Earth First!

In the turbulent late 60’s, radical environmentalists gathered to defend Mother Earth by any means necessary.

Resist much. Obey little.”—-Walt Whitman—taken from The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, one of the Spiritual inspirations for Earth First!

Earth First! or the Earth Liberation Front was first formed in 1979. It is an environmental activist group that came together in the Southwestern United States. This dynamic group even has its own magazine, called the Earth First! Journal. “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth” is the slogan on the front of all publications.

Environmental activist Dave Forman, ex-Yippie of the Youth International Party, Mike Roselle, Bart Koehler and Howie Wolke (Wyoming Wilderness Society representatives), and Ron Kezar (a Bureau of Land Management employee) formed the beginning of Earth First! because they were disturbed by the planning process of the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Review and Formation (or “RARE II”). They believed that the mainstream environmental advocates were selling out rather than working to protect the environment. The five of them chose to journey from the Pincante Desert in Mexico to Albuquerque, New Mexico to oversee this giant revolutionary movement in order to preserve multi- million-acre ecological areas all across the United States. They pledged, “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!”

Howie Wolke remembers the moment of clairvoyance when the name was developed on their travels. “Suddenly Foreman called out ‘Earth First!’ The next thing you know, Roselle drew a clenched fist logo, passed it up to the front of the van, and there was Earth First!”

The group borrowed from the notions of author Edward Abbey, and the rules are very strict. Protecting the environment is the top priority. “The growth of the movement and to advance the creation of a world free of speciesism, classism, ageism, racism, sexism, violence, exploitation and oppression” is a central part of Earth First’s philosophy.

It became a movement that had cells without leaders. People gather together to party and plan Earth Liberation Front (ELF) activities such as “tree sit-ins,” using spikes in trees to break chainsaws, “puke-ins” at shopping malls, flag burnings and so on. However, each part of the movement’s main thrust was to protect Mother Earth; the actions only differed in intensity.

The first tree sit took place on May 23rd, 1985 organized by Mike Jabukal. The purpose was to sit in or around the tree to prevent the tree from being cut down. Jabukal was up in a nest he had built in the upper reaches of the tree, while the rest of the supporters sat at the base.

The first tree sit lasted only one day. When Jakubel came down at night to look around, he saw that the rest of the forest around his tree had been clear-cut and the U.S. Forest Service officers who were hiding in the area arrested him and his supporters. But the tree-sitting tactic was adopted by Earth First!, and since that first tree sit, there have been many successful actions.

From 1987 on, Earth First! adopted many tactics to prevent the destruction of wild life habitats or the rape of wild places. The defense of Mother Earth then took two directions—the legal ones, i.e. Protests, timber sale appeals, and educational campaigns—or civil disobedience—tree sitting, road blockades, and sabotage of industrial and forest cutting equipment. This was known as “ecotage” by some Earth Firsters who stated that it was necessary to defend Mother Earth.

In 1990, when Earth First! moved toward more “criminal” acts to protect the Earth, ELF truly came together. Since ELF was so active, this change attracted many new individuals to Earth First!, many of whom came from anarchistic political backgrounds and other areas of the counter-culture.

One of the joiners, Judi Bari, welcomed the new intense direct action and leftist direction of Earth First! However, Bari’s support put her not only in harm’s way but also placed her in political turmoil. In 1990, a bomb exploded in Judi Bari’s car, almost killing her and injuring activist Darryl Cherney, who was in the car with her. They were both arrested by law enforcement officials who claimed that “they were transporting the bomb when it accidentally exploded.” Judi Bari stated that if she were transporting a live bomb, it would be suicidal to place it under her front seat. The case against Bari and Cherney was contested
and it was dropped due to tainted evidence. After that, Bari sued the FBI and the Oakland Police. Despite the fact that Judi Bari died in 1997 of cancer, the lawsuit continued and it resulted in a 2002 jury verdict awarding her estate and Darryl Cherney a total of $4.4 million. Eighty percent of the damages were for violation of their First Amendment Rights by the FBI and the police who tried to discredit them in the newspapers as violent extremists even though all evidence was contrary to the event.

In recent years the U.S. government has classified the Earth Liberation Front as a terrorist group. Many Earth Firster’s are in prison with lengthy sentences. Every Earth First! Journal has a two page spread dedicated to the Earth First! Prisoner Support Project, a prisoner and post- release support group for earth and animal liberation political prisoners.

The anarchist political activities caused the movement to splinter, with different factions moving in alternate directions. There was a clear division between those who published the Direct Actions and those who took part in them for the protection of the movement itself.

They protected the movement by creating the Earth First! Journal which became the spoken piece of the organization.

Earth First!’s proposals were published (and still are) in their periodical, Earth First!, The Radical Environmental Journal which is informally known as Earth First!

(We’ll Strip Mine the Other Planets Later) Journal in a very tongue in cheek manner.

I have been a subscriber to their Journal for over 12 years and still find vital information about acts to save our Mother Earth within its pages.

Earth First! is now active in over 19 countries with a main focus of environmental protection through direct action. Each year they have a gathering of the group called the Round River Rendezvous, which still takes place in a different wilderness area of the country. By going to their website, you may find where their gathering is.

The fight to preserve living conditions and endangered species continues as the growth of industrialization and population growth continue to destroy our Mother Earth. Ask yourself: what can you do to help our only home, the planet Earth.

– Marc D. Goldfinger

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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