The following is a cross-posted article from SCISSION.
SCISSION provides progressive news and analysis from the breaking point of Capital. SCISSION represents an autonomist Marxist viewpoint. You can read the original post in it’s entirety here:
For ten months the people of Zurawlow, Poland, have been occupying a field near their village attempting to stop Chevron in its tracks. Under the protection of security, and in a very tense atmosphere, Chevron had taken possession of land to install a fence and drill a well last summer.
According to the locals, this land has only been permitted for seismic testing. The authorization for drill testing was canceled in June 2012 and therefore Chevron has no right to drill.
The Polish farmers are opposed to unconventional shale gas drilling because it could lead to the contamination of their water and land; during previous seismic tests on-site explosives were used and had already caused water pollution, it became unfit for consumption.
Earlier in February, Poland ditched plans to use a state company to explore for shale gas, instead deciding to auction off licenses to foreign companies. Exxon Mobil and Marathon Oil are both interested in the country’s shale industry. Some state-controlled companies have also won licenses for exploration.
Maciej Grabowski, Poland’s environment minister, expects the country’s first commercial shale gas well to be drilled this year, and hopes to have over 200 wells in the next few years.
Earlier this year, the European Union’s attempts to set legally binding regulations for shale gas extraction were defeated after the UK and a number of EU states (including Poland) argued that current EU regulations are sufficient to keep fracking safe. Instead companies will be asked to follow voluntary guidelines.
“This is obviously a very disappointing and alarming proposal,” Antoine Simon, shale-gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe was quoted by Bloomberg News in January. It “ignores the studies the commission published and fails to protect Europe’s citizens from the health and environmental risks of unconventional and dirty fossil fuels.”
“I think it is sad that the European Commissioners are protecting the interests of a handful of fossil fuel companies rather than the interests of Europe’s citizens,” the Green MEP Claude Turmes told EurActiv.
The EU proposals have “nothing in the way of real protection for the thousands of ordinary people who will see their lives and local areas turned upside down if the fracking industry gets its way,” Lawrence Carter, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace in London, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.
“This is likely to be only the beginning,” Caroline May, head of safety and environment at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright LLP in London was quoted by Businessweek. “The difficulties for the regulators are the political differences across member states and the differing reserves, which mean that some countries can ‘afford’ to have no policy or to protest, whereas for others like the UK there is a real resource as well as financial imperative.”
In fact, in the midst of global climate talks held in Poland last November, the Polish government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk flouting the international call for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions suddenly fired Environment Minister Marcin Korolec and replaced him with a man closely associated with the nation’s gas fracking industry.
Following the firing Maciej Muskat, director of Greenpeace Poland said, “This is nuts. Changing the minister leading the climate negotiations after a race to the bottom by parties of the convention shows Prime Minister Tusk is not sincere about the need for an ambitious climate deal…Furthermore, justifying the change of minister by the need to push the exploitation of another fossil fuel in Poland is beyond words.
All of this is happening despite early reports of bad results in the shale oil game in Poland.
The last line of defense may just be a handful of farmers in a remote back area of Poland…and that may just be enough.
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about captive animal parks, especially those that have orcas, dolphins, and sharks after timely releases of documentaries like The Cove, Blackfish, and bigger media expose stories about conditions inside these places. Long before the “Blackfish Effect” and likely long after it, there were advocates and activists who opposed these parks. One of these advocates was Dylan Powell, and his group Marineland Animal Defense (M.A.D.) was positioned with an active pressure campaign when two summers ago a massive story exposed to the public for the first time in many years, the conditions inside Marineland Canada, located in the tourist-driven region of Niagara Falls. Having an already well-established campaign, M.A.D. was able to dynamically an immediately respond to the increase in public awareness and the outrage of individuals who until that moment were ignorant of the conditions these animals lived their lives in. With the release of Blackfish, interest is surging again, and unlike many campaigns that see these ebbs and flows in public interest, M.A.D. has been able to translate some short-term press into long-term resistance at the park. We’re very happy to discuss with Dylan today how that was achieved, what it cost, and ultimately what comes next.
Powell: In December 2012 the captive animal facility Marineland Canada filed two separate, but related, suits against me and Marineland Animal Defense – one a $1.5 million damages suit and the other an injunction case. Overall their civil litigation is considered by many to be a SLAPP suit or a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – basically an attempt to use the legal system to either criminalize your advocacy or shut you up. Since 2004 they’ve engaged in 7 similar suits – claiming damages in excess of $13 million dollars suing activists, ex employees and a national news media who ran an investigative series on the facility – while also threatening a host of others with similar suits (including the Ontario Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who was investigating them at the time).
I personally got involved in organizing against this facility in 2007 after a close friend took me and my partner on a behind the scenes tour with his sibling who was a trainer at the time. I had just recently went vegetarian and already had known some things about the facility that made me uncomfortable but actually seeing the holding areas where the animals spent the majority of their lives was unsettling. I was lucky in that folks in the community had been organizing against the facility for decades so I basically just plugged in. I was mentored by people who had been through a previous SLAPP suit from Marineland from 2004-2006 so I was aware that any kind of effective organizing would most likely have the same result. Around this same time I was helping out with the Talon Conspiracy (http://thetalonconspiracy.
Powell: I believe there are definitive blocks or cycles to the anti-captivity movement. I think in many ways we are still feeling the after effects of a massive amount of organizing that happened in the mid-90′s after the release of “Free Willy.” In the most recent block though I chart a pretty linear path from large scale media projects like the “Whale Wars” tv show, and documentaries like “The Cove,” “Sharkwater” and “Blackfish.” Most of these efforts begin around the 2008-2009 and a lot of them reference each other and build off of each other and in doing so they’ve all created this increased pressure and kept the issue in the media consistently over the span of half a decade now. I think in a lot of ways there has been pressure similar and maybe even greater than that mid-90′s era, but we still haven’t been able to cause any large shifts in the industry yet like we saw then.
Aside from that there are a ton of factors at play for “why now”. Social media plays such a huge role and is such a great leveller for issues like this where one side has this very passionate position and the other has a ton of money. All of these parks have made it where they are using traditional media outlets – advertorial content, jingles, constant ads, etc – but all of them are also struggling mightily to gain any traction on social media. This is only empowering activists and pushing the issue even further in new outlets where the other side is weak.
This is also been the place where many ex-employees have been organizing and coming forward. There have always been those who have spoke out against the industry, but the social media era has seen the size of that group grow and the impact of what they’ve said grow. This industry has always relied on very young and naive people who are good looking and can swim. Those people experience the industry and then become expendable commodities just like the captive animals. Fear of civil litigation and backlash kept a lot of those people quiet for long periods of time, but as more and more of them come out that fear kind of dissipates and it has a snowball effect. Another area where this industry just can’t keep up.
Powell: There are bunch of those moments for me. Back in 2011 when this campaign first started we took the amount of demonstrations on site up from 2 to 3 symbolic demonstrations a year to 15-20 demonstrations. The response from the local police was intense for a lot of people – 8 cops and cruisers, massive court services vans, cops scouring crowds of 60 people for hours as if they are going to make a mass arrest. This was a really make or break point for a community not used to this kind of intimidation from police. We filmed it all, publicized it and filed OIPRD complaints and did what we could to make sure people kept their nerves and cool. Cops also started asking about local activists in the community at the time. In the end we made it through but it all could have ended right there if the small community would have stayed home or turn inward and imploded on itself.
Aside from that the first demonstration after the Toronto Star investigative series in August 2012 was massive. 500 people – a new record in over 35+ years of protest against the park. Being able to visualize that many people out front of the park was a turning point.
After that the closing day demonstration in 2012 and the opening day demonstration in 2013 were huge turning points. On closing day in 2012 at a demonstration of around 800 people a couple hundred broke off and entered the park shutting down the final dolphin show of the year. It happened entirely organically and the feeling was electric. In between those two demonstrations though we got sued and it was a huge concern for us to escalate and show them that we were not afraid. To respond in May 2013 with an even larger demonstration of 1,000 people was another one of those moments. Even just all of the positive ripples that will come out of just those two demonstrations, for years to come, is huge to me.
Powell: The nature of a SLAPP suit is to “chill” public advocacy. If they don’t have that effect on the targets of the suit – the hope is that they at least have that effect on others. What this looks like for our campaign has been people who have been involved as organizers have had to stop organizing for fear of being sued themselves, people have stayed away from demonstrations afraid of arrest or of being sued, some great campaign ideas have been shelved and news publications have stopped following leads on stories about the facility because the risk/reward just doesn’t make sense for them if one or two investigative stories are going to lead to a massive suit. A lot of people when they see those big numbers and the negative press that comes along with it take stock and think about their jobs, their families, and they just can’t justify the risk. That’s why we intentionally set myself as a target for this kind of litigation way back in 2011. In a lot of ways we’ve been preparing for it since the beginning.
Our campaign specifically and myself personally are now living under a court order from August 2013 where Marineland Canada was granted injunctive relief on 5 of 14 points of relief they sought. This has changed the way we frame the issue, our messaging, signage on site, where we can stand, how we organize, etc. The $1.5 million damages suit also still hangs overhead. In a lot of ways this has been extremely frustrating to deal with as an all volunteer grassroots campaign with limited resources. In other ways it has only made this campaign stronger and forced us to gain skills we wouldn’t have otherwise.
BWM: Since your lawsuit, the group and concerned people who demonstrate at the park has been faced with a number of restrictions to their rights as peacefully assembled protesters. Can you outline for us some of the ways Marineland has evolved their responses to dissenting individuals and tried to impact your ability to reach potential patrons of their facility?
Powell: There have been definitive stages of response from Marineland. The first stage was a very heavy handed response from local police and threats from the park owner (http://vimeo.com/29582044). Once that did not work they moved towards land leases from the City of Niagara Falls to basically buy up the land we demonstrate on in order to stop and/or criminalize demonstrations. That didn’t have the intended effect because we just moved. The next stage after that came the civil litigation stage we are in now. Currently via the court order there are some restrictive things which stop us from doing things we would actually do – like using specific language familiar in any animal advocacy campaign, to not being able to leaflet cars as they leave the facility, to not being able to use megaphones – but the majority of the court order restricts things we didn’t intend to continue doing (home demonstrations), things which are already criminal offenses (trespass) or things which we’ve never done (directly initiate contact with employees). Outside of this stuff they’ve also built a massive fence that runs the full length of their front property and planted trees and shrubs to try and block sight line from those entering the park, built massive signs warning the public of our presence, and also frequently make up new property lines by randomly pounding stakes into the ground to make their property actually appear larger and the space we demonstrate on smaller. Aside from this they’ve also completely re-branded with a new commercial, jingle and billboard campaign, hired on a press consultant who used to work for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and made some pretty laughable youtube PR videos (http://youtu.be/GpuZUwFgK0U). The people at this facility have always taken the protests on a very personal level and it’s been years of these kinds of tactics. Every single time we match with an escalating response. In the most basic terms it is a “removal strategy” that is informed by STRATFOR-esque tactics – remove us physically from the land, remove our voices from the media, attack character and remove credibility of those opposing the park, etc.
BWM: With all these restrictions, Marineland Animal Defense has had to become a very dynamic and diverse group as far as tactics are concerned. Can you outline for us the importance of diversity and employing the appropriate tactic for the intended outcome? How is it that a long campaign like this (going into it’s fourth year) can stay nimble and effective?
Powell: Without a diversity of tactics approach Marineland and all of the stakeholders involved in trying to stop the demonstrations would just key in on what we do and criminalize it. If we only leafleted the entrances and exits of the park they’d just lease that land up (like they already did). We actually started off with quiet sign holding and leafleting and only brought out megaphones in response to those moves and subsequent land leases have been for smaller portions as a result. There is this wide spread belief that less confrontational tactics, or more popular or “peaceful” tactics of quiet sign holding will be protected – but only in so far as they are ineffective. Every tactic can and will be criminalized if it is effective. Starting from that basis we’ve been able to demonstrate year after year that steps to further criminalize our tactics will only be met with an escalating response. For example this years coming opening day demonstration will be the first ever march on the facility (http://marchonmarineland.com/) / (https://www.facebook.com/groups/209715355828656/) and that comes in direct response to their continued march through the court system. At each stage they have the ability to either respond or pull back – much in the same way that the pressure campaign as a whole is supposed to make alternatives look more and more lucrative as it goes on. Aside from our own campaign there is a diversity of people organizing against this park and from a bunch of different angles and viewpoints. People tend to believe that unity is most important tactically, but it is the diversity of these positions – and a “unity of message” – which is actually providing the largest barrier for all the forms of corporate repression they are attempting. If we were one unified whole, with one unified approach – we’d just be a larger target and that much easier to take down. The differences and conflicts between these positions are real and there is little love lost between them, but at the end of the day we extremely aware of the fact that a diversity of tactics and position is what is fuelling opposition to Marineland. All of this has been part of the learning process for people involved in the campaign and I think should give folks pause to think about a lot of the infighting and conflict that comes up around issues and advocacy.
BWM: Do you have an advice for people who are organizing around their own local captive animal facility who may be seeing a sudden spike in interest or attendance, like Marineland Animal Defense experienced a few years ago, with all the major media attention on places like SeaWorld now?
Powell: It is a marathon and not a race. A lot of people disrupted their life for this campaign because we knew that we had to work hard to channel this outrage into something substantive and not have it be lost to just another media cycle outrage. That hard work paid off because it’s almost two years later and we are still holding massive demonstrations without that same press coverage. We came in way before the “Blackfish Effect” and lived through both the Occupy Movement and Idle No More. That said, a lot of people have burned out and a lot of the organizing was nowhere near sustainable. It’s nearly impossible to prepare for explosions like that, but reminding yourself when you are in it that these are long term goals is key.
Also, as I said, do everything you can to channel that outrage into something substantive, something long term. Hold demonstrations and build mailing lists, build community and know the people coming out, set demonstration schedules that people can be prepare for including large demonstrations planned months apart that you can really prepare for and promote. Create your campaign name and logo, build a website, create your own materials, etc. Grow your social media reach through that base and those demonstrations so that if and when media start to move to the next outrage you still have a way of getting the word out (our social media reach is currently larger than any news media outlet in the Niagara Region). If you think civil litigation might be in your future, work with your group to try and set intentional targets that will draw these facilities away from trying to really hammer on people with small children, families and jobs that would not withstand it. Also, for people who really want to dedicate themselves don’t be afraid to reach out to old timers who are still active or to others. These campaigns can be isolating and it’s tough to experience these things for the first time but there are people willing to help.
BWM: Can you give us some insight into what you think the future looks like for Marineland if things continue on the trajectory they have been the last few years? Is there some way they could re-brand out of the present PR disaster around captive orcas and dolphins; is the current climate around captive animal facilities a speedbump or a critical injury?
Powell: There are a lot of things with this facility that are not sustainable. The owner is nearly 80 years old and there are questions of what will happen there. Many of the sea lions are “retired” because of health issues, they are down to one remaining captive Orca named Kiska, and there are ratio issues with their dolphins and captive breeding programs. Aside from this there is industry and political pressure for further changes at this facility – alongside a constant public pressure. I think the response from inside the park is still “wait it out.” As I said there was massive pressure in the mid-90′s to see changes to this industry alongside massive demonstrations at Marineland. They’ve also been through the SLAPP process before and actually managed to collapse a previous campaign and stop demonstrations for a three year period. For them, I still think they believe they can weather the storm. In a sense they are correct. Their PR and social media campaigns have flopped, their rebranding has not been successful and their civil litigation has not had the effect they’d hoped – but they still know that people tend to lose interest or move onto the next issue. This brings it all back to being a marathon. At this point both sides are dug and it’s a matter of who can withstand this the longest. Can we continually organize massive demonstrations and keep this facility and it’s practices in the media and keep the public debate around these issues alive? Can they hold on long enough for demonstrators to lose interest or for personality conflicts and egos to implode the issue? We know this is what they are hoping for because they consistently try to hammer on this divisions.
I feel like other parks and this industry as a whole are in the same position. They know right now the pressure is intense and they cannot adequately combat the exposure – but they also know that they’ve been here before and that if they just hold tight there is a chance it will collapse. This is the main concern I have with a movement that is so heavily reliant on big budget media productions. What comes after “Blackfish”? What if we can’t keep up with these large projects and what if these media projects themselves feed a kind of voyeurism mentality that doesn’t actually lead us to the level of commitment and pressure that we need? Social media carries the same worry as all platforms are moving towards paid advertising models to maintain or grow your reach. There is such a celebratory mood right now as pressure is high that I fear is stopping people from thinking long term, or critically, about what is happening and where we are. Trying to caution against that means swimming upstream. For example, news of SeaWorlds stock dropping and symbolic press releases for legislation go viral on social media – however, everyone simply ignores when their stock rebounds. Simply pointing this out will draw a negative reaction from people. This has to change if we are going to have an actual effect.
That all said, right now I am really interested to see how this next season plays out and the development of grassroots campaigns against other captive animal facilities like the local Protest African Lion Safari (https://www.facebook.com/groups/276779202443069/), the far away Citizens for an Animal Free Six Flags (https://www.facebook.com/citizensforananimalfreesixflags) and annual events like “Empty the Tanks” (https://www.facebook.com/events/589482841111412/). The more I see outrage being channeled into long term campaigns the better I am going to feel about the future.
BWM: Considering that you have faced a significant amount of legal action, as well as been the public face of the Marineland Animal Defense Campaign, what does your future look like with this suit and your own activism? Where are you ten years from now if things were to go your way?
Powell: Later this year I will turn 30. The decision to really start this campaign was made in 2010 when I was 25. For me I’d love that mid 30′s role of moving towards being a mentor and a coordinator in the movement and having a family and focusing on my home life with my partner. As it stands currently we have a legal decision from a Judge that I am the “sole mind of Marineland Animal Defense or the closest thing to it.” This was a calculated risk for our campaign because it means that it shuts off attempts by Marineland Canada to broaden civil litigation against other organizers, members and supporters – but it also ties me to this issue long term. Any breach of the court order could find me in jail or facing fines – and Marineland has already unsuccessfully tried to get a Judge to grant contempt orders. If we are successful this facility will close, transfer ownership and responsibly rehome all of the animals to sanctuaries, rehab facilities, sea side pens and wild release (if possible) and I will be able to move into another role. If not, I am committed to seeing this through and dealing with the consequences and risks involved. People have been protesting against this park since the mid-1970′s but always in cycles. If there is another drop off then all of this effort might as well have been for nothing and I accepted those risks walking into this campaign.
BWM: How can people get involved or show their support?
Powell: Folks can best support the campaign by being present. The best strategy – above all else – in opposition to captive animal facilities is to regularly be present. These are businesses that rely on 90% of their revenue from ticket sales. Documentaries and social media are great for raising awareness and stopping many from even thinking of going – but these places feel most vulnerable when you can directly reach the people who are actually entering the facilities. We have a full demonstration schedule set for 2014 and people who are close enough to make those demonstrations should try and make as many as they can. Those farther away – the Opening and Closing Day demonstrations are always the largest and most organized.
Aside from that, stay up to date on our social media pages, websites and mailing list and stay active on this issue during times when it is out of a media cycle. The longer the memory, and the more consistent the advocacy, the better the results. If people also have a particular skill they’d like to offer up – or are willing to commit to learning and getting involved there is always room for more organizers.
Those outside the area can also greatly help by developing similar campaigns against your closest CAZA, AZA, WAZA accredited for profit facility. All of that helps our campaign, shifts and spreads resources of these captive animal parks and makes a difference for captive animals outside of just this specific facility.
BWM: Do you have any final words you like to share with people about the Marineland Animal Defense campaign or organizing around animal liberation?
Powell: Everything about this campaign has been about trying to broaden our politics, broaden our reach, broaden our tactics. That’s because we realize that if we stay isolated we can’t win. This campaign was developed in the hopes of not only closing this park but also inspiring others to get active and to hopefully be a part of rebuilding the grassroots animal liberation movement in North America. There is a huge history full of victories that is largely forgotten and we are trying to build a bridge to that through our actions. In a lot of ways we have been extremely lucky and in others our persistence and dedication has shown people that being present is the most important thing. At a time where online activism and social media is so dominant we hope to bring people back to face to face organizing models and having people realize the power of mass demonstrations and grassroots organizing – “people power.” Some times it feels like we are trying to speak a new language and don’t find ourselves comfortable in the mainstream animal rights movement, or the traditional anti captivity movement, but we’ve had success in bringing people together for a bunch of different viewpoints back to this style of organizing. We want to see more of that and to be part of something much larger. We also hope that our example shows people that taking risks is worth it and that you will have support and grow as a result. People don’t have to stay suck in handing out leaflets, quietly holding signs, or signing online petitions if they don’t want to. We have to both make that space, and support that spectrum at the same time.
In the beginning this campaign was just a few friends organizing and a couple dozen people demonstrating. It didn’t get much media attention, it was laughed at by the park owner and employees as well as by local politicians and police. That was May 2011. We’ve grown every year since and are now approaching May 2014 on much different terms and there is absolutely no reason why this can’t be recreated elsewhere if people are willing to commit, put in the time and energy and take those risks.
To see Dylan speak in person about this campaign please check out one of his upcoming speaking dates!
Portland State University – March 20th - https://www.facebook.com/events/437471123049611/
Vancouver – March 22/23 - http://animaladvocacycamp.ca/
Victoria – March 25th - https://www.facebook.com/events/714531615253182/
Cumberland – March 26th – Village Muse Books
PE: For those unfamiliar with your past, could you introduce yourself?
Hi my name is rod and I’m from the desert southwest, but live in the great lakes bioregion now. I’ve spent my life fighting for the earth and animals and have just finished a 5 year period of federal supervision that prevented me from being involved in environmentalism or animal issues. I’ve spent a total of 6 years in prison for actions related to the protection of animals, and am now moving forward in my life with new strategies and tactics, that are both effective and legal. Though I walked a controversial and radical path, I no longer advocate illegal activity. That’s a personal decision that I made before with very intense personal consequences, so I’m not doing that anymore. I’m doing what a lot of people are doing now, and that’s struggling to find a way to help stop some horribly violent federal and state policies that currently are allowing for the killing of wolves and other wildlife.
PE: What have you been doing these last 7 years while on probation? Other than helping wolves, what else are you doing these days with your life?
Trying like hell to stay out of prison. When you’ve made a mark for yourself like I have in the law enforcement community, it gets real easy to get back into trouble. So I did what I had to do, I severed all contacts with the activist world, didn’t email, phone, write or do any social media with anyone with an activist past history and just worked my job at a brewery where I’m a server. I also was a big part of my children’s lives. I wasn’t in prison. I was a present father, raising children, teaching them to love life and nature. Loving life myself. I went kayaking when I could. We played in lakes and rivers, camped. I did what Geronimo and others like him had to do when they were forced to surrender and live on the rez. I will still be a father, but now it’s time to stand up for the wild once again.
PE: It seemed for a while like every time you moved they were trying to put you in jail again. I had thought you retired to raise your child, What have you actually been doing during all the years where you seemed to disappear from the public eye?
No one will deny that federal law enforcement agencies had identified me as a target. Not only had I already spent 4 years in prison for Animal Liberation Front actions in the 1990′s, but in the ensuing years I had become a spokesperson for the group while continuing to organize with Earth First! And Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty. I even made it easier for them by hanging out with other suspects of federal investigations. So while I did have to go back to prison as part of a non-cooperative plea agreement, at least I didn’t get the 16 year sentence they threatened me with in trial. So yes, it was time to lay down my arms and think about my children and the future. I spent the last five years just keeping my head low and not traveling or seeing any close friends and only very restricted travel to see my family. I wasn’t allowed to visit my elderly parents in Portland, because my probation officer said all of the Northwest was off limits due to its history of radical environmentalism and animal rights activities.
Like so many other men recently released from prison, I focused on the financial survival of my family. I also got involved with my children’s school and met other parents raising children nonviolently who became friends. We tried to start a community garden near the school and introduced a zero-waste program that survives today. The last five years allowed me to be a part of my kid’s lives rather than only hear about it in letters.
Now that my federal supervision is over, I can think about acting as a responsible human being and organizing against the destruction of the wild. Here in Michigan that means stopping the recent sport hunt for wolves. That’s where the tour came in. Folks from the Hunt Saboteurs approached me offering to help build a broader grassroots campaign drawing from several movements. Not just against wolf hunts in the six states where they are now being hunted, but against contest predator hunts and control efforts by the USDA’s Wildlife Services program.
PE: A lot of people seem to see animal liberation and anti-colonial work as opposed. But to you they seem to be very deeply connected?
The connection for me comes with the concept of seeing an animal, person or mountain as part of something bigger, or whether they are just a resource to be exploited and dominated. That is the foundation for the invasion of planet earth and for me I’ll work with anyone fighting against that destruction. Here in the Great Lakes, the wolf is a sacred animal to the indigenous people. So you ave not only animal welfare and animal rights people opposed to the hunt, but the tribes as well. Combine that with environmentalist and even sportsmen against hunting and trapping wolves and you have the potential for a lot of solidarity which equals strength. The Idle-No-More movement s amazing and supporting indigenous peoples engaged in struggles against colonialism is vital or they are going to be marginalized and silenced. All us parties affected by the same Invader need to build stronger alliances and push back in the legal channels we have left.
PE: I asked David Barbarash, a former ALF spokesperson what he would want to ask you if he was interviewing you. He wondered if you regret any of the actions you participated in over the years?
Ahhh, the regret question. Who doesn’t have regrets? But if the interviewer is evading asking me more directly if I regret my illegal actions on behalf of wildlife, I’d have to say no I don’t. I could be cheeky and say I regret not sinking the third whaling ship with the watchman aboard, or finding more lion snares, but that’s kind of how I feel…I’d never want to hurt anyone, but with so many victories like wolf recovery being reversed, I wonder whether its less about “winning” and more about simply standing for what you believe even when its unpopular to do so. It wasn’t popular to take the actions I did, but I did them not with the intention of winning any popularity contests, but to save some lives…however temporarily that might have been. And I don’t regret that.
PE: David also wondered if you would share your thoughts on whether people’s activism may be motivated by past experiences of trauma or anger, and how that affects their actions?
I think this has to do with what I said about the connection between animal and Indigenous issues. A lot of people relate to animals and nature because they are ground up by the same machines. In that way, I think a lot of people are empathetic to animals and can relate to them because we all have a bond with animals some time in our lives and like children, we believe it is wrong to abuse them. But if your saying that such activism attracts unhealthy or unstable people, well I’ve seen that too.
PE: I have read that you became vegan and started working to defend animals after listening to punk music, in particular the song This Is The ALF by Conflict?
That’s kind of funny because its only partially true. Here’s the real story. I began working to protect animals when I was 12 and listening to Paul McCartney and John Denver. Punk music didn’t come until I went overseas on Sea Shepherd in 1985. I started fighting against whaling and the Canadian harp seal hunt after being exposed to both through dramatic direct action campaigns by Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace. In England, the Sea Shepherd crew included hunt saboteurs who were also vegetarian and vegan. They were the first ones to lead me to question my beliefs about all animals. I had tremendous respect for members of the American Indian Movement who were still fighting colonialism, then I witnessed nonviolent civil disobedience used in anti-nuclear protests, but these people exposed me to the principles behind the Animal Liberation Front, and that’s where “This is the ALF” comes in. After working on Sea Shepherd in port one day, some hunt saboteur volunteers had me over to listen to music. I couldn’t understand a word of what sounded like screaming, but they handed me the album cover which had the lyrics and I wanted to join. That’s when I went vegetarian and convinced I would start an ALF group.
PE: Did you grow up around animals? When did you learn your love for animals from?
I believe everyone has an inherent compassion for animals. It’s just the question of whether it gets repressed by institutionalized thinking that convinces us to see animals another way. I guarantee that if you switched babies between hardcore hunters and vegans, each child would be raised with the corresponding parent’s worldviews, at least while they were children. But if nature is allowed to prosper, compassion for animals will come to anyone. The only thing unique about me s that I chose a path of action that made my compassion more noticeable.
PE: Do you still see punk or other music cultures today as having radical potential to radicalize youth
I’m sure that’s true, but I don’t have my finger on that pulse. I’ve always had my movement musician favorites, Dana Lyons, Alice DiMicele, Jim Page, Joanne Rand, Casey Neil and many others whose music was a kind of soundtrack for my life in the 80′s and 90′s, but I don’t know who is leading that charge anymore. I believe that music is a sacred medium to reach people and I still love listening to any new song with a story sympathetic to animals or nature, because you know that we are not a minority and those kinds of songs are received well.
PE: What is hunt sabotage?
Hunt sabotage has evolved for me over the years. It began with my English friends who sabotaged British hound foxhunts with false scent trails and horn calls, then it evolved to similar tactics in America to interfere with desert bighorn sheep hunts. I’d say hunt sabotage is nonviolently interfering with the recreational killing of wildlife. I was arrested in 2004 for sabotaging a mountain lion hunt and went to prison for 8 months. Now hunt sabotage means something different for me. It means utilizing any channel you have available to stop not just individual hunts, but entire hunting seasons. Its very dangerous confronting armed men in the woods, but we can sabotage hunts by getting involved with the agencies that establish hunting seasons and begin to lobby to have the views of the non-hunting majority represented. These agencies are supposed to be following principles of conservation that recognize that wildlife is a public trust resource and as such the opinions of non-consumptive “users” matters. Presently the states where wolf hunting and trapping was recently enacted, the state wildlife agencies have cosy relationships with sportsman’s groups. It’s not a unique situation. The hunters through payments for licenses and tags provide the budget for those agencies, so they tend to manage wildlife with the needs of hunters as a priority. So for me, hunt sabotage is any tactics or strategy that aims to stop the recreational killing of wildlife.
PE: What is the reason they are intending to kill the wolves? Can you talk a bit about the campaign?
In Michigan, the justification for the wolf hunt is that wolves are preying on livestock and hunting dogs as well as being seen in the neighborhoods of some rural towns. This is what was said leading up to the hunt and then when it began, we discovered that 90% of livestock depredations in Michigan were at one farm where the farmer practiced horrible farming practices. Cattle that died were left in pastures and when wolves were attracted they were blamed for the deaths and permits issued to kill them. This one farmer also received over $60,000 in compensation for his livestock losses and was recently criminally charged with animal abuse. One of the other justifications was the killing of “pets” which means dogs trained to chase down bears. Bear hunters place bait piles to attract bears, but they also attract wolves too sometimes or are placed in areas where wolves have their dens. These hounds are released to chase bears through wolf territory and occasionally get killed when they do this. But that’s not the wolf’s fault. Then we have the state’s wildlife agency lying to the media about the level of danger wolves were posing to humans in one town and those lies being repeated by a state representative to justify the hunt to the legislature. And on top of this, we have laws in Michigan which already allow hunters or farmers to kill a wolf they witness attacking their animals. In addition, the USDA’s Wildlife Services has been called in to kill over 20 wolves in recent years in Michigan. So that’s what we are fighting. We are opposed to the indiscriminate killing of wolves and we want to see wolves returned to endangered species listing.
PE: It seems a lot of people see wolves as a pest, or a threat to be afraid of. Do you find it is hard to convince people wolves need to be protected?
I don’t think its hard for people to get this issue. We’ve learned it before after we eradicated wolves the first time. Society as a whole has changed, but the agencies responsible for livestock and wildlife refuse to evolve and reflect those changes. And these agencies have little accountability. People understand that predators play a vital role in maintaining the health of prey animals like deer and elk. What I’ve been hearing is people asking, “why are people still killing wolves?” In addition to the role predators play in the ecosystem, I also believe they should be protected because we still don’t know a lot about them. The campaigns of persecution have continued literally since Europeans first arrived, and I think we should demonstrate a little human evolution by no longer waging such a war on wildlife. Wolves returning to the landscape is a success story in endangered species preservation that desperately needs to be defended right now.
PE: Anthropologist Layla Abdel Rahim writes about how the idea of a predator is a problematic construct, because the animals don’t see other animals as prey all of the time – but rather just as other animals most of the time and only as prey when they need to feed. I wonder what you think of this and if you think using scientific categorizations such as apex predator is at all problematic?
Well, let’s see where else do we use that word? To describe sexual predators! So undeniably, there is a negative connotation for some people. But yes, we allow science and taxonomy to frame our relationship to animals when the relationship can be so much more sacred. It’s a agreed upon concept to call some animal relations “predator” but we should also question our personal and spiritual relationship to animals. Not just because I am indigenous, but I also gravitated towards the way native people viewed animals. It was never demeaning, it was always on an equal standing. The animals were (and still are) people too, or people are animals too…Wonderful stories of mysticism and magic that sounded better than Bible stories to me.
I love to be educated and read wildlife agencies reports on wolf management, but at the end of the day I choose to see the wolf as my sacred relation. And as a resident of Maa’iigan’s homeland, I feel an obligation to speak up among the humans when the wolf’s future is at stake. Yes, because they are a apex predator who helps hold the ecosystem in balance, but also because they are the sacred brother/sister to the Anishinaabe who still call this place home, and wolves and coyotes and other predators are just mega-cool…
PE: How can we build bridges between Indigenous resistance and movements for animal liberation?
By first, not being so fucking judgmental of people who eat animals. Long before there was an animal rights movement, there were indigenous peoples defending the earth and her animals with their lives. And they still are! Just because they eat meat doesn’t make them the enemy. Until we learn tolerance we will continue to be disenfranchised. It doesn’t mean WE have to be like them, but there’s such beauty in diverse worldviews that all hold nature and animals on the same level as us. It is the oppositions worst nightmare for us all to be unified against their policies that destroy the same world we all love.
PE: How does being a parent change things now for you?
I heard this story where a young warrior wants to be at the front of the war party, in the thick of any fighting, but when you’re a little older, you let the younger warriors lead the battle, and then when you’re a little older, you’re fine being in the rear guard and when you’re a little older than that, maybe you’re crouching behind a tree or rock watching to see how things are going before jumping into the fray… I think it’s like that for me. I’ve been in enough battles, I’m not an adrenalin junkie doing this for the thrill. I’m a middle-aged man with kids dammit, and I have to take care of them to be a warrior, that’s why indigenous resistance exists, to protect our families and communities. It’s always been about protecting the vulnerable, the young and elderly, it’s the same way in our struggle.
We are trying to protect people and the environment for the good of all, so that we may simply maintain our right to exist. Being a parent has given me a deeper understanding of the need for a long-term sustainable strategy for fighting and living. I also know that those I might come into conflict with are also trying to do the same thing, eke out a living and protect their families. So that means not being so adversarial, and being less willing to fight, and more willing to try and work together first.
Having children has made me a better warrior, because I’ve realized when you’re willing to defend something with your very own life as many father’s are prone to feel, you understand the motivational power as it exists in nature where many creatures are driven by the same strength of love. Because that’s what it’s about for us, about defending what we love. And if we can’t experience that raw passion and love for something close to us, then we’re dead already. I’m not ready to give that up. It’s also why no struggle can be real unless its inclusive of people raising children. People with dominating, destructive worldviews have been breeding like crazy, we need some kids to be raised in the new old ways…
PE: You spent a lot of time in prison, and on probation over the years. Can you talk from your experiences about what is effective prisoner support, both when people are in prison and when they get out? Is there any advice you would give to people who might be looking at doing time?
First, advice to people looking at doing time. Don’t have children. Going to prison doesn’t just effect you, it effects those who love you, so be prepared to put them through incredible trauma and suffering too. Don’t think you can maintain relationships while you are in prison. The best you are doing is sharing your traumatic experience. There is nothing good about going to prison. It should be avoided at all costs.
Once you are in the system, your purpose is no longer the survival of your family and community, its about your own survival. That’s what I experienced and that’s why I’m grateful to be able to be organizing again and am very conscious to not step over that line into anything even remotely illegal. It’s simply not worth it. We have to constantly be doing a cost/benefit analysis of our modes of resistance and weigh whether its a sustainable strategy or not. If our tactics result in our bravest warriors being imprisoned for years, then its time to rethink. It doesn’t mean we condemn our past tactics or strategies, it just means we evolve to our changing environment. Like coyotes or wolves.
PE: There has been a dramatic rise in ALF actions over the last year, bands like Los Crudos and Earth Crisis are touring again, and now Rod Coronado is back on tour encouraging activists to get active; kinda feels like the 90s again. How do you figure the current state of radical movements compares to past decades?
I don’t think it’s a resurgence, it’s the survival of our struggles. Some of us might have gone to prison, but the need for organizing never went away, and thankfully brave people are following a very dark time for the radical environmental and animal rights movements and pushing forward. I don’t think we can compare this to past decades because twenty years ago 9/11 hadn’t happened and we weren’t labeled as terrorists. We have to evolve and recognize that there are strong forces out there that want to treat us like criminals rather than the harbingers of social change. So in that way, I can’t say what the state of radical movements is like because I don’t consider myself radical anymore, nor am I up on their progress. I hear about infighting, the debates on issues that distract us from being a broader more public movement that focuses on solidarity building issues with people we too often call the enemy. I’m just trying to share with the new generations of activists out there what I’ve learned and help them realize the cost-benefit analysis of doing actions that won’t lead you to prison. There’s a time and place for everything, but right now its time in the US to reclaim the public process in regards to wildlife issues and do something completely different. In a way, organizing in these old fashioned traditional ways can be very radical because its a strategy that has been left to very conservative people.
PE: Can you talk a little about your history with wildlife defense and hunt sab?
My first hunt sabotage actions were in England targeting foxhunts and badger baiting back in 1985. In 1987 we started a hunt saboteurs group in California to interfere with trophy desert bighorn hunts. A lot of my ALF actions were on behalf of predators, the most prominent being our actions against the fur farm industry and our Don Quixote-esque raid on the USDA’s Predator Research Facility in 1992. We destroyed the laboratory, but they just rebuilt it bigger, but at least a few coyotes got away that night.
I returned to opposing trophy hunting in 2002, going into the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona to interfere with desert bighorn sheep hunts. We spent winter weekends searching out a handful of trophy hunters across a huge desert mountain landscape. The bighorn sheep hunt sabs were the perfect balance of effectiveness and experiential bliss, because the desert is beautiful in winter time.16 mile hikes looking for hunters, seeing the sheep themselves, and other wildlife, you are literally seeing what your fighting for. We also began going to wildlife agency meetings, giving testimony on hunts we were opposed to and documenting illegal hunting in the field.
It culminated in 2004, with the very public hunt interference against attempts to remove mountain lions from the Sabino Canyon National Recreational in the Coronado National Forest outside of Tucson, Arizona where I lived. Public opposition to the hunt was overwhelming, and the whole city knew the only thing standing in the way of the state and federal lion hunters was us Earth First!ers. We spread false scent trails with mountain lion urine, and I was chased down with a helicopter after we sprung a lion snare. I was sentenced to 8 months in federal prison for that one.
The most effective campaign we did was against the hunting of sandhill cranes which winter in southern Arizona. We would lay in cornfields between hunters in blinds and incoming cranes who upon seeing us waving our arms or reflective mylar would veer away from the hunter’s. The best part about it is that never once did we get caught. When we did interact with hunters, it was as fellow hunters as I always have the appropriate tags and licenses. We also documented the hunt, including cranes attempting to aid their wounded relations. We also solicited public comment on the hunt at birding events and repeatedly testified against the hunt on ecological grounds that it wasn’t sustainable or necessary. Once again, it was amazing just to be in the fields watching thousands of cranes flying overhead.
I had wanted to continue the campaigns against trophy hunts in Arizona, but then I was overtaken with my legal defense on not just the lion hunt front, but for a lecture I gave defending arson the same day an ELF fire caused a $60 million fire in San Diego. So that’s why now I’m jumping on board to help wolves now, because I think the same strategy can work, to participate in the process of changing policy by attending public meetings and calling on these agencies to reform to reflect the interests of citizens who appreciate wildlife as a working component of the environment, not only as some kind of resource.
Upcoming tour dates:
Friday March 14th at the Kalamazoo PeaceCenter
Thursday March 20th Oakland CA. 7PM at The Holdout: 2313 San Pablo Avenue, near 23rd ST.
Friday March 21st San Francisco CA. 7pm at The Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics: 518 Valencia Street, near 16th Street BART.
Saturday March 22nd Animal Liberation Forum (Long Beach CA)
Sunday March 23rd Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena CA.
Thursday March 27th Humbolt State University.
On Monday, five activists locked down at the headquarters for Florida Power and Light in Juno while one-hundred other protesters held a subsequent action protesting a proposed power plant in Florida. We have the great pleasure of having spoken with two organizers of the action, one of which locked down alongside four other activists using U-locks on the site, and was subsequently arrested.
In the following interview we speak with two individuals who were part of Monday’s action.
Wiley, an organizer from Earth First! Journal was interviewed by Because We Must about the overall action, and filled us in on some essential background information about the company they organized against. Wiley as well has explained their tactical strategy for this action.
Grayson, an activist from Everglades Earth First! and editor of the Earth First! Journal was one of the individuals who organized the protest and also locked down on site Monday. Grayson gave us a brief exit interview upon their release from custody.
BWM: Can you summarize for people the protest on Monday, where it took place, and what it involved?
Wiley: The demonstration on Monday took place at the headquarters of Florida Power and Light, one of the largest energy companies in the U.S. The headquarters are located in Juno, Florida, North of Palm Beach. The majority of the people involved in the protest held a legal (though unpermitted) rally outside of the headquarters. It was a very family friendly event—people held signs, danced, chanted, and found playful ways to disrupt the everyday business of the complex. Amidst the jubilant rally, five people sat down in front of a gate and locked their necks together with U-locks (bike locks), blocking the main entrance to the facility. As I write this those five individuals are in custody.
There were over a hundred people who participated in the action in a variety of roles both on and off site. The action was the culmination of the Annual Earth First! Winter Rendezvous, which took place in a cypress swamp East of Lake Okeechobee over the weekend. There were quite a few people at the rally hailing from Palm Beach County, but there were also Earth First!ers from all over the continent who came here for the “Rondy”. It was cool especially to see people who are fighting fossil fuel infrastructure all over Turtle Island connecting their struggles and working together on messaging.
BWM: Is there a reason you have targeted Florida Power and Light for this protest–do you have a history of action in Florida against this company?
Wiley: The main thing that makes FPL a target right now more than any other time is their plan to build a power plant next to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. This project has already been challenged in court by members of the Seminole Tribe, and there are indigenous folks (Independent Traditional, Miccosukee) outside of the federally recognized reservation lands who also oppose the new plant.
FPL wants to promote itself as the wave of the energy future, with its “Next Generation Clean Energy Centers.” But we think environmental racism, genocide, and development are old, dirty news for Florida. In addition to the new power plant proposal, FPL is working with Spectra to build a natural gas pipeline across Northern Florida and looking into building power lines across Everglades National Park.
To summarize, FPL is totally evil and it would feel good to protest them even if it wasn’t timely. Between 2007 and 2009 over 50 people were arrested in a variety of blockades and other protests against the West County Energy Center and the Barley Barber plant in Martin County. The Hendry County plant will be modeled after the West County and Martin County Plants. A strong coalition is already forming among Hendry County Power Plant opponents, and we expect the resistance to be even fiercer this time around.
BWM: Can you explain to us the significance of the location of the proposed power plant, and what kind of repercussions it’s construction might have to the environment and people nearby?
Wiley: We already have an idea of what the impact to people and ecosystems would be like from the the West County Energy Center and the Barley Barber Plant. Each of those plants use over 20 million gallons of water daily, and water is the basis of all life in the Everglades. Imagine a giant straw (or three) sucking the water out from under the last remaining ancient cypress swamps. The power plants emit thousands of tons of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, including SO2, NOx, mercury and chromium which poison the air and increase rates of asthma and lung disease in surrounding communities.
BWM: For people who may not be familiar, can you explain the tactic of locking-down and what it can achieve as far as goals and objectives are concerned when dealing with a corporation of this size?
Lock-downs are a way of holding space for a long time (usually hours, sometimes whole days) with a relatively small number of people risking arrest. In some situations this tactic can be very practical for actually stopping construction or extraction where it happens. When extractive industries have work stoppages it can cost them thousands, sometimes millions of dollars.
At a company headquarters, however, this tactic is mostly used in a symbolic way, to draw attention to the ecocidal criminals who like to hide in office buildings, country clubs, legislative offices, etc. It may still cost them a lot of money; the public image of a corporation is part of its bottom line. But essentially it is to create a really awkward spectacle that brings light to the bad decisions made by people in charge.
Today FPL public relations people actually responded to the press and tried to defend themselves against our media. Our rag tag volunteer-run movement can put the second largest energy company in the country on the defensive, and that’s awesome.
BWM: Aside from the five protesters who locked themselves together, what other forms of protest and types of tactics were employed on site? Can you describe the diversity of the day besides the lock-down?
Wiley: I was pretty amazed by all the street theatrics that multiple affinity groups pulled together over a fairly hectic weekend of action planning. There were radical clowns, a “panther block” with cardboard masks, and a conga picket line. I wasn’t there for it, but I guess people were having wheel barrel races in front of the entrance gate. Earth First!ers are natural pranksters because usually when we’re not thinking about how the Earth is dying we’re trying to figure out how to pull the rug out from under people who take themselves too seriously. The last few big Earth First! protests I’ve been to have had a notable element of mirth. It’s obviously fun, but I think it’s also strategic. It diffuses tension and keeps more people around to support our friends who have made themselves vulnerable to the cops. And it makes a protest a party that everyone wants to be at.
BWM: How are those people who did lock-down feeling about the day, what type of charges did they receive, and are they slated to be released, and under what conditions will they be let out of custody?
Wiley: We have heard from them and it seems like they are doing ok. But they are still in jail and that obviously sucks.[**Editors note, all five activists are now released and awaiting further information about charges and outcomes. We'll keep people updated on ongoing support calls and ways to help those arrested.**] We’re expecting misdemeanour charges, and usually people who do things like this get out within 48 hours. Mostly we just don’t know yet.
BWM: Is there any way that individuals outside of Florida can help you with your fight, or support your work?
Wiley: Right at this moment it would help if people donated to the legal fund. Bigger picture—research Florida Power and Light and Spectra and organize against them in your own community. If you live in the Southeast especially it is likely that there are targets around—banks, subsidiaries, contractors, frackers etc, who are connected to the struggle down here. The things that we did today are most affective as a part of a larger campaign and movement, and we all need to participate in that.
BWM: Grayson, as one of the individuals who locked down on Monday, how do you feel the protest went?
Grayson: I think the protest went excellently. It brought attention to one of the dirtiest energy companies in the nation, Florida Power and Light, and made public their plan to build a giant new frack gas refinery adjacent to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, and to damage critical endangered panther habitat in doing so. The protest was covered by local media and spread widely online, and the exposure pressured FPL to respond with a shallow public statement declaring their concern for human life. Obviously they only felt the need to go on the defensive publicly because their actions and plans contradict such a concern.
I was also pleased with the amount of disruption we were able to cause at FPL headquarters. The lockdown of the main entrance lasted over two hours and resulted in police closing off the road adjacent to the property–effectively shutting down the other two entrances that led out onto the street. Corporate executives may not open our letters or return our phone calls, but it’s hard to ignore frozen traffic and missed appointments.
The support for our group and action was also better than we could have anticipated. Seminole tribal members and independent traditional people expressed thanks for our action and for our solidarity with them. We have strong reason to believe that this action will inspire more like it to come in the future.
BWM: Since being arrested, how has the support for your group and your actions been? Is there anything you need from the community right now?
Grayson: Thank you for asking this–good jail support is one of the most vital components in keeping our movements strong and consistent. It can also make all the difference in the mental and emotional state of those arrested.
Our support has been amazing. Folks on the ground were available to answer our phone calls from inside the jail and update us on any information they had, as well as to share updates with arrestees who weren’t in contact with one another. They also called the jail constantly for updates on charges, bail and conditions. Thankfully, we were all released on our own recognizance (i.e. without bail). Although we don’t have bail to pay, we still have court dates to travel to (some of us from quite far away) and court costs to pay, so donations would of course be greatly appreciated. You can donate here https://www.wepay.com/donations/114656034.
BWM: What would you say to individuals who may be on the fence about using a diversity of tactics at demonstrations, the way your group did on Monday? Is this a positive or negative thing in your opinion?
Grayson: I think I would ask such individuals to consider what their goals are, and how to best accomplish those goals in a way that doesn’t conflict with their message. For instance, Everglades Earth First! is attempting to stop a violent company from embarking on a project that endangers ecosystems, human health, and the territory of people who have been resisting colonialism for over 500 years. One strategy for halting construction of this refinery is to bring attention to these issues in the media. Non-violent direct action tactics like lockdowns inevitably draw attention to the inherent violence of the state, which uses weapons to protect similarly violent corporations. In my mind, the use of these tactics is a positive thing. It has a natural flow to it, and all the images just fall into place. All we had to do was sit down in the road–FPL and the cops did the rest for us.
Of course, this is only one strategy, and I am by no means putting down others. Each group and individual should assess its own targets, goals, and boundaries, and then do whatever they feel comfortable with, and whatever they feel is necessary, to accomplish what needs to be done.
BWM: Do you have any future actions planned, either on site or online that individuals might be able to participate in?
Wiley: Yeah, probably! Everglades Earth First! has weekly meetings in Palm Beach County. If you live in South Florida and want to plug in, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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UPDATE: All five people who were arrested are out of jail. All were charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Joel Bitar, an American present for the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010 was sentenced on Thursday February 13 to 20 months in prison for his alleged role in the destruction of police cars, and other property destruction during the protesting on the Saturday of the weekend. During his sentencing, Joel read the following statement, which was met with applause after he completed it.
Here is his statement:
I have not been able to speak much since my arrest last February so I appreciate the opportunity to make a statement today. I only plan on taking a small amount of your time. At the end of my statement I am going to to issue an apology to some of the individuals who were affected by my actions. It is my hope that this statement better contextualizes the choices I’ve made that have led me to this courtroom.
I came to Toronto four years ago for many of the same reasons as the tens of thousands of other people who marched on the streets that day. These are many of the same reasons why hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, in Genoa against the G8, in Quebec City against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, in Gothenburg against the EU summit, in Rostock against the G8 and in Pittsburgh against the G20. They are many of the same reasons why people are now protesting in the streets of New York, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain. It is only really possible to understand the events that took place in Toronto in the context of the global movement against neoliberalism and the corporatization of the planet. It is my belief that this movement is best explained as an individual and collective response to various forms of domination and exploitation. My politics are inseparable from my own life experiences, which I would like to briefly speak about now.
I grew up in an environment where I had access to many of the things required for conventional success. I had – and have – an extremely loving family, I played tennis competitively and had a working-class, but generally supportive upbringing. I graduated from high school with honors and then got my bachelors degree in Economics from the City University of New York. My plan in college was to work on Wall Street with the goal of making a lot of money. That goal was widely reinforced and encouraged by society at large. Trying to get rich and focusing on my own personal comforts seemed right when everyone else was chasing the same thing. However, two events occurred during this time that fundamentally changed the way I now see the world.
The first event was the global financial crisis of 2008. During this time, banks that engaged in predatory lending practices were given billions of dollars to keep their businesses afloat while millions of people lost their homes. It was shocking how closely government officials who once worked on Wall St. collaborated with the financial sector to organize the bailout. It seemed profoundly unjust to me that those who precipitated the crisis were rewarded, while masses of people were literally tossed to the street. I came to the conclusion that Wall Street’s obsession with profit comes at the expense and detriment of the majority.
The second event took place in December, 2008, when Israel launched an invasion into the Gaza Strip that resulted in the deaths of 800 civilians (many of whom were women and children). This destruction was carried out with weapons manufactured by U.S. Corporations and was paid for with U.S. taxpayer money. During this invasion, banned weapons like White Phosphorous (made in the U.S.) were fired at Palestinian schools and hospitals in contravention of international humanitarian law. I saw images of innocent children killed by missiles, tank shells and bullets. At the same time many of these people suffered, weapons manufacturers and government officials profited from their obliteration.
From these two events I developed an opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in these wars while corporations like Halliburton and Lockheed Martin have secured billions of dollars in government contracts. George Bush erected a worldwide torture regime, that Obama has only expanded, and has since been immune to any prosecution for his crimes. It is evident that those who commit crimes at the top levels are government are immunized while someone like Chelsea Manning, who revealed the extent of government criminality, is banished to a cage for decades. It is apparent to people, all throughout the world, that the real motivations for these wars is rooted in the economic interest of a few and that masses of innocent people have needlessly suffered as a result.
This led me to see more and more about the world that I could not unsee, including how the continued exploitation of the environment is connected to the same economic interests mentioned above. One notoriously brutal example of environmental exploitation is happening here in Canada at this moment. In Alberta, pristine boreal forestland the size of Florida has been turned into a toxic wasteland for the extraction of oil. James Hansen, a professor of climatology at Columbia University believes that the tar sand project is “game over for the climate.” He says: “If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities.” It should not be acceptable to us that private corporations and western governments regularly exploit natural resources for profit while simultaneously destroying the environment and injecting pollutants into our air and water.
Financial crises, war and environmental degradation share a common thread. They are born of the prevailing economic system, which is only interested in maximizing profit and increasing growth. This system is predicated on maintaining vast levels of inequality, where a small number of people have incredible amounts of wealth while the masses are locked in poverty. A recent report published by Oxfam International states that the 85 richest people possess the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people combined. Rather than providing wealth and opportunity, or having a trickle-down effect, the current system enriches the few at the expense of the many. This is not a particularly radical analysis, this is the only rational interpretation of how society is structured. Even such a mainstream figure as the Pope recently said: “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.” Rather than addressing these structural causes, Western governments do everything they can to foster the status quo that leads to the problems.
The current situation in the world is urgent and much needs to be done. I truly believe we can build a new system that puts human need and the needs of the environment ahead of the interests of business. At some point, we need to decide if profit, innovation and economic growth are more important than the long-term sustainability and well-being of our species and planet. I understand that this proposition might not sound so good to someone who is financially benefiting from the current system but we are running out of time. We have enough resources to make sure every person on this planet has health care, food, an education and a place to live. There is no reason why people should be homeless and begging on the streets while food is thrown away en masse and foreclosed houses remain empty. There is no reason why such massive levels of inequality should persist in the modern age. These systems are antiquated and must be fundamentally transformed.
It was not, and has never been, my intention to scare or hurt anyone. I want to build a world based on the values of love, compassion and understanding; not fear and intimidation. I take responsibility for my actions and apologize to anyone who felt fear as a result of them. Before closing, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to my family, friends and supporters. This process has taken an incredible toll on myself and especially my loved ones. It means the world that they have stood by me through it all.
Kevin Chianella received a 2 year prison sentence today for his participation in the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010. Chianella, 18 at the time, got a heftier sentence because he attacked a police cruiser driven by Staff Sgt. Graham Queen with a canvas bag full of rocks, which was also photographed by a newspaper reporter at the scene. He is also stated to have fuelled and helped sustain the fire that was set upon another police vehicle. Chianella, from Queens, N.Y., was supported in court by his family, among them, his 90-year-old grandmother who raised him.
His statement to the court has not been transcribed yet. This article will update with it when it has been.
Neither Joel nor Kevin have mailing addresses yet. The Guelph Anarchist Black Cross has extensive coverage of the G20 and the legal outcome for protesters. Stay up to date by checking back often!