Magazine article The Nation

Judi Passes

Magazine article The Nation

Judi Passes

Article excerpt

Cancer nailed poor Judi Bari when she was only 47. It was surprising to see the stir in the press. The New York Times gave Bari a long obituary, and there were big pieces about her in other newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, not to mention the local Northern California paper, the Press Democrat. I'd say it was a case of de mortuis nil nisi bonum, but that's not an operating principle for anyone who has seriously bothered the powers that be.

I hope Bari is not retrospectively canonized, since sainthood is never much of a stimulus to useful thinking or analysis. Her huge contribution was to see that by 1990, after savage depredations by the timber companies in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest in the preceding decade, the moment had come for a political counterattack. She launched Redwood Summer, and it did change the terms of the debate. The fate of the redwoods became national news.

She also understood at that time the degeneration of the corrupt national green organizations and realized that Earth First! was a vehicle for shifting the terms of the debate in a radical direction, just so long as EF! could be induced to abandon the somewhat fascistic Malthusian tilt given it by Dave Foreman, who, in one of those bizarre detours, has ended up as a tabby cat, lapping heartily from the boardroom saucers of the Sierra Club. Bari was successful. She denounced tree spiking, a tactic that could hurt ordinary folk making their living in the woods, as opposed to the true scoundrels in the countinghouses of Louisiana Pacific and the other timber giants.

Alas, any notions of an alliance between greens and labor has stayed mostly at the level of fantasy. I remember, at a Redwood Summer demonstration at Samoa, north of Eureka, seeing a fellow carrying a placard featuring the I.W.W. Rather impressed, I strolled over to chat with the carrier, only to get a taciturn and chilly response. It turned out that the man was a chap from Berkeley, flourishing the placard for the press cameras, and in terms of substantive labor involvement, his presence meant nothing.

A few weeks later, at another Redwood Summer gathering at Fort Bragg, farther down the coast, a logger called Duane Potter seized the microphone and swiftly quelled a bellowing throng of counterdemonstrators. He told them the Redwood Summer folks were right: The woods had been devastated, the jobs were going or gone, the timber barons had stripped the place and were heading over the hills to forests new. An environmental movement with many Duane Potters would have been tremendous, but it never came to pass. Face it, our side talks a lot about coalitions, but funks it whenever something marginally alien to pwogwessive mores has to be integrated into the primal horde.

Bari nearly got killed by a bomb in her car, and her friend Darryl Cherney, beside her, had his eardrums blown in. The F.B.I. charged the two with knowingly carrying the device, but the charges were dropped. Bari accumulated a 7,000-page file of F.B.I. documents and said that they provided evidence of COINTELPRO-type rampages by the bureau. The extracts she read out almost at the end of her life were certainly provocative. I hope her heirs and assigns make the full file public as soon as possible.

Certainly there were many on the Northcoast who detested her. Bruce Anderson, editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, which had a politically intense and often combative relationship with Bari, gave a fine description of the passions in an obituary of Bari in his paper:

This ominous community of born-again bible beaters and timber

serfs hated Judi Bari; it was scary how intensely they hated her....

You'd have thought a couple of battalions of Viet Cong were rampaging

through Mendocino County rather than a fearless five-foot

woman with a tongue whip and a fiddle. …

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