DGR Activists Interrogated at US-Canada Border

DGR Activists Interrogated at US-Canada Border

Members of Deep Green Resistance denied entry to Canada on the way to a Chris Hedges’ lecture

Three members of the radical environmental organization Deep Green Resistance and two other individuals were detained for more than seven hours at the Peace Arch border crossing between Washington State and British Columbia on their way to Vancouver to attend a talk by author and activist Chris Hedges last Friday, September 25. They were questioned about the organizations they were involved in, their political affiliations, and their contacts in Canada before being turned away by Canadian border agents. Upon re-entering the United States they were then subjected to another round of questioning by US border agents. The car they were traveling in as well as their personal computers were searched.

The interrogation comes on the heels of an FBI inquiry into Deep Green Resistance last fall in which more than a dozen members of the group were contacted and questioned by FBI agents. Several months later the group’s lawyer, Larry Hildes, was stopped at the same border crossing and asked specifically about one of his clients, Deanna Meyer, also a Deep Green Resistance member. During the 2014 visits, FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents showed up at members’ places of work, their homes, and contacted family members to find out more about the group. Meyer, who lives in Colorado, was asked by a DHS agent if she’d be interested in “forming a liaison.” The agent told her he wanted to, “head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know.” Two of the members detained at the border on Friday were also contacted by the FBI last fall.

Since Hildes was last held up at the Peace Arch border crossing in June he filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. In August he received a letter from the DHS saying the agency “can neither confirm nor deny any information about you which may be within federal watchlists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information.”

It’s not only Deep Green Resistance members who have had trouble getting across the border. Environmental activists who were part of a campaign in Texas opposing  the Keystone XL pipeline were the targets of an FBI investigation in 2012 and 2013 and have also been denied entry into Canada. At least one of those activists, Bradley Stroot, has been placed on a selective screening watchlist for domestic flights.

Nearly all of the activists involved are US citizens who have not had issues traveling to Canada in the past, leading them to believe that the recent FBI investigation and interest in their activities has landed them on some kind of federal watchlist. According to Peter Edelman, an immigration attorney in Vancouver, there are three broad categories under which Canadian border agents may deny entry to a foreign national: If they suspect you are entering Canada to work or study or you clearly don’t have the financial resources needed for the duration of the visit; if you pose a security threat to Canada or are a member of a terrorist or criminal organization; or if you’ve committed certain crimes. Edelman says that US citizens tend to get targeted more easily at the Canadian border because of the various information- sharing programs between the two countries. As soon as they scan your passport, border agents have access to a whole host of state and federal databases. Still, Edelman says, “Who gets targeted and who doesn’t is definitely an exercise in profiling.”

On Friday, September 25 Deep Green Resistance members Max Wilbert, Dillon Thomson, Rachel and two other individuals not affiliated with the group drove from Eugene, Oregon to attend the talk by Hedges, which was a collaboration with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter and the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. They got to the border around 1 p.m., told the border agents where they were going, and that they’d be returning to Oregon the next day. They were then asked to exit their vehicle and enter the border control facility, where they assumed they would be held briefly before continuing on their way.

Instead, they ended up spending four hours on the Canadian side, each questioned separately. At one point, an agent came into the building carrying Wilbert’s computer and notebooks. He asked the agent what they were doing with the computer and was told they were searching for “child pornography and evidence that you’re intending to work in Canada.” The agent also said they were “not going to add or remove anything.”

According to Edelman the searching of computers and cell phones at the border has become standard procedure despite the fact that there are questions about whether a border search allows for such invasive measures. Border agents take the view that they are permitted to do so, but the legal picture remains murky. “The searching of computers is an issue of contention,” Edelman says.

After four hours of questioning, all but one of the travelers were told that they would not be allowed to enter Canada. Wilbert, who grew up in Seattle and has traveled to Canada many times without incident, including as recently as January 2015, was told that they were suspicious he was entering the country to work illegally. A professional photographer, he had volunteered to take pictures of the event, which he had openly told the agents. “It was pretty obvious they were grasping for straws,” Wilbert says. “Under that level of suspicion you wouldn’t let anybody into Canada.”

The other three individuals were told they had been denied entry for previous political protest-related arrests. Rachel, a Deep Green Resistance member arrested in 2012 during a protest near the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, had traveled to Canada in December 2014 without any problems. The one individual allowed entry had no prior arrest record or explicit affiliation with any political groups. (Interestingly, several Deep Green Resistance members traveling separately, including one of the group’s founders, Lierre Keith, were allowed to pass through the border and attend the event.)

After being denied entry to Canada, the group turned around and attempted to reenter the United States, at which point they were again pulled aside and told by US border agents to exit their car. The group was then subjected to a similar round of questioning that lasted three and a half hours. This time, US agents took three computers from the vehicle into the border control facility and kept them for the duration of the interrogation.

According to Wilbert, the questions on the American side were more obviously political. Agents wanted to know the names of the groups they were involved in, what kinds of activities they engage in, what they believe in, and who they were going to see.

“It seemed very clear on the US side that they had already come to conclusions about who we are and what we were doing,” Rachel says.

Around 8:30 p.m. they were told they could leave and that it had been nothing more than a routine inspection.

Wilbert doesn’t see it that way. Two days later he got a new computer and says he plans to get rid of the one seized by border agents. Despite assurances from the border officials that nothing was “added or removed” he says, “We feel like everything we do on those computers will never be private.”

“It was pretty clear to us that it was an information gathering excursion,” says Wilbert. “They had an opportunity to harass and intimidate and gather information from activists who they find threatening.”

Adam Federman, Contributing Editor, Earth Island Journal
Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal. He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at adamfederman.com.

Republished with permission of Earth Island Journal

Against an Uncritical Embrace of Gender

Against an Uncritical Embrace of Gender

By Rachel / Deep Green Resistance Eugene

The following is a response to an open letter written by Bonnie Mann to Lierre Keith.

Hello Professor Mann,

You wrote an open letter recently to my friend and fellow activist Lierre Keith. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but as your letter discusses issues which are very important to me, and as I feel that you’ve gravely misconstrued those issues, it feels incumbent upon me to respond. You may choose to write me off as “uncritical,” since I share the views that you have dismissed as such in your letter, but I hope that you will instead choose to listen and reflect on my reasons for finding your letter uncritical at best, and in all truth, irresponsibly misleading at worst. At the risk of casting too wide a net, there are two things I’d like to address: the things you say in your letter, and the things you don’t say in your letter.

You write that you don’t support those who tried (and failed) to get Lierre’s invitation to speak rescinded, because “you don’t get ‘safe space’ in the public sense from not being subjected to attacks, or to the presence of those by whom you consider yourself to have been attacked.” You don’t specify whether by attacks you are referring to political disagreement, or the kind of rape and death threats, stalking, sexual harassment, and occasional physical assault to which I and other radical feminists are regularly subject. This ambiguity, which pervades your letter’s arguments, works to stymie direct discussion of the issues. If by “attacks” you mean “political disagreement,” then I agree. Contrary to the beliefs of many who try to blacklist radical feminist thought from the public sphere, I do not believe that mere disagreement is equivalent to physical violence.

You go on to say: “I think you get safe space, or as safe as space gets, from having your community stand by you in the face of attacks.” If that’s true, then “as safe as safe space gets” feels pretty damn unsafe when you dare to question the inevitability or the justice of gender. I and the radical feminists I know have formed a community that supports each other in the face of attacks. Unfortunately, supporting each other has not stopped the bullying, the rape and death threats, the intimidation and the stalking and the harassment. This is as safe as space gets for radical feminists who stick to their convictions instead of abandoning them. It’s disturbing to me that nowhere in your letter do you even acknowledge the reality of what we deal with every time we open our mouths to disagree with the currently popular ideology around gender.

You mention having watched a presentation of mine on gender that I wrote about a year ago, entitled “The End of Gender” (or alternatively “I Was a Teenage Liberal”), so I won’t waste time on details of my past that you, presumably, are already familiar with. Suffice it to say that my views on gender have taken the opposite trajectory from yours. One of the most easily challengeable and, frankly, one of the cheapest ways that you dismiss Lierre’s politics in your letter is by suggesting that they are less valuable because they are so old as to be archaic or outmoded. You imply this by describing how reading her arguments brings you “back in time,” and by mentioning several times that you also heard those same arguments from her thirty two years ago. That argument might seem slightly more viable if Lierre, or others in her and your generation, were the only ones who hold similar convictions today.

My very existence (much less my work as an activist) renders that line of criticism less-than-viable. You wrote that you last spoke to Lierre in 1989, but I was born in 1989, and women closer to my age are some of the most vocal and active gender-critical feminists I know. Some of us, the lucky ones, benefit from the support and guidance of women who have been feminists since before we were born. Others came to radicalism because they could see that the ideology we’ve been fed by academia and the dominant culture – individualist, neoliberal “feminism” – is actively working against the advancement of women’s human rights. Young women organize radical feminist conferences, write gender-critical analysis, fight to maintain the right of females to organize as a class, and support each other through the intimidation, threats, and ostracization that such work earns us. We do not appreciate being ignored by those who would take the easy way out in dismissing our politics.

You write that the ideology of gender that gave rise to today’s trans ideology and practice was “brand new” to you at the time you first encountered it, and that it “freaked you out” because it “didn’t match the analysis” that you held at the time, which you equate to the analysis that Lierre and I and so many others hold today. Your implication, and the dismissal it contains, is clear – radical feminist disagreement with liberal gender ideology stems from cognitive dissonance and unease toward unfamiliar ideas, not from reasoned analysis. You imply that radical feminism is an artifact from an earlier time, and that the only women who still cling to it do so because they are afraid of new ideas. Again, you write as if women of your and Lierre’s generation who share your early experience of feminism are the only radical feminists who still walk the Earth.

This argument falls completely flat for me and so many radical feminists of my generation. Liberal gender ideology has never been “brand new” for us. It is not unfamiliar to us; we grew up swimming in it. We’re not clinging to relics, we’re reaching for a politics that actually addresses the scope of the problems. It was gender-apologism that began to give us cognitive dissonance, after our experiences brought us to some uncomfortable and challenging conclusions: Female people are a distinct social class, and its members experience specific modes of oppression based on the fact that we’re female. All oppressed classes have the right to organize autonomously and define the boundaries of their own space. Gender is socially constructed; there are no modes of behavior necessarily associated with biological sex.  The norms of gender function to facilitate the extraction of resources from female bodies. The extraction of resources from female bodies forms the foundation of male supremacy, and thusly, male supremacy fundamentally depends on the maintenance of gender.

Like many of radical feminism’s detractors, you have chosen to focus your response to our politics on one statement, perceived belief, or piece of writing, which is taken as a representation of us as a group in order to make it easier to misconstrue and dismiss our views. This is called scapegoating, and Lierre’s email is an oft-selected target for it. I understand that your letter was addressed to Lierre, and so it makes sense that you would focus on her stated views. However, there are multiple other more recent and detailed pieces of writing from her on the subject that you chose to ignore. Maybe the choice to exclude these was “a symptom of not listening.” Maybe it “marks a distaste for complexity, ambiguity, nuance.” I don’t pretend to know, but it was clearly a choice that allowed you to sidestep direct engagement with the basic principles and broader conclusions of radical feminist politics.

In describing your views before you adopted your current ideology around gender, you write that “we weren’t afraid of the people so much as we were afraid of the phenomenon. Why? Because if gender is a sex-class system, and that’s all it is, there is no way to explain the existence of trans women at all. That’s like white people trying to get into the slavery of the 1840s. If gender is a sex-class system, and that’s all it is, then the only “trans” should be female to male, because everybody should be trying to get out and nobody should be trying to get in – yet it’s the transition from male to female that is cited as troubling.”

First of all, if you had bothered to take a broader and more accurate view of Lierre’s gender politics and her writing on the subject, you’d have found that she does not only cite the transition from male to female as troubling. She cites the entire system of enforced stereotypes called gender as troubling, including the trans ideology that justifies enforcing the categorization of qualities and behavior, and presents cutting up people’s bodies to fit those enforced stereotypes as a solution. I do appreciate that you actually engage with some of her arguments, since most who choose to scapegoat her usually skip directly to threats and insults. However, your analysis of the two analogies you chose to address leave some things to be desired. You begin with:

“I am a rich person stuck in a poor person’s body. I’ve always enjoyed champagne rather than beer, and always knew I belonged in first class not economy, and it just feels right when people wait on me.”

This is only a reverse analogy, as you call it, if you believe that she is only intending to address the phenomenon of male people identifying themselves as female. You’re correct that this example, when applied to gender, is analogous to a female person identifying themselves as male. I do not believe that this fact lessens its illustrative power. If this “rich person stuck in a poor person’s body” tried to “transition” to higher economic status based on their inner identification with wealth, how do you think they’d be treated by actual rich people? Might the treatment of this person mirror, say, the treatment of a trans man trying to join a group of men’s rights activists (MRAs)? Here’s a better question: Even if this person was able to “pass” as wealthy by appearing and acting to be so, would their passing have any affect at all on the capitalist structures of power that keeps them in poverty in the first place? Would passing as wealthy in appearance help them acquire actual financial power? Would it retroactively grant them a silver spoon at birth and a BMW on their sixteenth birthday?

You reverse the analogy (“I’m rich, but I’ve always identified as poor, so I divest myself of my wealth and go join the working class”) and say that it’s less powerful that way. I disagree. I think that the reversed version is extremely illustrative of the flaws in your argument, and in liberal thinking more generally. You write:

“Who wouldn’t welcome you, if you really divested yourself of your wealth and joined marches in the street to increase the minimum wage?”

Do you really think that someone can divest themselves not only of their material wealth, but of their history as a wealthy person? I don’t know about you, but if a rich person voluntarily gave up their wealth and said to me “Hey fellow member of the working class! I’m just like you, and there is no difference between our experiences of the world,” I’d tell them to fuck off. Becoming penniless now is not equivalent to going hungry as a kid, struggling to afford education throughout your life, watching your parents pour their lives into multiple underpaid jobs, or having to decide between rent and medical bills. It’s insulting to suggest that someone can shrug off years of privilege and entitlement and safety at will. In large part, growing up with privilege is the privilege. The punishment meted out to males who disobey the dictums of masculinity (a punishment that is yet another negative effect of the sex caste system) can be severe, and of course it’s indefensible.  However, it is distinct from the systematic exploitation that females experience because we are female.

You go on to the second analogy: “I am really native American. How do I know? I’ve always felt a special connection to animals, and started building tee pees in the backyard as soon as I was old enough. I insisted on wearing moccassins to school even though the other kids made fun of me and my parents punished me for it. I read everything I could on native people, started going to sweat lodges and pow wows as soon as I was old enough, and I knew that was the real me. And if you bio-Indians don’t accept us trans-Indians, then you are just as genocidal and oppressive as the Europeans.”

You respond: “Maybe we thought gender was a ‘a class condition created by a brutal arrangement of power,’ and only that, but we would never have made the same claim about being native American. Why? It’s blatently reductive. It’s reducing a rich set of histories, cultures, languages, religions, and practices to the effect of a brutal arrangement of power – which is of course a very important part of it. But “being native American” is not merely an effect of power, in the way we thought gender was.”

Your objections to these analogies consistently prove the points that you’re trying to challenge. Of course gender cannot be parallel to “being native American” in this or any other analogy. Gender is parallel to colonial ideology in this analogy. More specifically, male supremacy is parallel to the colonialial power relation in this analogy, and gender is parallel with the stereotypes that colonialism imposes onto the colonized. The “drunk Indian” stereotype, or the image of the “savage,” only have anything to do with “being native American” because the ideology and practice of white supremacy was and continues to be imposed by Europeans on an entire continent’s peoples in order to exploit them. The female stereotypes we call “femininity” (domestic laborer, mother, infantalized sex object) only have anything to do with being female because the ideology (gender) and practice (patriarchy) of male supremacy was and is imposed by males onto females in order to exploit them. Of course it’s reductive to condense an entire distinct, specific set of experiences, the good and bad and everything in between, into a brutal arrangement of power – and this is exactly what gender does.

Gender takes the lived experiences of being female or being male and reduces those experience to sets of stereotypes. Transgender ideology retains those same oppressive stereotypes, but liberalizes their application by asserting that anyone can embody either set of stereotypes, regardless of their biological sex. This does not take away the destructiveness and reductiveness of the stereotypes, and in fact it reinforces them. The existence of outlaws requires the law, and maintaining an identity as a “gender outlaw” requires that the law – the sex castes – be in full effect for the rest of us. If “twisting free” of gender and the power relations of male supremacy is possible for a few of us, doesn’t that mean that those of us who fail to twist free are choosing the oppression we experience under gender? Perhaps we’re not trying hard enough to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. How about other oppressive power arrangements – do the colonized, the racially subjugated, or those in poverty ever get to “twist free” of the power relations they live within? Do racial stereotypes, for instance, “take on a life of their own in the imaginary domain”? To defend gender as even occasionally being estranged from the machinations of power is to defend male supremacy, and to argue that any aspect of society can be apolitical is to completely ignore the ways that hegemony actually functions.

The only other groups of people who have argued to me that gender stereotypes are natural, biological, or apolitical, aside from gender-apologists, are fundamentalist christians and MRA’s. Forgive me if I don’t see how this is remotely progressive. This represents an adjustment in the rhetoric of patriarchy – not resistance to it. These stereotypes are not arbitrary; just like the stereotype of the Indian “savage,” or of the lazy (brown) immigrant, or of the freeloading (brown) “welfare queen,” the stereotypes called gender function to facilitate the extraction of resources. In the case of the “savage” Indian stereotype, the resource in question was and still is land. In the case of women, the resources are labor, reproduction, and sex, and the stereotypes (housewife, mother, infantalized sex object) come to match. It’s not an accident that these stereotypes correspond with the resources that women are exploited for. This is the purpose of gender. What does it mean that those in the academy almost universally embrace the idea that these regressive stereotypes must be reformed, justified, normalized, fetishized, idealized, and extended – but never challenged at their root?

I think you’re right that misogyny is not the conscious reasoning of every male person who begins identifying themselves as female. When I was a high school teacher, I had male students who were told by counselors that they were sick with “gender dysphoria” and put on hormones by doctors because they failed to live up to masculine stereotypes. These boys aren’t consciously out to invade female space – but they, and the abuse that they receive at the hands of the medical and psychiatric establishments, certainly aren’t poster children for why gender castes deserve to be rationalized or maintained. The fact that some males have a negative experience of gender does not erase the fact that structurally, on the macro level, gender exists to facilitate the extraction of resources from female bodies.  Gender is the chain, and male supremacy is the ball.  Just because males sometimes trip over that chain does not erase the fact that the ankle it’s cuffed to is always female.

I think you’re right that when you say that we “negotiate and take up and resist and contest or affirm these structures in profoundly complex ways and sometimes deeply individual, creative, and unique ways,” but it sounds like you’re using the fact that individuals have varied experiences to dismiss or minimize the reality of the larger structures that those experiences occur within. Individual experiences may not always match up with the larger structures of exploitation, but this does not mean that those larger structures become irrelevant. I also think you’re right that each of us “seeks a way of living, a way of having the world that is bearable.” But this does not erase the fact that gender, the stereotypes that it is composed of, and the exploitation it facilitates, compose one of the oppressive systems preventing us from finding a bearable, much less a safe or just, way of having the world.

You end your letter by, yet again, expressing a patronizing disapproval that Lierre has held the same convictions for thirty two years. I agree that we should constantly be seeking new information, new perspectives, and actively incorporating them into our politics. However, holding consistent core convictions isn’t always an indication of stagnation or dogmatism – sometimes it’s called “having principles.” Would you use this argument against others who stick to their political guns in the face of backlash and opposition? Indigenous communities that have fought for sovereignty for centuries?  The women who struggled through the generations for suffrage?

Putting radical feminist principles (like the right of females to organize autonomously) into practice comes with a cost. I and others have come to accept that cost after challenging, painful analysis of radical feminism’s merits. You dismiss Lierre’s radical feminism as an “uncritical” relic from a simpler time, but for me and others in my position, radical feminism has been a lifeline of critical thought. We grew up within a “feminism” that uncritically accepted the inevitability and the naturalness of gender, the neoliberal primacy of individualism, and ultimately, the unchallengeability of male supremacy. You characterize those who hold firm to feminist political convictions as fetishizing clean lines, simplicity, and the safety of familiarity. I’m here to tell you that my worldview was a lot simpler and more familiar back when I believed that gender stereotypes were voluntary, natural, defensible, inevitable, even holy. My life was a lot simpler and safer when I was content to keep quiet and continue parroting liberal nonsense. You’re right that individual experiences of gender differ, and you’re right that the situation is complicated, but complexity does not have to derail the fight against male supremacy on behalf of women as a class – at least, it doesn’t have to for all of us.


The Reality of Roe

The Reality of Roe

By Rachel / Deep Green Resistance Eugene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Aiden Frazier on Unsplash

Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part II

Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part II

By Lexy Garza and Rachel / Deep Green Resistance

Humans are storytelling creatures, and our current strategy as a movement is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.  We need to ask whether that story matches up with reality, and with the way social change has happened throughout history.

So here’s the story as it stands:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

We all know this narrative, we hear it referenced all the time, and it resonates with a lot of people, but we need to examine it with a critical eye along with the historical narratives that are used to back it up. There are truths behind these ideas, but there is also the omission of truth, and we can decipher the interests of the historian by reading between the lines. Let’s take each piece of this narrative in turn to try and find out what’s been omitted and those interests that omission may be concealing.

So let’s start with the idea of “a shift in consciousness.”  The idea that we can educate society into a new and different state of consciousness has been popularized most recently by writers like David Korten, who bases his analysis on the idea:

“The term The Great Turning has come into widespread use to describe the awakening of a higher level of human consciousness and a human turn from an era of violence against people and nature to a new era of peace, justice and environmental restoration.”

Another way that this idea is often mentioned is in the form of the Hundredth Monkey myth. A primatologist named Lyall Watson wrote about a supposed phenomenon where monkeys on one island began teaching each other to wash sweet potatoes in the ocean before eating them. Myth has it that once the hundredth monkey learned to do it, monkeys on other islands who had no contact with the original potato washing monkeys spontaneously began washing potatoes, exhibiting a kind of tipping point or collective jump in consciousness. The existence of this phenomenon has been thoroughly debunked, and even Watson himself has admitted that he fabricated the myth using “very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay.” This hasn’t stopped optimistic environmentalists from invoking the hundredth monkey phenomenon to defend the idea that through raising our collective consciousness, by getting through to that hundredth monkey, we’ll spark a great turning of humankind away from the behaviors that are killing the planet.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking doesn’t pan out historically. Let’s take the example of resistance against the Nazi regime and the genocide it committed. And let’s look at some omitted historical information. In 1952, after the Nuremberg Trials, after all of the information about the atrocities of the holocaust had become common knowledge, still only 20% of German citizens thought that resistance was justifiable during wartime which, under the Nazis or any other empire, is all the time. And mind you, the question was not whether they personally would participate in the resistance; it was whether they thought any resistance by anyone was justifiable.

At the time that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, 80% of Southern whites still disapproved of giving legal rights to black people. So, raised awareness of the atrocities of the holocaust and of American slavery did not translate into an increased willingness to support resistance.  It was not a shift in consciousness that got the civil rights act passed – it was the hard and dangerous work of organizing, protesting, and putting pressure on the government not by changing its mind but by forcing its hand. [1]

This same unfortunate trend is true about current efforts to educate about climate change. A recent Yale study found that raised awareness about the facts of climate change is not the most powerful influence on someone’s attitude about the issue. Far more powerful on an individual’s attitude are the attitudes of their culture and their community. Right now, the culture we live in here in the US is dedicated to downplaying the risks and tamping down any kind of resistance. Our way of life depends on the very technologies that are causing climate change, and it’s difficult to make someone understand something if their salary, much less their entire way of life, depends on not understanding it. [2]

Pointing these things out is not intended to devalue education efforts. If we didn’t think education was important, we wouldn’t be writing this, and every social justice movement that’s had a serious impact has been very intentional about education. But it’s important to put education in perspective as just one tactic in our toolbox. If we’re looking to education and raising awareness as a strategy unto themselves as many seem to be, history tells us that we’re bound to be disappointed.

So who is served by the dominance of this narrative?  Those who are profiting from the destruction of the planet are the ones whose interests are served by this because the longer we wait for the mythical great turning, or the hundredth monkey, or the next level of consciousness, the more time we give this system to poison the air and water, gut the land, and chew up what little biodiversity we have left.

Ideas can be powerful, but only if they get people to act.  History tells us that more awareness often does not translate into more action.  Let’s take the focus off trying to change people’s ideas about the world, and start focusing on changing material circumstances.

Mass Movement

Part and parcel with the idea of a consciousness shift is the hope that such a shift will lead to a mass movement, and this idea is extremely prevalent among many environmentalists.

We have Bill McKibben saying things like, “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement. There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it.” – Bill McKibben

This is a very absolute statement, and it shows that folks like McKibben who have the most clout in the mainstream environmentalist crowd are telling us in no uncertain terms that building a mass movement is the only hope that we have to halt the destruction of the planet. I would hope that if he’s so sure about that, he has history and some evidence on his side to back it up.

And to be certain, there are examples throughout history of times when numbers mattered. Strikes, the Montgomery Bus Boycott – the key factor in some victories has been numbers.  But the omitted history here is that a mass movement is not the only thing that has ever worked.

One of the most successful movements against oil extraction to date has been MEND, which stands for Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. The area was being ravaged by Shell, and just a few hundred people took on both the Nigerian military and Shell’s private military. They’ve won popular support among the Niger Delta community, and more importantly, those few hundred people have managed to make significant reductions in the oil output from the region, which is something that mainstream environmental movement can’t boast by any stretch of the imagination.

The French Resistance to German occupation during WWII played a significant role in facilitating the Allies’ rapid advance through France, and active resisters to the Nazi occupation of France was composed of about one percent of the population. Supporters, judging by how many people were reading the underground newspaper, were as much as ten percent of the population, but the active resistance – those who were organizing strikes, gathering intelligence on the German military, sabotaging arms factories, attacks on the electrical grid, telecommunications, attacking German forces and also producing underground media about these activities – these folks were a very small segment of the population, about one percent, hardly a mass movement.

The Irish Republican Army, which fought the British occupation of Ireland, is a similar case with regard to the numbers.  At the peak of the IRA’s resistance, when they were the most active, they had 100,000 members, which was just over 2% of the population, only 15,000 of which were guerilla fighters.  And they had 700 years of resistance culture to draw on, while our modern environmental movement has been losing ground steadily in the fifty years since its birth.

This is not to say that broad popular support isn’t something we should hope for or something we should value, but we do need to call into question the idea, an idea that people like Bill McKibben seem to completely buy into, that a mass movement is the only scenario we can hope for.  The history of resistance tells us otherwise, it tells us that small groups of committed people can be and have been successful in resisting empire.

Who is served by the dominant mass movement narrative?  The people who are murdering the planet are served by this narrative. They are the victors, and they will continue to be the victors until we stop buying into their version of history and their vision of the future.  While we wait for a mass movement, they are capitalizing on our paralysis and our inaction.  And another 200 species went extinct today.

Dogmatic Pacifism

Recently we’ve seen the rise of the term eco-terrorist to define groups or individuals who use tactics involving force.  We’ve even seen recent legislation, like House Bills 2595 and 96 in Oregon, used to redefine tree sits and other nonviolent forest defense tactics as terrorism.  The FBI defines eco-terrorism as “”the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against people or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.”

When I hear the term eco-terrorism, I’m reminded of a bumper sticker that my friend has on her car, which says “they only call it class warfare when we fight back.”  In this case, they only call it terrorism when people fight back.  US imperialism, police violence, and the eradication of 200 entire species every single day – to the FBI, these things don’t count as terrorism.  But the destruction of property, even if it harms no humans at all, gets condemned not only by the FBI, but by mainstream environmental organizations as well.

“The Sierra Club strongly condemns all acts of violence in the name of the environment,” said Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club conservation director. “That type of criminal behavior does nothing to further the cause of promoting safe and livable communities.” I would like to hear Bruce Hamilton tell that to the living communities who are still alive today because of the use of forest defense tactics.  I think they would disagree.

A side note on the Sierra Club: Between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 MILLION in donations from Chesapeake Energy, one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the US and a firm heavily involved in fracking. Of course, the higher ups in the Club kept this from the members. At the time they ended their relationship with Chesapeake Energy in 2010, they turned their back on an additional $30 million in donations.  We have to ask if a corporation, which like all corporations is singularly capable of focusing on profits, would donate any money much less that much money to a group using tactics they felt would be remotely likely to put a dent in their revenue.

So people like Hamilton are not only condemning acts they calls violent, but they’re condemning criminal behavior in the name of the environment.  The problem with that is that the government, and the corporations that run it, THEY decide what is criminal and what isn’t, and they are increasingly criminalizing any action that has a chance of challenging their power or profits.

As activist Tim DeChristopher found out, something as nonviolent as bidding on land against oil companies is criminal.  As occupy protesters found out, occupying public space is criminal.

If activists accept the line between legality and criminality as a line that cannot be crossed, they accept the idea that activists should only take actions sanctioned by the very people whose power we should be challenging.  The state tends to criminalize, or classify as “violent,” any type of action that might work to challenge the status quo. Let’s keep that in mind as we look at the historical examples that are often used to back up this emphasis on the exclusive use of nonviolent tactics.

The fight against British occupation led by Gandhi is often the first and most prominent example used to promote exclusive nonviolence. Gandhi gained notoriety by leading large nonviolent protests like marches, pickets, strikes, and hunger strikes. He eventually was allowed to engage in negotiations with the occupying British who agreed to free imprisoned protesters from prison if Gandhi called off the protests.  Gandhi is sometimes portrayed as single handedly leading a nonviolent uprising and forcing the British to make concessions, but we have to ask – what is the omitted history here?

The truth is that the success of the movement against the British occupation was not solely the result of pacifist tactics; it was the result of a diversity of tactics.  While Gandhi was organizing, a socialist named Bhagat Singh became disillusioned with what he saw as the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of Gandhi’s tactics.  Singh went on to lead strikes and encourage militancy against the British occupation, and is considered one of the most influential revolutionary leaders in India, more revered by some in India than Gandhi.  The combination of economic tactics, peaceful and symbolic actions, cultural revival, and yes, militancy, had an effect together.  Most in the West, the activists that I’ve met that look to nonviolence as the primary guiding principle for their tactics have never heard of Bhagat Singh.

George Orwell had this to say on the topic of Gandhi: “Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British government. Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”

Another prominent proponent of nonviolence was Martin Luther King Jr. For a people terrorized by the violence of poverty, police violence, white supremacist terrorism, and other horrors, the power of King’s words and the importance of his work, his significance to the civil rights movement, cannot be overstated.  Other nonviolent groups and action like the freedom riders were very effective in demonstrating the reality of racist brutality.  However, the gains made by the movement during that time were not solely the result of nonviolent tactics.

The Black Panther party and other groups were advocating for self-defense tactics and militancy, and they were widely censured for it by more mainstream elements within the movement, much like militant environmental defense is being censured by the mainstream today.  A group called the Deacons for Defense and Justice was training black communities in armed self-defense tactics.

Again, in the case of the civil rights movement, it was not nonviolent tactics alone that produced the gains of that era; it was a diversity of tactics.

We already mentioned MEND, and MEND is not a nonviolent group.  They are an armed militia, and they use tactics from sabotage to kidnapping oil executives in order to defend their land and their people. The land is being utterly decimated by oil extraction.  The people live in poverty despite the Nigerian government making millions from the oil rich area.  The tactics MEND uses are a last resort.  Before MEND, the resistance in the Niger Delta was primarily nonviolent, and it was led by a man named Ken Saro-Wiwa.  Ken Saro-Wiwa and his group, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, never deviated from their commitment to nonviolence, even as Ogoni resistance leaders were being routinely murdered, both by oil company thugs and legally, through state execution.  In 1995, despite a massive human rights outcry from around the world, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed on false charges by the Nigerian government, along with eight other Ogoni resistance leaders.  As Orwell pointed out, the Nigerian government and the oil companies it serves can stand “moral force” until the cows come home, it has no effect.  But the physical force of MEND’s tactics was able to reduce oil output by one third between 2006 and 2008.

The movement for women’s suffrage is another movement often misremembered in the popular imagination as being won solely by nonviolent means.  In Britain, women started out with pickets, and lobbying, and letters to the editor. But when these tactics failed, some suffragists moved on to direct action, such as chaining themselves to the railings outside the prime minister’s home, and to actually going and casting ballots illegally, which got them arrested.  After a protest in 1910 turned into a near riot due to brutal police beatings of protesting women, the movement began to wage guerilla warfare, orchestrating systematic window smashing campaigns and arson attacks.  The slogan of this movement was “deeds, not words.” They were imprisoned and tortured for their efforts, but in 1918, they won the right to vote.  Again, this fight was won by a diversity of tactics.

So there’s a pattern here to which parts of history become mainstream, and which parts become marginalized and even forgotten.

Whose interests are served by omitting militancy from the historical record? It is in the interest of governments and corporations that we never seize the physical force to actually stop them.

However, plenty of people around the world ARE seizing that physical force, and they have been throughout history.  Instead of haggling with Monsanto over ineffective regulations of GMO crops, and the labeling of GMO products, Hungary decided to burn all of Monsanto’s GMO corn fields within their borders to protect the integrity of their other crops.  Another example of GMO resistance is that this past June in Southern Oregon, 40 Tons or 6,500 sugar beet GMO crops were destroyed by hand and the field burned over a three night period. There has been a complete media blackout of this in response, perhaps to avoid inspiring more folks to take this type of action.

Fracking equipment was set ablaze around so called New Brunswick in Canada two weeks later. This is coming at a time of increased indigenous resistance to hydraulic fracturing in the region, after numerous direct actions, midnight seizures of drilling equipment, and a local man being struck by a contractor’s vehicle.

Another example of resistance through physical force is that instead of accepting the Brazilian government ignoring their voices and sentencing their way of life to be destroyed, hundreds of indigenous demonstrators occupied and began to manually dismantle Belo Monte Dam construction.

So let’s look again at the narrative we began with:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

I hope that we’ve been able to demonstrate that while there are underlying truths here, this narrative leaves out a lot of important information, and as a result, a strategy based on this narrative is not working.

Here’s a version of those ideas that incorporates some of the omitted information that we talk about today.

  • Education is vitally important, but we can’t expect raising awareness to galvanize most people into action, especially when action would threaten their privilege and entitlement.
  • Popular support is valuable, but resistance has often been carried out by small groups of determined people, not by mass movements.
  • Nonviolence can be a powerful tactic, but winning strategies are marked by a diversity of both peaceful and militant tactics.

What does this mean for our actions?  How can we incorporate this information into our strategy?

  • Vocally challenge these narratives
  • Support extra-legal resistance
  • Support political prisoners
  • Adhere to security culture

We tried really hard as we were writing this to not sugarcoat any of this.  When I’ve spoken frankly in the past about biodiversity collapse, catastrophic climate change, and the horror I feel in response to them, I’ve had some people say “tone it down.  Don’t be so doom and gloom, you’ve got to give the people hope.”  Let me say now for the record – fuck hope.  We don’t need it.  As one author put it, “hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.”  In other words, you only need hope in situations where you have no control, no power.  Those who do have power, who are using that power to murder the planet, have written a narrative that masks the power we could wield, that lies in order to make sure we never claim the tools to challenge their profits.

Every day that we abide by their rules and accept the narrative that serves their power is a day we waste.  But every day is also a new chance to rewrite that narrative, to change the story.  With a truer understanding of the past we can form a more effective strategy for the present.  With a more effective strategy in the present, we can reject a future on the dying planet they have us headed toward.

With everything, literally, at stake, it’s time to do what we can with what we have, and it’s time to claim the legacy of resistance that these and other examples of silenced history could teach us.


[1] http://books.google.com/books?id=kKv8PXwIiFkC&pg=PA237&lpg=PA237&dq=civil+rights+gallup+polling+1960&source=bl&ots=-TTg7n7EbO&sig=odTF9mCzMqJkuPH2xZoRYCDPYaI&hl=en&ei=HkLgS-WcFpKwNtWsmKsH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CCAQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

[2] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1981907

This is the second part of a two piece series on strategic resistance by Lexy Garza and Rachel. The first piece is available here: http://dgrnewsservice.org/2013/07/24/time-is-short-resistance-rewritten/

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

Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part I

Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part I

By Lexy Garza and Rachel

View video of the event at the Deep Green Resistance Youtube channel

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

This quote by Spanish writer and philosopher George Santayana was posted on the wall in my high school history classroom. The idea, as my history teacher explained, it is that learning about history is vitally important because by knowing and understanding past events, we can actively shape the future.  According to my teacher’s view, at least the view he shared with his students, the history in our textbooks is objective, time-tested truth, and nothing more nor less.

Some time after that class ended, I read another George Santayana quote, which is somewhat less often quoted, “history is a pack of lies about things that never happened told by people who weren’t there.”

Taken at face value, this statement goes to the other extreme and completely writes off the history we’re taught as lies, as intentionally untrue.  I think that both these views let us off too easy, because the stories we call history, and the process by which some stories become the dominant stories, the ones we teach to our children, is more complex than the dichotomy of truth vs. lie.

Another often repeated idea about history is that it’s “written by the victors.”  This gets closer to a nuanced look at what history means and what it does.

For instance, in 1890 the US army massacred 300 Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee, burying them in a mass grave.  Twenty US soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for this atrocity, just one of the many perpetrated by European colonizers who called genocide their manifest destiny.  The vast majority of “historical” accounts throughout the decades don’t call Wounded Knee a massacre; they lend it a false legitimacy by calling it a battle. The same goes for the Washita massacre carried out by Custer in 1868.  So-called historical accounts refer to this event as the Battle of the Washita.  As it’s been said, “When a white army battles Indians and wins, it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre.”

These and countless other examples show us that what we call history is certainly not objective truth. The voices of the colonized and the conquered do not get included in the version of the past we call history. That’s what it means to be colonized:  genocide means the mass killing and eradication of entire peoples, but it also means the eradication of their culture, their stories, and the power to pass those stories on to future generations.

In his book A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn wrote, “I knew that a historian (or a journalist, or anyone telling a story) was forced to choose, out of an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit. And that decision inevitably would reflect, whether consciously or not, the interests of the historian.”

So this is the question we want to address– What interests are represented by the dominant story?  Whose interests does the dominant story serve, and whose does it erase?

But before we get to that, there’s another question– Why does any of this matter? Why does it matter where our popular history comes from, and why does it matter what gets omitted?

It matters because our understanding of history informs our strategy in the present.  Our ability to imagine what is possible is shaped by our understanding of the past. Therefore, our actions in the present are shaped by our understanding of the past.  And right now, our actions in the present could not be more crucial.

200 species are pushed to extinction every single day. [1]

A Cornell research survey that found that water, air, and soil pollution account for 40% of human deaths worldwide [2]

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change states unequivocally that for the climate to remain stable and in their words “manageable,” the average temperature rise cannot exceed 2 degrees Celsius.  Yet virtually nothing decisive has been done to try and meet that 2 degrees Celsius limit. [3]

According to the International Energy Agency’s November 2010 assessment, which does not include the self-reinforcing feedback loops that many experts anticipate, the global average temperature rise of Earth will hit the 3.5 degrees Celsius mark in 2035, and some climate models have predicted a rise of 11 degrees by the end of the century.  [4]

In the short term, we’re already seeing the beginnings of the floods, fires, droughts, and superstorms.

Plankton populations are collapsing, amphibian populations are collapsing, 90% of large fish in the ocean are gone [5].

The fabric of life on Earth is collapsing and humans are not exempt, though the effects aren’t obvious from here behind the military barricade of the US Empire.

The Global Humanitarian Forum recently put out a prediction that, by 2030, 100 million people could be dying annually as a direct result of climate change, based on how many are currently being killed due to climate change, which is around 300,000 per year [6].

We, not only the human we, but the global we of life on Earth are facing a crisis on a scale the planet has never seen, and the reality is that we are losing this fight right now.

With all the world at stake, we need to form and implement a strategy that can work.  The latest Climate Commission report has warned that 80% of global fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground if the planet is to avoid dangerous climate change.  Our governments and the corporations that run them plan to burn every last drop of oil, every last speck of coal, and every last whiff of gas, and right now, the strategy of the mainstream environmental movement has no hope of stopping them, or even of substantially slowing them down.

If we are to avert the catastrophic dismemberment of our planet, we will need to see past the lies of the dominant culture and recognize its narratives—the mainstream narratives of social change—for the falsity that they are. Ultimately, we will need to move beyond legal & aboveground tactics as a whole movement, and make room for strategic sabotage and militant action in the tool chest of resistance.


[1] UN Environment Programme, Ahmed Djoghlaf, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/16/nature-economic-security

[2][http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2007/08/pollution-causes-40-percent-deaths-worldwide-study-finds] (direct link to report: http://www.springerlink.com/content/101592/).

[3] UN Framework Convention on Climate Change**

[4] International Energy Agency’s November 2010 assessment**

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/science/05/14/coolsc.disappearingfish/

[6] http://www.ghf-ge.org/human-impact-report.pdf

This is the first part of a two piece series on strategic resistance by Lexy Garza and Rachel. Continue to Part II

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