Categories Archives: Strategy & Analysis

Time is Short: Nonviolence Can Work, But Not for Us

By now we should all be familiar with what’s at stake. The horrific statistics—200 species driven extinct daily, every child born with hundreds of toxic chemicals already in their bodies, every living system on the planet in decline—haunt us as we go about our work in a world that refuses to hear, listen, or act on them. After decades of traditional organizing and activist work, we’re beginning to come to terms with the need for a dramatic shift in strategy and tactics, and indeed in how we conceptualize the task before us.

It is not enough any longer (if it ever was) to build a reformist social movement, one more faction among many attempting to fix the failings within our society. With industrial civilization literally tearing apart the biosphere and skinning the planet alive, we can afford no other goal than to build a resistance movement capable of—and determined to succeed in—bringing down industrial civilization, by any means necessary.

We know this will require decisive underground action to be successful, and starting all but from scratch, this begins with promoting the need for militant resistance; trying to garner acceptance and normalization of the fact that without militant resistance—including sabotage and direct attacks on key nodes of industrial infrastructure—there is little, if any, hope that earth will survive much longer.

However, the pervasive ideology of the dominant culture leaves most of its members unwilling to even consider dialogue on the topic of militant resistance, much less adopting it as a strategy. One manifestation of this is the all-too-widely held belief that nonviolent resistance is more always more effective than violent resistance.

The most common explanation provided to justify this idea is that violent movements alienate potential supporters, while nonviolent movements are more likely to mobilize “the masses” around a cause, and that without mass participation and support, there can be no social or political change.

For example, several years ago two university professors conducted a statistical comparison of violent and nonviolent social movements in the 20th century, with the goal of determining the relative effectiveness of violent and nonviolent strategies. The survey was limited to anti-occupation & anti-colonial movements, as well as those that sought regime change or the end of an oppressive government. In 2011, the findings were published in a book called Why Civil Resistance Works. The authors concluded that, based on their data, nonviolent movements are statistically twice as effective as violent ones, and they explained this as being due to the propensity of nonviolent movements to elicit greater participation from the general population.

An underlying premise—unstated by those who espouse this line of reasoning—is that without popular support and engagement, movements cannot achieve their aims. While it is certainly the case that mass movements can be effective in creating social change, that is by no means always the case. The simple (and perhaps unfortunate) truth is that some causes will never enjoy popular support, regardless of what strategies or tactics they use. In a deeply, fundamentally misogynistic and racist culture, a culture that has as its foundation the slow dismemberment of the living world, the support and enthusiasm of the majority is by no means a signifier that a cause is a worthwhile one. And a lack of that popular support doesn’t mean a cause or movement isn’t righteous.

We would do well to remember that the majority of Germans didn’t support any resistance against the Nazis, and even a decade after the war ended and the atrocities of the Nazi genocide were well known, most Germans still opposed even the idea of a theoretical resistance to Nazi rule.

Similarly, a movement to dismantle civilization will never enjoy the support or participation of a mass movement. Far too many people are completely dependent upon it, or too attached to the material privilege and prosperity it affords them for their allegiance, or simply unable to question the only way of life they ever known, or all of the above. The truth is that any effort to stop civilization will always be a minority, not only without popular support, but likely directly opposed by the majority of the dominant culture. This is a sobering fact that, while perhaps difficult to come to terms with, we need to accept and build our strategy around. Rather than starting from the abstract position of “nonviolence works” and building a strategy for our movement from there, we should start with the material realities of our situation—the time, resources, and numbers of participants available to us.

This is why framing the whole discussion within a ‘violent/nonviolent’ dichotomy is problematic. When we reduce the complexities of entire movements and strategies down to the simple categories of ‘violent’ and ‘nonviolent,’ we relegate all discussion about strategy to theoretical and conceptual realms, glossing almost entirely over the nuances and dynamics of particular struggles. And it’s these details that determine what strategies will be effective. If we want to decide on an effective strategy, we need to first examine closely and critically our situation, and determine from there what will be most effective.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we won’t ever have the numbers of participants required for strategies of popular nonviolence. It doesn’t matter how effective nonviolent strategies and movements may be in other situations; we’re not in those situations and without the necessary numbers, nonviolent strategies hold no promise for us. We need to halt industrial civilization in its tracks, and that position isn’t one that can muster a mass movement.

Which brings us back to the need for decisive underground action. Unlike nonviolent strategy, which is dependent upon mobilize huge numbers of participants, a strategy of militant attacks on key nodes of industrial infrastructures—a strategy of decisive ecological warfare—doesn’t require mass participation or support. Coordinated and repeated attacks against systemic weak points or bottle necks can cause systems disruption and cascading systems failure, resulting in the collapse of industrial activity and civilization—which must be our goal if we profess any love for life on this planet.

Given that industrial infrastructure is the foundational pillar of support for the function and existence of industrial civilization, and that these infrastructure networks are sprawling, fragile, and poorly protected; coordinated sabotage presents the best strategy and hope for a movement to bring down civilization.

Recognizing the need for underground action and the key role it must play if we’re to be successful as a movement doesn’t mean disavowing all nonviolent action. We need bio-diverse movements and cultures of resistance, and for some objectives nonviolent strategies are appropriate and smart and should be pursued. But we also need to recognize the limitations of various strategies, and especially the limitations of our own situation.

To reiterate, we will only ever be a small movement; we’ll never enjoy the support and participation required by mass nonviolent campaigns. The unfortunate truth is that most folks won’t ever willingly challenge the basis of their own way of life, much less organize to confront power and dismantle that way of life.

We also don’t have much time: according to conservative estimates, we have five years to stop the development and construction of fossil fuel infrastructure before being locked into catastrophic runaway climate change.

Those limitations—the lack of numbers and the short time available, combined with the fragility and vulnerability of the physical infrastructures of planetary murder—are what should point us away from mass nonviolence and towards a strategy of strategic sabotage. Coming to terms with and acting upon that reality isn’t always easy, but the sooner we’re able to let go of our misinformed and misguided dreams of a mass movement, the sooner we can start the real work of building a serious resistance movement.

How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 2

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Law enforcement has been so ineffective in preventing illegal ORV use that citizens are usually left to face the problem on their own. Stopping ORVs isn’t easy, but short of an end to gasoline—which we can’t wait for—impacts will continue to worsen if there’s no intervention. In remote areas like the Mojave Desert and Colorado Plateau, where would-be activists are scattered and overwhelmed and the police are essentially powerless and blasé, all strategies for stopping ORVs involve active and sustained effort. Here are a few:

Pressure law enforcement to do their jobs. Carry a camera with you always, and photograph illegal activity, if at all possible getting clear images of license plates. Document the time, place, and circumstances. Bring it to the attention of both the local and federal police, if on federal land. Be polite but persistent.

Physically close illegal trails. This can be surprisingly effective. Adopt an area and close off illegal trails with rocks, logs, whatever is handy and doesn’t further disturb the land. ORVers will keep trying to use the trail, but continued discouragement might eventually work.

Physically close legal trails. Similar to the last category, people may choose to carry out underground actions that close legal routes.[1] There must be a strict firewall between aboveground and underground activists: people or groups choosing to use underground tactics should not engage in aboveground actions, and vice versa.[2]

Close and reclaim established, authorized routes through administrative and legal channels. It’s the open roads that draw ORVs deeper into land they can then illegally violate, so every closed road is particularly helpful. This, too, takes a long and sustained effort. One helpful organization is Wildlands CPR (Now Wild Earth Guardians),[3] but don’t expect any non-profit group to have the resources to do the job for you. If you love the land you live in, be prepared to fight for it—a simple solution of hard, dedicated effort. Organize with those who agree with you, and fight.

 

Coyote Canyon Revisited

Private landowners neighboring Coyote Canyon in southeast Utah fought the originally illegal ORV use of the canyon, and tried to stop the BLM from sanctioning it. They pleaded with the public via every venue they could think of to write letters to the BLM opposing the move, yet ORV interests grossly outnumbered the effort. Fewer than ten opponents to the trail even bothered writing letters, and when the decision to open the canyon to ORVs was made the BLM didn’t even bother notifying the respondents, a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Otherwise, however, the agency had prepared its documents thoroughly and neighbors were advised that a legal challenge probably wouldn’t have been effective. Although the BLM offered a number of concessions—the trail is only open Friday and Saturday to registered users, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., among other restrictions—the agency legitimized crime, rewarding criminals with the sacrifice of another dwindling scrap of feral public land.

The Coyote Canyon example highlights several reasons why so few are willing to protect the land, and why they’re losing so badly. One is fear of reprisals from enemies (such as intentional trespass and vandalism of property, already an issue for neighbors of Coyote Canyon). Another is a reasonable assumption that their efforts will be ineffective—though of course making no effort will certainly be ineffective. Yet people tend to accept whatever situation they’re given. It’s uncommon to question an established arrangement, whatever it may be, and if one continues to question it life gets more uncomfortable. A resister will always face ridicule, accusations of poor mental, emotional and social adjustment, eventual ostracizing and occasionally murder. Yet social changes demand challenges to established practice.

When the BLM announced their decision to open Coyote Canyon to oil spills, noise, litter, piles of shit and soiled rags of toilet paper, almost everyone who was asked to help offered only a passing moment of sympathy. Not “what can I do,” not “what are our options,” but “that’s too bad.” It’s no wonder fights like this are frequently lost, when reactions are so feeble.

Industry and recreation groups, by contrast, are well organized and ready to rush to their own common cause. The right wing tends to be more accepting of orders; the boss says jump, they ask how high. They have something tangible they’re working for, a thing they like doing, a righteous maintenance of their privilege—such as driving anywhere they want. They stand to gain something where resistance stands only to prevent something—at least in situations like Coyote Canyon, where no comparable force opposes them.

Fighting Back

Resistance is tough. It means making one’s self unpopular, a hard thing to do among those who’ve been taught their whole lives that popularity is everything. Organizing can provide the possibility of overcoming our fear of reprisal, of ridicule, and of failure; it’s the only chance at effectively confronting injustices.   Those who wish to prevent agency actions like the Coyote Canyon trail, or to promote re-localization of food production—any defensive or restorative action—can become an effective force if they work together, consistently and reliably supporting one another. Many progressives have been bled off by dogmas of non-confrontation, by intoxicating feel-good-ness, and by the idea that individualism is of primary importance. They’ve become lazy, fatalistic, and cynical; committed, organized struggle seems to be the sorry lot of desperately poor people in faraway places.

The examples that we have of committed resistance movements often are of desperately poor people, immediately threatened by the activities of rich and powerful enemies. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is one good example, and so are the more than 130 First Nations governments in western Canada that have gathered against the tar-sands Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects.[4] We who are in a position to protect the land mostly lack the ability to respond, to turn our empathy for places like Coyote Canyon into action.

The situation at the frontiers of wild land is desperate, too. Wealth and privilege let us pretend it isn’t, because we get food from supermarket shelves and water from a tap. We see little or no connection between the health of the land and our own well-being. Public land use is an issue that can be influenced relatively easily—unlike, say, racism—because land managers so routinely ignore or violate laws and effective tactics usually have to do with citizen enforcement. But environmentalists continue to lose, partly because exploiters have miscast conflict as user-group obstruction—framing the terms of the debate to ridicule love of the wild world, separating its fate from human fate. By allowing this, would-be activists surrender the land and leave the future to sadists and imbeciles.

The destruction of the planet, however easy it is to ignore, will catch up with us all. The civilized economies that steal from the poor to give to the rich will eventually end. They need to consume limited resources to exist and those resources—fossil fuels, topsoil—will not last forever. When this happens, we will again depend upon the land to sustain us. If that land is stripped of its capacity to sustain life by industry, agriculture, and recreation, then there will be nowhere else to go, and nothing to do but wage war and starve.

Abuse of the land is now normalized by faith in nonexistent frontiers (of renewable energy and electric cars, for example) and by misguided tolerance. Naming abuse—the destruction of the land in the name of fun or individualistic pursuits and the destruction of our selves by abusive people and systems—is often portrayed as abusive in itself. This is outrageous and infuriating, but should be expected.

Though it is far less damaging than industry and agriculture, the evidence for ORV destruction is well documented and easy to come by. It’s not even really contested by ORVers themselves. Those of us determined to stop this behavior face the same problem law enforcement does: the damage is so widespread and difficult to regulate that there’s little anyone can do. But there’s also a serious lack of activists with effective tactics and a coherent strategy to follow through on. This doesn’t mean, though, that we should back down.

 

Identifying with the Real World

Once on Cedar Mesa, in Southeast Utah, I watched an ORV intentionally veer to crush a dozing snake. The reptile churned and writhed in the machine’s track, dead or near dead as its nerves popped and struggled and ran down. I went to it, to witness its pointless death. A thick and handsome bull snake, it spent its last moments bleeding out in the dust. Why? Why do this? What drives this sick, stupid behavior? Why does our culture hate every living thing?

I lifted the snake into the sage and blackbrush so it could at least die in its home. “If they can’t evolve to get out of the way,” someone once told me about road killed animals, “then that’s their problem.” Of course, not evolving to changing conditions is what causes extinction. There’s little doubt that our culture will not voluntarily evolve to halt the worsening conditions that industry and recreation are creating on the planet. So how does anyone fight activity like this? How do we stop deforestation, global warming, ocean acidification? And given those immense problems, is ORV land abuse something to focus limited energy and resources on?

In addition to the suggestions made in these articles, activists can develop tactics and strategies and their way forward will eventually become clear. With hard work and determination a chance of winning would almost certainly emerge. But in a world of Keystone XL pipelines and epidemic levels of fracking, is the effort worth it? If you caretake a few acres of land, blocking travel and pulling weeds, how much does it matter if you stop, or get distracted, or die? If those acres are again immediately vulnerable, is your effort a waste?

Few things anger me more that seeing wanton destruction for fun. I wonder, though, if this is an unhelpful distraction. It’s easy to get angry at something so obviously disrespecting of the land. In terms of permanent impacts, though, industry is much worse, and the scale of destruction is enormous. Of course what runs it is oil. Always this—the temporary, illusory power locked in a liquid hydrocarbon, driving ORVs, factory fishing trawlers, factory farms, and industrial agriculture. It’s warming the atmosphere and leading us to a horribly impoverished future, where most of us will be unable to afford the lifestyle we’ve been subjected and addicted to, let alone find enough to eat.

Remove the oil and the engines stop, and a besieged biosphere can begin to heal. This is part of the strategy that Deep Green Resistance has proposed.[5] But in the meanwhile…ORVs, just one part of the picture, continue to cut apart what little wild life remains, the last seed bank of evolution as we’ll ever know it. The momentum of established civilized practice is now enormous—seemingly unstoppable—and its terminal is in global destruction, the eradication of all complex life. Challenge to this system is so psychologically and practically difficult that most of us ignore it.

Fighting for the real, wild world can begin with the understanding that humans are not everything, and that the fate of the world is ultimately our fate. It is much different to fight for your own beloved family than for a rocky canyon you’ll never visit. We progressives like to talk about how hatred of “other” races cannot be tolerated (not that much is ever done about that). But we hardly ever extend this principle to the non-human world—constant victim of our culture’s violence—because we’ve been conditioned to believe that humans are all that matter. The loons, the snakes, the too-slow creatures smeared across the roads and ground under rubber tires into the dirt, they and the people yet to come who won’t be able to live as we have because the oil is gone—none of them will care about our abstract, self-indulgent moral wrestling. That is the wall that human supremacy has built around us; it must be torn down.

Imagine again that an occupying culture, whose every act is force and theft, was destroying the means of your survival. Imagine them extracting fuel to use the world as a playground. Of course, it is not enough to stop them from driving their toys in every possible place. To survive in the long term we must also stop the extraction, the root of the problem, and eliminate the fuel for destruction. We must reclaim our adult responsibilities and stand up to defend the land where we live, knowing that until oil extraction and consumption is ended, there will always be a new group of occupiers finding new ways to destroy the land.

Endnotes

[1] Foreman, Dave. Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. Tucson: Ned Ludd Books, 1987, 89-109.

[2] Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists, accessed August 30, 2014, http://security.resist.ca/personal/securebooklet.pdf

[3] “Resources,” Wild Earth Guardians, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.wildlandscpr.org

[4] Carrie Saxifrage, “How the Enbridge Pipeline Issue Unified Northern BC,” The Vancouver Observer, February 13, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc

“Interior First Nations Pipeline Ban,” Dogwood Initiative, You Tube, December 2, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G5KtqPSW8Q

Carrie Saxifrage, “No Oil Pipeline Here: Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Smithers finds 100% opposition,” The Vancouver Observer, January 17, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/sustainability/2012/01/17/enbridge-northern-gateway-joint-review-panel-smithers-finds-100-opposition

[5] “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed August 28, 2014, http://deepgreenresistance.org/en/deep-green-resistance-strategy/decisive-ecological-warfare

Time is Short: Where Do We Draw the Line? The Keystone XL Pipeline and Beyond

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance News Service:

The Keystone XL Pipeline is without question the largest environmental issue we in North America face today. It’s not the largest in the sense that it is the most destructive, or the largest in terms of size. But it has been a definitive struggle for the movement; it has brought together a wide variety of groups, from mainstream liberals to radicals and indigenous peoples to fight against a single issue continuously for several years. It has forged alliances between tree-sitting direct actionists and small rural landowners, and mobilized people from across the country to join the battles in Washington and Texas, as well as at the local offices of companies involved in building the pipeline in their own communities. It has also posed serious questions to us as a movement about how we will effectively fight those who profit from the destruction of the living world.

But it’s time for…

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From Derrick Jensen’s book Dreams:

“Frankly I’m starting to remind myself of some of the pacifists who’ve ‘communicated’ with me.  It always goes the same.  They tell me that ‘resistance is never possible, so when you say “organize and resist” what do you mean?  I’m already riding my bike and composting.  What do you want us to do?’  Then when I point out to them many successful resistance movements, they say, ‘But resistance is never possible, what do you want us to do?’ When I point out that they should begin organizing, naming power structures for what they are, and dismantling those systems of power, and when I point out that this is what many successful resistance movements have done, they say, ‘But resistance is never possible.  What do you want us to do?'”  (Page 545.)