By Judi Bari - Ms Magazine, May 1992
It is impossible to live in the redwood region of Northern California without being profoundly affected by the destruction of this once magnificent ecosystem. Miles and miles of clearcuts cover our bleeding hillsides. Ancient forests are being strip-logged to pay off corporate junk bonds. And bee-lines of log trucks fill our roads, heading to the sawmills with loads ranging from 1,000-year old redwoods, one tree trunk filling an entire logging truck, to six-inch diameter baby trees that are chipped for pulp. Less than 5% of the old growth redwood is left, and the ecosystem is disappearing even faster than the more widely known tropical rainforest.
So it is not surprising that I, a lifetime activist, would become an environmentalist. What is surprising is that I, a feminist, single mother and blue-collar worker, would end up in Earth First!, a “no compromise” direct action group with the reputation of being macho, beer-drinking eco-dudes. Little did I know that by combining the more feminine elements of collectivism and non-violence with the spunk and outrageousness of Earth First!, we would spark a mass movement. And little did I know that I would pay for our success by being bombed and nearly killed, and subjected to a campaign of hatred and misogyny.
I was attracted to Earth First! because they were the only ones willing to put their bodies in front of the bulldozers and chainsaws to save the trees. They were also funny, irreverent, and they played music. But it was the philosophy of Earth First! that ultimately won me over. This philosophy, known as biocentrism or deep ecology, states that the Earth is not just here for human consumption. All species have a right to exist for their own sake, and humans must learn to live in balance with the needs of nature, instead of trying to mold nature to fit the wants of humans.
I see no contradiction between deep ecology and eco-feminism. But Earth First! was founded by five men, and its principle spokespeople have all been male. As in all such groups, there have always been competent women doing the real work behind the scenes. But they have been virtually invisible behind the public Earth First! persona of “big man goes into big wilderness to save big trees.” I certainly objected to this. Yet despite the image, the structure of Earth First! was decentralized and non-hierarchical, so we had the leeway to develop any way we wanted in our local Northern California group.
Earth First! came on the scene in redwood country around 1986, when corporate raider Charles Hurwitz of Maxxam took over a local lumber company, then nearly tripled the cut of old growth redwood to pay off his junk bonds. Earth First! had been protesting around public land issues in other parts of the West since 1981, but this was such an outrage that it brought the group to its first “private” lands campaign.