Outside Agitator

“People should be entertaining or useful; preferably both”

–Sun Bear

The sun set late on a warm mid-summer day. The full moon rose slowly; glistening off the glaciers of Mt Jefferson. Lamar Marshall blew away bringing the fire to life. Twilley Cannon produced a couple cases of some near-toxic Mescal and Tizwin. Mike Roselle supplied the Busch beer. Sticky, sweet joints of Oregon’s finest sensemilla passed from hand to hand. Somebody broke out the inevitable drums. The Squirrel Monkey (Mark Ottenad) stripped off his clothes and started dancing and playing his flute. Soon, dozens of young activists stripped down and joined him. A very pregnant Catia Juliani egged on the dancers. It was a Pagan scene to warm any Gaian’s heart.

I turned to a bit under-the-weather Mike Roselle and said, “Wow, Mike. What do you think would happen if the Wise Users got hold of a video of this?”

“We’d win! We’d win!,” he shouted without missing a beat. “Their kids would be joining us!”

Man of All Bioregions

In his book with Josh Mahan, Tree Spiker: From Earth First! To Lowbagging: My Struggles in Radical Environmental Action Roselle takes us on a journey from the days when he was the young virgin joining in on a series of progressive movements and, while at it, drinking, smoking the good herb and hoping to maybe get laid – from 1970s Yippies/Zippies/Hippies; to occupying the Nevada Nuclear Test Site the very day of a scheduled test; to major efforts to preserve the remnants of our Ancient Forests; to uphill struggles to end the trade in illegal tropical logging; to the current campaign to end the atrocity of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) coal extraction.

Always entertaining, Mike also lived up to the other part of the incomparable Winona LaDuke’s late father Sun Bear’s maxim by finding out just where he could plug in and be useful. If it meant running a mimeograph machine, Mike did it. If it meant washing every dish in the sink, he did that. If the younger Yippies felt that Abbie Hoffman was getting a swelled head and not following grassroots protocol, then Mike was there to dump his once-idol Abbie in the hotel swimming pool. If it meant climbing the flagpole at Miami’s Flamingo Park during the 1972 GOP Convention and replacing Old Glory with the Viet Cong Battle Flag, well… Mike was always ready to answer the call.

Soon, Mike wasn’t only joining up with groups of like-minded folks; he was co-founding some of the more radical action groups we’ve seen. He provides an engrossing tale of the founding of Earth First! and the Buckaroos behind it. At the time he was still the young guy – drinking, smoking, no longer a virgin – finding his niche while working as a roughneck in the Wyoming Oil Patch. He even successfully opposed a Forest Service drilling lease that was to be drilled by the very rig he worked on.

The Buckaroos were hard-working, hard-drinking, hard-partying guys who were incensed at the loss of wild lands and the biodiversity they support. They were minor staffers for some of the big green environmental groups. They had seen firsthand how the Big Greens failed to protect wild lands whenever the groups’ ties to Democrats demanded inaction or some lame, compromise settlement that would be publicly called a victory: but ultimately condemned ever more swaths of wild lands to the bulldozers and chainsaws. On numerous occasions, across varied issues, Mike does not shy away from taking the Big Greens, the institutional Peace Movement and other progressive bureaucracies to task for their ‘insider” game and how it undermines actual success and destroys grassroots efforts; often stealing credit for hard-won grassroots victories at the same time.

Soon, Mike and the rest of the fledgling EF! group were out pulling road survey stakes and using Monkeywrenching (sabotage of industrial equipment, etc.) to stop destructive activities in the wild. Eventually, it escalated to where Mike and allies would drive large spikes into trees and then spray-paint them and label them as being spiked – to draw attention to the proposed logging.

Throughout the book, Mike carries out the internal movement (and personal) monologue/dialogue about Monkeywrenching – the violence vs. non-violence ethical debate that’s been around progressive politics since long before the days of Malcolm X and Dr. King. Mike mostly stuck to the non-violent civil disobedience model; much more so as he aged.

Besides co-founding Earth First!, Mike also had a hand in the founding of the Rainforest Action Network. The chapter on the rainforests is the strongest chapter in the book. In that and his other chapters on forest preservation efforts, Roselle, provides a very good analysis of logging’s eco-impacts using easily-understandable terminology – “layman’s terms” as he eschews what he sees as forestry’s faith-based “dogma” cloaked as science. He gives the reader a feel for just what it was/is like to be an identified conservationist living in resource extraction communities worldwide. He points out that the loggers, miners and ranchers of these communities are not bad people. In fact, he cites what is true of most grassroots activists; “One can like loggers without loving logging. I would rather hang out with loggers than with most environmentalists.”

Roselle has been arrested over 50 times by his estimation. Eventually, the latest arresting authorities when perusing his record come to realize that the threat of incarceration sure isn’t going to dissuade him. The longest he ever served time was four months in South Dakota for an effort to place a huge, mock gas mask and banner on George Washington at Mt. Rushmore – to protest coal-fired power plant acid rain emissions. His vignettes from inside the jail with its high percentage of Lakota inmates are the most entertaining parts of the book. He recounts the hilarious tale of how he was arrested for violating his parole while still in jail!

“Until we treat the destruction of the ancient forests like the crime it is, we will continue to witness its disappearance.”

–Mike Roselle

Mike writes an excellent chapter on the 1990 Redwood Summer campaign in Northern California and the still-unsolved bombing of two of its organizers, the late Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. When the Big Greens cower and some even side with the FBI’s false charges against the wounded activists, Greenpeace, an off again/on again Roselle habitat, comes through for Bari, Cherney and the Redwoods, assisting the exceptional local groups that first nationalized the issue. However, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club – all fall into the trap of, as Mike puts it; “no longer whether to log, only where to log.”

Periodically, Greenpeace completely shifts direction and Roselle and other radicals are purged. Roselle has been hired and fired by Greenpeace at least six times. But, they, and other groups, are always just one bleak campaign away from seeking out his usefulness again. As Mike points out, “My phone never rings unless an environmental group is desperate.”

The Big Wild

The effort to protect the Salmon-Selway ecosystem – the largest intact roadless area in the 48 states – and the Cove/Mallard road/logging project gets a thorough retelling. In perhaps Roselle and allies finest effort, they take on the subsidized roading and logging of this magnificent five-million acre-plus ecosystem. Ramon (Robert Amon) buys a piece of land astride where one of the roads is to be punched into the wild and it becomes Ground Zero for the effort. Seeds for Peace set up camp and kitchen; well-stocked with dumpster gleanings. Hundreds of activists visited over the multi-year campaign with over 150 arrested blocking the road-building efforts, with some getting major jail time.

Like Freedom Riders in the South, activists had to be wary when entering the local mill towns – not only were they resource-extraction company towns, but also some of the strongholds of the white supremacist movement. When Lloyd Clayton, Lauren Esserman, Karyn Moscowitz and I traveled across Idaho one hot, smoky day to the encampment outside tiny Dixie for Roselle’s 40th Birthday party – listening to Richie Havens singing “Freedom” as it was also the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock – we were greeted at a Kamiah gas station by a biker Billy Jack look-alike who was wearing a shirt with a Crusader’s Shield on it, complete with concertina wire wrapped around the cross and the slogan “Soldiers for Christ.” He was giving a hippie on a motorcycle the third degree. The hippie was giving up no information and warily eyeing his exit. Though sobering, that was nothing. Numerous dedicated wilderness defenders suffered actual assaults.

Idaho responded to the effrontery of the Big Wild defenders by passing the Earth First! Law. The ultimately-proven unconstitutional law made it a felony to even discuss blocking logging roads. Mill owners got million dollar (never collected) judgments against the activists. But, in the end, the Cove/Mallard project was dropped and the area has remained inviolate to this day – and a new crop of activists and lawyers are on the case.

Mike went on to challenge the Mahogany Pirates, even seizing a ship loaded with illegal lumber. Back with Greenpeace for one last stand, Mike set up the Forest Crimes Unit which succeeded in getting an international commission to begin seizures of its own. Mahogany was/is a little safer now and Mike moved back to southern Oregon to fight the resumed logging there.

Making a Ruckus

Soon, Roselle, Twilley and allies decide that a new organization, one that will train young activists in the principles of nonviolent civil disobedience is needed and Mike co-founds another one – The Ruckus Society. Starting with the 80 present at the first training in 1995 – that of the campfire dancing scene I described – Ruckus trained over 1000 new activists in such necessary things as banner hangings to media work to filing boring old Appeals of agency decisions. Most of these activists are still at it today, staffing a number of progressive organizations from Peace groups to end-of-life choice groups to an assortment of eco-groups.

It’s in his chapter on Ruckus that Mike delineates his thoughts on non-violence as a tactic – “not a strategy:”

“(Nonviolence) is most commonly used when the opposition holds all the power over an in important issue and refuses to acknowledge the opposition’s voice. Nonviolence serves to address this lopsided balance of power through the willingness to sacrifice one’s own freedom in order to persuade or coerce the other party into agreement.”

“I hate these anarchists. They won’t do anything you tell them to.”

–Mike Roselle

It’s also in the Ruckus chapter and the two penultimate ones that the book swerves off course. In his convert zeal for non-violence, Mike morphs into grouchy, old man mode and takes young activists to task for their current Monkeywrenching. He decries the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) demonstrators for the actions of the few Black Block anarchists who “fucked shit up,” completely missing the actual successes and, even greater symbolic importance of the WTO protests altogether -even Labor was there ferchrissakes protesting a neolib Democrat administration’s wrong-doing! Think the world didn’t notice that? And, what about the tens of thousands who were radicalized/more radicalized by the experience? It’s hard not to be made even more wary of Imperial America after getting gassed, beaten and shot at with rock hard superballs, while you and tens of thousands of others are doing, yes – non-violent CD.

He moves right along and goes after the Ruckus Society which he now deems as promoting “violence.” He hits moral dungeon high gear when he lambastes the arsonists in his penultimate chapter GREEN SCARE – THE BRIEF AND BRUTAL CAREER OF THE ELF (Earth Liberation Front).

Mike simply fails to give the new rabble rousers the slack he gives that old activist Mike Roselle. He simply won’t let them have the same chance to grow up. Sorry, good buddy, but there is no way “their kids will be joining us” if we don’t grant them the leeway to make some of the same damned mistakes. Sure, it’s hard to see people demanding the Right to make those same mistakes over an over and hard as hell to have patience with it. But deep down, I, for one, admit they have that Right. Sure, we’d dearly benefit from some elder respect, or at least ferreting out lessons learned thru those elders’ experiences. Grassroots democracy is always messy and may not get us there, but what’s the alternative? Surely, not the Big and Little Green model of absolutely no democracy for the peasants (the paying membership.)

Mike undermines his own arguments for scrupulous non-violence when he shows that, even for him, it’s situational, as he intentionally knocks a guy off a pro-Redwoods banner so that Woody Harrelson and Celia Alario can successfully hang it off the Golden Gate Bridge. Ironically, the inconvenienced bridge driver he knocked off the banner was doing his own non-violent CD trying to prevent the banner’s deployment.

The reality is that the same feeling of desperation that Mike once felt (and still does) motivates the “fuck shit up” crowd. Mike doesn’t connect the dots. He seems to not realize how corrupted the entire forest protection movement – not just the Big Greens, but also the smaller, regional green groups became and that the result was their collective blessing – in exchange for six-figure foundation grants – of Clinton’s resumption of ancient forest logging – the Northwest Forest Plan – Option 9.

He spends an entire chapter on Clinton’s Salvage Rider and the movement response to it, yet does not see how Option 9 begat that “logging without laws” Salvage Rider; which begat the Healthy (sic) Forests Initiative; which begat the phony Roadless Rule. Once the foundation-dependent greens rolled over on Ancient Forest logging which we had stopped under Pappy Bush, it was easy for the Democrats to suspend the laws and foist off the Salvage Rider; then they implemented logging the forests in order to save them (Healthy Forests) and; finally, to falsely claim that “58.5 million acres were protected” by Clinton’s 11th Hour Roadless Rule which was nothing more than Al Gore 2000 Greenwash and institutional green fund-raiser (in-boxes fill every year a decade later with the same damn message: “Defend the Roadless Rule! Send us money.”)

Other young activists did connect the dots; not just on forests, but on a host of ecological issues, and felt hopeless. That desperation led to the ELF as surely as Big Green concerns for foundation grants and useless “access” to their Democratic Party buddies led to renewed logging.

While letting the architects of the Option 9 and other pro-Dem sell-outs off the hook – even serially praising one of the major ones – Roselle spends three chapters lambasting a handful of now-incarcerated folks and others who invited incarceration with their frenzied responses to what they saw as serious threats to biodiversity, human and animal rights. This is the very same Mike Roselle who years earlier at the Miami Convention endured a comparable tongue-lashing from Allen Ginsberg to the effect that Roselle’s “trashing” had “screwed everything up and we would get four more years of Nixon because of it.”

Having a much-needed discussion on non-violence is one thing, but cut ‘em some slack Mike. Many of the things you once did believing them to be the best things you could do for biodiversity would carry a “terrorist enhancement” sentence these days.

The Final (?) Frontier

The book ends with an appeal for help in ending the monstrous crime of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal extraction and the entire fossil-fuel economy that dooms biodiversity. Mike has been camped in Appalachia for the last few years and the effort there is getting mainstream press. A sure sign they are making progress is that Big Coal is now paying workers to attend hearings and intimidate activists, just as Big Timber did over hearings to protect special paces during the Ancient Forests Campaign.

As Carbon Off-sets magnate Al Gore noted; “We are now treating the Earth’s atmosphere as an open sewer. I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers, and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.”

Mike and his Appalachian allies would like to see Al’s vision carried out (with Al at the barricades himself.) Mike has been able to stick a toe out of the left-wing media ghetto; conducting endless TV/radio interviews and he even has a recent very good interview in TIME. This alone will bring much needed attention to MTR.

In the end, the book is a retelling of an entire movement. A movement based on love for this beautiful planet and her dependent creatures – a movement of people who indeed put personal comfort below eco-Justice. Mike remembers people well. Great activists like Atossa Soltani, Jake Kreilick, Ed Abbey, Karen Pickett, Karen Coulter, John Seed, Randy Hayes, Howie Wolke, Vandana Shiva, Tracy Katelman, Bart Koehler, even Dave Foreman, in addition to the those mentioned already and many others are given credit where due.

He gives a nod to Brock Evans, the first guy to draw Wilderness boundaries on maps of the Pacific Northwest back in the ‘60s in advance of the original Wilderness Act. We’ve been fighting for the areas on Brock’s maps that were left out of that and later Wilderness Bills ever since. Brock always said that the secret of winning an impossible campaign is “endless pressure; endlessly applied.”

It’s a very good book even with my criticisms; far superior to Tree Huggers, Kathie Durbin’s turgid hosanna to the Option 9 sell-out. It’s well written, humorous, moves fast and hits the major points head on. He carries out the grassroots activist’s ancient code. He lets us in on just what the threats are; who is behind the threats; who is responding and he puts out the recruitment word.

He never does let his readers know what the hell Lowbagging is, however.

Mike Roselle and Josh Mahan will bring their road show to Portland, Oregon on October 30th, at 7 PM in Julia’s Cafe, 2130 NE Broadway St, Portland, OR 97232-1513.

MICHAEL DONNELLY is a long-time ancient forest activist. He considers his friend Mike Roselle as entertaining and useful a guy as has ever walked this blue-green sphere we call Mother. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com

MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com