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Where Have All the Rednecks Gone?

by CHRIS IRWIN

I have been reading in the Earth First! Journal of the efforts to make sure that members of the transsexual community feel comfortable and safe in organizing in Earth First! circles and events. Almost every issue of the journal has something about transsexuals and their oppression. This is a laudable goal, everyone should feel safe and welcome at our events. But I am struck that while one marginal social group is singled out for protection and space in the journal, another larger group has been largely driven out of our movement. Yes, I’m talking about rednecks.

Rednecks for wilderness was one of the first slogans about Earth First! I heard in the late 80’s when I got involved and began attending Earth First! meetings (I still attend once a week). This was the period when EF! was a threat to the system. Earth First! was on 60 Minutes–and we really looked like a mass movement about to burst from the confines of control to create social change. There are a lot more rednecks than transsexuals in America, they are, as they say, a larger demographic, and this was reflected in the numbers in our movement. The journal during this period had 10 times to subscribers it has today.

It was in the late 80’s and 90’s that I saw the systematic driving away of rednecks from EF! circles by largely young white middle class “anarchist”. I remember at one Round River Rendezvous in Colorado this good ole boy stood up and thanked everyone for coming to the great state of Colorado, expressing pride in his home state. Immediately he was publically attacked by the black clads for expressing pride in any state. I watched him sit down and realized he would never come back. As a young white person who subscribed to many anarchist ideals I couldn’t help noticing the irony of this trend. Classical anarchists embraced the working class–the neo-anarchists in our movement drove them out.

I find it curious that now that while EF! has become largely white middle class, so many efforts are being made to protect and nurture a tiny subgroup of society–while completely ignoring how a much larger demographic has been driven out. Basically the white middle class drove out the poor working country class from our movement. We have fractured along class lines with devastating results. Who is more likely to know how to take apart a CAT dozer? A good ole boy who can field strip a 1970 Ford Engine in his sleep? Or an alienated suburban product of the white middle class? And now we appear to be appealing to an even smaller sub sect of society while ignoring the larger class which originally made EF! so dangerous.

How they were driven out is as instructive as why. Lack of acceptance. To be an EF!er now (in some circles) apparently you have to be white, middle class, wear black, be angry all the time, shoplift, bathe irregularly, be in your 20s, have no sense of humor and in general walk so lockstep with the new groupthink that you lack that any real diversity or individuality. To be different is to be treated with suspicion and criticism–in some EF! circles.

And this homogenization of our movement along almost purely class lines has had devastating effects. Our numbers have dwindled, our diversity has narrowed–and we are in danger of becoming little more than a historical footnote as a result.

This is not a criticism of the transsexual elements of our movement. It’s more a statement of how ironic it is for folks to be so focused on a tiny subset of our society (radical enviro transsexuals), while completely wearing blinders and ignoring the outing of a larger demographic based almost purely on class lines.

Our society is racist, sexist, homophobic, all this isms and schisms. EF! cannot grow as a movement through litmus test of being “radical” enough–or rid of all the isms. Pretending to any level of ideological purity while ignoring the outing of the larger demographic based on class lines pushes our movement into narrower and narrower confines which I believe accounts for the steady diminution of our numbers.

This is not a condemnation of transsexuals–but a reality check. If the definition and acceptance of what it takes to be in Earth First! continues to narrow, so will our movement.We need rednecks, transsexuals, older people, white men, women, anyone who will join our struggle. Lack of true acceptance, not just acceptance for popular subsets, is strangling our movement. We have lost alot more rednecks than transsexuals due to lack of acceptance. If one is to be addressed the other should not be ignored.

We must combat this narrow ideological dead end EF! seems to have drifted into to survive and thrive as a movement. Our doors need to be open wider, not shut, to ALL members of society–otherwise we are just a social club of dwindling numbers.

For the Earth,

CHRIS IRWIN

(This essay was originally submitted as a letter to the Earth First! Journal, which refused to print it.)

 

 

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