The Feminization of
By Judi Bari
It is impossible to live in the redwood region of
Northern California without being profoundly affected
by the destruction of this once magnificent ecosystem.
Miles and miles of clearcuts cover our bleeding
hillsides. Ancient forests are being strip-logged to pay
off corporate junk bonds. And bee-lines of log trucks
fill our roads, heading to the sawmills with loads
ranging from 1,000-year old redwoods, one tree trunk
filling an entire logging truck, to six-inch diameter
baby trees that are chipped for pulp. Less than 5% of
the old growth redwood is left, and the ecosystem is
disappearing even faster than the more widely known
So it is not surprising that I, a lifetime activist,
would become an environmentalist. What is surprising
is that I, a feminist, single mother and blue-collar
worker, would end up in Earth Firstl, a "no compromise"
direct action group with the reputation of being
macho, beer-drinking eco-dudes. Little did I know
that by combining the more feminine elements of collectivism
and non-violence with the spunk and outrageousness
of Earth First!, we would spark a mass
movement. And little did I know that I would pay for
our success by being bombed and nearly killed, and
subjected to a campaign of hatred and misogyny.
I was attracted to Earth Firstl because they were
the only ones willing to put their bodies in front of the
bulldozers and chainsaws to save the trees. They
were also funny, irreverent, and they played music.
But it was the philosophy of Earth First! that ultimately
won me over. This philosophy, known as biocentrism
or deep ecology, states that the Earth is not
just here for human consumption. All species have a
right to exist for their own sake, and humans must
learn to live in balance with the needs of nature,
instead of trying to mold nature to fit the wants of
I see no contradiction between deep ecology and
eco-feminism. But Earth First! was founded by five
men, and its principle spokespeople have all been
male. As in all such groups, there have always been
competent women doing the real work behind the
scenes. But they have been virtually invisible
behind the public Earth First! persona of "big man
goes into big wilderness to save big trees." I certainly
objected to this. Yet despite the image, the structure
of Earth First! was decentralized and non-hierarchical,
so we had the leeway to develop any way
we wanted in our local Northern California group.
Earth First! came on the scene in redwood country
around 1986, when corporate raider Charles
Hurwitz of Maxxam took over a local lumber company,
then nearly tripled the cut of old growth redwood
to pay off his junk bonds. Earth First! had been
protesting around public land issues in other parts of
the West since 1981, but this was such an outrage
that it brought the group to its first "private" lands
For years the strategy of Earth First!, under male
leadership, had been based on individual acts of daring.
"Nomadic Action Teams" of maybe ten people
would travel to remote areas and bury themselves in
logging roads, chain themselves to heavy equipment,
or sit in trees. There were certainly brave and principled
women who engaged in these actions. And a few
of the actions, notably the Sapphire Six blockade in
Oregon, even had a majority of women participants.
But by and large, most of the people who had the
freedom for that kind of travel and risk-taking were
I never consciously tried to change Earth First!,
I just applied my own values and experiences to my
work. I have nothing against individual acts of daring.
But the flaw in this strategy is the failure to
engage in long-term community-based organizing.
There is no way that a few isolated individuals, no
matter how brave, can bring about the massive
social change necessary to save the planet. So we
began to organize with local people, planning our
logging blockades around issues that had local community
support. We also began to build alliances
with progressive timber workers based on our common
interests against the big corporations. As our
successes grew, more women and more people with
families and roots in the community began calling
themselves Earth Firstlers in our area.
But as our exposure and influence grew, so did
the use of violence to repress us. And in this far-flung,
rural, timber-dependent area, it was easy to
get away with. At one demonstration an angry logger
punched a 50-year-old non-violent woman so hard
that she was knocked cold and her nose was broken.
In another incident, my car was rammed from behind
Karen-Silkwood style by the same logging truck that
we had blockaded less than 24 hours earlier. My car
was totaled and my children and I and the other
Earth First!ers who were riding with us ended up in
the hospital. In both these cases, as in other incidents
of violence against us, local police refused to
arrest, prosecute, or even investigate our assaulters.
Earth First! had never initiated any violence.
But neither did we publicly associate our movement
with an overt non-violence code. After all, that
would contradict the he-man image that Earth First!
was founded upon. Yet I did not see how we could
face the increasingly volatile situation on the front
lines without declaring and enforcing our non-violence.
And, considering the rate at which the trees
were falling and the overwhelming power of the timber
corporations, I did not see how we could save
the forest with just our small rural population and
the small group of Earth First!
So, drawing on the lessons of the Civil Rights
Movement, we put out a nationwide call for Freedom
Riders for the Forest to come to Northern California
and engage in non-violent mass actions to stop the
slaughter of the redwoods. We called the campaign
Redwood Summer, and, as it became clear that we
were successfully drawing national interest and
building the infrastructure to handle the influx, the
level of repression escalated again.
As Redwood Summer approached, I began to
receive a series of increasingly frightening written
death threats, obviously written in the interest of Big
Timber. The most frightening of these was a photo of
me playing music at a demonstration, with a rifle
scope and cross-hairs superimposed on my face and
a yellow ribbon (the timber industry's symbol)
attached. When I asked the local police for help they
said: "We don't have the manpower to investigate. If
you turn up dead, then we'll investigate." When I
complained to the county Board of Supervisors they
replied, "You brought it on yourself, Judi." Finally, on
May 24. 1990, as I was driving through Oakland on a
concert tour to promote Redwood Summer, a bomb
exploded under my car seat. I remember my thoughts
as it ripped through me. I thought 'This is what men
do to each other in wars."
The bomb was meant to kill me, and it nearly did.
It shattered my pelvis and left me crippled for life. My
organizing companion, Darryl Cherney, who was riding
with me in the car, was also injured, although not as
seriously. Then, adding to the outrage, police and FBI
moved in within minutes and arrested me and Darryl,
saying that it was our bomb and we were knowingly
carrying it. For eight weeks, they slandered us in the
press, attempting to portray us as violent and discredit
Redwood Summer, until they were finally forced to
drop the charges for lack of evidence. But to this day,
no serious investigation of the bombing has been conducted,
and the bomber remains at large.
There were indications in advance that the attack
on me was misogynist as well as political. For example.
one of the death threats described us as "whores, lesbians,
and members of N.O.W." But soon after the
bombing, a letter was received that left no doubt. It
was signed by someone calling himself the Lord's
Avenger, and it took credit for the bombing. It
described the bomb in exact detail and explained in
chilling prose why the Lord's Avenger wanted me dead.
It was not just my "paganism" and defense of
the forest that outraged him. The Lord's Avenger
also recalled an abortion clinic defense that I had
led years ago. "I saw Satan's flames shoot forth from
her mouth her eyes and ears, proving forever that
this was no Godly Woman, no Ruth full of obedience
to procreate and multiply the children of Adam
throughout the world as is God's will. 'Let the
woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I
suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority
over the man, but to be in silence (Timothy 2: 1 I).'"
Other misogynist hate literature about me was
also distributed while I lay devastated in the hospital.
The worst was from the Sahara Club, an anti-environmental
group that wrote in its newsletter:
"BOMB THAT CROTCH! Judi Bari, the Earth First
bat slug who blew herself halfway to hell and back
while transporting a bomb in her Subaru, held a
press conference in San Francisco. ... Bari, who had
her crotch blown off, will never be able to reproduce
again. We're just trying to figure out what would
volunteer to inseminate her if she had all her parts.
The last we heard, Judi and her friends were pouting
and licking their wounds."
Meanwhile, out in the forest, Redwood Summer
went on without me. Before the bombing I was one of
a very few women who had taken a prominent leadership
role in Earth First! But after the bombing, it was
the women who rose to take my place. Redwood
Summer was the feminization of Earth First!, with
3/4 of the leadership made up of women. Our past
actions in the redwood region had drawn no more
than 150 participants. But 3,000 people came to
Redwood Summer, blocking logging operations and
marching through timber towns in demonstrations
reminiscent of those against racism in the South.
And despite incredible tension and provocation, and
despite the grave violence done to me, Earth First!
maintained both our presence and our non-violence
throughout the summer.
Being the first women-led action, Redwood
Summer has never gotten the respect it deserves
from the old guard of Earth First! But it has profoundly
affected the movement in the redwood region.
It brought national and international attention to the
slaughter of the redwoods. The 2,000-year-old trees
of Headwaters Forest, identified, named and made an
issue of by Earth First!, are now being preserved
largely due to our actions. The legacy of our principled
and non-violent stand in Redwood Summer has
gained us respect in our communities, and allowed
us to continue and build our local movement. And
our Earth First! group here, recently renamed
Ecotopia Earth First!, is probably the only truly gender-
balanced group I have ever worked in, now equally
led by strong women and feminist men.
I believe that the reason I was subjected to
such excessive violence was not just what I was saying,
but the fact that a woman was saying it. I
recently attended a workshop in Tennessee on violence
and harassment in the environmental movement.
There were 32 people in the circle, drawn
from all over the country. As we each told our tale, I
was struck by the fact that the most serious acts of
violence had all been done to women. And of course
this is no surprise. Because it is the hatred of feminine,
which is the hatred of life, that has helped
bring about the destruction of the planet. And it is
the strength of women that can restore the balance
we need to survive.
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