Over the weekend, the Earth First! Roadshow made a stop in Grand Rapids, offering two days of presentations and trainings pertaining to the radical environmental movement in the United States. From the site of the group erecting a tripod–a device used to blockade roads (whether they be logging roads in areas slated to be clearcut or urban roads during mass protests)–to a puppet show on “security culture,” the Roadshow provided an interesting and inspiring look at resistance to the destruction of the earth.
On Friday, the group gave a presentation at the Division Avenue Arts Co-Operative (The DAAC) that highlighted the successes of the Earth First! movement over the years. They shared a number of photos, stories of resistance, and highlighted victories one. The group discussed many current threats to the environment and shared a “Map of Resistance” that highlighted all of the great organizing work that has been done over the past few years. In addition, the group also talked about the Green Scare–a campaign aimed at marginalizing and/or imprisoning environmental activists as prisoners.
On Saturday, the group headed to Wilcox Park–also the site of a community picnic and the Really, Really Free Market–to host a day of workshops. There were incredibly helpful workshops and trainings on consensus and facilitation, knowing your legal rights to protest, and green capitalism. The group also provided basic tree climbing and tripod climbing training–tactics which can be used to prevent areas from being logged.
Throughout the two days, I was inspired by the stories of resistance that were shared, the catalog of victories one, and the need to confront the destruction of the earth. Here in Michigan, we face several major threats–sulfide mining in the Upper Peninsula, the possible expansion of nuclear power, the construction of several new coal plants, and the privatization of water by companies such as Ice Mountain. In many cases, traditional environmental activism–petitions, boycotts, lobbying, attending public hearings, and other such tactics–have achieved some important successes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if these projects would be defeated–not just stalled–if there was a strong radical environmental movement in Michigan. In the 1990s, Earth First! successfully used tree sits, blockades, and other tactics to stop logging in old growth forests–what if the same dramatic tactics were used here?
The Roadshow was undertaken in part as an effort to revitalize the radical environmental movement in the United States. Even as the threats to the earth continue to grow, the movement has declined in prominence. While new groups and new organizing pops up every day, it is largely detached from the history of struggles that preceded it. The history of Earth First! is one of success against difficult odds–hopefully the tour succeeds in inspiring renewed resistance.
For those wishing to learn more about Earth First!, visit the Earth First! Journal. It’s a quarterly publication that features a wide variety of articles chronicling environmental activism in the United States.