Eco warrior women
- Published: 05 December 2009
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Katrina Fox talks to women who aren't afraid to break the law to save the planet.
Collecting signatures on a petition and lobbying politicians is one way to go about trying to stop the destruction of natural habitats and greenbelt land, but for some people, it’s just not enough. Instead they use their bodies to bring construction and ‘development’ to a standstill.
Earth First! (UK)
Pixi is a 27-year-old activist from the UK and a member of the Derby chapter of Earth First! – an international network of environmental activists for whom direct action is the name of the game.
“Disaffected environmentalists, in 1980, formed a radical group called Earth First! and engaged in a series of protests and civil disobedience events,” Pixi explains. “In 1984 members introduced ‘tree spiking – insertion of metal or ceramic spikes in trees in an effort to damage saws – as a tactic to thwart logging.”
Earth First! (EF!) also has links to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which uses tactics similar to that of the Animal Liberation Front such as the destruction of buildings and property used to ravage the earth. “I am not really the pen-pushing kinda girl and I'm most happiest when I am dangling upside down from a tree, or scaling a government building,” Pixi says when asked why she joined EF!
She’s currently involved in a local protest at Smalley Lodge against UK Coal wanting to opencast mine in the area, living on site each week from Friday to Sunday. Among the tactics the group uses is chaining themselves to equipment and planting non-lethal booby traps on site.
“I’ve been involved in a stand-off between the UK coal workers when a friend D-locked his neck, to a steamroller to prevent work being done, and then had to run faster than I have in a long time, whilst being chased back to the site by a couple of coppers!” Pixi laughs.
“And I’ve have been busy helping to secure our new squat and site surroundings against the impending eviction team, by helping to make lock-on points, building booby traps – non-life-threatening, but bloody unpleasant ones – and ‘relocating’ various bits of property to secure our perimeter. We are currently making items to be used as a deterrent, before [developers] get onto the actual site: little missile type packages filled with various liquids.”
Earth First! (US)
If you’re thinking that any of this sounds too radical or even violent, consider what ‘crimes’ the developers are committing against the earth, says Lynne Purvis, a member of the Everglades Earth First! chapter in the US.
“Is it not violent to pollute a neighbourhood so bad that hundreds of people grow up with asthmas and cancers and other illnesses? Is it too radical to believe that we need trees to make clean air and keep the planet cool? No one has ever been hurt by an EF! action, or even, I believe, an ELF action, but millions have been hurt from ‘legal’ corporate actions.”
Lynne and her group are involved in campaigning against a fossil fuel infrastructure that would be located in the heart of the Northeast Everglades of Florida, just 1000 feet from the Loxahatchee National Wildlife refuge, thereby destroying the habitat of the endangered gopher tortoise and other wildlife.
“The exciting thing about Earth First! is that it is very personally empowering,” Lynne says when asked why she affiliated herself with the network. “Earth Firsters say, ‘I am going to take my own body and stop this destruction now.’ Since I have the privileges of white skin, American citizenship, education, and financial flexibility, I feel it is my duty to fill that role of putting my body and freedom on the line.”
Still Wild Still Threatened
In Australia, Jess Wright works with Still Wild Still Threatened and the Huon Valley Environment Centre in Tasmania. “Our campaigns operate under the principles of non-violent direct action,” she explains.
“In Tassie this means we reject violence to people and the destruction of property. This way the focus stays on our native forests and we build the community support we need to protect them. We halt work in logging coupes by occupying tree-sits and tripods, locking onto machinery and staging community walk-ins.
"At our blockade in the Upper Florentine Valley forest defenders have been living high in the canopy of giant Eucalyptus trees and occupying complex structures built on the logging road since 2006. We also stage actions in town such as banner drops, office occupations and street theatre.”
These measures are both educational as well as proactive, Jess argues. “Direct action is an important part because it means we can show the community the environmental crimes being committed behind locked gates in our native forests.”
For all these three activist women the threat or reality of legislation branding them as ‘terrorists’ is forever present, but it deters none of them.
“Our actions are always peaceful and so being charged under such laws would only serve to expose how unjust they are,” Jess says. “We continue to protest because it is our right and our responsibility.”
Pixi goes further: “I hope I never get convicted but even if I do it will not prevent me from going back out there and helping to make a difference,” she asserts. “I am totally ready for eviction now and know that it is going to result in arrest, but I will not go down, without putting up a huge fight. They are going to have to drag me away by my dreadlocks, kicking and screaming.”