Editor’s note: In Nepal, as in many parts of the world, male violence against women is relatively common, yet often goes unreported and unpunished. Today we bring you an interview with Ruby Khan, a working-class Nepali woman who marched 520km (320 miles) and helped launch a grassroots uprising for concrete policy and cultural change in response to two incidents of violence against Nepali women.
As an eco-feminist organization, Deep Green Resistance recognizes the links between the destruction of the planet and the oppression of women. Not least importantly, when women have greater autonomy and control over their lives, they chose to have fewer children, on average. Therefore, the liberation of women is not only the right path to justice, it is a necessity for reversing population growth and defending the living planet.
This interview, conducted by DGR organizer Salonika in Nepal, gives us a fascinating glimpse into the discipline, sacrifice, and hard work that goes into grassroots organizing.
It took 16 people 20 days to cover the ~520 km from Nepalgunj (a city in south-west Nepal) to Kathmandu (the capital city) on foot. With feet swollen with blisters from the mostly uphill march but determined to ensure justice for two women (Nirmala Kurmi and Nankunni Dhobi), the group started their first round of demonstrations in the capital, including a 12-day “fast unto death”, demanding proper investigation into the cases of the two victims of male violence. Finally, the government agreed to form an investigative committee and requested time to fulfill any ensuing recommendations.
This committee was formed under consisting of six members – five from the government and one from the protesters. The committee completed their work within seven days with a report that included recommending a Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) investigation for one of the cases.
Two months after the committee had submitted their report, the group was forced to travel to the capital again because the government had failed to follow through on the committee’s recommendations. After 41 days, the government developed a four-point agreement to address their demands. Following the successful second demonstration, DGR organizer Salonika interviewed the leader of the group, Ruby Khan, about her journey, her work, her movement and the cases that inspired it. The following blog post is based on that interview.
Resting in the shade during the march
“During our journey, we became so involved with Nirmala and Nankunni’s lives that we felt like the two of them were walking beside us. That feeling of being close to them inspired a hunger for justice. We knew that it would not come easily and that it required courage.”
— RUBY KHAN
Who is Ruby Khan? What does she do for women and girls?
I am Ruby Khan. My hometown is Nepalgunj. I work with women in Nepal who have been victimised. My goal is to help them get out of the violent situation and to help create a safe and secure environment for them. This is what I have been working for in the last decade.
The group marched for 20 days to reach the capital and returned after agreement was reached. Why did they need to make that journey?
I work with women in Nepalgunj who endure violence. They do so in silence most of the time. When they muster enough courage to finally speak up, no action is taken. It is not that the state is unaware of the injustice women are forced into. When we talked to the Chief Minister of Lumbini state and the Minister of Home Affairs (separately), they both admitted that they knew about our case beforehand. The media started covering us from the first day of our march. By the second day, even the bus drivers on the highway recognised us.
The state is feigning ignorance. Our march was a symbolic action. There were times in the feudal era where people had to walk to the capital to meet the kings to report any injustice. Our march symbolises the same hardship. We travelled to the capital to let the state know about the injustice women and girls are facing in the peripheries of Nepal. It is to let the state know that, in terms of justice, the peripheries of Nepal are still in a feudal state.
Why did the group travel to Kathmandu again, merely months after their return home?
We had reached an agreement with the government after our first round of protests. But the government did not fulfil their words. That’s why we had to return. This time, we demonstrated in Maitighar Mandala for 41 days before we reached another agreement.<
Although your fight is for all women and girls who have been victims of violence, the focus of the current movement was on two specific women: Nirmala Kurmi and Nankunni Dhobi. Who were these two women and what happened to them?
Nankunni Dhobi was a victim of domestic violence. She felt unsafe in her own house. Her husband and brother-in-law had repeatedly encouraged her to commit suicide. They brought ropes and pesticides to her so that she would kill herself. She had repeatedly complained about her situation to the Women’s Rights Forum and to the police. Succumbing to the regular torture she felt from her in-laws, Nankunni finally took her life. But it was her husband’s instigation, the indifference of the police and the unaccountability of the state that killed her.
Nirmala was a wealthy but uneducated widow with immense property – enough for two or three generations. Ultimately, her wealth became the reason for her torture. Her two sons died under mysterious circumstances. No proper investigation was conducted in that regard. She herself was abducted, raped by multiple men and killed. Her property has been stolen.
What has the state’s response been to the two cases?
Both women had contacted our organisation when they were alive. We worked with them then and after Nirmala Kurmi’s disappearance and Nankunni Dhobi’s death. The state’s response has been dire in both cases.
In Nankunni’s case, when we – women’s rights activists and her family – tried to file a complaint in the District Police Office, the police refused to report the incident. Furthermore, the Superintendent of Police (SP) and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Banke Police threatened to file a false case against us and take us into custody.
In both these cases, the state has acted irresponsibly. Its mechanisms are not women-centred or women-friendly: women’s issues are never at the forefront. The state is supposed to look after its citizens and uplift them for a better life, but it has failed women in that regard.
With respect to women subjected to violence, the state is supposed to remove victims from their situation and give them security. Instead, the state turns its back on women. If a woman tries to speak up, she is silenced. They feign ignorance about women’s plight, and that is used to excuse the inaction of the state.
After the first phase of our movement, the government promised us in writing to form an investigative committee for these cases, which they did. The committee submitted a proposal within seven days. However, their recommendations were not fulfilled. They recommended delegating the investigation of Nirmala’s case to the CIB. Because we don’t trust the SP and DSP of Banke, we believe the CIB would carry out a better investigation. But the state is yet to send a CIB team to Nepalgunj.
This is common practice by the state: under pressure, they will promise action. Then they will take token action but not do anything substantial. Particularly in terms of human rights violations, we need a justice-centred approach. We need an investigative approach. Unless we question the state’s inaction and unaccountability, we cannot have a justice-centred approach.
Does the state respond in a similar manner in other cases?
The state’s response is determined by a number of different factors. First is the position of the perpetrator. If the perpetrator does not have access to wealth or to political power, the investigation and the judicial process happens in a timely way. But if the perpetrator has access to power and wealth, the entire process changes. The state’s behaviour in such cases is one of inaction. The state administration is driven by greed on such matters: how can the person in charge personally benefit from the case? It may be via money or by taking advantage of the political influence of the perpetrator.
In this way, our institutions are more perpetrator-centred than victim-centred. When the perpetrator has access to financial and political power, they are prioritised over the victim. Their statements are treated as truth without verification. Even when the case is sensitive and serious, the administration treats the incident as standard, undermining the gravity of the crime and focusing on resolving the case through a settlement instead of through the judicial process.
The reason that Nirmala Kurmi’s case has not reached the court is precisely that. The primary accused in her case is a man called Badshah Kurmi, who is a distant relative of the victim. He is also a member of the current ruling party and has served as a parliamentarian. He is an immensely powerful person. On the other hand, Nankunni Dhobi’s accused are not as powerful. They are not immensely rich. We still had to fight on her behalf, but eventually her case was filed and her accused are now in custody awaiting the court’s verdict.
Nirmala and Nankunni are very different from each other and so are their cases. Apart from both being women and powerless, there is little similarity between the two. Nirmala was wealthy, but Nankunni was not. The violence that Nirmala had to face was drastically more severe than that faced by Nankunni. Multiple different heinous crimes were committed against Nirmala.
It makes more sense for the state to be more serious about Nirmala’s case, but that has not happened. Nirmala’s perpetrators are powerful and that has hindered justice. Even during investigation, the District Public Attorney released Nirmala’s accused from custody under the pretext of age. And in other cases I’ve seen the Public Attorney take eighty-year old accused under custody. It is not the age of the accused, but rather his influence that has gotten him out of custody in this case.
At the same time, the police themselves have destroyed evidence in Nirmala’s case, planted false evidence, and are using evidence brought by the main accused as the primary evidence It is not that the involved authorities are incompetent: I’ve seen them work diligently to bring justice in other cases. But that has not happened in the current case. It is because the accused are using their financial and political power to manipulate the process. The District Police Office and the Public Attorney of Banke are gaining politically or financially from this case. The different treatment of the cases of Nankunni Dhobi and Nirmala Kurmi demonstrates the role that power plays in deciding justice for the general public.
What about the victims? How do they get treated in the investigation process?
In a twisted role reversal, the victim is treated as the culprit. Their statements and character are questioned much more than the perpetrator’s. They are told that the court process is very stressful and reminded of the stigma associated with it. Women are even told that it was in her best interests to have remained silent, and that being a woman, she should have tolerated a few slaps. They are also reminded of the perpetrator’s power. All of this destroys the victim’s courage: they begin to question their decision and even change their statements. They decide not to seek any further action, which is exactly what the perpetrator-centred institution wanted.
The situation would have been slightly different if the victim had been a male. A man’s words are not as easily dismissed as a woman’s. A woman is accused of backtracking on her statements, even though it is the police and society’s reaction that have forced her to do so, and then the police generalise that to all women. They start with the assumption that women are unreliable, and that’s the bias they hold throughout the entire process. This hampers the investigation process. A man cannot be as easily accused of being unreliable. When a man complains, his words are given a certain weight.
But there are class differences as well. If the victim is from a wealthy family, his complaint is immediately registered and the investigation process starts. However, if he is not wealthy and the perpetrator is, the victim may be pressured by the police to settle the issue. The victim goes through the same process of fear, regret and worry about social disgrace. He begins to justify the violence he faced in terms of class differences. The next time he faces violence, he does not try to file a complaint.
It seems to me that how the police deal with a case is entirely dependent on the power hierarchy. Violence by the powerful (male, wealthy, access to political power) against the powerless (female, poor, no political access) has been normalised in our society, and even law enforcement agencies accept this. However, violence by those without power against those with is not tolerated: immediate action is taken to punish the perpetrator and ensure the victim’s security. But immediate action to ensure the security of the victim should be the right of all, even if they are at the bottom of a power hierarchy.
When it comes to state action, the main questions are: what power does the perpetrator have and what power does the victim have? At the same time, we must remember that a powerful person cannot be victimised in the way a powerless person is. It is always the powerless who are victimised. Their human rights are violated. On the other hand, the perpetrator’s human rights – due to his greater access to power – are protected by both state and public institutions.
Class prejudices mean that a woman of a higher socioeconomic class is less victimised than a woman of a lower one. Her economic resources give her greater access to opportunities, including education.
Education itself creates another hierarchy. When a woman is educated, even if she is poor, she is aware of her rights. She knows the laws, and where to go if she becomes a victim. This gives her greater confidence. Statistics show that a lot of crimes are committed against the uneducated. This is because uneducated people lack information about their rights and about the steps that they could take should someone violate them. In this way, they are forced to tolerate whatever happens to them, and thus they are an easy target for the perpetrators.
Who were the 16 marchers who made the arduous journey?
The marchers were mostly rural women from Terai, both Muslim and Madhesi women. I’ve been involved in activism for about a decade, but most of the women involved in the march had had a very limited public life. They were mostly limited to their homes, their parents’ homes and the marketplace. Walking to Kathmandu was something that they had never expected to do: at times they were scared, and at times they were amazed by a world that was so different from theirs. In their daily lives, they would have had to ask permission from their husbands to visit their parents. They thanked me because their husbands would otherwise never have let them embark on this journey, and they were grateful for the different experiences.
There were only three men in our group. They were all rural men: they did not know a lot about the system or society. They had never left their village in their lives.
Three people joined us after we reached Kathmandu: they had not been able to walk with us due to various medical conditions. Five more joined us on our second journey.
Power and courage from the marchers
Five hundred kilometres is not a short journey. To inspire 15 others to make the journey by foot is an entirely different thing again. What difficulties did the group face during the march?
We started the march on Asoj 1 (September 17), and it lasted till Asoj 20 (October 6). Our march was one for justice. It was a very difficult journey, but it was also a journey of courage. Knowing what we suffer in the pursuit of justice and what women have to suffer strengthened our commitment and gave us the courage to tolerate hardships.
Our journey was not just difficult, it was risky as well. Before we left, I said to the group, “We are starting as 16 people, but we don’t know how many we will be by the time we arrive: we don’t know who among us will survive the march.”
We walked through landslide-prone areas; we heard rumours about tiger attacks; we were chased by snakes. We were scared.
For most of the journey, we walked on highways. The roads were never empty for even a minute. All kinds of vehicles sped past us. On one side of the road were big hills, and on the other was a deep fast-flowing river. One misstep in one direction and we would have fallen in the river; one misstep in the other direction and we would have been run over. Sometimes we cried from fear.
On top of that, we were also scared of being victims of violence ourselves. Our group were mostly women between 20 and 45 years old. We had to face all the fears that haunt women. We were scared somebody would attack us. Twice, some drunkards tried to talk to us and to walk with us. There were others who would offer us rides on their scooter, but we knew they were not trying to help us. They would not leave us when we refused. And we knew that they were behaving that way because we were mostly women.
And we didn’t have enough to eat. We remembered all the food that gets wasted every day. We learned the value of a single grain then. There were times when we had to miss two or three consecutive meals. We used to pray that we would meet someone the next day who would feed us till we were full. There were times when I told the group that whenever they got a chance to eat, they should eat as much as they can, because we just didn’t know where our next meal was going to come from.
There were times when we would be so thirsty that our lips would be so dry that they would stick together when we tried to speak. Occasionally, we would find streams of water flowing from the hills. Those streams were so precious to us. Even now, I can taste the water. Back home, we wouldn’t think twice before wasting water, but during the march, we realised how significant water actually was, and what happened when we didn’t have enough to drink.
Sometimes we had to sleep on the road, where we were at risk of being run over by passing vehicles. We were so tired by then that even the hard stones became soft mattresses for us. Sometimes we would cry, missing our mothers, who would have fed us and gotten us to sleep.
Given all this, how did the group find the courage to complete this journey?
We started the march due to our hunger for justice, which was stronger than our hunger for food. It was so strong that while we were walking, it seemed as if our legs were walking by themselves. That was true for all of us. No one said once that it was getting too difficult, that we should probably return. Our hunger for justice could not be satiated with food, money or anyone’s support. It could only be satisfied with the confidence that someone would protect us.
Even now, our hunger has not been satisfied: we are yet to see how the latest agreement will be implemented. After the agreement, some of our friends told us that hopefully, we would not have to return to Kathmandu again. We told them that until our hunger for justice is completely satisfied and the perpetrators are punished, we will keep returning. Justice is an experience. It’s not something you can see. It’s something you have to feel.
During our journey, we became so involved with Nirmala and Nankunni’s lives that we felt like the two of them were walking beside us. That feeling of being close to them inspired a hunger for justice. We knew that it would not come easily and that it required courage. To overcome our fear of big hills, we used to say that our courage was bigger than the hills in front of us. We held each other’s hands while we walked and sang to distract ourselves from hunger. Four or five of us were close to dying. Yet, we survived all of that. It was our sense of justice that gave us the courage to face all of that.
Some of the women in our group had medical issues. But during the march, they said that they felt their health was improving. We checked their vitals on the road sometimes, and they turned out to be in the normal range. It felt as though nature herself was supporting us.
We used to have long conversations while we rested. We would talk about our lives, our joys and our sorrows. We tried to understand each other’s lives. Some women cried during these conversations. They talked about things that they had never told anyone else, things they had kept to themselves for years. They felt understood for the first time in their lives and thanked us for this. Usually, nobody listens to women, not even their husbands. They would dismiss a woman’s feelings and thoughts. When the rest of the group actually listened to those women, it was a big deal for them. They felt supported. They felt understood.
No one ever complained that they wanted to return. In fact, some even offered to carry others when they seemed sick. This shows that if one wills it, anything can be done.
Ruby Khan and her team at the beginning of the march
The group met a lot of people on their journey. What responses did you receive?
We met different kinds of people. Some were very supportive of what we were doing. They would offer all the help that they could. Some told us to return: they said that Nirmala Kurmi and Nankunni Dhobi were dead and the state didn’t care. They added that the state wouldn’t care if we all died, and that we shouldn’t risk our lives for that. They even offered us the bus fare to return home. We could see that they were concerned for us. Some cried for us: it was too difficult for them to see our suffering. We were in pain. We had blisters all over our feet, and it was difficult for them to see.
Others would encourage us to carry on. They said that it was necessary. With all the violence that was going on, the rapes that were happening daily, the abuse, the domestic violence, it was necessary to take a drastic step. Women were getting murdered. They said that our step would force the previous generation to consider what was happening and the next generation to learn. They said that we were creating history, that our children would learn that women made this long and arduous march for justice, and that it would be a source of inspiration for generations to come.
There were many more who showed their support. People learned about us through the media. They waited in their homes for us. In today’s society, it is difficult to find people who are willing to do anything for others at their own expense. Yet here we met people who were doing exactly that. Near Galchhi, we met an elderly woman. She offered us food, but we had eaten not long before. When we told her that we couldn’t eat, she offered us water, saying that it was the least she could do.
Even the police showed their support. We know that there are police who wronged us, but not every police officer is like that. It pained them to see our struggle. There were some who walked with us for the short distance that they were allowed. Some urged us to request security from their seniors so that they could walk with us. They showed their support in so many ways that it was a source of courage for us.
How was the group’s experience in Kathmandu?
In Kathmandu, demonstrations were more difficult than in Banke. Few of us had been to Kathmandu before. The first time we arrived, we were not in a good state. We had blisters all over our feet. The second time, the weather was very cold and we had to walk in the rain for a couple of days. It was so cold that it was difficult for us to hold our banners. The wind was so strong that it felt as if with every step, the wind was pushing us backwards. All of us fell ill; 14 got extremely sick and we had to seek medical help.
Did the group receive any support in Kathmandu?
We received support from those who cared about justice. We didn’t even have to call them. They found out about us and came to support us of their own accord. Dr Govinda KC is an example. He was working in Rukum, but he joined us, leaving his work until we achieved justice. He came to support us because he was moved by what we were going through. He is not even an advocate for women’s issues, but he could see we were fighting for a just cause and that we ourselves were being treated unfairly.
Advocate Mohana Ansari is another example. She has supported us in both a personal and professional capacity. She repeatedly warned the government to stop harassing us. For that she has received multiple threats. When I found out about this and asked her about it, she said, “If the fight for justice had been as easy, you wouldn’t have to walk from Nepalgunj to Kathmandu. This is a very small thing compared to what you had to go through. What’s more important is that we cannot afford to lose any more Nirmala Kurmis and Nankunni Dhobis.”
The list is long. A lot of other civil rights activists came to support us. There were students who would come directly from their examination hall to our demonstration site. They would skip a meal or walk instead of taking the bus and donate that money to us. We know what value money has in a student’s life, particularly those students from different parts of the country who come to study in Kathmandu. This shows their commitment to justice, and that we don’t need to call people to our cause. They join the fight if they are really interested in justice.
But we failed to garner interest from those we were hoping for: women’s rights activists in Kathmandu. When we first reached here, I contacted many women’s rights organisations for support. There was so much they could have done. The day we reached here the second time was the first day of a 16-day campaign protesting violence against women, for which many organisations were organising 1-day events. The cost of their 1-day events could have covered our expenses for 41 days. If, like the students, they had used that money to support us, it would have been a great help. If they had organised their events near our demonstration site, instead of in expensive venues, it would have helped us gain a lot more attention from the public. Many of the organisations have a shelter here in Kathmandu. We asked if we would be able to stay there, but they made various excuses. If they had only let a few of us stay, it would have considerably reduced our expenses.
The way I see it, they are not interested in justice at all. I’ve seen their work here. They are more interested in events that can be shared on different platforms. It is not that publicly sharing what you do is wrong. But most are interested only in that. They don’t even care if their events are effective, let alone about justice. They are content with sharing pictures of their events on social media and getting news coverage. This helps their public relations and can be used to gain further donations for similar events. And so on it goes. Since what they are doing is not really challenging the status quo, they don’t have to face as many obstacles. Those who are actually demanding justice are questioning the status quo and they face many challenges.
The team in a meeting with the provincial government
What was the state’s response to their movement?
When we started marching, we had hopes that the state would address us before we finished. With every step we took, that hope faltered. Yet we still expected the state to address our issue because that’s their responsibility. When Dr KC went to meet the Prime Minister with his own demands, he included our cause. At that time, the Prime Minister very clearly acknowledged all the trouble we were going through and promised that we would be sent home very soon. But a week passed without any progress.
The state did not show any concern for our movement. We were rural women who came from marginalised groups. We didn’t have much power. Plus, the mainstream women’s rights activists – who had relatively more power in terms of reach to both national and international platforms – were not supporting the issue. We came from the hottest place in Nepal and the weather of Kathmandu was getting colder by the day. Therefore, the state did not expect us to last long. They thought we would soon tire and return home. In fact, they wanted to tire us. But then civil rights activists – who had greater access to national platforms – got involved. Dr Govinda KC got involved. The media covered us and this created pressure. It was only then that the state showed any concern. On the 39th day of the second demonstration, government officials came to our site to get clarity on the issue. We used to reach the demonstration site by 10 in the morning and leave after 5, but it took 39 long days of hardship on our side for the state to finally want to “get clarity” on the issue. And that was after the Prime Minister had already verbally promised Dr KC that our demands would be addressed.
Our hopes for a positive response from the state had already died, but we had never expected the state to be so insensitive to the case. The first guardian of the nation, our President, is a woman. She did not show any interest in our issue. Our second guardian – the Prime Minister – went back on his words to help us. Because of this, we were forced to take another fast unto death. All of the women were willing to take the fast, but many of them were taking regular medication. We therefore decided that only I would take the fast, but that we could reconsider it depending on how the situation developed.
News of our fast unto death attracted the state’s attention and constant pressure from other activists forced it to take action. We were called for a dialogue within the Ministry of Home Affairs. Even then, there seemed no real urgency on the state’s side to take any concrete action. It was only when Dr KC announced that he would join our fast unto death that the state finally agreed to ask the CBI to investigate the case. The most important aspect was that we got their statement in written form, which is very rare and holds the state more accountable. What had not happened in 40 days was completed within two hours. This shows that it is not the validity of a demand that brings action, but applying pressure in the right way.
Meanwhile the families of those involved in the movement are being threatened by the accused.
It is a very risky situation. We are not safe from the police, the accused or their relatives. Badshah Kurmi went to our homes to threaten our family that they would hurt, abduct, or frame us, as well as threatening our families themselves with violence. Since we are mostly women and, comparatively, women are more attached to their families, it is easier to threaten us by getting to our families. They have said that because we are not as wealthy as them, our voices will be lost.
Our relatives are calling us, pressuring us to end this. They believe that the accused could harm them. But we are not going to let this stop us at any cost. Since we are mostly women and comparatively, women are more attached to their families, it is easier to threaten us by getting to our families.
We have sent applications to the District Police Office and District Administration Office regarding those threats, and we also mentioned them during our discussion in MoHA. They have said that they will send a letter to related offices for our security. The letter has probably reached there by now.
Why did the movement create a division between women rights’ activists?
There is a division between women rights’ activists in Nepal. We are not mainstream activists; we are marginalised activists. Not only do we come from marginalised groups, but also, even in our activism we have had marginalised roles. Mainstream activists do not accept us as women’s rights activists. If Gita Chamar – a widow from a marginalised area – becomes the face of the women’s rights movement, it will hamper the reputation of those who are currently the face of the movement. Their authority as champions of women will be challenged, and this fear has stopped them from helping our movement.
Our point is that they need not have supported Ruby Khan’s movement. But as women’s rights activists, they should have supported justice for Nirmala Kurmi and Nankunni Dhobi. When we first arrived in Kathmandu, I asked them to take the lead in this movement. Because who leads the movement should never be the focus: it should always be about the cause. This movement was never my movement. It has always been for the justice of two women who were subjected to brutal violence.
On top of that, what the mainstream activists are currently doing does not challenge the status quo. They conduct token programmes and receive attention for that. My understanding is that – and I may be wrong here – if more people knew about our movement, they would have questioned the tokenistic actions of mainstream activists. In this way, they would have been held accountable for their inaction. That was another reason they did not want to support us. And this is something I have experienced from my hometown to Kathmandu.
One journalist also revealed to me that one of the so-called activists asked her why the journalist was focusing on Ruby Khan. That was very hurtful. A women’s rights activist questioning a journalist for focusing on women’s issues. What does it say about them that they spent that much energy on sabotaging a women’s rights movement?
Overall, what has the group’s experience been?
It is ironic that we came to fight violence against women: we ourselves were not safe from that same issue. We had to face violence from the police as well as from the accused. We know that this is not the end. We will have to face more violence once we reach home. But we are prepared for that. We went into this knowing what we might have to face.
Nankunni Dhobi and Nirmala Kurmi are just representative cases of a culture of violence against women. How would you describe your 10 years as a women’s rights activist? How did the community respond to your activism?
I come from a community where women are supposed to stay behind a veil and are expected to be limited to their home. If we wanted to be educated, or if we voiced our opinions, we were called names to shame us into silence. The elders from my community would question us. They would taunt our family members for living off a woman’s earnings. They would even get people beaten for that. That’s the culture that I was raised in.
Now, the very same people who used to shame me now refer women who face problems to me. They are my father’s or my grandfather’s age, yet they trust me to solve different problems. That is a big deal in a patriarchal society like ours.
To help support their communities, women and girls should be educated. We are working on that, and we are providing alternative education to those who have dropped out. We have very little financial support, but we are still working on formal education.
There also needs to be education for both women and men on women’s rights. Ultimately, in our society, a woman does not have sole authority over her life. She still seeks permission from the head of the family (usually a man) for major decisions in her life. Therefore, men also need to understand the importance of women’s education and of speaking for oneself. If my parents had forbidden me to work after facing taunts from the community, I would not have reached where I am today. This is a long process. It is true that we are becoming a little more progressive in regard to education. Nowadays, girls can go to school. Even so, there are only a handful of girls in Madhesi and Muslim communities who have attempted matriculation, and there are still some districts in Nepal where women have not yet passed matriculation.
These are serious challenges. Unless we face them, our dream of a safe society for women will never be fulfilled.
What needs to happen for violence against women to end?
We need to make the state and all its related institutions accountable. There is no use fighting with them; we need to do this tactfully. If we think an official is acting irresponsibly, we need to show that they might get into trouble if they don’t act responsibly. If that doesn’t work, we need to take action. It is not enough for a single person to be accountable: the entire institution should be accountable for its actions. In our case, when the government failed to complete its previous agreement, we had to start the second phase of our movement.
Right now, the situation is such that women in my locality (including those who were part of the movement) have to ask their husbands for transport costs even if they have to go to a police station. Their husbands, in turn, are daily wage labourers. They earn less than Rs. 500 a day. They have to choose between the fare for their wives and feeding the family that night.
If these women had a source of income themselves, they would not have to rely on their husbands for everything and would have greater autonomy in their lives, including their choice to fight for other women. I’ve seen cases where a woman wants to get involved in activism but is restricted due to her husband’s inability to spend that Rs. 30 on her travel. This is particularly important for women who have been the victims of domestic violence and who want to fight for their own justice.
That is also true on an organisational level. We had to ask for donations both in Nepalgunj and Kathmandu in order to cover our basic expenses. Right now, we are staying in a total of six rooms in a guest house. Thankfully, the owner did not ask us to pay anything till now. Now that we are leaving tomorrow, he is going to calculate the cost, and we are asking for donations to cover that. If we had secure funds as an organisation, we would be able to organise many more of these movements.
Lastly, we need to see every incident contextually. The oppression of one woman is very much related to the oppression of another. We organised this movement for two women, but we know that if justice is delivered in these two cases, it will serve as a motivation for all future movements and a deterrent for all perpetrators.
Ruby Khan is a member of Women’s Rights Forum and Muslim Community Development Awareness Center of Nepal (Nepal Muslim Samaj). Women’s Rights Forum is a network that advocates for marginalised and oppressed women. They focus on getting those women out of their oppressive situation by helping them gain independence in their lives. Nepal Muslim Samaj helps women gain access to economic resources so that they can live a dignified life.
Update: The CIB has already started the investigation on Nirmala Kurmi’s case. Ruby Khan’s team has returned to their hometown, where they are facing harassment from the primary accused and his relatives. One of the demonstrators was severely beaten in his own home. The local police has not officially filed a complaint. Currently, Ruby Khan and her team is seeking financial funds for the legal defense of Nirmala’s case for when the CIB finishes its investigation.
 Both Muslims and Madhesis are marginalised groups in Nepal.
 Dr Govinda KC is a medical doctor in Nepal, and a strong activist against the privatisation of medical colleges. He has taken multiple fast unto deaths for that cause.
 Adv. Mohana Ansari is a senior human rights activist in Nepal.
 Rs. 500 is a little over £3 GBP or $4.00 USD.
Editor’s note: People who confront the destruction of the planet find a legal system that prioritizes corporations and not uncommonly become the targets of police surveillance. Unless we take precautions, police surveillance tools can uncover our plans and organizational structures—and can contribute to a culture of paranoia that discourages action.
This training, from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, consists of interactive materials for learning what sort of tools law enforcement agencies use against journalists, but the material is practically applicable for organizers as well. We encourage our readers to study this material and consider appropriate countermeasures.
by Freedom of the Press Foundation
The Digital Security Training team at Freedom of the Press Foundation works with news organizations to better protect themselves, their colleagues, and sources by upgrading their security posture. In an environment where journalists are increasingly under attack, experiencing targeted hacking, harassment, and worse, we want to see systemic change in the way news organizations learn about and address their digital security concerns. While journalists come from many professional backgrounds, one place we can most reliably address this need for digital security education systemically is within journalism schools, where students are already learning many of the skills they will need in a contemporary newsroom. We know many programs feel underprepared for education of this kind, so we built this curriculum to better support J-schools’ goals for digital security education.
Below, we have created modules responsive to a variety of digital security topics. We intend for this resource to be used by journalism professors and educators looking for a starting point for digital security education. Ultimately, it’s our hope that by tinkering with these materials, you might take advantage of the parts most useful or inspiring to you, and make this curriculum your own.
Police Surveillance Tools Training
This section on surveillance tools used by law enforcement is discussion focused, and intends to get students to think critically about the relationship between surveillance, privacy, and transparency. It begins with lecture canvassing a variety of law enforcement surveillance technology, based on research from from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Afterward, the module opens into an activity to investigate surveillance technology used in a location of their choice, followed by a discussion of their interpretation of law enforcement surveillance technologies they’ve discovered.
Upon successful completion of this lesson, students will be able to distinguish between technology commonly used by law enforcement to conduct surveillance in physical spaces.
Students will be able to identify which of these tools are used in a specific physical location, based on publicly-accessible reporting tools.
Why this matters
The technical capabilities of law enforcement actors may affect journalists’ threat models when conducting work in risky situations. For example, when meeting a sensitive source their location may be tracked through a constellation of surveillance equipment, or their phone numbers and current call or text data may be scooped up when covering protests.
Have students open up Atlas of Surveillance and report back for the group with surveillance technology used in a location where they’ve lived in the U.S. (e.g., where their hometown is; the campus).
Questions for discussion
In terms of their ability to compromise journalistic work, which one of these technical law enforcement capabilities is most concerning to you? What makes it concerning?
If that’s not especially concerning, why is that?
Out of respect for peoples’ privacy, are there any issues you think should be “off the table” for journalistic coverage? If so, what are those issues, and why do you think they should be off the table?
We often talk about privacy for people, but transparency for institutions. Why the distinction? Are there times when individual actions demand transparency, and when institutions have a meaningful claim to privacy?
Florence Nightingale, the English pioneer of modern nursing is quoted as saying, “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took an excuse.”
Editors note: Never give up your agency. If your goal is to save life on the planet, sometimes you have to sink your own boat.
Derrick Jensen This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Diane Wilson. She’s a mother of five, a fourth generation shrimp boat captain and an environmental activist. She’s been fighting to save the bays on the Texas gulf coast from chemical and oil development for the last 30 years. I also have to say that you have for at least 15-18 years been one of my heroes so thank you for that.
Diane Wilson Thank you Derrick, I appreciate that.
Derrick Jensen Thank you in general for your work in the world and thank you for being on the program. My first two questions are – can you introduce yourself and can you also then introduce the region where you live, the region you love
Diane Wilson First of all I’m a fourth generation fisherwoman, shrimp boat captain. My family has been around this area on the mid-Texas gulf coast for about 130 years so you might say I’ve got a real sense of place, where I was born and raised. I’ve been in the same town for my whole life. I’m 72 years old so I always call myself a late bloomer. Anybody out there who thinks they’re too old to start – that is not true. As a matter of fact, it just gets better as you get older. You get a little bit more free every year.
Basically, all of my family – my brothers, my brothers-in-law, my cousins, my uncles, everybody in the early days they were just gill netters, fin fishermen and they caught black drum and red drum. They had little wooden boats and they oared out. Where I’m from is a little fishing town. It’s probably the most authentic fishing village on the whole Texas gulf coast – Seadrift. We were all fishermen and your whole life was centered around the fish house, the bays, the nets the boats and that was your life. As a matter of fact, like most kids around my age, you spent your whole life outside. I was always on a boat I was always out on the water laying in.
I remember I was a real introvert even though people have accused me of being a real troublemaker, I’m by nature a real introvert. I can remember going to the fish house where my dad was coming in in the evenings and I would go to the bay and there was this old woman down there and she really liked me and when you’re one of seven kids and you’re getting attention from somebody and somebody likes you. I mean I liked going down there because of that old woman and she felt like she was my grandmother and the only thing I realized when I got older is that woman was the bay and she was as real to me as any other member of my family. I have never forgotten her and I have never forgotten what it feels like for something, what people call a resource or a commodity or an ecosystem, to me it was real and it had an aliveness and it had an energy.
When you’re small and your dad is just a small-town fisherman and you’ve got a small boat – I imagine his boat was good – and you would go out there because fishermen were poor people and they really couldn’t afford deck hands. So they would generally take the kids along. I had three sisters and me. My three sisters we decked for my dad and I really, really liked being out there and I was really good at it. When you had to take your turn at a wheel; when you’re dragging a net and you’re kind of holding the wheel and you gotta hold the wheel just so because you got to keep the net and the wheel wash in the shrimp all at the same time. My sisters would start crying because when you start turning a boat into the wind with the waves it will almost feel like you’re flipping over so my sisters did not like did not like handling the wheel but I loved it. I loved going out in the mornings and it was still dark and there was nothing but that salt air in that wind and you’re just barreling out in the dead of night. You see nothing. it’s almost like your instinct and there are very few beacons. It’s just years and years of doing it. I can remember and I suppose it’s because I had a real sense of the energy of that old woman. It’s like you literally could feel like your skin would separate – the wind in the water would just kind of move in there and it actually made me a bit of a mystic.
I’m a little bit of a mystic and I hate to tell you, I was raised Pentecostal and that’s holy rolling – speaking in tongues. My grandmother was a faith healer and I think she tried to raise my uncle from the dead and all kinds of stuff like that. I’m not that but I am a mystic and I have a real sense of what’s alive out there. People think it’s only what you see and it’s only yourself and it’s only the boundaries and the borders within your skin – that’s not true. As a matter of fact, that’s why I like your books so much because you seem to have a real sense of the connectedness and how valuable everything was. I could sense that, and I think it was because I spent all my life on the bay and I was a little bit of a loner so I didn’t have that peer pressure – sometimes at a certain age you get peer pressure and you get pulled away from that naturalness. I don’t think I was pulled away from it, so I’ve always had it my whole life and I still have it. It’s like a lot of the stuff that I do. It’s gut instinct and I don’t believe I’ve ever had a plan. I feel like I leave myself open for the energy because I truly believe there is energy out from nature and it’s got an intelligence, if you just work with it.
My location down here is mid-Texas gulf coast. We’re around Matagorda Bay, Lavaca Bay, Spirit Center Bay, San Antonio Bay, Mesquite Bay, Guadalupe Bay. Our county is a tiny county. When I was growing up there’s probably like 12 000 people in the whole county. The town where I was raised, Seadrift, was a thousand people. It’s been through so many hurricanes I can’t even tell you. It’s had so many hotels and railroads and restaurants and lumber yards destroyed in hurricanes. It always remains a very small town – a thousand people – and it’s always been this fishing town. We’re close to what they used to call Blackjack Island and now it’s known for the Aransas wildlife refuge. That’s where the endangered whooping cranes come every winter. They count every single last whooping crane that is left and they all come down and they nest in what they call Aransas wildlife refuge. Where my folks were from, they were fishermen there, and one of my uncles was in a hailstorm that killed a hundred cattle they had hail so big. He drowned out on the bay. I had another uncle, they had bonfires in those days and they did a lot of cooking on bonfires He was just a toddler and fell in the fire. I’ve got kin folks that are buried out there on that island. I’ve got a real sense of ancestries around here.
I know this whole area around here was where the Karankawa were. Those very tall, good looking, native American indigenous people and they lived around the water. We went across to where they were. They had all these arrow heads and all their camps and places and I believe I’m not too far from where there was literally a battle between some Irish settlers that came in. The Karankawas must have taken one of their calves and so they raided them and killed most of them and it was over a calf. It’s a sad part of the history down here. I think a lot of the Karankawas went to Mexico. That’s the history of this area. Even the Karankawas were early fishermen, and they laid the shrimp out to dry. I remember someone was telling me they would have a burning stake and stick it out in the shallow water and shrimp will come to the light and that’s where they would get a lot of their shrimp. They would have little catch nets or whatever and they would get the shrimp and then they’d dry them. That was one of their one of their ways they got nourishment around here. But like I said the Karankawa is no more although they’ve named bays and towns after them, but it’s a tragedy.
A lot of this area is where a lot of Irish settlers came in and a lot of German boats came in. There used to be a town called Indianola and now it’s a ghost town because that was where these big ships came in. All these German settlers came in and I think there was even a big civil war battle right there in Indianola and it was right on Matagorda bay. Two hurricanes hit it, one right behind another; then a fire hit it and then I believe smallpox wiped everybody out so now all you got is a beach. People say they can see that train out there when the tide’s real low although I have not seen that train.
Derrick Jensen Can you talk about what has happened and what caused you to become an activist? What has happened to the region in terms of industry and its effects on the bay and also its effects on fishing including shrimping?
Diane Wilson Well in the beginning there was no law; there was no verdict from Congress that industry had to say anything to anybody. So for a very long time these industries like, for instance. Alcoa and Union Carbide – very big plants – came in around 1950. They didn’t say nothing to nobody. They just did what they did. Sometimes the shrimpers, if it was a bad winter, might get a job for two or three months during the winter months and drive a truck or something like that. But basically, this industry did not have to report to anybody at all and the only thing that fishermen would get is when the times that they would work. They would say “they told me to take these barrels down to Stinky Ditch and I dumped them down there and I nearly passed out from smell and I remember and everybody in my unit is dead” or stuff like that. But it was just anecdotal because industry did not have to report or say anything to anybody.
Around 1989 shrimping was starting to fall off and so I started running a fish house. A fish house is a tin building. It’s got open windows and it’s got double wide doors that open to the bay and it’s got this long dock and this is where shrimpers bring their boats in. They tie up, they unload their catch – usually shrimp – and you take it into the fish house, put it on ice. You put it in these ice vaults so you can ship them off on these trucks later. I ran a fish house probably for five years. If I happened to look out that window, I could see my shrimp boat which was SeaBee and she was she was tied right up to the docks. I had probably 14 shrimp boats that I took care of.
One day I had this shrimper and he had three different types of cancer and he had these huge lumps all over his body and he was the best looking. I mean he looked like a surfer from California. My mama thought he was about the nicest looking guy she had ever laid eyes on. Anyway, he had all this cancer and one day I was in the fish house and I was sitting with a cup of coffee and I had my rubber boots sitting up on the desk and he came in and pitched this newspaper article to me. He said I want you to read that and like I said I’m a real quiet person so anyway I looked at the newspaper article. It was 1989 and on that front page article, The Victoria Advocate, was an associated press story and it was talking about the first time the toxic release inventory ever came out. The toxic release inventory was a community “right to know” bill
that was passed in Congress after Bhopal. People mainly know Bhopal because of Union Carbide was doing this whole effort to make India green and they were doing a pesticide plant in Bhopal, india. It wasn’t working so they were cutting all the safety. Anything that had to do about the lowering the temperature, about alarms, about freezing; they were removing it and the unthinkable happened and there was a chain reaction. There was a debate over actually how many people died but probably around two or three thousand died that first night in Bhopal, India. It was the worst environmental disaster that has ever happened and I think it still is. I think at this point maybe 20 000 people died from that one incident by Union Carbide. Because of it Congress passed the community “right to know” law meaning that there would not be another time when anyone in the US woke up one morning and there was something like that happen because they didn’t know what the industry next to them was doing or what they were polluting with. So, for the first time ever, industry in the United States had to report their air emissions, their water emissions, their injection wells, their landfill, their trucking – all of it. They had to report the numbers for the first time ever and that’s what that article was about. Our little bitty county with 12 000 people in the whole county we were number one in the nation and it literally blew my mind. It’s like “how could you be the most polluted place in the United States probably if it was the United States it was probably ranking worldwide and never know it?” I had never heard the first word about it. So, I acted totally out of character because I don’t like talking, I don’t like having to deal with people. I’ve never had a meeting called in my entire life but I went to City Hall. I walked down to City Hall which wasn’t too far away. I had that newspaper article and I went to the City Secretary and I said I want to have a meeting. There was the City Hall and a little bitty room that sometimes they let people have birthday parties or whatever. I said I wanted to use that little room and I wanted to talk about that we were number one in the nation. So, they put it down and they put down my name and the next day I was at the fish house and here comes the City Secretary. Well, you never see anybody, all you see is fishermen down there and here was a City Secretary and I still remember she had the prettiest fulstar with flowers all over it and she said “Diane you’re just gonna have to get this meeting out of the city hall.” I was like “why?” and she said “oh red flags; it’s putting out red flags all over the place.” I’m like “well I’ll do it in an elementary school, you know, they got a cafeteria I’ll do it there.” and she’s like “no they want you to get it totally out of town. They actually don’t want you to do it at all.” I couldn’t get over the fact that I had just asked for it and they didn’t want me to do it. The next day I had the bank president come down to the fish house. I had never talked to that man in my life and here he was, three-piece suit, and he said he said “Diane, are you gonna start a vigilante group roasting industry alive?” I’m totally dumbfounded. I have no idea what they are talking about; why they’re so upset with me – I have not even had the meeting. Then a guy from economic development called my brothers who were fishermen and said you better calm your sister down. My brothers were not the type that would even talk to women and tell them anything. Anyway, one of my brothers said “what in the heck are you doing?” and I’m like “I’m not doing a thing.”
Eventually I did the meeting anyway because I really don’t like people telling me I can’t do something, even though I’m a real quiet person, so I went ahead and had it. I went to a different place and had it. Eventually what it came down to is 1) nobody had ever questioned industry, ever, and 2) it was Formosa plastics, a Taiwanese company who had been kicked out of Taiwan- the biggest chemical expansion in Texas history; the biggest in the United States in 10 years. They had the Governor, the Chamber of Commerce, the Attorney General, the Senators, Congressional and whatever had promised this chemical company. There will be no questions asked; you will get all the tax abatement you want; you will get all your permits expedited; there will be no environmental impact studies. It was pretty much a giveaway and they never once asked one question about this foreign company’s environmental record. They could just come in and we’ll give you everything and I just stumbled on it. It was a fluke. Actually, I went to the mailbox and I got an anonymous letter. I opened it up and it was a newspaper clipping. It was for no supply sticks and it was seven air permits and I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t know what the company was. When I finally had my little my little meeting as I got a group and I said “we’ll ask for a permanent hearing on this plan.”
As it was, I walked into a hornet’s nest. They couldn’t figure out who I was. They figured I was an official woman – a woman- so I was not bright enough to be doing this on my own. So they figured I was a spy hired by Louisiana to get it kicked out of Texas so the chemical plant would go to Louisiana. That’s how it started, and it never got any better – it got rougher and rougher. I mean everything for the last 30 years has been a battle. It’s been a battle and you just have to be very, very persistent. I think the reason why I’m so persistent is I am connected to that bay.
I remember when I first started. All I got was high school education, I didn’t have any money and nobody supported me. A fishing woman speaking out! People thought I was kind of crazy and all I had was this good sense of the bay. That was what was keeping me going on it. I really kept thinking there’s bound to be someone way better than me; way better at speaking; probably has a biology degree, can understand all of this chemistry and what these chemical plants are and what these chemicals are. It took about five years before I realized I was actually the best person to be doing it because it was my passion. It has always been my passion for the bay that has kept me persistent. That’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years – I’ve been fighting these chemical companies. I fought Union Carbide, I fought Dupont, I fought Alcoa and probably be the longest and the hardest is I fought Formosa.
Derrick Jensen: Thank you for all that. The next two questions are going to be:
can you talk about some of your best victories or your best victory, either way? and
can you talk about current struggles?
Diane Wilson What was to me one of the most interesting things that ever happened and it probably was a psychological kind of a spiritual thing. I had been fighting the Formosa wastewater permit and I had an attorney who agreed to help me and he became a really good friend. People in the community were afraid of the retaliation from the chemical company, especially when a lot of the local officials have contracts with the company. Fishing is going down so you have workers that are being hired at the plant, so nobody wants to say anything and I was the main thing. I haven’t a lawyer who could help me file a suit or something like that. You know a thing about a chemical company. One thing they do is they sense who the allies are so they go after them. On this one they started just throwing them into a deep hole with documents so the money expenses really started hitting them hard and so eventually my lawyer quit and started working for the company. I literally had nobody at all. So, I started filing some papers trying to fight Formosa’s wastewater discharge. When you don’t have a lawyer and you and you don’t have a college education and you got to write briefs and do your own legal work and you don’t have any money. I was doing pretty much filing my own briefs on a Royal typewriter.
Sure enough, they didn’t give me status and they said I couldn’t fight the permit so I appealed it. I always considered you give a monkey a typewriter and after a while that monkey is gonna type a word and so eventually I managed. Believe you me I still don’t know how I did it. I managed to stall the permit with an appeal with a Washington judge, an appellate judge, and so Formosa could not discharge until there was all this ruling and all ofthis process with an appellate judge out of Washington DC.
So I pretty much had their waste water and they could not discharge; they could not begin their plant. So one day I called the EPA to check on the status of the of that discharge permit and I said my name was Diane and I was second on the status. They start talking about “how was that discharge going and I noticed you have some copper discharges but I’m sure we can try to figure out how to do it and you really kind of need to keep the flow in the right periodand now you know.” Then it hit me that she was talking about Formosa’s discharge and she thought I was Formosa’s lawyer whose name was Diane too but that was a different Diane. I said you’re talking to the wrong Diane and that’s when she realized she kind of screwed up there.
Basically, it doesn’t matter what the legal documents say, what the law says – if you have enough money you will get what you want. It was it was the first time I had really come home to the fact that the law doesn’t matter when you got money and when you got power; you really can do what you want, and the law is like a handkerchief in your back pocket. You pull it out when you want to. I was outraged. I was totally outraged about it. The unfairness of it, the injustice of it. It hit me like nothing had hit me before. I knew I had to do something to symbolize that type of injustice. When it appears that nobody cares, everybody overlooks it, it’s injustice going on so I knew I had to do something. l knew that I had to sink something; I had to sink something that I cared a lot about. That’s when I knew I had to sink my shrimp boat. I was going to take it out and sink it on top of Formosa’s illegal discharge. That boat was nowhere near the value of a bay.
Some people can get the little picture, or you can get the big picture. You can look at the little picture and it’s like “oh it’s my livelihood it’s my boat.” It’s “what am i gonna do?” and then you get the big picture and it’s like “this is the planet this is your home for all of us we’re all supposed to be here.” Are you gonna let them take it? I wasn’t gonna let them do it. I was gonna symbolize it by sinking my shrimp boat. So, I put the motor out and I convinced an old shrimper to pull me out in the dead of the night. There was this crazy norther came in at the same time. I can’t imagine how all of these elements came together at the same time – this weather and the black of night in this boat and just doing this covert of pulling a boat out to sink it on top of Formosa’s discharge. There happened to be a shrimper who had been bought back from us and they were paying sixty thousand dollars a year just to be a consultant. He was pretty much just watching me to see what I did and tell the company. Anyway, he pretty much told the company that I was towing a boat out so they called the coastguard. At one o’clock in the morning there were three boatloads of coastguard and they were out there in the middle of the rain and all that wind. They were like “Miss Wilson, Miss Wilson are you out there, Miss Wilson?” They said they’re gonna charge me with terrorism; that I was gonna go to jail for 19 years and it probably took an hour for every two yards because you’ve got a boat towing you; you got a boat with no rudder and you got three coastguards in the middle of the night; in the middle almost of the jetties and all this current. It was the wildest scene of all. These coastguards jumping all over the boats with ropes and all of this stuff. Eventually it took about an hour to happen, but they eventually pulled my boat to a harbor. They put seven or eight ropes and tied it down. They put me in the cabin, locked me in. The guys were so afraid I was gonna get out and somehow take that boat out there without a rudder. I was going to get it out there. They were sleeping on the back deck; they were sleeping in trucks on the wall. I was pretty much stuck there with all these coastguards and all the ropes on my boat. I hadn’t sunk the boat. The next morning when I woke up I heard the sounds of a boat. Then I heard more boats and I looked out the window and there were these shrimpers who never get involved – they don’t believe you can fight; they gave up hope. They think every nail is in their coffin. These guys did a blockade. They all went out in the middle of that rough water. It was so rough you could have sunk a boat out there. I promise you the coast guard does not like shrimp boats blocking anything and here all of these shrimp boats went out in this rough weather and they did a protest and in support of what I was trying to do. That was the most amazing experience to see how if you move sometime and you have no real plan – just have a real instinct – is that things have a way. Some of the most amazing things that you can never plan happen.
I remember after that – Formosa saw all of those fishermen out there protesting in the middle of the bay. I think they had a funny sense of a house built on sand. That’s when uh they asked me “what is it gonna take to shut you up?” and I said “zero discharge of your entire waste stream” and so that’s actually how I got zero discharge from Formosa of this waste stream back in 1994.
Derrick Jensen: I’m sorry that this is so short because i’m loving everything you’re saying and we only have like five minutes left. Can you talk briefly about the lawsuit that you won? Then can you talk about current issues?
Diane Wilson: I have a lot of connection with workers inside the plant. Over the years they’ve come to me with information. I had a worker that was in the utilities or the wastewater and he was a whistleblower. He wanted to give me information, so I met him in a beer joint 40 miles away. He was telling me about all of the pellets that were in the waste stream and how they were going into the bay; how they were in the storm water ditches. He was just real concerned about it because he liked to take his kids fishing and when he took his kids fishing there would be all these pellets all over their feet. So I started checking on the pellets that were coming out of Formosa plastics and the state agencies, EPA – nobody, nobody seemed to care at all. Eventually me and a couple of workers – probably it was three or four of us all together – in January 2016 we started collecting all of these pellets and this powder that was all over the bay, all over the creek. Within a year, and we were all going out almost every single day for over a year, we had a thousand samples and probably had two or three thousand photographs. Then we got a legal aid group – Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid – and they offered to be our lawyers to file a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act. For the next two and a half years until March 2019 we collected around 2500 samples of illegal discharges. We probably had 8 000 photos and videos and we took Formosa to federal court. Believe it or not we won. It was astounding and it was the first time a citizen brought their own evidence; it wasn’t the state’s information; it wasn’t the EPA’s information, it was our evidence. The federal judge said Formosa was a serial polluter and their violations were enormous.
After that Formosa wanted to settle. They wanted to sit down and negotiate. So we sat down and negotiated with one woman, Taiwanese American, and we said we wanted 50 million; we wanted zero discharge of plastics; we wanted a clean up; we wanted our own enforcement and we wanted to make sure their plant did not discharge any plastic and we got it. We got all of it. It was the biggest settlement of a citizen suit ever in the United States. From that 50 million dollars we put 20 million dollars into a sustainable, diverse co-op for the fishermen to try to bring back the fisheries. Right in the middle of it then you know you got this Max Midstream trying to do oil export, and to do oil export he needs the bay dredged so he can get big ships in. Unfortunately, it’s a mercury superfund site and so I did a 36 day hunger strike to try to stop the oil exports and to stop the dredging. After that I went to the corps of engineers and blocked their highway; got arrested, thrown in jail. Then we went to his headquarters, we went to his home and we’re doing every single thing that we can to stop that oil export and stop the dredging because we’re trying to bring back the fishermen who have been devastated and that’s pretty much where I am right now.
Derrick Jensen This whole this whole time you’ve been talking I’ve been thinking about this line by Florence Nightingale which was something to the effect of somebody asked her to what did she attribute her success and she said “I never gave nor took an excuse.”
Diane Wilson That’s right.
Derrick Jensen You know you did not take the excuse that I’m not a lawyer so I can’t do this; I’m not a somebody so I can’t do this – you just did it That’s one of the reasons you’ve been one of my heroes forever.
Diane Wilson Thank you very much, I really appreciate it. You know when that Taiwanese American lady, that negotiated, the only woman that came in, when I walked in, and looked at me and said “you are very persistent”. You do it and be persistent; just keep doing it.
Derrick Jensen So my last question for today, and I’d love to have you on again, my last question for today is one of the things I try to do with these series of interviews is to help people. I mean everybody knows something that is that is bad; everybody loves something that is being destroyed. What can you say to them to help move them from sitting around going “gosh things are really bad somebody should do something” to being the person who does something. Or to being one of the people that does something. Can you say something to them?
Diane Wilson Basically I believe everybody, and I truly mean everybody, has – it’s almost like a destiny – there is something we are meant to do. Somewhere in their life some little piece of information is going to come to them. What they do with that information will determine the rest of their lives. I am just so glad I acted totally out of character and stepped out. That’s what you gotta do and I think everybody gets a chance. It’s what decision they’re gonna make on it and it will change your whole life. I’ve lost a lot of stuff but for the first time I remember “I like myself” and for a woman from the south to say she likes herself that’s a big deal. It’s changed my whole life. I am 72 and I have never felt so free and happy in my life.
Derrick Jensen Thank you so much for all of that and thank you for your work in the world and i would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Diane Wilson. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.
SAN DIEGO, Calif.— After nearly 30 years of petitions and lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected one of Southern California’s rarest butterflies, the Hermes copper butterfly, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The agency also designated 35,000 acres of protected critical habitat in San Diego County. The habitat consists of three units: Lopez Canyon, which includes acreage within Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve; Miramar/Santee; and Southern San Diego.
“Without Endangered Species Act protection, the Hermes copper butterfly would surely be pushed into extinction by Southern California’s rampant development, wildfires driven by climate change and invasive plants,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center. “I’m relieved to finally see this beautiful little butterfly and its habitat protected.”
The small, bright yellow-orange, spotted Hermes copper inhabits coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats only in San Diego County and northern Baja. Its survival depends on dwindling patches of its host plant, the spiny redberry. Increasingly frequent and severe wildfires also ravage the butterfly’s primary source of nectar, the California buckwheat. Drought and development have also destroyed dozens of historic populations.
The Hermes copper occupied many San Diego coastal areas prior to urbanization, and still persists in some foothill and mountain areas up to 45 miles from the ocean. The butterfly declined from at least 57 historical populations to only 26 populations in a survey this year.
Devastating wildfires have increasingly burned through key Hermes copper habitat, putting an end to the tenuous existence of many remaining butterfly populations. For example, 2020’s Valley Fire came within just 2.5 miles of a core population of the butterfly. In today’s listing the Service warned that a single large wildfire could wipe out all remaining populations of the butterflies.
Even by the time it was first described in the late 1920s, the Hermes copper was endangered by urban development. By 1980 staff at the San Diego Natural History Museum noted that San Diego’s rapid urban growth put the future of the butterfly in the hands of developers. The Fish and Wildlife Service first identified the butterfly as a potential candidate for Endangered Species Act protection in 1984.
The Center for Biological Diversity and San Diego Biodiversity Project filed formal petitions in 1991 and 2004 to protect the species. A lawsuit was required to force the Service to respond to the second petition, but the agency announced in 2006 that it would not protect the species, despite fires in 2003 that burned nearly 40% of the butterfly’s habitat.
The Center filed a second lawsuit in 2009, but the Service delayed protection by placing the butterfly back on the candidate list in 2011. So the Center sued a third time in May 2019, which finally forced the Service to propose a status of threatened in January 2020.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The oral traditions and origin stories of many Indigenous peoples, worldwide, include some stories of the endings of previous worlds. In such stories, the end of one world usually coincides with the beginning of a new world. Typically, the end of one world is the end of a grave error, the end of a world gone wrong. The life-endangering wrong way had to end for life to continue anew. To have a fresh start, venturing into many unknowns, might be somewhat scary, but it is really a wonderful gift.
In the early winter months of 2014, in Missoula, Montana, I was part of a coalition of climate activists and Indigenous Earth and water protectors who were trying to stop, or at least discourage, the transport of enormous pieces of mining equipment to the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, where it would be used in the largest and dirtiest oil extraction project on our planet. The equipment was so large that the companies that owned those things could only move them through cities in the middle of the night, at the time of least traffic use (around 2:00 a.m.). They could not transport these monstrosities on the freeways because they were too tall—even lying down on trucks—to go under the overpasses. We called them the “megaloads.” On four cold winter nights, in January through March, we walked out onto the largest street in Missoula as soon as we saw a megaload and its entourage of pilot cars and police vehicles approaching. We sang and round-danced in the middle of the street, carrying signs, and sometimes our crowd was big enough to make a circle that fit from curb to curb across the whole street. The police allowed us to continue for a short while (the longest time was 22 minutes), then they cleared us off the road. A handful of our people intentionally got arrested, but most did not.
Sometime after the fourth megaload blockade, the oil and equipment transport companies decided to refabricate the equipment for transport on the freeways. We had caused them a minor inconvenience and a little negative publicity regarding the tar sands industry and its impacts on the Canadian boreal forests, rivers, the health of humans and other species, and global warming. So they began transporting their destructive devices in smaller pieces, to be reassembled upon arrival in Alberta. That change in operations cost three companies (Exxon Mobil, Imperial Oil, and transport company, Mammoet) about two billion dollars altogether, or about one quarter’s profits (at that time, just before oil prices dropped and tar sands extracting became a little less profitable). When taking government subsidies and tax breaks given to oil corporations into account, they probably hardly even felt a pinch from our annoying actions and were actually able to expand their tar sands operations and increase their profits for a few years after the blockades. Our blockade coalition held together for a few months longer, waiting for the next megaload to come through Missoula, which never came.
During those weeks and months after the last megaload blockade, I spent a good amount of time analyzing and reassessing the value and effectiveness of street blockades and similar actions on the big picture. The big question on my mind, and in the minds of some of my friends, was, “What did we accomplish and what good did we do for protecting the Earth through our actions in the street?” We also wondered who even noticed what we did (most citizens of Missoula are asleep at 2:00 a.m. and we didn’t get much media coverage) and, for those that noticed, did anybody who wasn’t already in agreement with our views on protecting the natural world change their minds and decide to take action on behalf of natural life? How about the megaload transport workers, security guards and police, whom we forced to stop their work and sit there watching us for 15 or 20 minutes, reading our signs, and listening to our round dance songs and our vocal pleas for the end of fossil fuel use? Did any of them change their thinking or quit their jobs? Well, we never heard back from any of them on that, as far as I know, seven years later.
One thing that seemed pretty certain to me then, and I’m even more sure about now, is that humans who live in monetary-based economies (capitalist or socialist) will very rarely choose to cease engaging in activities that assure them that they will be rewarded with that most essential material tool: money. That includes fossil fuel workers, the corporate bosses who own their labor, and just about everybody else who lives within the constraints of modern industrial societies. Most people would not knowingly engage in toxic, life-destroying activities if they were not getting paid for it or benefitting from it in some other way, or if they did not feel that they had no choice other than to make money doing such things. As long as people are rewarded for destroying life on Earth, they will continue to destroy life on Earth. Just about a week before the first megaload blockade, in January, I had written an essay about how money and beliefs about money are at the root of all of the activities, systems, and structural devices that are destroying natural life on Earth, titled, “The Problem with Money.” In the months after the last blockade, I revised that essay into a new one, titled, The End of Money: The Need for Alternative, Sustainable, Non-monetary Local Economies, and began to bring the ideas therein into many public forums, mostly attended by other self-professed “environmental activists.” That essay is a combination of critique of the status quo and suggestions for alternative, EarthLife-centered, local economies and societal structures. At that point in time, I had come to the conclusion that it was futile to continue attempting to change the prevailing large-scale societies (nation states and corporate-controlled empires), working through the usual channels, and settling for the small increments and ineffective gestures toward change allowed by the systemic authorities. As I was learning more about the science regarding Earth’s bio-system tipping points and feedback cycles, I could see that we most likely do not have the time to move at such a snail’s pace, “barking up the wrong trees,” and make the types of major changes in human activities and social systems necessary for stopping the destruction of our interconnected Life on Earth and preventing more mass extinctions and ecosystem collapses. It had become clear to me then, and it is even clearer now, that the actual function of our political and economic systems is to perpetuate and protect the productive and consumptive mechanisms and so-called “way of life” that is destroying life on Earth, regardless of any official statements of purpose or intent to the contrary. The response that I received from most people to all of that was disappointing, but also enlightening. For a variety of understandable reasons, many people feel an immediate need to dismiss and block out not only the essay, but my entire perspective on necessary responses to our current crisis as “utopian dreaming,” or some similarly dismissive label.
When people read that essay or hear me say things like the economic and political structure of modern industrial societies is fundamentally wrong and that these societies must end most of their ways of being before they destroy most life on Earth, there are two responses that I hear most frequently, from the very few people who bother to talk with me about these ideas at all. Here are those responses:
“You are throwing out the baby with the bath water!”
“You are making the perfect the enemy of the good.”
My succinct reply to that first dismissive accusation can be found in the very short essay on this blog titled, “Who is the Baby?” That reply basically goes along the lines of asking people which baby they want to save, industrial civilization and their modern conveniences, or natural biological life on Earth, because we cannot save both. That is all I will say about that one now, as the point has also been made in my book review of Bright Green Lies, even better in the Bright Green Lies book itself, and by many others, including more and more climate-related scientists. (I will elaborate on this further, below). In this present essay, I would like to focus on that second dismissive accusation, which was actually the primary impetus for me to write this essay in the first place, along with my love for natural life.
There are many important questions to probe about the assumedly “perfect” and the allegedly “good.” Why do most people believe that utopian thinking is a quest for “perfection?” How did that claim originate? Whose interest does the claim that all utopian thinkers are unrealistic, irrational perfectionists serve? What is the difference between an imaginary, unattainable, “perfect” society and an ideal society? Are the societies that we (residents of all modern industrial nation states) live in now something that we can justifiably call “good?” When we call societies like these “good,” do we really mean that they are “lesser evils?” Very often, when people are told that their society is not good, or is unjust and harmful to life, they respond by comparing it to some other countries that they consider to be much worse. Is “good” and “lesser evil” truly the same thing? What should be the essential, required elements for a truly good or ideal society, especially in light of the current and near-future global crises? I would like to productively address all of the above questions in this essay and, by doing so, hopefully open up some possibilities for future interaction and deeper engagement with these core issues. Ultimately, I would like to persuade people that utopian thinking and actual creativity really is a useful, vital and even absolutely necessary exercise for us to engage in now, in order to be able to proactively and successfully deal with the challenges presented to us by the current and future, multi-pronged crises facing both Earth’s biosphere and the prevailing human societal frameworks.
Obviously, answering these questions will require some clarification of the definitions of several terms, especially “utopian.” So, in the interest of getting right to the point, let’s begin with that word. The word, “utopia,” was invented by Thomas More (Sir or Saint Thomas More, if you think that we should use one of those two titles that were bestowed upon him by the recognized authorities, when speaking of him), for his 1516 novel, “A little, true book, not less beneficial than enjoyable, about how things should be in a state and about the new island Utopia.” That was the original, long title (but in English, instead of the original Latin). There are six slightly different shorter titles used in some of the various English translations of the book, as follows:
On the Best State of a Republic and on the New Island of Utopia
Concerning the Highest State of the Republic and the New Island Utopia
On the Best State of a Commonwealth and on the New Island of Utopia
Concerning the Best Condition of the Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia
On the Best Kind of a Republic and About the New Island of Utopia
About the Best State of a Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia
Why was it important for me to show you More’s actual original title of the book and the six commonly-used titles? Because none of the titles describe the fictional island nation called Utopia as “perfect” and the book is not a discussion of perfect societies at all, but rather of best or most optimal societies. More uses the word “perfect” six times in the book, but never as a descriptive term for Utopia.  Rather than calling Utopia perfect or flawless, More preferred words like “best” or “good.” In his original title, More suggests that Utopia is an example of “how things should be in a state,” or, in other words, an ideal—but not perfect—state. The word “best,” in the 16th century as well as now, is a relative term, defined as “better than all other examples of a certain type or class of thing.” Under that general definition, the thing referred to as best is also understood to be the best so far, or best that we know of, until something better of its type is either found, accomplished, or created. In no way is the best considered to be permanently best, flawless, without room for improvement, or perfect.
The meaning of the word “best” in the various English titles of the book, as outlined above, becomes even clearer when we consider the structure and style of this frame narrative novel. The book is divided into two parts, the first part being a discussion between More and a couple of fictional characters about both the flaws and the best aspects of European societies, including England, and the second part is a descriptive narrative by one of More’s fictional friends about a fictional island somewhere off the coast of South America called “Utopia.”  Much of the social structure, politics, economics (i.e., no private property in Utopia), beliefs and customs of Utopia are compared to those in Europe and found by More’s friend to be ideal, or at least better than those in Europe. But, not only does no character in the story assert that Utopia is perfect, More himself, as a character in his own novel, states in conclusion at the end of the book that, when listening to his friend describe Utopia, “many things occurred to me, both concerning the manners and laws of that people [the Utopians], that seemed very absurd,” and, after listing some of those disagreeable aspects of Utopian society, he says in his final sentence, “however, there are many things in the Commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.” The literary device that More uses here, in which he places himself in conversation with the fictional characters that he created (his “imaginary friends?”), allows him to express ideas that might have been dangerous for him to propose directly, in his own voice, while representing himself as somewhat oppositional to the radical social ideas advocated for by the character who describes Utopia, Raphael Hythlodaye. This technique also allowed More to be somewhat mysterious, or publicly ambivalent, regarding his actual views about ideal societies (“plausible deniability”?), as he was considering finding employment in the court of King Henry VIII at the time when he was writing “Utopia.”
For the record, and to be absolutely clear, as I see it, and I think most of my readers would agree, Thomas More’s Utopia is no utopia or ideal society.
For the record, and to be absolutely clear, as I see it, and I think most of my readers would agree, Thomas More’s Utopia is no utopia or ideal society. Even though the Utopians have an economic system that is somewhat ideal and closely resembles the non-monetary, use value (rather than market or commodity value), need-based distribution, gift economy type of economic system that I and others have long advocated for, much of the rest of Utopia’s social order is abominable. For example, it is a patriarchal society with all of the political leaders being males, and the Utopians allow for and excuse colonialism and slavery (not race-based, but for convicts and prisoners of war). While they seem to keep their population within the carrying capacity of their island most of the time, when their population gets a little too large for that, they form temporary colonies on the neighboring mainland, with or without the permission of the people already living there, on lands that they call “waste land,” because the land is uncultivated or “undeveloped” by humans (a familiar excuse used frequently by European colonialists of the western hemisphere, in More’s time and long after). That perspective and practice also illustrates the crucial missing element of the Utopian economic system, which (if it actually existed) would doom it to unsustainability and failure: it is anthropocentric, or centered on human needs and desires only, and not on the needs and sustainable, regenerative order of their local ecosystems, including all species of Life. That has been the most significant flaw of most utopian communal experiments in western, Euro-based societies for centuries (a point that I will elaborate upon further, below).
One reason for the common claim that the Utopia in More’s book, or any proposed utopian society, is intended to be perfect and therefore can never actually exist, can be found in the debate over More’s intended meaning of the name. Thomas More invented the name, Utopia, based on one of two possible Greek prefixes. (The suffix is “topos,” which means “place,” and there is no debate regarding that.) The debatable possible prefixes are “ou” (pronounced “oo,” as in “boo” or “goo”), which means “no,” or “none,” and “eu” (pronounced like “you”), which means “good.” Depending upon which Greek prefix one thinks More incorporated for the name of his fictional society, Utopia can either mean “No place,” if the prefix came from ou, or “good place,” if it came from eu. The U in the word Utopia has long been pronounced like the Greek eu, which suggests that More possibly used that prefix to form the name, but, since we have no audio recordings of how utopia was pronounced by More and other early 16th century English speakers, we don’t know with any certainty that they pronounced it in the same way that we do now. The text of Utopia itself, was originally written in Latin by More (who left it to later, posthumous publishers to produce English translations), not Greek, so there is no assurance there as to which Greek prefix he meant. “Utopia” is the Latin spelling of the name. For some reason, possibly related to his personal career ambitions and even his personal safety (in a society in which people often unexpectedly or capriciously “lost their heads”), More left the question about the meaning of “Utopia”—no place or a good place—open to debate. There is a contextual clue on page 171 of the second English translation, but it does not definitively resolve the question. 
So, now we can leave that question of the origin and meaning of the word behind us and get to the more important question of why most people believe that utopian thinking is a futile, foolish quest for “perfection.” The short, most direct, and most likely answer is because that is what they have always been told. But, if that is not how the inventor of the word defined it, who decided to give us this other story, and why? Follow the interest and the benefit (not just the money). The powerful and wealthy, the rulers of the vast majority of human societies, find it in their interest to discourage their subject people from imagining or creating alternative societies that are no longer subject to their domain and no longer contribute toward generating enormous, disproportionate amounts of material wealth for themselves. Ever since human beings began to depart from living in local, indigenous, eco-centered, life-regenerating communities and started creating unsustainable mega-societies like nation states and empires, about 7,000 years ago, the rulers have worked hard (or hired and forced others to work hard) at producing and perpetuating many lies for the purpose of deluding or frightening their subjects into remaining submissive to their systemic power, wealth and control. Over this long span of time, the rulers became very adept at persuading people what to think and what not to think, and with the electronic technologies invented over the last hundred or so years, the subjected general public has been constantly bombarded with such messages. Commercial advertising, mandatory public schooling, peer pressure, parental love, fear of poverty, and the quest for equality, along with many other things, have all been used successfully by the ruling class as mechanisms for keeping people submissive and keeping wealth and power in the hands of a select social minority.
One of the saddest things that I have ever seen is children being taught to censor themselves from asking legitimate, important, and even vital questions, especially the big questions about the often illogical, counterintuitive and clearly unjust societal structure and traditions.
Not only are we told what to think, but also which topics to never think about seriously and which questions are too dangerous to ever ask. One of the saddest things that I have ever seen is children being taught to censor themselves from asking legitimate, important, and even vital questions, especially the big questions about the often illogical, counterintuitive and clearly unjust societal structure and traditions. The topics that the rulers would like to see eliminated from our thoughts and plans the most are those that threaten to end their power, wealth and social control. Thoughts, plans, and especially actions, for creating ideal, utopian societies must therefore be suppressed and eliminated, and the most effective mechanism used for that purpose, so far, has been to convince people that utopian societies can never exist because utopia means “perfect” and we all know that humans are not, have never been, and will never be, perfect. But, it is much harder for the rulers to convince us that we can’t become something much better than we are now, not just individually, but collectively, as a society, and therefore they cannot allow “utopian” to be defined as “better” or “best possible,” as the title and discourse in Thomas More’s book seems to suggest.
The more that subject people are rewarded, praised, honored, and awarded for their submission and service to the rulers and the system, the more difficult it becomes for them to question and resist the status quo. When the status quo systems are completely accepted as at least inevitable (“the only game in town”), if not unquestionable, and people are convinced that any apparent flaws in the system will eventually be corrected by the system, utopian creativity becomes unnecessary, dismissed, and considered a foolish waste of time and energy. Thoughts about reform—improving the system through the allegedly self-correcting mechanisms available within the system—are about as far as people are encouraged to reach in pursuit of social change. But the system, which is really a conjoined political, cultural and economic system, is primarily designed to self-preserve, not self-correct. What the system preserves most is the power of the wealthiest persons in the society, who control or strongly influence the politicians by use of lobbyists, bribery and threats to the politicians’ continued luxurious lifestyles or their actual safety. This happens at all levels of government, but is most structurally effective and most firmly established at the federal level. In the United States (and in other nations, as well to somewhat lesser degrees), the “revolving door” phenomenon, in which congresspersons who leave Congress are then hired by corporations to serve as lobbyists to their former colleagues in government, and sometimes later return to politics in higher public offices (such as presidential cabinet positions), is a prime example of this type of political corruption. A 2005 report by the non-profit consumer rights advocacy organization, Public Citizen, found that between 1998 and 2004, 43% of the congresspersons who left their government positions registered to work as lobbyists. Other reports show that another approximately 25% work as lobbyists without officially registering by becoming corporate “consultants” or lawyers. Besides the lobbying aspect of the system—If you need more evidence of the depth of the systems’ corruption and why it will most likely continue to self-preserve for the perpetuation of the mechanisms causing Earth’s biosphere collapse instead of self-correcting to the substantial degree now necessary to prevent such collapse—do some research and analysis on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision and on the “pay to play” system which all U.S. congressperson’s (of both political parties) must go through in order to get significant positions on law-writing committees or gain financial support from their party for their next re-election campaign. I could go on and on about the system’s corruption and its likely trajectory, but this is an essay about ideal paths forward and new possible systems, not so much about dystopia. I will only describe enough here about the current dystopian society and its contribution to the global crises to illuminate the need to abandon it and turn towards “utopian” creativity.
While much has been researched and written about the political and economic elements of the conjoined system, not as much has been dealt with regarding the cultural element, which is as much at the heart of the problem as the other two. One study that deals well with that cultural and ethical element, “The Ethics of Lobbying: Organized Interests, Political Power, and the Common Good”, by the Woodstock Theological Center (Georgetown University Press 2002), provides us with a very telling short quote from a corporate lobbyist they interviewed, who chose to speak anonymously: “I know what my client wants; no one knows what the common good is.” For utopian and alternative society thinkers and creators, it is this issue of the common good (which I expand further, below, to include the common well-being of all Life in Earth, not just humans), which the modern industrial political systems seem to have lost sight of, that matters most. A culture in which personal, individual self-interest, most often manifest in personal material accumulation and consumption, is the greatest concern for the vast majority of people, will consequently produce the types of political systems that we are subject to today. If one is familiar with and understands that type of culture, combined with the fact that getting elected to a political office now requires amounts of money that are inaccessible to the vast majority of aspirants to political office, then it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of politicians are more concerned with securing the financial assistance needed to keep their political power than they are with whatever may be the common good.
While it is true that utopian thinking has taken on all sorts of forms over the centuries—from moderately restructured or reformed societies that closely resemble the societies that their creators criticize or reject, to societies that are only different due to the invention and application of phenomenal new technologies or wonders of human innovation, to those societies which are completely, radically different from the status quo systems and culture that their creators have come to reject and refuse to perpetuate—when I think of the type of utopian societies that are needed today, I think of that latter type, not reformism or techno-fixes. I know that pursuing such a path could meet with much opposition and can be dangerous if our opponents ever think that we could actually succeed at creating enough independent, ideal societies to cause the prevailing system to become abandoned and defunct. Suggestions for abolishing and replacing the system with a new way of living that ends the usual limits on the distribution of power and wealth are discouraged, punished (through various social mechanisms, legal and illegal), and sometimes labeled as “treasonous,” a capital offense, which can provide legal justification for a government to end a person’s life. This has long been the case with empires and nation states, whether capitalist or socialist, so why is it so relevant and urgent to risk going in such a direction now? This is a time like no other before it, in which there has never been a greater need for widespread utopian creative thinking and action. If we carefully examine the likelihood of extreme danger for all life on Earth that would result from continuing with the same social, cultural, technological, political and economic systems, according to all of the best available science to date, it becomes clear that we must create and learn to live within some very different types or ways of social life, in order for life on Earth to continue and to minimize the number of extinctions of species that are already set to soon occur, under the present system and its current trajectory. It is a matter of likely consequences and unacceptable risks, like leaving a bunch of matches and highly flammable materials in a room of unmonitored, naturally adventurous little children—but on a much larger, global scale.
Before most people can seriously consider what follows in the rest of this essay, they probably need some more persuasive reasons why such drastic changes to their customary and comfortable “way of life” are necessary. Such reasons can be found within the scientific case for the futility and/or impossibility of successfully resolving the current and near future biosphere crises through current social, political and economic structures or with the use of any actual or imagined technological “fixes.” That case has already been made, increasingly, by numerous experts, in a growing number of scientific reports and publications, so, rather than repeat all of that here, I will just insert some links to some of the best sources for that information for your reference, examination and further evaluation. It is difficult to summarize the essential root of our predicament in just one or two sentences, but as a sort of hint as to what a thorough investigation would find, I will offer you this “nutshell” illustration: capitalist industrial manufacturers seek the most powerful fuel and engines to run their large-scale, earth-moving, industrial equipment as quickly and efficiently as possible, in order to successfully compete, attain or maintain a competitive edge, and maximize their profits. So far, no electric battery powered machinery comes anywhere close to providing the power that they get from fossil fuels. That includes the heavy equipment used to mine and manufacture so-called “green” technologies. The links and a little more information are in the following endnote: 
Although having a solid grasp on the latest scientific findings on our predicament is essential to determining our most effective response, many social scientists and psychologists say that the real barrier preventing most people from considering the scientific facts regarding the dire circumstances facing biological life on Earth, and the need for radical societal change, is what people are willing to accept and resign themselves to, instead of making such changes. What are people willing to settle for as “good enough?” That question brings us back to the discussion of how people define “good.” If the type of creative thinking that is now required of us does not mean that we have to come up with something “perfect,” will those who now protest that we utopian creativity advocates are “making the perfect the enemy of the good” switch their accusation to “making the best (or the better) the enemy of the good?” If so, I would still have to ask them, “How do you define ‘good’? How would you define a good society?” Can any society that was built on a foundation of colonialism, slavery, the predatory exploitation of all of the material natural world (including other humans), patriarchy, anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, justified greed, and many other life-destructive perspectives and practices actually become a good society through attempts at reform, especially when the people in power oppose and block nearly all necessary substantial reforms? In the history of the United States, the foundational flaws listed above were not just unfortunate, unintended by-products of a basically just and well-intended government, but, in actuality, the necessary elements for achieving its intended purpose: dominion over all of the human and non-human inhabitants of their illicitly-acquired lands and over any other lands that they might eventually take in the future. Has that fundamental intended purpose of the U.S. (and other human empires) disappeared or ever been relinquished?
One reason why transformational reform towards real justice, equality, and regenerative environmental sustainability is continuously prevented from occurring is that the social mechanisms deemed necessary to perpetuate an empire or large nation-state, including formal education, indoctrination (both religious and secular), economic bondage, and social peer pressure (leveraging the human need to belong), are used by the ruling class in such societies to promote patriotism and widespread belief in the righteousness of the nation’s foundation. It is completely understandable that people want to feel good about their ancestors, their society, and their culture, have a sense of innocence about it all, and not be burdened with a sense of guilt over what the vast majority feel is normal and unquestionable. Such widespread beliefs and comfort zones make it even harder for people to admit that their societies are fundamentally flawed. Even when social beliefs about right and wrong change, over the long span of time, and large numbers of people begin to recognize and assess the errors of their nation’s founders, there remains a need for the ruling class and their loyal subjects to either justify or deny those foundational errors. One of many examples of this practice in the U.S. is the attempt to justify the slaveholding practiced by founders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington by referring to them as “simply men of their time,” while denying (or completely unaware of the fact) that 98% of the “men of their time” in the new nation did not hold any of their fellow humans in slavery and the majority of states in the new nation outlawed slavery in their original state constitutions. Another example, used to justify colonialism and the aggressive, often genocidal, separation of Indigenous peoples from their homelands, is the lie that the North American continent was mostly an uninhabited, unused by humans, “virgin wilderness wasteland, ripe for the taking,” at all of the various times and places in which European or Euro-descended people first arrived. For over a century, American academic anthropologists, in service to the ruling class, grossly underestimated the population numbers of Indigenous societies originally in the land now called the U.S., in order to perpetuate that lie. Such institutional social mechanisms stifle and obstruct any imagined or actual significant correctional mechanisms that people believe are built into the system. People who have been effectively taught that their societal system is designed to repair its own flaws (no matter how foundational or essential those “flaws” and outright atrocities are to its existence) through its authorized “proper channels,” that such processes for correction must take lengthy amounts of time (perhaps even generations, for major flaws), and that creating new societies built on better foundations is unnecessary, impossible, and maybe even “treasonous,” tend to accept the common assumption that their society is either “good,” “better than other countries,” or, at least something we can call a “lesser evil.” We have also been effectively conditioned to accept lesser evils in nearly every political election campaign, especially at the national level, and every time that we must transport ourselves somewhere that is too far away to walk or bike to, even when we would prefer not to use fossil fuels or toxically-mined and produced lithium at all. Is a “lesser evil” the same thing as “good?”
Is a society that is so destructive to life that the best rating that it could give itself on environmental sustainability is “lesser evil” actually a dystopia?
Unfortunately, it seems that most subject peoples of modern industrial nations have come to define “good” and “lesser evil” as basically the same thing. Maybe the two-word phrase that most people would use to define the state of our current societies and our assumed-as-necessary daily compromises with evil is “good enough.” To that statement of submissive resignation I just have to ask, “good enough for what?” Good enough to keep a sufficient roof over your head and food on your table, at least for this month? Good enough to put enough gas in your tank so that you can continue to drive to that job of yours that just barely pays you a “living wage?” For those who have been a little more fortunate, a little more submissive, compromising, and “well-adjusted”—and, therefore, better-rewarded—does “good enough” mean “at least I get to have all of these great toys and continue to consume way beyond what I really need?” Good enough to keep you binging and streaming your life away? To those who do not define a “good enough” society based solely on its material benefits to themselves, and think more about the well-being of all members of the society (or, what used to be called the “common weal,” or, “common good”), does a society where 5% of its members own 67% of the wealth have a “good enough” economic system? Is a society that is continuously engaged in illegal wars fought only for the purpose of generating financial profits for the owners of various industries “good enough?” Is a society of human beings whose minds are so twisted by the colonialist concept called “race” that they actually have no idea what a human being really is “good enough?” For those who care about preserving Earth’s natural systems that keep us alive, is a society in which the majority of its citizens are so out of touch with and alienated from the natural world that they do not realize that they need those interconnected natural systems (much more than they “need” money) in order to remain alive “good enough?” When confronted with the painful and repulsive fact that their society’s way of life is actually destroying life on Earth and bringing many species, including their own, rapidly towards extinction, some people reply, in attempted self-defense, that there are other nations which are doing more harm to the natural world than their own country is. Is a society that is so destructive to life that the best rating that it could give itself on environmental sustainability is “lesser evil” actually a dystopia? I think that any society that destroys their natural source of biological life simply by carrying out their normal processes of living, within the laws, customs, and ordered structures or systems of that society, and cannot bring themselves to stop doing so, is a dystopian society. Is living in a dystopian society “good enough?” But, again, let’s not get bogged down with endless examples of social dystopia. The only reason I am writing about dystopia here is to point out the need to move towards new (and some old) utopian, or actually ideal, ways of living. So, let’s proceed now in that direction.
What really is the “normal” way of human life in Earth, over the broad span of human history? The reason that I inserted the image above is to give everybody a sense of what is possible for the human species on this planet, and to de-normalize the ways we have been living for the last 5 to 7 thousand years, or 2.5% of our existence. Before we began to go the wrong way, disrespecting and exceeding the carrying capacity of our ancient ancestral homelands (and/or other people’s homelands, taken through conquest or colonialism), all of our various Indigenous ancestors practiced ways of life that were guided by local ecosystems and all of our interconnected and related fellow living beings. Those were harmonious, regenerative, sustainable, and (though not “perfect”) probably mostly joyful, peaceful, thankful and abundant ways of life. We are still that same species and this is still the same planet, even when we take into account all that has changed, and all the vital knowledge that most of our people lost long ago. We will not know what is possible, regarding a return to at least some aspects of the old normal, until we make our best attempts to do so.
Banner image: The Kogi village and tribal community of Tairona, in northern Colombia.
Part II follows tomorrow.
George Price (descendant of the Assonet band of the Wampanoag tribal nation of Massachusetts) has been living with his family on their five-acre organic, polyculture farm on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana since the summer of 1985. He retired from a 33-year teaching career in 2018, which included teaching Native American Studies, American History, and African American Studies at the University of Montana for 20 years. Since he is no longer working “through the system,” he is devoting the remainder of his life to Earth/Water protecting, organic farming, food sovereignty, constructive communicating, and replacing industrial technophile capitalism with local, eco-harmonious, EarthLife-centric, cooperative, alternative communities.
 Beck, Peggy V., and Anna Lee Walters, The Sacred: Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life, Navajo Community College Press, Tsaile, Arizona, 1992. Clark, Ella E., Indian Legends From the Northern Rockies, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1966, 1977.
 The recent COP 26 debacle, which intentionally excluded participation by many Indigenous and other heavily-impacted peoples from the global south, and the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress that same week provided us with fresh examples of that futility, which many of us have long realized is the case.
 To be clear and fair, the word, “perfect,” in 16th century English, usually meant “complete” or “absolute,” although in certain contexts could be interpreted as “flawless” or something more like the way we define “perfect” today.
 Raphael Hythlodaye, Thomas More’s fictional friend who tells the story of his time in Utopia, is said to have gone there with Amerigo (a.k.a., “Alberico”) Vespucci. More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson, printed from the second edition, 1556, page viii.
 As you may already know, More did eventually serve Henry VIII as a counselor, until Henry had him beheaded for refusing to publicly agree with him on the topic of divorce and remarriage.
 See, Anitra Nelson and Frans Timmerman, eds., Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies, London, Pluto Press, 2011.
More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson, printed from the second edition, 1556, page 171. One of the minor characters in the book writes a poem speaking on behalf of the nation of Utopia personified, saying, “Wherfore not Utopie, but rather rightely my name is Eutopie, a place of felicitie.”
 Perhaps the only way that the politicians of today would prioritize the needs of the people whom they allegedly represent, over the will of the corporations who lobby them, would be if the people could form their own “Lobby for the Common Good” and that lobby was funded well enough to surpass the enormous dollar amounts in bribery of all of the corporate lobbyists combined. But, increased corruption of the electoral process (gerrymandering, artificially-constructed “gridlock” through the invincible two-party system, “divide and conquer,” etc.) is also making the people’s voice and will less relevant to the concerns of politicians.
 The first scholar to clearly demonstrate the inadequacies of so-called “100% green energy” technologies for replacing fossil fuel energy at present scale (and much less adequate at future expanded scales) was Ozzie Zehner, an engineering professor at UC Berkeley, in his excellent 2012 book, Green Illusions: the dirty secrets of clean energy and the future of environmentalism, (University of Nebraska Press). In their 2021 book, Bright Green Lies:How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It, Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert echoed much of what Zehner had previously shown while updating the case and adding many more examples and reasons why the so-called green technologies are not nearly green enough to resolve our dire predicament, taking into account all of the fossil fuel energy, mining pollution, and CO2 emissions required to manufacture, transport, install and maintain those “green” technologies at the scale needed to continue with the industrial capitalist high-tech consumer societies. In their 2011 book, TechNo-fix : why technology won’t save us or the environment, Michael Huesemann and Joyce Huesemann describe in great detail the shortcomings and pitfalls of human technological “ingenuity,” including environmental pollution, the many harmful by-products and unintended consequences of many technologies, and the need to fix harm done by many techno fixes. The authors make a very strong argument against the notion that technology and “human innovation” can fix any problem or predicament. A very informative and well-researched study published by three science journalists earlier this year (2021) on exactly what it would take to run the current and growing industrial technological U.S. economy by switching from fossil fuel energy to solar and wind power apparently led to conclusions that were not nearly as rosy or optimistic as the authors had hoped for. The Race to Zero: can America reach net-zero emissions by 2050?, by Oliver Milman, Alvin Chang and Rashida Kamal, The Guardian, March 15, 2021, delivers some startling facts about how much environmentally degrading infrastructure that feat would require, including the need to cover 10% of the surface area of the continental U.S. with solar and wind farms, just to supply the electricity, not to mention all of the other energy productions now done using fossil fuels. We would also need “enough new transmission lines to wrap around Earth 19 times.” That article can be read at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/15/race-to-zero-america-emissions-climate-crisis?utm_term=75ea2afeff5d052feec5683cc23a9e8f&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUS&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=GTUS_email&fbclid=IwAR2Y1IXwzzEzviZY_u8hJ6gcW0ffBiIucDHfbRkjNzDAr5v0mH2vRNGl2oE
Another good, recent scientific article about the inadequacy of “green energy” technologies for resolving our biosphere crises is found here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-delusion-of-infinite-economic-growth/ Earth system scientists are experts at the big picture of our planet’s condition and trajectory of changes over the broad span of time. One of the best (at least most clearly explained, although there was a little wifi connection fuzziness) presentations on the reality of Earth system collapse was made in an interview with Earth system scientist, Joe Brewer, back in December of 2020. Here is the link for that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2L_JD2nxbE OK, that’s enough for one footnote—more, later. Of course, all of these cited items contain references to further sources of good information.
 Global CO2 emissions went down briefly, from March to May of 2020, during the big international shutdown of commercial and industrial activity at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but have gone back up again continuously since then. Stats on emissions for 2021 should be published in February or March of 2022.
 See, Nash, Gary B., The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, New York, Penguin Press, 2005, and Lynd, Staughton, Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution: Ten Essays, Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill,1967.
 See, Thornton, Russell, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1987. Also, Mann, Charles C., 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
 The time frame for the starting point of homo sapiens sapiens, or modern humans in their present form, ranges from 150,000 to 400,000 years ago, depending upon whom you ask. The longer ago that starting point was, the smaller the percentage of our existence that has been spent in unsustainable, life-destructive societies.
 All humans have ancestors who were, at some point in the past, indigenous to a particular place.
 In contrast to the negative, racist portrayals of all Indigenous peoples made by the ruling class colonialists.
Editor’s note: This is what environmental justice looks like. Not NGOs dictating what lands will be set aside for 30×30, which is just greenwashing colonialism. It is the people whose land it is making those decisions and the governments enforcing them.
An Indigenous community in southwest Colombia established a protected reserve in the face of illegal logging, mining and coca cultivation being carried out by criminal groups.
The Eperãra Siapidaarã peoples are especially interested in protecting the extremely poisonous golden dart frog, which they historically used in their darts while hunting.
Despite establishing the reserve, the community has more work to do to fend off violent non-state armed groups.
One of the most poisonous animals on earth, the golden dart frog carries enough toxins in its body to kill 10 people. If it enters the blood stream, the toxin paralyzes the nervous system and, in only a few minutes, stops the heart from beating.
The golden dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis) is found only in southwest Colombia, where mountains and rainforest meet the mangroves of the Pacific coast. For centuries, the Indigenous communities there harvested the toxin for their hunting darts. But in recent years, as criminal activity has spread through the area, some communities have begun to worry that the frog might disappear.
“The advancing agricultural frontier, mining and the expansion of illicit coca crops impinge on the life of the frog because it’s endemic to that one area,” said Luis Ortega, director of the environmental group Fundación Ecohabitats. “All the time, there’s less and less habitat for them.”
For some Indigenous peoples in the area, such as the Eperãra Siapidaarã of Timbiqui, the golden dart frog is more than a hunting tool. It’s also a central figure in their culture, and the reason their ancestors were able to survive after being relocated to the coast during Spanish colonization.
During that time, the frog’s poison helped save the community by giving it an easy way to hunt. Now, it was the community’s turn to help save the frog.
The best way to do this, the Eperãra Siapidaarã decided, was to establish a natural reserve that they would protect and maintain themselves.
“We have the working spirit to defend this territory,” community leader Carlos Quiro told Mongabay.
Quiro and the Eperãra Siapidaarã had already worked with the Colombian government on land titling issues in their territory as well as to help preserve mangroves and other local ecosystems. But these measures weren’t stopping the habitat destruction.
Non-state armed groups, including paramilitaries and guerrillas, have been deforesting the Chocó Biogeographical Region for decades. In recent years, they have pushed into Eperãra Siapidaarã territory to plant coca for drug production, sometimes leading to violent land disputes between rival groups.
In 2009, Colombia recognized the Eperãra Siapidaarã as one of the Indigenous peoples at risk of extinction due to the country’s ongoing armed conflict.
There are also three legal gold and silver mining operations upstream from Eperãra Siapidaarã territory, which satellite data suggest have advanced well beyond their concessions, according to Fundación Ecohabitats. Some residents noticed that the fish pulled from local rivers were becoming smaller and scarcer than in previous years, likely as a result of the pollution.
The makings of a reserve
In 2017, community leaders started meeting with Fundación Ecohabitats, the Cauca department government and the Ministry of Interior about developing a protected area for the golden dart frog. It would not require demarcating new land, they proposed, but instead absorb more than half of the community’s existing territory.
With funding from the Rainforest Trust, meetings were held for the next two years to discuss where the community wanted to establish the reserve and what conservation initiatives they should prioritize. In addition to protecting the golden dart frog’s habitat, residents were interested in stewarding the area’s many watersheds and developing a land use plan that would allow them to continue harvesting forest resources for their cultural, medicinal and spiritual practices.
Younger members of the community were trained in geographic information systems to assist with mapping the boundaries of the new reserve and carrying out patrols, while others studied tourism and business in hopes of turning their artisanal forestry practices into a sustainable source of income.
In September 2019, after years of work, the community officially announced the establishment of the 11,641-hectare (28,765-acre) K´õk´õi Eujã Traditional Natural Reserve — Territory of the Golden Dart Frog.
So far, it hasn’t stopped non-state armed groups from engaging in violent confrontations over control of coca production near Eperãra Siapidaarã territory. It also can’t do anything to prevent pollution from the illegal mining operations upstream. But with the newly established reserve, residents say they feel they have more of a fighting chance.
“There are areas abundant with plants for medicinal use,” Quiro said, “and there is also another area, another mountain range, where there are many trees that are useful for families, so we are benefiting from that. They are very important to the Eperãra Siapidaarã.”
The reserve contains 41 plant species and 11 bird species endemic to Colombia, according to the community’s preliminary research. It is also home to dozens of rare and threatened species, including the night scented orchid (Epidendrum nocturnum) and Licania velata.
The community is still training its rangers in data collection that will help it better understand how these different species are faring in the reserve. Right now, there isn’t hard data on the golden dart frog population or whether it has improved since the reserve was founded. Empirical evidence suggests that it has rebounded, community members say, but they want to know for certain.
One of the Eperãra Siapidaarã’s next goals is to collaborate with biologists and the local government on scientific research projects that will strengthen their understanding of the forest ecosystem, and then to use that work to make better decisions as a community.
In October and November, for example, the golden dart frog begins reproducing. Quiro said he wants to learn more about that process and what can be done to ensure it isn’t interrupted.
“It interests me a lot,” he said. “To understand that experience and, equally important, to share it with the younger generations.”