The University of Oregon Law School’s annual Public Interest Environmental Law Clinic (PIELC), more commonly known as E-LAW, is the nation’s and world’s premier gathering of Environmental attorneys, law students, policy wonks, Indigenous activists and eco-activists. www.pielc.org
Planned and conducted by a new group of Law students each year, this one-of-a-kind gathering held its 27th annual at the plush NIKE, er Knight, Law School building at the U of O the last weekend of February. The hallways of the Law School are lined with tables full of literature from a wide range of activist groups. The next door Native Longhouse is the site of many discussions of what is going on on Native Lands and to Native peoples worldwide.
Established by visionary eco-lawyers and professors John Bonine and Mike Axline, E-LAW is always the place for some though-provoking panel discussions and plenary keynote speeches. This year did not disappoint.
In past years, we were treated a legendary showdown between Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd and Ward Churchill over the Makah tribe’s renewed whaling. I’ve always seen it as a rout won by Watson. But others, to this day, see it as a clear Churchill victory. https://www.counterpunch.org/watson06042007.html
Another time, Julia Butterfly Hill was confronted by bare-chested women who saw her rise to prominence as an awful example of “looksism” sidetracking a movement. Certainly a number of other less-photogenic folks lived in (and continue to) trees longer than People Magazine’s “most beautiful person” Butterfly, but they never got/get the press. And, certainly, Hill’s preachy, “can’t we all just get along” style rubbed many the wrong way.
In 1994, CounterPunch co-editor Jeffrey St. Clair and I joined a panel with environmental nemesis Ron Arnold, the founder of the Wise Use Movement and coiner of the crackpot label “eco-terrorist.” Fifteen years later, non-profit professional greens still excoriate St. Clair and me for seconding Arnold’s spot-on analysis of the Democrat-captive, Big Green Money Machine.
In 2004, I wrote:
“A decade ago, Jeffrey St. Clair and I were on a panel discussion at the University of Oregon’s annual Environmental Law Conference (E-LAW). The panel remains the best attended panel in E-LAW history. Over 1200 people crammed into the sweltering auditorium to hear…not Jeffrey and I, but Ron Arnold, the Wise Use architect, who was on the panel with us. Jeffrey gave a rousing speech and Arnold then put everyone to sleep with a quite accurate yet numbers-heavy damning analysis of the Big Greens.”
Then there was the time that Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman got an entire crowed of DC policy wonks, government factotums, attorneys, would-be attorneys and crusty activists to join him in a spirited wolf howl.
“Sitting around the fire, playing music and swapping lies is the oldest form of civilization.”
— Mike Roselle
Another EF! co-founder, Mike Roselle, who will have none of Foreman’s more recent forays into Big Green eco-respectability and of late, eco-soft-porn author; has long been a fixture of E-LAW.
Mike never attends any panels. He roams the halls, as that is where he believes the real work occurs. This year, Mike and most of the southern gang are pre-occupied and couldn’t make it, as they are waging a strong battle against the odious practice of Big Coal called Mountaintop Removal. Yep, no euphemism there. Entire Appalachian chains of peaks are being leveled and creeks smothered with “overburden” – all for coal to power our unsustainable society.
Great music is also on the agenda, both sanctioned by E-LAW and at venues around Eugene. In years past, John Trudell, Casey Neill, Alice DiMicele, and others have performed. This year, Friday night saw a benefit for the indispensable Civil Liberties Defense Center held at the legendary, historic Workers of the World Hall. CLDC’s tireless attorneys work on a shoe-string budget defending those caught up in the Green Scare pogrom.
Saturday night, the definitely not-sanctioned by PIELC, Outlaw Party is held by local Earth First!ers. Local musicians play for a crowd of all ages – outside with the traditional bonfire. Even some of the DC crowd attends. Often, huge effigies of bulldozers, oil derricks, etc. are burned to the delight of the crowd.
Back to the Land, redux
This year the tone of the conference dramatically changed. Sure, there were the usual tweaking-policies-around-the-edges and foundation-funder toadying distractions. Even Mark Rey, the former Big Timber lobbyist who, in a classic fox-in-the-hen-house role, recently served as Bush the Lesser’s Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in charge of the Forest Service, bored folks on a panel about just what one could expect of the 111th Congress. (“This election was clearly not a transformative one,” said Rey as he cherry-picked margin of victory stats and defended his woeful tenure.)
The usual wonkdom aside (remember, this is for aspiring attorneys), this year it boiled down to: Prepare the Armageddon Hideout and/or “get out the camo and prepare for Armed Revolution.”
Similar to the Bush Crime Family buying a huge Estancia in Paraguay, over the largest intact aquifer left; many minions of the Pew Trust-controlled Big Greens have been buying land in Alaska’s rain forest. Taking the advice of Gaia theorist James Lovelock, they hope to establish personal sanctuaries from Climate Change. Despite all their rhetoric about Obama bringing about a “sustainable” this and that, many of these Me First!ers, with their keen sense of self-preservation, are hedging their bets and “heading north.”
(“Grizzlies. It’s up to you. Here comes Treadwell’s relatives,” said St. Clair when told of this trend.)
“The War was declared long ago”
Despite the continuing E-LAW tradition of keynote speakers like Pablo Fajardo Mendoza, who has led a fight against Big Oil in Ecuador; Baja defenders Carla Garcia Zendelas and Fernando Ochoa Pineda; and others – people who have literally put their lives on the line for the planet; the big draw this year was author Derrick Jensen.
Jensen, author/co-author of 15 books, including the seminal Endgame and the great graphic novel As the World Burns, spoke on numerous panels, narrated a moving slideshow of past revolutionary heroes at the CLDC Benefit and spoke to an overflow crowd at the University Ballroom.
In his speech, fumbling thru a mixture of written notes and stream-of-consciousness forays, Jensen laid out his view of how untenable it all is. He asked the crowd, “Who here believes that our society will voluntarily adopt sustainability?”
Not a hand or voice was raised. The rest of his speech was how that reality should impact our strategies.
Jensen ran thru a detailed analysis of our culture of violence – on the Earth, towards women and Indigenous cultures – and how the violence is top-down, flowing from the wealthy at the top to the poorer folks each step below. He cited numerous cases proving how it’s only when the violence goes up the grid that it is ever an issue. When the cops shoot someone – the cops are always innocent. But, let anyone shoot a cop and we get convictions no matter the circumstances; and a State Funeral. “Garbage collectors are the public employees with the most dangerous job. Yet, when was the last time you saw a State Funeral for a garbage collector?”
He correctly noted that “Laws are rules created and paid for by the rich,” while in delicious irony, student staff turned late arrivals away from the speech as the room was “over the Fire Marshal’s capacity limits.”
The speech was brilliant, funny, angry, despairing and hopeful – all at once. The college crowd missed some of the jokes that brought uproarious laughs from the hard-core activists. He especially got them right off with a retelling of the Star Wars script whereby instead of Luke et al. going waging war against the Death Star (itself a great analogy of techno war on life), the Rebel Alliance spends their time on letter-writing campaigns, lobbying, elections and benefit concerts, etc.
Jensen ended up with a call for activists to form Militias as “the war was declared long ago.” He spoke of this armed revolt and his latest book that’s due out soon on how to start your own militia and asked “Am I the only one here with an AK-47?”
My buddy George Atiyeh, tireless defender of Opal Creek, turned to me, laughed and said, “As if we’re gonna tell.”
Aside from the reality that most of the crowd would rather hear an author rail on about eco-war than listen to folks who are actually front-line soldiers in that war; other concerns were raised. Later, at the Outlaw Party, some noted that we may well have young people in jail – the folks the brilliant, tireless Lauren Regan and the CLDC have been defending – because they took Jensen’s (and other’s) call for revolt seriously.
Of course, many of us with experience with COINTELPRO – SDS, AIM, Black Panther veterans -aren’t about to blindly go toe-to-toe with the Beast. (Speaking of: RIP Bob Robideau – the American Indian Movement champion who was acquitted on grounds of self-defense for his role in the AIM/FBI shootout that claimed the lives of two FBI agents and AIM member Joe Stuntz. Bob’s cousin Leonard Peltier unjustly rots in prison over this incident to this day – no thanks to Bill Clinton who should have pardoned him. Bob passed away a couple weeks ago at 61.)
One paranoid activist questioned whether Jensen “may be a deep-cover agent,” as all through the Green Scare events there are shady characters who were/are government-paid agent provocateurs. It’s not the first time people have been labeled “wimps” for not destroying things and bullied into ever more risky acts. And being paranoid is justifiable, given we now live in times where Animal Rights activists have been charged with “terrorism” simply because they wrote messages in chalk on a public sidewalk outside a vivisectionist’s home!
These understandable concerns aside, Jensen’s speech was the best I’ve heard in 25 years of attending E-LAW. He hammered the Green establishment; he called out the class war in America; he slammed wishful thinking of the Butterfly Hill variety (he once was chased down the street by angry, white Buddhist pacifists who took exception) and, of course, he called for resistance – even filing lawsuits. He noted that while Harriet Tubman carried a gun, her Quaker allies never did. He also noted that only 3% of the Irish Republican Army ever carried a gun on missions – a figure similar even in the US Army. In the end, Derrick’s an ‘every tool in the box” kind of guy.
Of course, there is no chance he’ll be invited back. After all, he used the word “fuck” repeatedly.
MICHAEL DONNELLY is of the Armageddon hideout, permaculture wing of the Resistance. He’s even known to have filed a lawsuit or two.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org