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Earth First! and the IWW, Part 4 - I Knew Nothin' Till I Met Judi

By x344543 - Industrial Worker, November 2013

"Every once in a while a new radical movement arises and illustrates the social firmament so suddenly and so dazzlingly that many people are caught off guard and wonder: “What’s going on here? Who are these new radicals, and what do they want?...

"This new movement...starts delivering real blows to the power and prestige of the ruling exploiters and their governmental stooges. This in turn inevitably arouses the hostility of the guardians of the status quo...who raise a hue and cry for the punishment and suppression of the trouble making upstarts...

"The new movement, with wild songs and high humor, captures the imagination of masses of young rebels, spreads like wildfire, turns up everywhere, gets blamed for everything interesting that happens, and all the while writes page after page in the annals of freedom and justice for all..."

These words were written by IWW member Franklin Rosemont in one of his four articles about Earth First! In the May 1988 edition of the Industrial Worker. In doing so, he brought the IWW squarely into the middle of a firestorm of controversy, and not just on the left, but in timber dependent rural communities as well.

On the left, Earth First! had been (with some justification) excoriated for the reactionary sounding positions taken by Dave Foreman, Ed Abbey, and Chris Manes on starvation among Africans, limiting immigration, and AIDS being "nature's" remedy for excess population, all of which were based on the wrongheaded notion that Thomas Malthus's views on population and starvation had any merit or any relevance to the environment (they don't).

Timber dependent communities lambasted Earth First! for entirely different reasons. Obviously, the bosses hated Earth First! because the latter threatened their profits. Timber workers--many of whom suffered from a sort of capitalist induced "Stockholm Syndrome", not the least of which was made worse by collaborationist business unions (where they existed at all)--echoed the bosses rhetoric, particularly when the capitalists used the word "jobs" when they actually meant profits. Earth First!'s association with tree spiking, and their stubborn refusal to jettison the tactic didn't help matters much.

Ironically, few on the left, and practically nobody in the corporate media paid any attention to what was going on in "ground zero" for the timber wars, California's northwestern redwood coast. Earth First! there had never used tree spiking, and they had gone to great lengths to express their sympathy for the timber workers' plight-identifying capitalist timber harvesting practices as the actual threat to the workers' livelihoods.

And it was. Timber Workers' job security and working conditions had been adversely impacted by automation (by 1988, it took two people do do the work that eleven did in the 1930s), raw log exports, depletion of standing timber due to over harvesting, and speed ups (made worse by union busting).

The capitalists--largely through the use of very effective propaganda and P.R.--were successfully able to divert many (though not all) of the workers' attention and shift the blame to environmentalists, including especially Earth First!. Taking advantage of half truths and gross exaggerations of Earth First!'s own shortcoming, the bosses framed the former as "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs".

The Earth First! chapters in northwestern California found themselves unable to respond (though they certainly tried). In spite of their best efforts, they lacked experience at cultivating the relationships necessary to build meaningful connections between radical environmentalists and rank and file timber workers, who--when stripped of superficial cultural differences--actually had a great deal in common.

The IWW would soon provide that missing link, but not without a great deal of heated debate among Wobblies and Earth First!ers. The May 1988 issue of the Industrial Worker proved highly controversial. While a clear majority supported the idea of the IWW working closely with Earth First!, there was a substantial enough minority of skeptics and naysayers who were vocal enough to force a debate, which raged for several months.

As one would expect, the Malthusian dogma championed by Foreman, Abbey, and Manes sparked the opposition. Franklin Rosemont--writing under the pseudonym "Lobo x99" tried to defend Earth First! by drawing sharp distinctions between Foreman, Abbey, and Manes, but it didn't help. Rosemont's article, "Earth First! vs the Rumor Mongers", published in the September issue of the Industrial Worker drew a backlash from Ed Abbey. That in turn drew a host of rebuttals from various Wobblies, the most vocal being Louis Prisco and Jess Grant of the Bay Area IWW, whom Abbey then denounced as "Bookchinites" and "Marxoid Dogmatists" (which was ironic considering that Murray Bookchin's own perspectives on "social ecology" assigned Marxism and syndicalism to the "dustbin of history").

If anything, Rosemont's defense of Earth First! (at the expense of Abbey, et. al.) was a whitewash, and /that/ drew a rebuke in the pages of Anarcho Syndicalist Review (known then as Libertarian Labor Review), cofounded by the late Sam Dolgoff--a long time IWW member--and others. Meanwhile, even the primitivist Fifth Estate called out Earth First! for its ill-chosen romanticization of Malthus.

None of this had much relevance to Humboldt Earth First! activists, Greg King and Darryl Cherney, who were doing their best to communicate with angry timber workers who'd been whipped up into vigilante mob hysteria by the bosses and their front groups (TEAM and WECARE). On top of that, the local politicians (Democrat and Republican alike) had aligned themselves with Corporate Timber.

All of them kept repeating Corporate Timber's standard litany of falsehoods as talking points: the corporations "were the backbone of the local economy" (never mentioning that they siphoned all of the profits out of the community); they "planted more trees than they cut down" (neglecting to point out that this was meaningless, since most saplings died before reaching overstory status and forest ecosystems were far more complex); that the environmentalists were "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" (mostly false); and that California had "the best forestry regulations on the books" (which had no teeth, since the capitalists made sure that their foxes were guarding the state henhouse).

Deciding that enough was enough, King and Cherney decided to run for office. Cherney, in particular, ran for congress against the incumbent Democrat in his district, Doug Bosco. They described their "Earth First! Platform" (which was neither anti-worker, anti-immigrant, racist, nor homophobic) as being 6' by 3' and 150' up in the trees. Talented musician and former childhood actor that he was, Darryl used his guitar and voice to spread his message and billed himself as "the singing candidate".

In spite of that, Cherney still needed to use more conventional means of outreach, including old fashioned handbills. While he was a skilled songsmith he was not a particularly adept layout artist. Seeking help, he happened into the recently opened Mendocino Environment Center (MEC) on 106 West Standley Street in Ukiah one day in May of 1988.

The "MEC" was principally staffed by two Earth First!ers, the wife and husband team of Betty and Gary Ball. The Balls referred Cherney to another volunteer, a carpenter named Judi Bari, who--along with Gary Ball--worked for a small local company called California Yurts. Bari was a very skilled layout artist (as well as highly intelligent) , and while she agreed to help Darryl with his design, she pointed out that his campaign was ultimately futile.

Bari, a one time union activist, impressed Cherney with her knowledge of labor and environmental issues. He was at the same time impressed with how effortlessly she wove class and ecological struggle into a single all encompassing whole. Bari, meanwhile, thought Cherney had much to learn about how class issues underpinned environmentalism. The two also shared a mutual romantic attraction for each other.

Cherney admonished Bari to join Earth First!, but the latter initially demurred. She believed Earth First! was saddled with too much white, male, middle class privilege to be truly effective (and she cited Foreman's, Abbey's, and Manes's Malthusian perspectives in particular). Cherney countered by pointing out that Earth First!'s anarchic structure allowed local chapters to adopt their own unique character.

After some thought, Bari finally agreed to join Earth First! on one condition: at the upcoming California Earth First! rendezvous in September in the nearby Siskiyou National Forest, Bari would lead a workshop on the IWW and it's relevance to the current ecological struggles of Earth First!

To be continued...

Coming Soon: Part 5: "The Earth isn't Dying; it's Being Killed".

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