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Judi Bari’s Legacy

As I watched Democracy Now! livestream the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, September 21, 2014—the autumn equinox—I pondered what I would have worn and carried as a sign or prop.  Then it dawned on me like a V-8 moment:  I’d be wearing a spotted owl mask, a t-shirt that reads, simply, “Labor,” and I would have carried a photo of deceased Earth First !and labor organizer Judi Bari.  Why?  I came of age during the anti-nuke movement and was a leader in the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) in 1990-1992.  While our 1990 student gathering at University of Ilinois, Champaign-Urbana campus felt historic (now the campus is historic for a different, infuriating reason), I was SEAC’s Maine state coordinator at the time, and don’t remember knowing it was “the largest ever radical student gathering in U.S. history” until I read a brief reference to this in Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air (p.296). At the time of the conference, the buzz was all about connecting social and environmental issues more closely.  No one represented the social/ecological connection better at the time than labor/ Earth First! activist Judi Bari because we felt the FBI had bombed her months earlier.  We didn’t need to wait for the investigation’s findings.

When the news arrived that Judi Bari’s car had been bombed on May 24, 1990,  a few months before our historic conference, my activist circles, which had grown to encompass my participation in in Burlington, Vermont’s Left Green Network, viscerally felt the attack.  We immediately knew the FBI was the culprit.  Why?  We knew the labor/ ecology alliance was the essential alliance necessary to challenge capitalism’s divide and conquer strategy of pitting two forms of variable capital–human labor and natural resources–against each other.  The liberal arts college I attended at the time, College of the Atlantic, offered one degree in Human Ecology, and it was taught in courses that we can not solve nature problems without solving people problems too.  All the way across the country, in the Pacific Northwest, it was spotted owls or logging jobs, right?  Wrong.  Bari, and many others who shared her views, including her tireless comrade and posthumous legal advocate, Darryl Cherney, went up against the monolithic truism, jobs or owls, at great sacrifice.  We saw that legacy on September 21st in Manhattan’s streets.

The disaggregating and abstract social media spectacle of contemporary U.S. protest–from Oakland, to Ferguson, to Newark and Manhattan– evokes an inspiring insurrectionary spirit, but we need to connect the dots so we can connect all the struggles better.  Livestreaming video from Ferguson, as of September 20, 2014, indicates things are heating up, not simmering down, there, and the People’s Climate March floods  (as opposed to finance policy’s supposed trickle effect) Wall Street on Monday, September 22, in what promises to be another Occupy movement challenge to the psychotically defensive 1%.  The disaggregated dots of upheaval have one main connection: ecocide is genocide.  As wealth concentrates, populations and places become a dispensable burden, or as the late Marxist feminist theorist, Teresa Brennan, always emphasized, the preservation of the 99%  and our forests, oceans, skies, and all earthly creatures, become a “slag on the system” of instantly gratifying, and psychotically attained, profit.

Make no mistake: we are viewed as slags on the system.  That’s why the U.S. bombed Judi Bari; she was offering another way for labor and ecology.  That’s why mass incarceration  and police murders of black and brown people continue; the Fight for $15, the public education movement, and prison abolition/ decarceration efforts threaten to lift socio-economic repression, demolish the school to prison pipeline, and demand economic justice.  Finally, that’s why the environmental movement has been co-opted, “Incorporated”  (my livestream screen surreally flashed Pampers diaper commercials while I watched the People’s Climate March and we all know what’s in our landfills, don’t we?).  The system knows the 99% is far from slagging in the streets of America, and, like us, it will do what it has to do to survive (by any means necessary?) Judi Bari’s legacy reminds us that the climate justice movement is not a place to run and hide from the harder hitting anti-policing struggles exploding in U.S. communities–if we connect all the dots.  Remember, our precious automobiles are not just polluting our planet.  They are hiding places for one of the corporate state’s most abominable “means” to their ends of total control–their bombs.  One of the most macabre reasons to ride your bike instead, but a very important reason nonetheless.

Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. can be reached at michrenee@gmail.com