better answer because I don’t have one. MEND is the best I can come up with. They did it. They were successful. It didn’t take a lot of people. I think this could be done with simply property destruction and no loss of human life. But are we willing? And that’s the thing. This infrastructure is incredibly vulnerable. We all know where the oil comes into the country. We all know where the coal lines are. This is what you’re trained to do in militaries around the world: how to take out the infrastructure? There’s entire manuals written about how to do it. It’s not like the information is something we have to develop. It’s there for learning. It’s there for reading. We should at least consider that this might be the last option that we have.

Max: This could be a whole another conversation. We could go down so many different paths. I have a lot of different thoughts on, for example, how the environmental movement is deceiving itself with the green technology, with the focus on saving civilization with re-powering the society with new energy sources and new types of devices, as if a solar powered chainsaw is any different or a solar powered combine harvester is going to do anything for the destruction that agriculture has wreaked upon the world and continues to do so. But that’s a whole another discussion. People can keep an eye out for our book coming up for that.

I want to wrap up this interview, Lierre. The final question that we like to ask people is about practical skills. It’s for the individuals who are listening to this show. We are living in these very serious, very dire times. There’s a lot of people who want to get involved. They want to contribute in some way but maybe they don’t feel like they have the skills or the knowledge necessary to do so.

One of the things I like to tell people is: look at every person who’s been involved in a revolution or a social uprising or a serious movement. I don’t think any of those people ever turned to their friends and said, ‘You know what? I feel perfectly prepared to meet this situation.” I think everyone’s unprepared. Yet we find ways to rise to the occasion. I’m wondering if you can speak for a moment about any takeaways you have from your experience in organizing over the years, in terms of skills given this future that we’re facing. What sort of skills or mindset or organizational structures do you think are the most important for people to be cultivating? What should people be doing and working on right now?

Lierre: Honestly, I think the most important things have to do with democracy and human rights. How do we make a culture on the left that understands the depth of the problem, as well as is an inviting place for people to live? I think a lot of us grit our teeth and do the work because there’s really no option. We have to keep fighting. But we’re not it. We’ve just made the left a really impossible place. It just feels like it’s gotten harder and harder in my lifetime.

This whole woke culture that’s taken over is so destructive, where you can’t even have a conversation with people. There’s no way to be friends through it. Everyone just throws up every conceivable insult and barrier to actual human connection now. It just let us down a really very dark and ugly rabbit hole. I don’t know how to fight it. The moment that you try to say this is a really destructive set of behaviors, you will then be called a racist or a misogynist or homophobic or like whatever the thing is, classist, ableist. They’re going to throw something at you, usually out of left field. There’s no way out of it. The moment that’s been laid down, you have to just admit to original sin: mea culpa. And that’s it.

You never get anywhere with this. It’s been a very very destructive decade or two here. We drove out all the good people. The only ones left are, honestly, just abusive, little emotional sadists who get off on it, and then a bunch of really grim people who keep moving forward. I want it to be a better place again. It wasn’t this bad when I was young. Maybe I was just more naive or hopeful and I didn’t feel it as much. But it really feels like things have gotten a lot worse.

We need a resistance movement that’s built on what are called strong ties, not weak ties. Strong ties are relationships that are long-lasting, where you’ve known people and you’ve seen each other through a whole bunch of hard stuff. And you still like each other and care for each other. You’re in it for the long haul. All we have now are weak ties, which are the kinds of ties that social media are only ever going to make. You’re never really going to be in each other’s lives. It’s completely disembodied. Weak ties are never going to be enough to make the glue that holds social movements together. We really need to be in person. We need to be friends. We need to treat each other well. It just seems like we’ve forgotten how to do all of that. That is sort of the basis of it.

It’s this same impulse that makes us long for human rights and human justice, because we care about each other. We know that when somebody cries, it’s because they hurt. We all know what that feels like. We want to make it better. It’s such a simple thing. But why did we let this happen to all our movements? It’s just become so ugly and so destructive, when the human impulse to care is so basic to all of us. It really is our first. Unless you’re a sociopath it really is. It really is how we feel about each other at the end of the day. We want to help other people and in our best moments, that’s who we are. Every time there’s a disaster, that’s the first thing that happens. Everybody says, “How can I help?” That’s a noted phenomenon around the world. People will give all kinds of things. They’ll give money, and they’ll give food, and they’ll take people into their homes. We really do want to care for each other. That’s a really basic thing about being a super social species. We have those impulses.

But I just feel like we’ve just been led so astray by all of this, I don’t know what the answer is. I have literally no idea how we’re going to get our movement back from this destructive framework that’s been laid on top of it. But we have to find a way. We do. The human technologies are the ones that we need, ways to have democracy and human rights and conflict resolution that are accessible to everyone, and that are understandable, and that are really about human care and connection. That’s what we have to do.

There’s definitely things that are more nuts and bolts. Like if you have a backyard or you have a little land, I’ve so enjoyed having things like goats and chickens. I have dogs and the kinds of repairs that I’ve done to my land here have been. I’ve just felt incredibly rewarding to see rare species here. It just gives me such a thrill knowing that there’s coho salmon in the stream. We have pacific giant salamanders and all kinds of creatures. I mean we have mountain lions on my land. How many people get to have apex predators next to them? Every day, it’s really incredible. All that’s important too but I just feel like if we don’t make it possible to have a real connected movement, a movement of people that are in it for the long haul with each other, then we don’t have a chance in hell. We just don’t. So that has to be some priority. I just wish I had better ideas about it. I just know what’s gone wrong. I’m not sure how to make it right. Sorry I didn’t end on a happy note. Make food. Make food for everyone in your life. That’s like a really good thing to do. Making food really helps people.

Max: It’s good to not sugarcoat this situation for people. I think people like to have this idea that everything’s going to be wonderful and we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to have fun at the same time. It’s going to be all these different things. I don’t think that that’s quite realistic. Not that that’s not important. We all need that. I say this as somebody who just spent the weekend out in the wilderness for three days, because I needed to get the hell away from screens and do some reconnection and spend some time just breathing and just being a human being and not thinking about anything political beyond what was right in front of me at that moment. But you know we need to do the hard work side as well.

Lierre: There’s a really good article that’s probably a decade old now. It was in the New Yorker. It’s called small change. It’s all about strong ties and weak ties in political movements. I refer back to it all the time because it really really explains why this is so important. The example that he uses is the very first guys who did the very first sit-in at the lunch counter in, I think it was, Greensboro, North Carolina. There were four of them. The interesting thing about them is that they were all 18 years old. They were really young guys but they had all known each other since they were kids. They’d gone to the same college together. They were hanging out in somebody’s room and there was all this talk about the civil rights movement. They were all engaged and super excited to be part of it. The world is really starting to bubble up for them. “We can do this. We can change history. We’re going to be part of something that is going to be incredible.” Then they realize like they actually have to do it. In the article, he talks about how the four of them sat there all night long going, “Well, somebody else will do it. We don’t actually have to go to lunch counter and sit down. And they’re like, “I think it has to be us.” They went back and forth and back and forth: being afraid and then somebody would say, “Well, we have to do it.” This went on for hours. It was because they knew each other. It was because they were friends and they cared about each other that they could have that conversation and give each other that kind of encouragement, where they finally just came to the conclusion, “Tomorrow morning, we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna go in there as a group and we’re gonna sit down at lunch counter and we’ll see what happens. They kicked it off but it was about strong ties. People who didn’t know each other couldn’t have that kind of conversation or give each other that kind of real courage. It was because they knew each other and loved each other that they were able to make a group that could face down the horror of what was probably coming at them.

Max: Look at what that kicked off in the end.

Lierre: Yeah they did a great thing.


Featured image: Mad Max / Fly, Fly Away by Stefans02 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

On November 19th, Deep Green Resistance hosted a special 3-hour live streaming event, “Collapse: Climate, Ecology, and Civilization” including a keynote speech by Lierre Keith. If you have missed it, you can view it here. The audio version of the event is also available on various podcast platforms.

Note: The fundraiser still continues. If you want to donate, please visit our Givebutter page. We also have some interesting things available in our auction page. Please visit soon if you want to bid on items. The auction will remain open till today.

 

The Movement to Dismantle Civilization

The Movement to Dismantle Civilization

Why all permaculture designs should include supporting a culture of resistance

This essay originally appeared at Colorado Permaculture Guild

By Jennifer Murnan / Deep Green Resistance

Currently, permaculture operates in the realm of bright green environmental activism and seemingly believes that the current culture can be transformed. Why should permaculturalists choose to align themselves with the deep green environmentalists that support dismantling civilization in the belief that it is irredeemable, and, in fact, is destroying life on our planet?

Here are the few reasons that have occurred to me:

The Permaculture movement has always run counter to the beliefs and principles of global civilization. It views nature as a partner, a teacher, and a guide whom we honor and are totally dependent on. This is completely contrary to the cultural view of western civilization; that the natural world is here to serve us, to be used and abused at will, and that this abuse is justifiable.

Permaculture practice, by definition, is an attempt to depart from the model of exploitation and importation of resources necessitated by civilization. To live permanently in one place is the antithesis of the pattern exhibited repeatedly by civilizations. Civilizations cannot live in place. They violently import and exploit their human and natural resources, exhaust their ecosystems, experience population overshoot, and collapse leaving an impoverished land base in their wake. Western industrial civilization is currently playing this scenario out on a global scale. Permaculture not only cannot exist within the confines of civilization, it cannot coexist with a civilization that is devouring the world. I believe it is neither ethical or practical on the part of permaculturalists to attempt to do so.

Another reason lies in the common visions of the primacy of the earth shared by deep green and permaculture activists. The first ethic in permaculture is “Care for the Earth.” Without this basis, the second and third ethics, “Care for people,” and “Redistribute surplus to one’s needs,” are impossible. Healthy organisms produce a surplus as a way to feed and enrich the ecosystem in which they exist. Simply put, there is no health unless the earth is cared for first.

As Derrick Jensen states in Premise Sixteen of Endgame “The Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything.”

There are attitudes shared by Permaculture and the Deep Green movement. Permaculturalists believe in working with nature and not against it. Fostering a respect for all life is inherent in permaculture practice. Valuing people and their skills creates more diversity, creativity and productivity in permaculture and deep green communities. Alignment between Deep Green and the Permaculture movements is especially apparent in two permaculture design principles. Seeking to preserve, regenerate and extend all natural and traditional permanent landscapes is a goal of both communities. Preserving and increasing biodiversity of all types is recognized as being essential for survival by both Deep Greens and Permaculturalists.

A primary reason for permaculture to become part of a culture of resistance is that permaculture’s two guiding principles logically mandate dismantling civilization. The precautionary principle states that we should take seriously and act on any serious or destructive diagnosis unless it is proven erroneous.

Civilization has proven itself to be destructive to ecosystems since its inception. Western industrial civilization is causing the wholesale destruction of every ecosystem on Earth.  Aric McBay writes, “The dominant culture eats entire biomes. No, that is too generous, because eating implies a natural biological relationship; This culture doesn’t just consume ecosystems, it obliterates them, it murders them, one after another. This culture is a ecological serial killer, and it’s long past time we recognize the pattern.”

A large scale and effective response to this destruction is necessary. The tactics of the environmental movement, up to this point have been insufficient. We are losing. It is time to change our strategy. This is why the Deep Green movement is advocating for all tactics to be considered as a means to stop the murder of the Earth. This includes, but is not limited to, practicing permaculture, legislation, legal action, civil-disobedience, and industrial sabotage.

There are problems with holding the permaculture movement as the sole solution to global destruction. While transitioning to sustainability in our personal lives is important, even more important is confronting and dismantling the oppressive systems of power that promote unsustainability, exploitation and injustice on a global scale. In fact, if these systems are left in place, the gains made by the practice of permaculture will be washed away in civilization’s tidal wave of destruction.

“Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral and stupid. Sustainability, morality and intelligence (as well as justice) require the dismantling of any such economic or social system or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase,” said Derrick Jensen.

The second guiding principle of permaculture, “intergenerational equity,” also necessitates immediate action in response to the destructive force of civilization. This principle states that future generations have the same rights as we do to food, clean air, water and resources. This statement applies to all humans and non-humans equally. On a daily basis entire species are being eliminated from this planet as result of the activities of industrial civilization. “intergenerational equity” for them has ceased to exist and every day this destruction continues more species go extinct. Allowing this to continue is unconscionable.

Permaculture is based on close observation of the natural world, and I believe can only realize its full potential in a human community that acknowledges the natural laws of its land base as primary. Practicing permaculture in any context other than this necessitates subverting our principles and betraying everything that nurtures and sustains us, all that is sacred, our living earth. We can only truly belong in a culture of resistance.

Both permaculturalists and deep greens know that the earth is everything, that there is no greater good than this planet, than life itself. We owe her everything and without her, we die.

This is it, we need each other, everyone, every tactic we can muster in defense of the earth.

We have never been able to afford civilization.

Lierre Keith: “The task of an activist is not to navigate around systems of oppression with as much personal integrity as possible. It’s to bring those systems down.”

How to Organise a Protest March

How to Organise a Protest March

Editor’s Note: When many people think of political engagement, they think of protests. However, protests are merely one tactic among thousands. Like all tactics, protests can be very effective in contributing to a broader strategy, or they can backfire. Context matters. Protest must play a role in a larger strategic plan if it is to help effect change.

At Deep Green Resistance, we endorse raising political awareness of the destructive nature of civilization and organizing to stop the destruction of our planet. We also believe that aboveground activists need to push for acceptance and normalization of more militant and radical tactics, where appropriate.

This article presents one view on protest, which is not necessarily ours. Nonetheless, this is useful material. For more information on strategy and tactics, we highly recommend reading Chapters 12, 13, and 14 in the book Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet (buy the book or read a free online version here).


By

Protest marches are a common and accessible way of getting your voice heard and bringing attention to your cause.

In this guide, you will learn how to organise a protest or demonstration. This article for activists explains step by step how to organise an action to draw attention to your cause. Following are 10 suggested steps to organizing an effective protest and some suggestions for taking it to the next level. There are plenty of opinions about how to host a successful and inclusive protest so feel free to read critically and adapt these ideas freely to suit your goals.

If you are new to protesting, we recommend you to read the following articles first:

This guide originally appeared on the Activist Handbook website, a Wikipedia-style collaborative manual created by activists, for activists.  The Activist handbook have combined various resources into their wiki. The formatting of the guide has been slightly tweaked by The Commons such as adding images and quotes.

In short

A successful demonstration – one that accomplishes its goals either immediately or over the long term, and that runs the way organizers envisioned – depends upon clarity of purpose, getting people there, getting the message to those who need to hear it, and leaving a sense of success and support for the issue with your target audience, your constituents, the public, and the media.

If you consider beforehand whether a demonstration is the right vehicle for you to get your point across, plan it carefully, carry it out well, and follow up diligently, then you should be able to stage a successful public demonstration.

If your demonstration is to go smoothly and to accomplish its purpose, you’ll need to organize it carefully. There are really four major bases to cover in putting together a public demonstration:

  • Planning, planning, planning
  • Lead time
  • Communication
  • Follow-up

Prepare your protest

If there is a single most important piece to organizing a demonstration, it’s planning it completely beforehand. The demonstration must have a coordinator and a group of organizers who work together before, during, and after the event to plan and carry it out. They need to decide what the demonstration will be like, and to anticipate potential problems and plan for them as well.

1. Build a team of organisers

As you begin to organize your protest, the more like-minded friends and community members you have at your side, the better! Reach out and ask if they want to help you organize. If your protest issue does not directly impact you, be sure that you are intentionally building relationships with those in your community who are, centring their voices and experiences, and listening to their guidance. It is best if you can co-create your team and action together. Lastly, seek out local or regional organizations that work on your issue and invite them to organize with you. (You may also learn a thing or two from them!)

2. Define your strategy

In this section, we briefly discuss how to define your strategy. But we also have a full chapter about how to define your strategy.

Answer these questions:

  • Goals: What do you want to achieve?
  • Target: Who has the power to make that happen?
  • ActionWhat kind of action would make them listen to you (tactic)? When and where should you organise this action to make the most impact?

What is (are) the exact goal(s) of the demonstration? It’s important to decide whether you’re advocating for or supporting a position, protesting something, or planning a specific action. Your purpose will help to determine the tone and shape of the demonstration. If advocacy is your goal, the demonstration might be upbeat, singing the praises of whatever you’re advocating for. If your purpose is protest, or righting a wrong, then its tone will be different. Tone is important, because what you accomplish might depend on how the demonstration is viewed. If your demonstration leans too much toward entertainment and feel-good sentiment, it may not be taken seriously. If it’s frightening, people may not listen to its message.

Ask yourselves what you are trying to achieve through this advocacy lane. Are you trying to build awareness? Do you aim to build a larger coalition to continue work on your issue? Are you trying to be seen and heard by an elected official or influential figure? Be clear with yourself and others about the objectives behind your actions. This will help you develop the best strategy, and later reflect on elements that can be improved.

With your goals in mind, try to imagine the most effective protest to achieve those goals and focus on making that protest happen. Ask yourselves: when and where will you hold the protest and why? What type of protest is required to achieve your goal? The most common modes of protest are marches and rallies. But protests can take many forms: sit-ins, walk-outs, vigils, and more sophisticated efforts like encampments and choreographed or theatrical expressions.

Demonstrations may be meant to serve one or more different goals, depending upon the timing of the demonstration, the issues involved, who’s doing the organizing, and what else has gone before. Setting out your goal clearly is important, because it will often dictate what form the demonstration should take, at whom it should be directed, and other crucial elements. Common goals for demonstrations include…

  • Advocacy: To urge legislators or the public to look favorably on a bill, adopt a particular idea or policy or service, or pay attention to the needs of a particular group of people (welfare recipients or people with disabilities, for instance).
  • Support: To express agreement or solidarity with a person or group, with an idea or policy, or with a particular issue. For example, a group of organizations offering different services might hold a community demonstration to support the proposed establishment of more and better services for the homeless in the community.
  • Protest: To speak against some injustice, event, public figure, potential occurrence, etc. A group might demonstrate against the possible establishment of a hazardous waste treatment plant in their community, or to protest the treatment of community residents by police.
  • Counter-demonstration: To respond to a demonstration or other public event already scheduled by another, antagonistic organization. A civil rights group might organize a demonstration to balance one by the Ku Klux Klan, for instance; or a group of demonstrators might organize to counter a rally for a politician whose views they disagree with.
  • Public Relations: To advertise or put in a good light an event, issue, organization, segment of the population, etc.
  • Action: To actually accomplish a specific substantive purpose, prevent or change a particular event, or to influence the course of events. Such actions might include workers on a picket line blocking replacement workers’ access to a factory, or peace activists chaining themselves to the gates of a military base; it can also include demonstration participants breaking up into constituent groups to visit their legislators.
  • A combination of any or all of the above.

In reality, most demonstrations serve more than one purpose. Regardless of their other goals, most organizers seek media coverage for the demonstration, for instance, in order to draw attention to their cause. Most demonstrations either advocate for and support, or protest against, something. The difference is in the emphasis, which may have a great effect on the form and timing of the demonstration.

protest

Decide who you’re trying to reach with the demonstration’s message, and who you want to attendContact other organizations, coalitions, etc. long before and get them to endorse (and attend) the demonstration. The time, place, and program should be geared to the desired audience.

  • Legislators or other elected officials: The demonstration should be where they are — City Hall, the State House–on a day when they’re in session. Elected officials pay attention to voters. This is a great situation for members of the target population, especially those from key legislators’ districts, to tell their stories, and for advocates to use their knowledge of statistics to underline the magnitude of the issue and the size of the constituency affected by it.
  • General publicIf you’re aiming your message at the general public, then you might want a very large demonstration, or one that’s particularly unusual or interesting, staged in a public place at a busy time, so that it will attract both onlookers and media attention. It’s even better if there’s a draw, in the form of entertainment and/or celebrities. And the demonstration should be advertised publicly, through flyers and posters in neighborhoods, public service announcements on radio and TV, clubs and churches, etc.
  • Target population: If you’re trying to publicize an initiative with those you hope will take advantage of it, it should be in their neighborhood, and in their language as well. It might help if children and families are encouraged to come, and if familiar figures from the target group itself are part of the program. Presentations should be aimed at providing practical information and helping people understand the issue and how it relates to them.

Decide where the demonstration will beYour decision will depend on timing, on how large a space you need (How many people do you expect or hope for?), on whether your demonstration is a reaction to something specific in a specific place, and on who you want to reach with your message. However, there are some important general questions you need to answer in choosing a place. Is it available for the time you need it? Do you need, and can you get, a permit to use it? Will it cost you anything, and can you afford it? Is it accessible to those with disabilities? The answers to these questions will help you determine where to hold the demonstration.

Decide on a specific day, date and timeSometimes, the day, date, and time are determined for you: a counter-demonstration, for example, will happen at the same time as the demonstration it is meant to counter; a particular vote in the legislature will take place on a particular day. But in general, these elements are determined by three things:

  • The availability of the people you want to reach (A rally at the State House on Saturday won’t attract many legislators, nor will the ‘solidarity with Working Mothers’ demonstration attract many working mothers if it’s on Tuesday at 2:00 PM… when most of them are working.)
  • The weather (You might not want to hold an outdoor demonstration in Minnesota in January… or in Florida in July). Do you need a rain or snow date?
  • Conflicts with other events (You don’t want to compete with the free Rolling Stones concert in Central Park).

Learn more about this in our strategies chapter.

3. Choose an action tactic

In this section, we briefly discuss different tactics you can use. Make sure to also read our chapter with a list of tactics for protests.

Plan your program

What you’re actually going to do at the demonstration also depends upon what you want to accomplish and who your audience is. There needs to be a clear structure for what will happen, and everything in the program should be geared directly to the desired results of the demonstration. Block out the schedule to the minute, and let participants know well beforehand how long they have in the program.

Some possibilities for programs or program elements:

  • Speeches may convince some people and bore others, although some speakers and speeches (Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” comes immediately to mind) are so powerful that they electrify anyone hearing them. Celebrity speakers may draw people and attention to the demonstration and to your issue. Speeches may be meant to convey information, convert the unconvinced, or simply fire up the crowd and supporters. Members of a target population (people who’ve learned to read as adults, AIDS sufferers, etc.) may be the most eloquent spokespersons for their issue.
  • Marches or other movement of demonstrators can serve to show the extent of support for your issue, and can dramatize–by the route chosen–where a problem is located, and who should be involved in a solution. They can also help to build group spirit, to expose large numbers of people to the existence of the issue, and to attract media attention.
  • Entertainment. Music may energize people, address their emotions, and help to develop group spirit. It’s usually geared to the subject of the rally, with songs written for the occasion, for instance. Theater can be used to ridicule ideas being protested, as was done very effectively for years by such groups as the San Francisco Mime Troupe. If the entertainment is particularly good or includes celebrity performers, it’s almost sure to attract media and bystanders.
  • A symbolic activity, such as each person lighting a candle, group song or chanting of slogans, the display of a picture or document, prayer, etc. can be a powerful way to communicate a message, solidify a group, and gain public attention. It can also be seen as nothing more than an attention-grabbing device. This kind of activity has to make sense for your particular issue and demonstration.
  • Picketing may be used simply to make a point, or to discourage people from entering or patronizing a particular building or space because of their sympathy with the picketers’ issue. In either case, it requires a high degree of organization, but it creates a vivid picture in people’s minds, and makes a strong point. It can also make your organization seem more militant than it is, or than you want it to be perceived.
  • Civil actions or civil disobedience can range from legal actions designed to accomplish a specific purpose (large numbers of people witnessing an event that the perpetrators would have preferred to keep quiet, such as the destruction of a neighborhood landmark) to a few people engaging in a symbolic action designed to get them arrested or otherwise challenged (chaining themselves to the gate of a government building, refusing publicly to pay taxes, etc.) to mass actions like civil rights marches or the blocking of troop movements in Tien An Men Square. Demonstrators taking part in civil disobedience must be willing to be arrested and face punishment, and organizers must train them beforehand to respond appropriately to the police and to the whole arrest procedure. Organizers must also be aware of the impact of these actions on how their issue is perceived by the public.

Read more in our tactics chapter.

4. Logistics

Work out the logistics. Logistics are the nuts and bolts of any event, the who and how and when of what gets done. Each demonstration presents its own logistical questions, but some important ones are:

  • Do you need, how will you pay for, who will be in charge of, and where will you get… A sound system that works? Toilets? Medical facilities and personnel in case of emergency? Parking? Trash disposal? Signs or banners? A way of getting speakers or performers to and from the demonstration and the platform?
  • How do people in general get to and from the demonstration, and in and out of the space?
  • How do they get home?
  • Is there a need for crowd control (i.e. a potential for violence, or for horrendous traffic problems), before during, and/or after the demonstration?
  • Is clean-up needed? Who cleans up, and how?
  • What are the plans for meeting with the media before, during and after the event?
  • Are there plans for post-demonstration activities (constituent meetings with legislators, on-site vaccination of young children, registration for literacy classes, etc.)? If so, how will all this be handled?

Try to think of every possible thing that can go wrong that you haven’t already addressed, and figure out what to do about it. Where are you going to get toilets if the ones you ordered aren’t delivered? What if there’s a counter-demonstration? What if only a few people show up? What if the media doesn’t show, or leaves too soon?

Anything you can anticipate and plan for is another crisis you don’t have to worry about: you’ll know what to do.

Be ready and have a contingency plan. If your local police tend toward clearing protests quickly or even violence, you will want to share tips about self-protection against, for example, tear gas or pepper spray. If you are expecting extreme hot or cold weather, provide suggestions for staying safe. During the protest, everyone’s safety should be your number one priority. Ask folks how they’re feeling.

Decide on what specific things you’d like to actually happen — and not happen — at the demonstrationHow do people get to the space where the demonstration will be held? How easily can they leave? How do you want them to behave while they’re there? Will there be some sort of action, and will it possibly lead to arrest or other confrontation with the authorities? How will you handle that? A crowd can be kept happy with food and entertainment, or angered by aggressive speechmaking: it’s up to the organizers to think through what they want.

It’s important to confer with the authorities beforehand about use of space, to obtain the proper permits, and to work out with police and other officials how things will be handled, so that there are no misunderstandings. Make sure that those who are likely to attend the demonstration know what to expect and what you expect of them. If people understand that violence is unacceptable, or that it’s important that everyone follow a certain route, they’re more likely to behave accordingly.

5. Determine your timing

So, you’ve decided that you have some good reasons for using a public demonstration as part of your initiative. We’ve already seen that timing is important. Later, we’ll discuss how much time you might need to plan your demonstration: that’s a major concern. But assuming that that’s taken care of, when will a demonstration be most effective? If you can, it makes the most sense to schedule it to coincide with an event or time that will help draw attention to your cause, or that needs to be brought to public attention. Some possibilities include…

  • Just before or during a major event that the demonstration can influence. A local, state, or national vote on a bill affecting your issue, an election, or a campaign for the establishment of a local service might all provide appropriate times to stage a public demonstration.
  • The local visit of a political or controversial figure or groupThe visitor might be seen as an ally, an antagonist, or as someone who could be influenced by a demonstration. The character of the demonstration itself would of course depend on how you view the person or group.
  • A demonstration by another group opposed to your cause or point of view. In this circumstance, you might plan your counter-demonstration to begin before the other group’s, thus drawing media attention away from their message and to yours. Scheduling your major speaker or event toward the middle of your demonstration may also serve to hold the media there during the start of the other demonstration.
  • A national day honoring or commemorating your issue. May 1st, Labor Day in every country but the United States, has traditionally been the occasion for marches of workers and speeches by labor advocates in much of the world. National Literacy Day, in September, often sees upbeat public demonstrations by literacy programs and advocates.
  • As part of a funding drive for your organization or issue. In the late 1980’s, when public human service budgets were being cut and money was scarce, a county human service coalition kicked off a local fundraising effort with a well-staged piece of street theater about some of the things that were actually being funded instead of human services. The cleverness and timeliness of the performance attracted statewide attention, and enhanced local fundraising efforts.
  • As part of a publicity campaign for your organization or issue. A group trying to immunize all toddlers in the area might hold a public demonstration emphasizing the importance of immunization, and trying to make the whole process look like non -threatening fun for kids. Such an event could include clowns, facepainting, people in hypodermic costumes, etc., as well as information for parents on where, when, and how to get shots for their children.

Learn what local authorities require for public demonstrations in your community. You can often find specific permit requirements and guidelines on your local government’s website or by calling your town hall. Do you need a permit and what are its requirements? Are there restrictions such as amplified sound restrictions or fines for littering? When talking to the authorities, don’t shy from being clear about your needs, for example, to clear a road of traffic or provide a portable toilet.

You be the judge if you should adhere to the terms of the local requirements; violating those terms could invite confrontation, which your invitees may not be interested in or prepared for at all. Make it clear to the authorities, and your supporters, that safety is a priority. Ask the authorities to maintain contact with your group during the protest, and tell them how to do so.

Learn more in our legal rights chapter.

7. Promotion & outreach

Decide on how you’ll get people to comeTo some extent, this depends on how much time and money you have to publicize the event, and how many people you want to attract. You have to reach people through methods they’ll pay attention to, in language they’re comfortable with. If possible, it’s best to get the message out many times in different ways, and to reach as many people as possible personally. Methods might include flyers, posters, phone calls, mailings, ads in newspapers and local church and organizational newsletters, public service announcements on local radio and TV, announcements in churches, clubs, and agencies, etc.

Assuming your objective is to have the largest turnout possible, you will reach more people by diversifying your outreach. You may want a versatile graphic to draw people’s eyes to your invitations. Get the word out through every social media channel that will reach your intended audience. (One of the benefits of working with an established group is they can broaden your social media reach.) Put up posters where people can see them like public bulletin boards and lamp posts. Ask shops if you can put posters up in their windows. But nothing beats face-to-face outreach. Time permitting, visiting neighbors and personally inviting them with fliers in hand is a highly effective way of growing a protest.

Invite local television stations, newspapers, radio stations, and bloggers to your protest. Tell them what’s special about your protest and give them the most precise information about the protest you can. Encourage your invitees to post videos and photos to social media and give them a hashtag.

Learn more in our communication chapter.

8. Build community

Every stage of protest planning is an opportunity to build solidarity and community. Keep an intentional lens on inclusion and intersection. Invite a wider circle of friends over for planning meetings. Sign-making parties are a great way to build relationships in advance of your protest.

9. Plan to keep it peaceful

You don’t want your invitees or spoilers to ruin your plans by damaging property or starting fights. Designate peace marshals within your team. A peace marshal’s job is to keep an eye out for anyone who is creating risks for your protests such as provoking police, vandalizing, etc. If tension rises, your peace marshals will step in and deescalate. You may also want to invite your local Lawyers Guild or other independent observers if you are concerned about keeping the peace or the police response.

10. Leave no trace

Leaving a mess is not a good look for your team or your cause. Make sure people know your expectations up front about discarding signs and literature. Set an example by picking up litter from your group. When you see someone littering, point them to the nearest garbage can. You want to learn from your experiences so you do an even better job organizing your next protest. After your team has had some time to reflect (but not too long after your protest) get your organizing team together to discuss how the protest went. Review how you did with each of the ten steps. Document the conversation for the next time you plan a protest. And finally, be proud of what you have accomplished; you organized your first protest.

Protest is, in its own way, storytelling. We use our bodies, our words, our art, and our sounds both to tell the truth about the pain that we endure and to demand the justice that we know is possible. It is meant to build and to force a response. – DeRay Mckesson, Civil rights activist

Time needed to organise protest

If possible, it is best to allow more than enough time in planning a demonstration to handle all the details and pull everything together. Celebrities or public figures of any kind generally are booked far ahead, and unless (or even if) this is their pet project, they’re not going to show up without adequate advance knowledge (at least several months, not several weeks). Sometimes acquiring, or even finding, a space to use can take longer than you’d think possible. Planning how to handle large numbers of people is difficult, and carrying out your planning is even more so (the sound system you need may not be available from the first or second company you talk to; and what do you do when it doesn’t appear on the agreed-upon day?)

It’s vital to build extra time into your planning if you can. More than enough lead time is usually measured in months, and there’s no such thing as too much.

Sometimes, however, a demonstration has to be planned in days, or even hours. The key to planning something successful under any circumstances is to be honest with yourself. What can you really do effectively in the time you have? Don’t overreach, and there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a demonstration that may be modest, but accomplishes your goals. Aim for the moon without adequate time to get there, and you’re likely to miss entirely.

Communication

Also make sure to check out our chapter on communication for more details.

Design an effective general communication system. The most important thing you can do when you begin planning a demonstration is, if you don’t already have one, to set up an efficient and usable communication system. This system should be available not only for demonstrations and emergencies, but for general use as well among people directly involved in and connected to your issue.

Systems like this prove their worth when there is a need to quickly sway the opinion of legislators. One person, emailing or calling a number of organizations, can, in a matter of hours, generate hundreds, or even thousands, of phone calls and letters to government offices. Fifty letters or calls on an issue is generally considered a large number by legislative staffs. If they get hundreds, that’s a groundswell; a thousand or more is a landslide.

The ideal communication system has an individual or small committee as a central coordinator. In the best of all possible worlds, the coordinator would use email, which can reach large numbers of people with a single transmission, for fast and efficient communication. If email isn’t available to everyone in the loop, the next best possibility is a phone tree that the coordinator can activate by calling a small number of reliable individuals who then call a number of others who then call others, until everyone on the list has gotten the message. These systems aren’t perfect, but they greatly increase the chances that you’ll be able to quickly reach everyone you need to. The coordinator should also maintain an up-to-date, computer -based if possible, mailing list from which to do mailings of general interest or importance.

Develop a plan for publicizing the demonstration

The coordinator would be the point person in informing supporters, the desired audience, and the public about the demonstration. Depending upon whom you were trying to reach, the coordinator could make up and assign the distribution of flyers; send out one or more large mailings from the computer list of supporters and relevant organizations; prepare and distribute press releases, news stories, and/or print, radio, and TV ads; post to an email list; activate the phone tree; and facilitate anything else necessary to get the word out. The coordinator doesn’t have to do everything himself; but it’s important that there be one place where the publicity and communication buck stops.

Orchestrate media coverage of the event

Again, one person–probably either the communications coordinator or an organizer of the demonstration–should oversee media coverage. One good way to guarantee accurate coverage before the event is to write your own stories about it, either as press releases, or, if you have a good relationship with media representatives, in some other form.

If you haven’t already done so, you should begin to cultivate a long-term relationship with the media, so that when you need them–as you do now–they’ll respond. Be generous with your time and information when they ask for it, and volunteer information when you can. Position yourself as the “expert” on your particular issue, so that you’re the person they’ll turn to when they want information about it. Try to establish personal relationships with reporters from different media; they’re more likely to be sympathetic to your cause if they know your organization and have some direct contact with the issue.

Make sure that reporters and media outlets know exactly when and where the demonstration will be, and what they’re likely to find there. Make organizers, speakers, celebrities, members of the target population, etc. available for comment before, during, and after the event. Think about photo and TV opportunities: if you want pictures or TV coverage, the demonstration has to provide the visual images. Try to make it as easy as possible for media representatives to do their jobs: find them places from which they can see, hear, film, etc. easily; assign a person (perhaps the same person who has coordinated media coverage) to take care of their needs; introduce them to the appropriate people; help them get around. If you want good coverage, then it’s up to you to make the event as media-friendly as possible.

Ensure good communication before, during, and after the demonstration

It is vital that organizers be able to communicate with one another, with program participants, and with the crowd while the event is forming, going on, and winding down, especially if it’s being held in a large outdoor area. Explaining changes in program, relaying instructions about traffic flow or trash pickup, and contacting individuals in emergencies are only some of the reasons why good communication is essential. Organizers and other key individuals should have cell phones, pagers, or some other means of quick communication with them. It might also make sense, depending on the situation, to appoint a group of “runners,” people who can carry messages and run errands while the event is going on. Good communication could mean the difference between a successful demonstration and a disaster.

Follow up

Immediate follow-up

Your job isn’t done when the demonstration is over.

There’s making sure the demonstration breaks up in an orderly way, that everything’s cleaned up, that people are able to get home. There may be other events scheduled right after the demonstration (visiting legislators, signing up for immunizations, etc.) It might be important to make sure that media representatives get to talk to celebrity participants, members of the target population, and/or demonstration organizers. And there may be organizational or legal issues — paying suppliers or government permit offices, for instance — that have to be taken care of before you can call it a day.

Long-term follow-up

The demonstration itself is only a first step toward something. If you don’t continue the work you’ve started, you might as well not have bothered. First, it’s important to go over the demonstration with organizers and others who were involved, to assess how things went, and to evaluate the event as a whole. Questions that need to be answered include…

  • Was the demonstration successful (i.e. did it come off the way you intended, and did it accomplish what you wanted it to)?

It’s important to remember that a demonstration is usually only one piece of a larger effort to publicize and/or affect policy on your issue. The law might not change right away; the service might not become available instantly. A successful demonstration may not immediately show obvious results, but it may help to build a foundation for what will happen later.

If it runs smoothly and seems to have strong public support, then your organization might be seen as a force that the powers that be need to deal with. You might find yourself invited to meetings you couldn’t get into before, and asked for advice by policy makers who formerly ignored you. That’s success, too. You may need to wait a while before you can determine exactly how successful your demonstration was.

  • What went well, and what didn’t? How could you do things better in the future?
  • Who did their jobs well, or particularly well? (You might want to give them more responsibility next time.)
  • Was a demonstration the right way to get your point across? Should you have used some other method instead?
  • Would you do it again, and what would you change?

The next step in long-term follow-up is to build on the success and momentum of the demonstration. There are a number of possible ways to do this:

  • Follow up with the intended audience of the demonstration (legislators, for example) by continuing to bring up the issue, and referring to the demonstration as evidence of support for it.
  • Follow up with your own constituents (target population, supporters, etc.), using the energy generated by the demonstration to get them involved in keeping the issue before the public.
  • Publicize your success. Use your contacts with the media to publicize how big and powerful your demonstration was.
  • Try to get the media to do a series of stories on the issue. If there are celebrities who are willing, they might also be involved in this effort.
  • Organize other events to address the issue.
  • Institutionalize the demonstration. Many cities have walks to raise money for hunger, AIDS, or other causes that started out as demonstrations. Now they happen every year, attract thousands of walkers and tens of thousands of sponsors, raise huge amounts of money, and bring the issue to the public in an unavoidable way.

Other Good Practices

  • Keep up the Momentum 
    Your protest is likely to draw many new folks who want to get further involved in the cause. Use the protest to make sure they know what the next action is. Hand out flyers for your next general meeting or for another protest. If you don’t have an immediate next step for them, get your clipboards out and collect email addresses with the promise of further action.
  • Get Creative
    Find a time or location that helps bolster your message. For example, a marijuana decriminalization march could be held at 4:20pm or a rally against police militarization could be held with armored vehicles behind the speakers. Be theatrical if you want; great photos spread faster and help get your message out. Puppets, themed costumes, or other artistic expressions help draw attention. Some organizations, like PETA, are known for their powerful protest theater, soaking themselves in fake animal blood. Even with a small attendance, their protests garner international attention.
  • Go Deep on Your Strategy
    You may be trying to influence a politician or other influential figure. If this figure has not responded to protest in the past, consider another approach. Everyone with power draws that power from someone else (donors, for example). You may want to consider protesting the origin of their power, for example, protesting a politician’s top donor or a university president’s allies on the board of directors.
  • Don’t Be Afraid of Disruption
    While many people equate disruption with violence or beyond the scope of constitutionality, disrupting the daily rhythms of life—especially for corporate or government officials—is precisely what the founding fathers had in mind: colonial-era riots, the burning of effigies, and dumping crates of tea in the bay. Disruption gets people talking about your protest and draws more media attention. Disruptive protest is more likely to lead to arrests. Be sure all of your invitees know what they are signing up for and that you research best practices incivil disobedience and disseminate that information to all participants.
  • Be Spontaneous 
    If a protest is not pre-planned or expected by authorities, it can draw urgency to your cause and, as it grows, can give a feeling of momentum. Of course, to draw a crowd and the press to a spontaneous protest, more work will have to be done in a shorter amount of time. An inspirational (and effective) example of spontaneous protests were the large, widespread airport protests after President Trump announced his “muslim ban”. Many municipalities waive permit requirements if a protest forms in response to a recent or ongoing event but it’s worth checking with your local officials so you don’t put your invitees at risk of arrest.

Potential Impact

Reach

Whether or not your protest march will be covered in local/national/international news media depends on the number of people participating and the novelty of the cause that you are advocating. If it is something for which there already have been a lot of protests, you will need to step up your game to make the march interesting enough to cover.

Protestors marching down street holding banners. The banner across the front marchers says Youth Against War

Photograph by Peter Cahill

Since a march is a moving protest, a lot of bystanders may see your action, but it is harder to start one-on-one conversations with them. Take pictures, record videos and livestream during the march, so you can reach additional people via social media.

Engagement

A protest march is a relatively accessible action format, so it is a good way to get people who have never protested before involved. Make sure you have clear follow up actions though, so that participants of the march will take up more active roles within your movement after the march.

People who see your action as bystanders or hear about in in news media might also get involved. Note this is a very small percentage of the total number of people reached. You can improve this by handing out leaflets during the march and making it easy for people to find your website and get involved.

Disruptiveness

A protest march is usually not very disruptive. You are usually only taking up some space for a few hours. And because it is a moving protest, traffic will be able to continue their travels as you move away, though with a large number of participants this may take a while.

protest

You are temporarily taking up a certain physical space, depending on the number of people participating and duration of the march and you are creating disturbance with noise. These are some ways to make it more disruptive: march on a frequent basis, march a longer distance, make more noise (for example, by asking people to bring pots and pans), or engage in cultural disruption (for example, march naked).

Because a protest march is not very disruptive generally speaking, it is unlikely that decision makers will feel forced to respond to your demands based on the disruption alone (though they may feel forced through public pressure as the result of your reach in news media). Being a relatively undisruptive tactic, this also means that the authorities are less likely to try to stop you by means of police force.

Creativity

The tactic of marching to draw attention to a certain cause is very commonly used. Unless you add something special, a protest march is not very creative. This means that news media will be less interested, because it misses the aspect of novelty. These are some ways to use creativity to make a march more interesting: wear special clothing, bring art objects (for example a brightly painted boat or paper mâché skeletons) or have a group of people play theatre.

About the Author

Activist Handbook is a Wikipedia-like site for everyone to exchange knowledge and experiences about activism. It’s written by activists for activists. Visit the website to contribute to their wiki and learn more about other fundraising means and other topics including:

  • Theory of change: Here we explain what activism is. We argue anyone can be an activist. Even though you might not refer to yourself as an ‘activist’, we believe this handbook can be useful for anyone who would like to achieve societal change.
  • ⚡️ Organising: We believe that change-makers are more successful together. Learn how to set up an inclusive movement, how to make decisions democratically and how to mobilise people and keep them engaged.
  • 💡 Campaign strategy: Social change can be achieved in various ways. Here we showcase different types of strategies depending on local political and social contexts.
  • 📣 Action tactics:  Guides on how to: protests, creative actions, digital activism, storytelling and more

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