To paraphrase Sartre, “I don’t fight fascists because I’m going to win. I fight fascists because they’re fascists.”
Orin Langelle’s photography has been greatly influenced by his work with social justice movements. He first became involved in the movement for social justice after witnessing the police riot against anti-war protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
In 1972 Langelle’s first professional photographic assignment was covering street protests during the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida.
In the 1980s, after working as a professional photographer for several years, Langelle decided to use his photographic talents for the struggle for social justice. Langelle has documented all of the work described below in photographs.
He first became involved in campaigns that stopped logging in the Shawnee National Forest of Southern Illinois, in Illinois’ Trail of Tears State Forest and in Forest 44 in Saint Louis, MO.
In 1991 he co-founded the international Native Forest Network (NFN) in Tasmania, Australia, and ran their Eastern North American Resource Center in Burlington, VT. In November 1993, Langelle convened NFN’s First North American Temperate Forest Conference, bringing together over 500 North American forest activists with Indigenous representatives from six nations to build solidarity and trust between them.
Langelle’s support for the Abenaki struggle for Vermont state recognition in the early 1990s led to his adoption as an honorary member of the Saint Francis-Sokoki band of the Abenaki in 1992.
In the summer of 1993 he traveled to James Bay, Quebec to document and support Cree resistance to plans by Hydro-Quebec to dam rivers in Cree territory. He and NFN played a key role in Hydro-Quebec abandoning its plans to build new dams in Cree territory.
Langelle also worked in solidarity with the Indigenous Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico who rose up on New Year’s Day, 1994 against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which they had condemned as a death sentence for the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico. In June of 1996, Langelle led a delegation to Chiapas and co-produced the film “Lacandona: The Zapatistas and Rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico” to expose the links between the destruction of the resource-rich Lacandon rainforest and the government’s war on the Zapatistas.
In 1997 Langelle worked in support of the Mayangna and Miskito Indigenous Peoples to stop the illegal logging of the Bosawas rainforest of Nicaragua. He organized an action at the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, DC that stopped a 150,000 hectare illegal logging concession on Mayangna land.
As a result of his focus on the region, in 1998, Langelle co-founded Action for Community and Ecology in the Regions of Central America (ACERCA). Soon after, he led the first environmental justice delegation to Nicaragua following Hurricane Mitch, which found that deforestation had worsened the flooding and contributed to the deaths of thousands.
In 1999, Langelle led a delegation to southeast Mexico that uncovered a genetically engineered (GE) tree test plot, and prompted Langelle to launch the first ever campaign against GE trees—a campaign with which he continues to be actively involved to this day.
In January of 2000, Langelle was arrested at the New Hampshire Campaign headquarters of Al Gore in support of the U’Wa people of Colombia who had threatened mass suicide if Occidental Petroleum drilled for oil on their lands. Gore held large quantities of stock in Occidental. This action triggered other actions across the country, and Occidental did not drill on the U’Wa lands.
In 2003 Langelle worked with Global Exchange on an emergency delegation to the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico to expose the efforts of the Mexican government and large conservation groups to evict Indigenous communities from the forest.
Later that year, Langelle co-founded Global Justice Ecology Project, and in 2003 and 2004 participated in the protests against the WTO in Cancun, Mexico; the mobilization against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami, which was brutally attacked by police; the anti-globalization and anti-war protests against the Democratic National Convention in Boston; and the Republican National Convention in New York City.
Beginning in 2005, Langelle began coordinating movement media work at UN meetings including the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Forum on Forests, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Combining his movement work and his media and communications skills, Langelle links activists, Indigenous Peoples and communities impacted by climate change with mainstream and alternative media, journalists and reporters, resulting in hundreds of articles and interviews annually that reach millions of people around the world.
In the fall of 2010, Langelle, along with the Indigenous Environmental Network and Movement Generation organized a meeting of environmental justice, climate justice and community leaders and their allies at the Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondack State Park of New York. This meeting built climate justice strategies for the UN climate negotiations in Cancún, Mexico in 2010 and resulted in the formation of a North American climate justice alliance consisting of front-line, grassroots, community-based environmental justice groups and their allies.
In Cancún, Langelle coordinated a Global Justice Ecology Project media team with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Climate Justice Now!, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), ETC Group, Grassroots Solutions for Climate Justice North America and others, highlighting their messages in dozens of major, international media outlets.
In March 2011, Langelle, along with a writer and two videographers, visited Amador Hernandez in Chiapas, Mexico. This was the first time in many years people from outside of the Lacandon jungle were invited to enter this indigenous territory. The community is threatened with forced relocation due to a deal signed between the state of California and the state of Chiapas, to use the Lacandon jungle to provide carbon offsets for California polluters. Amador Hernandez is refusing to be relocated. Langelle and the investigative team were asked by the community to inform the world that all medical supplies and emergency help has been cut off by the Mexican government in order to force the community out of the region. This situation is still unfolding.
In the spring of 2012, Langelle moved to Buffalo, NY to continue his activism primarily through Langelle Photography.
Langelle serves on the board of Global Justice Ecology Project, is a member of the international Coordinating Committee of the Campaign to STOP Genetically Trees and continues to be a strategic consultant for various struggles.
Phil Ochs: It is wrong to expect a reward for your struggles. The reward is the act of struggle itself, not what you win. Even though you can’t expect to defeat the absurdity of the world, you must make that attempt. That’s morality, that’s religion. That’s art. That’s life.