Earth First! Journal (1987, Issue #1-8. Tucson, AZ.)
Writing about Earth First! during its 1980s heyday is a delicate matter. I want to celebrate their best tendencies without ignoring their worst. 1987 is a particularly difficult year to do the former.
After the publication of an article called “Alien Nation” called for a closing of the US border to immigrants (strictly for environmental reasons we are told, not because EF! icon Ed Abbey advocated the use of the term “wetback” and used “cultural chauvinist” to describe his particular brand of racism) anarchists challenged the authors at a gathering in late 1986. So began a years worth of letters to the editor defending the piece. More than one missive in this volume praised AIDS as a positive development for the environment, and various racist, classist, and macho arguments bleed into many of the pages. Given these facts it feels callous to point to the positives that this volume also contains, so I will leave it to our readers to discover those for themselves.
Earth First! is a complex non-organization that has gone through many incarnations, changes in direction, and has never had a political consensus on any issue during the entirety of its history. If I can point out one mitigating factor for these eight issues it is that at least some Earth First!ers fought back in print and in person against the most backwards opinions of their peers, something still needed in the movement today.
Earth First! Journal Volume 1, Issue #1-8 (1980-1981)
“Like Pallas Athena springing fully armed from the brow of Zeus, EARTH FIRST enters the wilderness fray…”
Earth First Journal. Vol.1 #1.
For all of its many flaws, I love Earth First! and most of the many projects that it has inspired, and I say that as someone fully aware of all the mistakes that have been made along the way. Those errors- everything from alliances with open racists like Ed Abbey to articles cheerleading famine in Africa- are ultimately what makes the history of Earth First! such a valuable roadmap for modern revolutionaries. Earth First!’s fuck-ups are at times so glaring that my hope is, after examining them, there is no way they could be made again.
But every analysis of EF! these days talks about the mistakes- so much so that we miss the things that they got right: a structure that rejected hierarchy and encouraged horizontal organizing, a critique of civilization and industrialism that still left room for broad participation from more conservative and liberal elements, and a shockingly warm pluralism that encouraged a love for all kinds of “wilderfreaks” including the vegetarians and “witches” that Foreman so famously dislikes. For all of the machismo in those early years, I was surprised to see hints of eco-feminism creeping into these issues, including a giant pull-quote from Woman and Nature by Susan Griffin. Words from figures like Russel Means abound, and for every cringe inducing moment in these pages I think you’ll also find plenty to make you smile. I mean, how cool is it that the return address on issue #1 is Dave Foreman’s house, or that requests for new volunteers ran alongside Susan Morgan’s home phone number? This was as grassroots as it gets, yet somehow the movement spread across oceans and artificial borders, and to this day people are shouting “No Compromise In Defense of Mother Earth!” Understanding how that happened might be the key to expanding our current efforts.
TALON will be posting every single issue of the Earth First! Journal over the next few years. This project isn’t cheap or easy! If you would like to make a donation of either time, back issues, or money, please contact us HERE. Also, don’t forget that this important publication is still running and needs your support! Subscribe HERE!
Green Rage: Radical environmentalism and the unmaking of civilization (1990, Boston, MA.)
One of the first books I bought about radical wilderness defense was Green Rage. It is an excellent investigation of the origins of (western) environmental radicalism, and I recommend that you read it cover to cover.
Speaking of covers, you might notice that this particular copy of Green Rage is a little ragged. The reason for that is because this is my copy, and after reading the book I took it’s message to heart. Several years ago in Oregon, a small group of activists from around the region were protesting at a breeding facility that supplied rabbits to the vivisection industry. When we arrived the farms owners were not present, and neither were any law enforcement. Not coincidentally I quickly found myself living with some critters who liked to chew on everything in our humble home. I hope you will enjoy Green Rage as much as they did!
Earth First! Journal Volume 7, Issue #1-8 (Tucson, AZ.)
One of our dreams here at Conflict Gypsy has been to build a complete collection of the Earth First! Journal, the radical environmental movement’s longest running periodical. While we are still missing some key issues, we have managed to gather enough of this classic publication to begin posting them one year at a time, starting with 1986.
The eight newspaper-format volumes printed by the Journal collective in 1986 are filled with fascinating tales of our eco-warrior progenitors, including Paul Watson’s epic telling of The Raid on Reykjavic in issue two. It is tempting to spend several paragraphs discussing the contents of these yellowing tomes, but perhaps it is more important to spend these words discussing the fact that the journal is still being produced- AND IT NEEDS OUR SUPPORT!
The Earth First! Journal has been documenting environmentally motivated direct action for more than 30 years, but it struggles to pay the bills these days as fewer and fewer people read print magazines. Here at CG we believe wholeheartedly that history should be “told from below,” that the words of our comrades are more important to our understanding of past events than the musings of academics and professional historians. The Journal is still the best source for this kind of news- the written accounts of actual participants in our struggle! Please do not let it disappear like so many other publications in the last decade. Subscribe to the Earth First! Journal by clicking here!
North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office Subcommittee on Eco-Terrorism (2002, Portland, OR)
One of the most frequently repeated myths about direct action is that is so damaging to public opinion that if people didn’t already do it, the government would in order to criminalize movements. If this were true it certainly seems that the system would spend less time trying to prevent radical action by silencing it’s proponents and more time harassing the Sierra Club. The truth is that nothing scares corporations and their paid-in-full politician pets like a well organized group with a willingness to fight and the ability to reach the public with their ideas.
In the late 1990s environmental sabotage was happening all across the world, but was particularly frequent in the northwest of the United States. At the forefront of these actions was the Earth Liberation Front, an anonymous, underground group, who utilized above ground spokespeople to reach the public. Their primary conduit for media relations was an activist from Portland named Craig Rosebraugh and his organization, the North American ELF Press Office. For his role in publicizing the motivations and rhetoric of the ELF he had his arm broken by the police, his home raided by Joint Terrorism Task Forces, his break cables cut, was repeatedly subpoenaed to grand juries, and eventually was called to testify before a congressional sub-committee who hoped to imprison him on contempt charges. The so-called “Eco-Terror committee” surely hoped that Craig would be an easy target, but that didn’t exactly work out for them. Snarky, educated, and angry, Craig’s testimony ran the gamut from stonewalling, to educational, to hilarious. For example, while running the Press Office with his friend Leslie James Pickering, Craig owned a bakery. When asked how the press office was funded, Rosebraugh simply replied “muffins.” When asked who had asked him to become the ELF press officer and how he was contacted, Craig responded, “Jesus Christ. It was a spiritual sort of thing.”
Jokes aside, a congressional subpoena represented a shift in the way environmental sabotage was being treated by the system, and publicizing that fact fell to Leslie James Pickering. In order to spread the word about the hearings, the NAELFPO sold a DIY booklet containing all of the testimony presented by both sides at the hearing and the subsequent written questions sent to Craig by the subcommittee. In a recent conversation with Conflict Gypsy about the booklet, Pickering had this to say:
“I can’t say for sure, how many of these were printed, but it was definitely less than 500. I had a little production line going, with people wearing gloves and hats, only half-jokingly, recently having learned about the WUO and Prairie Fire. The subcommittee was in February of 2002 and I left Portland in June of 2002. These booklets were produced somewhere in between there…probably March or April, because I utilized some machinery they had at college before the semester let out and because this was actually in peoples’ hands before it was easily found online. They were distributed through the ELF Press Office, which means that people could send us $10 and get a copy mailed, or get one at one of our event tables. A good chunk of them also went to AK distro, but we never saw a cent from those, which is another story. One of the more interesting aspects were the complaints from anonymous anarchists about it costing too much. This was when the PO was being bombarded with anonymous comments which were critical from many angles. I often think of how much work went into this and how cheap these people were, assuming for a moment that they weren’t all feds. If we didn’t have the old magnet scam going [where large magnets would be used to reset the copy keys at Kinkos – ed] we would probably have lost money at $10, because it was a pretty thick booklet.”