Ray Luc Lavasseur who co-founded United Freedom Front, was convicted for organizing a series of bombings to protest South African apartheid, which he helped carry out from 1976 to 1984. He was transferred to the Colorado supermax prison ADX Florence in 1995 – the land alongside it was known to contain toxic nuclear waste. photo: Orin Langelle
This photograph [see Note below] of Ray Luc Lavasseur that I took was part of an article written by Michael Waters and published in The Outline.
How Prisons are Poisoning Their Inmates
Hundreds of U.S. prisons and ICE detention centers are built on toxic sites, and people inside are getting sick.
By Michael Waters JUL—23—2018
A week after Richard Mosley arrived as an inmate at Pennsylvania’s maximum-security SCI Fayette prison in 2008, he started getting sick. The air outside was so contaminated that his nose kept closing up. Then came the weight loss, followed by the gastrointestinal problems. Pretty soon, Mosley was relying on asthma masks to breathe. “I was going back and forth to medical trying to get some kind of relief or diagnosis,” he told The Outline. “I think I went maybe 35, 40 times.”
Meanwhile, Mosley started writing letters to local officials three days per week. “I was making a big stink,” he said. “If I was going to die there, I wasn’t going to die quietly.” He knew something was wrong. All around him, inmates were suffering. Skin rashes, gastrointestinal problems, and breathing issues were common across the prison. Everyone had a runny nose. The water quality was so abhorrent that guards brought bottled water for their onsite patrol dogs, according to Mosley. But the inmates still had to drink from the tap.
[Note] This was the second of a series of candid portraits of radical movement figures I took in collaboration with Burning Books. The point of this endeavor is to document some of the people who have participated in the making of history as part of the ongoing struggle for freedom and justice – a history of victories, losses, mistakes and successes, that we can and should learn from.
Clearcut area of forest by Dominion Energy for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This cut is near Wintergreen Resort, a four-season mountain resort on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, located in Nelson County, Virginia. photo: Orin Langelle
Ernie Reed, from the Nelson County District Board of Supervisors, gave Dr. Mary Finley-Brook and me a tour of some of the sites where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would go through Nelson County. Dr. Mary Finley-Brook serves on the Virginia Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice and is a professor of geography and the environment at the University of Richmond.
This photo was taken close to where a drill would bore beneath the Appalachian Mountain National Scenic Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway through the mountain gap between Three Ridges Wilderness (George Washington National Forest) and Devil’s Knob (at Wintergreen Resort). The mountain consists of greenstone and granite. The bore would be over 4,200 feet long and 46 inches in diameter for a 42” pipeline that would contain fracked natural gas at a pressure of 1440 pounds per square inch.
Dr. Finley-Brook (left) and Ernie Reed (right) by a solar powered USGS Water Quality monitoring Station in Nelson County, VA. Photo: Orin Langelle
The drill is estimated to require almost 30 million gallons of potable water. The polluted water and residue from the drilling then must be contained, transferred to tanker trucks and trucked to a waste disposal site, yet to be determined. Nelson County has declined an offer from Dominion to purchase this water and a source for it is yet to be determined
Although the ACP has not yet received final approval, Dominion Energy is clearing some corridors of forest where they have purchased easements through the threat of eminent domain. This clearcutting is considered a “preconstruction activity” by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
If constructed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be 604 miles long and cross West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Approximately 300 miles of the pipeline would run through forested land.
1 Minute Video: Atlantic Coast Pipeline Project could destroy Forests, Waterbodies, etc.
This video footage is from JR Chopper and other credits are listed at the end of this short clip. While I did not take photos for this clip, I am working on a documentary photo essay of the ACP and I did help in production of this clip.
The struggle against the pipeline has called into question many different practices by Dominion Energy regarding environmental, racial and class injustices. – Orin Langelle
The proposed Atlantic Coast #Pipeline project could destroy over 4,500 acres of forests in Virginia, West Virginia and National Forests. 1,556 waterbodies will be threatened by spills and contamination if the pipeline is completed.
This video footage is from JR Chopper and other credits are listed at the end of this short clip. While I did not take photos for this clip, I am working on a documentary photo essay of the ACP and I did help in production of this clip.
Souparna Lahiriri [see NOTE below] (right) at the Global Forest Coalition World Cafe that discussed forests, trees and GFC’s climate change campaign (which includes the Life as Commerce, post-Paris plantations and bioenergy campaigns). photo Orin Langelle
Montreal, Quebec, Canada (4 July 2018) – The Global Forest Coalition started day two of their 2nd Members Assembly with regional meetings that included Indigenous Peoples, forest activists and researchers from around the world.
The morning’s proceedings discussed regional proposals for GFC’s work programs from 2018 to 2022 and suggestions for improvements in GFC’s functioning as a coalition.
GFC’s 2nd Members Assembly is occurring while the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity is holding a Subsidiary Meeting (SBSTTA) which has a major focus on synthetic biology and other dangerous new technologies such as gene drives, also taking place in Montreal.
Souparna Lahiri is associated with the All India Forum of Forest Movements and the Global Forest Coalition. He was part of the Community Conservation Resilience Initiative (CCRI)- a global initiative by Indigenous and non-indigenous Organizations who carried out grassroots studies in 68 communities of 22 countries showing the resilience of community conservation. He has more than than 20 years of experience in forest conservation policy and forest movements in India.
Listen below copy and photo – Earth Watch is a regular segment on The Sojourner Truth Radio Show, which airs every week on Pacifica’s KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, CA and around the world online. Global Justice Ecology Project has partnered with The Sojourner Truth Radio Show since the 2009 UN Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Union Hill Baptist Church’s Pastor Paul M. Wilson. The Pastor is organizing, along with Friends of Buckingham (County, VA), against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a 55,000 horsepower compressor station planned by Dominion Energy in the Union Hill community. There are freedmen cemeteries and unmarked slave burials on or near the site where Dominion wants to build its compressor station. If completed the pipeline’s purpose (on the books) is to deliver gas to markets in VA and NC with some discussion of expansion into SC. Photo: Orin Langelle
This week’s Earth Watch guest was PastorPaul Wilson, Union Hill Baptist Church in the Union Hill, VA community. Pastor Paul is organizing, along with Friends of Buckinham, to stop the Atlantic Coast fracked gas pipeline and a compressor station planned by Dominion Energy.
Union Hill is a historic Black community founded by descendants of freed slaves in Buckingham County west of Richmond. Local residents see the pipeline company’s disregard for their community as part of an established history of environmental racism in Virginia.
Global Justice Ecology Project’s Orin Langelle recently photographed Pastor Paul for an upcoming photo essay. Langelle shares a report back at PhotoLangelle.org.
I am a current member of the National Press Photographers Association – Orin Langelle
The National Press Photographers Association calls on all politicians who visit migrant child detention facilities to insist on being accompanied by visual journalists and to insist that Immigration and Customs Enforcement permits unfettered access to those facilities for all journalists.
We also call on news media organizations to decline to publish handout photographs from the government or others when full and meaningful visual access is denied.
When important issues face a nation, and the truth must be ascertained, images – taken by journalists who adhere to strict codes of ethics – truly matter. The only photographs the nation has seen from inside those facilities have come from the government.
This is unacceptable. We believe that access to those facilities by journalists is both appropriate and warranted. The nation should not be relegated to relying solely on governmental depictions when it comes to such matters of public concern.
On all issues, especially an important issue such as this, the public has a right to and a need for independent, verified visual journalism – not government-controlled images. As our Code of Ethics states, photojournalists and those who manage visuals in news organizations should “resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities,” “strive to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public,” and “defend the right of access for all journalists.”
Through its advocacy efforts, NPPA has a long history supporting visual journalists, and the First Amendment exercised for the public good. In 2010, we pressed the administration for access to the scene of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In 2013, NPPA helped lead a media coalition protesting limits placed on news photographers covering Obama at the White House.
When anyone prevents us from serving the public through our images, we speak out. While we understand that images drive pageviews, that should not justify the use of images made available by the government while barring access to the press.
To that end, we commend those news organizations which have already stated that they will not publish government handout photos. We implore journalists and elected officials to join us in a call for full, unfettered and meaningful access to cover the immigration and asylum processes including those detention facilities as well as other governmental functions to which the public is entitled to be fully informed.
This was shot at Silo City near Buffalo, NY. I usually only post serious photographs. If you want me to be serious, ok. Is the end of the line approaching for biodiversity, ecosystems and life itself on planet Earth? Have a nice day. photo: Orin Langelle
Judi Bari, center, walks with support of two friends in northern California. (1994) photo: Orin Langelle
On 24 May 1990, in Oakland, California, Bari’s car was blown up by a pipe bomb placed under her seat. While still in critical condition with a shattered pelvis and other major injuries, Bari was arrested by the FBI for allegedly transporting explosives. It is hard to deny that the bombing of Bari and her subsequent arrest was due to her successful work to unite environmentalists and workers.
24 May 2018 marks the 28th anniversary of her bombing.
From Orin Langelle:
In 1991 my good friend, Steve Taylor (now the Press Secretary for Global Justice Ecology Project), and I took a trip from St. Louis to California, Oregon and back. Along the way, we visited many movement people and interviewed them. Judi Bari was one of them. The beginning of our interview with Judi (below) starts with her singing an a cappella rendition of “Lullaby and Good Night.” This version of the song shows off Judi Bari’s great sense of political humor.
I wrote the first article below, and the second post, “JUDI BARI LIVES” is from Karen Pickett, a close friend of Judi’s. Karen’s article first ran in Oread Daily from an article for the Earth First! Journal. Karen is a good friend, board member of Global Justice Ecology Project and has too many other affiliations to name!
The Bombing of Judi Bari—Reflections Twenty Years After (this one’s for you, Judi)
By Orin Langelle, first published in Climate Connections on 24 May 2010
I’ll never forget May 24, 1990. I was living in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Pacific, Missouri when a brief television report came on saying that a car carrying two environmental activists had been bombed in northern California. My stomach tightened because I new that tensions were high in that area due to a call for environmentalists to come to “Redwood Summer” in an attempt to stop the logging of some of the last standing ancient redwoods.Within an hour my phone rang—it was the office of the Industrial Workers of the World, then in Chicago. “Judi and Darryl’s car was just bombed outside of Oakland. We don’t know their condition. We really don’t know anything yet.” And as a precaution I was urged to “go outside and check your car for any possible tampering—we don’t know if this is a hit to many organizers or just Judi and Darryl.” I checked my car and it was okay.
That was the start of many more phone calls. Thankfully Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were alive, but Judi was severely injured and both were arrested. Then nausea set in.
Photos of the pipe bombed car in Oakland, CA. Photos courtesy: judibari.org
The following days were days of disbelief and what the fuck was going on?
The FBI arrested Judi and Darryl for “transporting explosives.” Not anyone that knew Judi and Darryl bought that one; I know I certainly didn’t.
Both Judi and Darryl were prominent Earth First! organizers. Judi gained notoriety in California for bringing environmentalists and loggers together, pointing out that the real enemy was industry (capitalism) that was exploiting both the workers and the environment for profit. In the weeks following the bombing, industry and the government would attempt to employ a divide and conquer strategy and drive a wedge between environmentalists and workers by spreading disinformation to the public that Bari and Cherney were “terrorists.”
I remember my friend Steve and I staying up all night, getting out a special edition of the newsletter of Big River Earth First! that expressed the Big River’s collective disgust at the bombing and arrest.
Shortly thereafter, EF! activists in southern Illinois (soon to be Shawnee EF!) held a press conference where they turned all their weapons of terror over to the FBI. The “weapons” consisted of paper, pens and typewriters (not many computers back then).
Big River Earth First! from Missouri went to the Federal Building in St. Louis and held a rally where we told the media that it was ludicrous to think that activists preaching non-violence would be carrying bombs or would blow themselves up. I photographed that rally, and due to a deadline rush, immediately sent my undeveloped film to the Earth First! Journal, then published in Arizona. The film was never received. (Now go to 2010 real time where the Arizona state abbreviation should now simply be nAZi.)
Judi’s pelvis was shattered by the pipe bomb that exploded under her seat. She was told she would never walk again. She did. And she lived until March 2, 1997 before breast cancer claimed her life—but not before suing the FBI (winning posthumously) and speaking on numerous occasions from California all the way to Maine.
I first met Judi in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico in 1989 during the Earth First! Round River Rendezvous, an EF! Annual gathering that brings hundreds of radical environmentalists together from across the U.S. and usually a few from various parts of the globe. I believe there was an immediate comrade-ship formed because I told Judi how I was impressed with how she brought an analysis forward that looked at the interconnections of ecology and working class solidarity. In the months that passed she and I exchanged letters and phone calls…
After May 24, 1990 many things changed in many ways for many people. Many of us from Big River EF! had been planning to go to go to Redwood Summer and put ourselves on the line. Instead however, a timber sale was announced by the U.S. Forest Service that was to take place in the Shawnee National Forest of southern Illinois. The Fairview area, slated to be cut, was rich in biodiversity, a haven for songbirds and loved by the many locals who went there to watch the birds or just plain escape the pains of the 20th century.
A southern Illinois regional environmental group invited Earth First! to come in and defend the area. Tents were set up in the logging road and an encampment spread throughout the timber sale area. Tree sitting platforms were made. One of our road blockades consisted of an old beat up sedan that, for some reason or another we dubbed “The Biscuit.” Outreach went to the local surrounding communities. We declared that our actions were in solidarity with Redwood Summer as well as the Mohawk uprising in Kanehsatake (Kanienkehaka), Canada.
For almost three months we held the area (at that time the longest EF! blockade in history). The local postmaster even gave us a postbox so we could receive mail. At one time we had to put up a sign declaring, “Please no more food donations today—we have enough organic food already donated.” The major daily newspaper in Springfield, IL, the states’ capital, went so far as to say that what was going on in the Shawnee National Forest, “was a popular uprising.” Almost every night the occupation was the lead story on TV across a four state region (at least until George the 1st started bombing Baghdad).
Eventually Forest Service special agents arrived from across the U.S. and the invasion of law enforcement and bulldozers began. The day they moved in, my friend John, who turned thirty years old that day and was wanted by the Forest Service for entering a closure area illegally, turned himself in by using a kryptonite bicycle lock to lock his neck to a logging skidder (sort of a bulldozer). The Forest Service responded by putting an aluminum shield around his head and cutting off the lock with an acetylene torch while John sang, “God Bless America.” (FYI: that played well in the press.)
The cutting really never began that year as a Federal Court granted attorneys representing the environmental activists a temporary restraining order forbidding the cutting of Fairview until further review.
To many of us on blockade, this also was for Judi while giving the finger to the federal authorities.
In the summer of 1991, on a trip to the west coast, Steve and I visited Judi and I interviewed her for independent radio. At the end of the interview Judi sang a capella a parody of “Lullabye and Goodnight” that ended “Lullabye and goodnight for the Earth is dying…go to bed now, lay your head, in the morning you’ll be dead. Lullaby and goodnight, while toxic wastes are seeping, Lullaby and goodnight, what the fuck are you doing sleeping.” Not only was Judi an organizer, she sang and played fiddle as well.
In fall of 1991 Faiview fell to the chainsaws that were guarded by the elite shock troops of the Forest Service.
I moved to Vermont around that time. My partner, Anne Petermann (now Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project), Judi and I continued to remain in contact. Anne and I traveled to California several times to see Judi. She even came to Vermont a couple of times. We discussed many different issues from eco-feminism to the questioning of work for others’ profit to politics to revolutionary ecology…
Once we went to Albion to see Albion Nation and support the struggle there that Judi was involved in.
Another time, upon waking up in the morning in Judi’s Willits, CA home, Anne and I got up and stepped outside. I’ve never smelled ‘skunkweed’ so pungent—all around us. Judi also was one of the first organizers to try and unionize marijuana pickers in Northern California under the Industrial Workers of the World.
During the years after the bombing and before Judi’s death, Anne and I became close to Judi. Judi was some someone who could give advice when asked and was someone who we stood by. Sometimes it wasn’t easy as Judi could be as cantankerous as a rattlesnake. But most times it was very easy.
Judi had a sense of humor despite the crippling effect the bombing had on her body and the chronic pain she was in. One time, when was asked by a reporter if she equated EF! with the Weathermen (a late 1960’s and early 70’s group that went underground and attacked the U.S. imperialism with bombs). Judi laughed and said, “No, we’re like the Yippies!” The Yippies or Youth International Party in the sixties were also outraged at U.S. imperialism and the Viet Nam war, but were pranksters who thumbed their noses at the establishment with colorful stunts. One year they ran a pig, Pegasus, for President. Unfortunately Nixon beat out the pig and lashed out with savage bombing campaigns of North Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.
When Judi told Anne and me that she had incurable breast cancer we could hardly believe it. Here was a woman that was not only a brilliant organizer, but had been bombed and crippled for her skills, then walked when she was told she would never walk again. Here was a woman who stood up against the sick system that was complicit in her bombing. Here was a real revolutionary ecologist.
After that, Anne and I spoke with Judi several times as she put her life in order during her illness.
A week before she succumbed to cancer, Anne and I spoke very briefly with her and set up a time at the end of the week where we could all have an extended conversation.
Anne and I wanted to say good-bye. Judi passed from the Earth she loved before that call and we never got that chance.
That weekend, when the memorials and sad parties were held in California, some of Anne’s and my close friends gathered here in Vermont. David Rovics and crew sang Judi’s parody of “May the Circle be Unbroken”, which was “Will the fetus be aborted.” –this song was what authorities gave as one of ludicrous theories of why she was bombed.
As David sang, a joint was passed around to those present. It was a special joint of not just pot, but also mushrooms that had been sent by Scottish EF!ers who were blockading another Roman, er English motorway. The mushrooms had been picked off an ancient witches’ burial site that was in the path of the bulldozers.
As the IWW organizer Joe Hill said before he was executed in 1915 by the state of Utah, “Don’t mourn for me. Organize!” These were some of Judi’s last words also.
¡Judi Bari, Presente!
JUDI BARI LIVES
Published May 12, 2010 by Oread Daily
It’s been almost twenty years since a bomb sent Judi Bari to the hospital seriously injured. About Judi, Nicholas Wilson noted, “The common denominator was her indignation over injustice, whether in the form of war, racism, sexism, political repression, economic exploitation, or the unnecessary destruction of ecosystems.”
That was Judi.
When the then labor activist Judi Bari joined Earth First! and brought the IWW back to timber country in 1988, real grassroots opposition began to grow in timber country. Judi was charismatic and she worked for a an alliance between workers and environmental activists. So it is no surprise that both before and after her death, she was the target of national PR campaigns and covert actions aimed at discrediting and neutralizing her, the Earth First! movement, and radical environmentalism in general. The public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, representing logging corporations, was shown to be involved.
Judi was downright scary to the corporate powers. They shed no tears when she was stricken with breast cancer and left this world in 1997.
But to paraphrase a tune about Joe Hill, someone who would have loved her, “she never really died.”
20 Years Ago an Explosion Filled the Sky and Changed Earth First!
I can barely believe it was 20 years ago, because the events are so fresh in my mind. Of course, I’ve always said that I was about as close to the bomb exploding in Judi Bari’s car on May 24, 1990 as I could have been without being in the car myself. I was at work in Berkeley, and got a call from Kelpie, my roommate and fellow activist, that something terrible had happened. Judi and Darryl Cherney had been taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland, Califonia badly injured by a bomb explosion. I had been at a Redwood Summer organizing meeting at the Seeds of Peace house just the night before, and Judi, Darryl and fellow musician George Shook were planning to go to Santa Cruz for a Redwood Summer roadshow event on the University of California Santa Cruz campus. A few minutes before noon, Judi made a lane change, triggering the motion device attached to the pipe bomb that had been planted unseen under her driver’s seat. The force of the explosion drove the seat springs up into her body, pulverizing her pelvis and nearly killing her.
When I got to the hospital—before the crowds arrived and after driving like a proverbial bat out of hell on city streets—I was taken downstairs by FBI agents and Oakland police to answer questions. Initially, this seemed routine. Ask questions—that’s what the police are supposed to do after a bomb nearly kills someone, right? Because I figured they were Bay Area cops and wouldn’t necessarily know what had been transpiring behind the Redwood Curtain, I told them this seemed to be the culmination of what had been unfolding in our lead-up to Redwood Summer. Our campaign, dubbed “The Timber Wars,” was heating up and activists had been receiving increasingly frequent and virulent threats—Judi in particular. The conversation, however, quickly began to stink like a 4-day-old dead fish when they started asking me personal questions; I yelled at the officers that my friend was critically injured upstairs, and stated that I was leaving and not answering any of their questions. I was then taken to the Oakland Police Department (OPD) where I was held incommunicado for hours. An attorney tried to get into my holding pen, being barred from seeing me, while the crowd at both the hospital and the OPD (where Darryl was held, somewhere else in the department bowels) grew to over a hundred people in just a couple hours. (This was all before “instant messaging,” texts and all that.)
Well, it was more than fishy—it was downright conspiratorial, and what unfolded over the next few days boggled the mind, since we hadn’t known we were being tracked so closely by the FBI, despite the fact that it had been a year since they dragged Dave Foreman out of bed in his skivvies and arrested Peg Millett, Mark Davis and Mark Baker for monkeywrenching in Arizona. Both Judi and Darryl were arrested for transporting the bomb, and the FBI and OPD held a press conference to proclaim Judi, Darryl and Earth First! terrorists as they tried mightily to erode any support EF! might have. Didn’t work. Eight weeks later, they were forced to withdraw the charges, but the attempts by the FBI to try to frame the two— particularly Judi—continued as they destroyed evidence, manufactured evidence, fed false information to the press, harassed every activist they could find and used their iron fist to try to crush the movement. Sound familiar? Precursor of the Green Scare. But there were no fires, much less any kind of violence perpetrated by anyone associated with EF! As Judi observed wryly at one point, the FBI would have people believe that “not only are Earth First!ers terrorists who carry bombs around in our cars, but we are stupid, violent terrorists who hide live anti-personnel bombs under our own car seats.”
Fast-forward to 2002 when the lawsuit put together by Judi finally burst into a federal courtroom—twelve years after the incident, and tragically, five years after Judi died from breast cancer. Judi worked on the case until her dying day, literally, and made her friends and colleagues promise that we would carry on the case. We did, and thanks to heroic efforts of a scrappy team of radical lawyers, we won! The jury found that the FBI and OPD violated Judi and Darryl’s First and Fourth Amendment rights: free speech and protection against illegal search and seizure. The jury’s decision was unanimous and 80 percent of the award was for violations of the First Amendment, recognizing the FBI’s deliberate smear campaign against Earth First! and against Judi and Darryl.
Judi’s victory against the FBI is an important and unprecedented mile marker to remember, as is the bombing itself. We commemorate it 20 years later because it is important that we never forget, and that we remember to never give up and to keep a bold resistance to strong arm tactics as well as to assaults on Mama Earth. Equally important is recognizing what Judi brought to Earth First!, which goes beyond her challenge to the FBI. She brought us lessons from her background as a labor organizer and analysis that helped evolve our radical thinking both philosophically and strategically. We are reprinting her zine, Revolutionary Ecology, where she discusses biocentrism in the context of radical thought: e.g., Biocentrism Contradicts Capitalism, Biocentrism Contradicts Communism, and Biocentrism Contradicts Patriarchy. Check it out.
Judi is an icon, but she would bristle at being canonized. She is symbolic of a revolutionary, irreverent and bold approach to biocentrism, and she had her share of shouting matches with other movement icons; in fact, she reveled in it.
Recognizing the roots of biocentrism not only in ancient native wisdom but “in context of today’s industrial society, biocentrism is profoundly revolutionary, challenging the system to its core,” as Judi puts forward in her booklet Revolutionary Ecology. While it’s easy to see that “biocentrism contradicts capitalism,” and that “modern day corporations are the very worst manifestations of this sickness,” her essay purports that biocentrism contradicts communism even though her background in revolutionary was rooted in Marxism. This is because, really, all leftist ideologies call for the redistribution of spoils from the rape of the Earth. She saw the possibility of ecological socialism that would organize human societies in a manner that is compatible with the way nature is organized.
The world around us changes, sometimes at breakneck speed. The context of movement building is always in flux and demands that we always evolve our thinking and strategic organizing. At the same time, it is valuable (and smart) to weave in institutional memory and not lose the wisdom embodied in the revolutionary thinking of our companeras that are no longer around getting in our face, reminding us of their views. Viva Judi!
Be realistic, ask for the impossible – slogan in Paris uprising, May 1968
To me it is very important to remember the events of May 1968 – not only in Paris but in the U.S. as well. Events that occurred fifty years ago were a glimmer of hope that strengthened an anti-war and anti-imperialist youth movement. This movement eventually helped bring other critical issues to the forefront including race, women’s rights, and the environment. For many reasons, there are no mass movements in the U.S. today that are as vibrant and militant as they were fifty years ago. The anti-corporate globalization movement from the 90s and early 2000s is still recuperating from the draconian police state in the U.S. that keeps intensifying as I type. While ‘Black Lives Matter’ provides another important glimmer of hope, most people today organize around single issues and do not incorporate a vision that unites all of the issues confronting us with a view addressing their common root causes. As a result, peoples all around the Earth suffer, the ecosystems and life support systems that enable life on Earth are further degraded, and climate chaos runs rampant.
Now is time to be realistic and demand the impossible. – Orin Langelle
(More information and analysis follows)
This photograph was taken on 3 November 2004, in the streets of Burlington, VT, U.S. Incumbent Republican President George W. Bush was named the winner of the presidential election that occurred one day earlier, defeating challenger John Kerry. Outraged over the election results, students and radical activists took over the streets all day and evening, causing traffic jams throughout the town. photo: Orin Langelle
“For those who struck in 1968 at Columbia, Berkeley and Paris, just as for Martin Luther King Jr., there was a larger picture. King spoke of a society that was imperialistic at home and abroad. The lack of social justice in the United States, for King, was intertwined with America’s unjust foreign adventures. Student demonstrations in 1968 were against the university as part of a societal/political injustice. The university was a small manifestation of that injustice.
“I would hope that today’s French students, as well as students elsewhere, would be able to mobilize around other issues than university admissions and guaranteeing employment. There are more than enough issues to be outraged about today, and their solution requires the energy and determination of the young. That activism is what should be highlighted as the legacy of May 1968 and any comparisons with May 2018.”
The volatile period of civil unrest in France during May 1968 was punctuated by demonstrations and massive general strikes as well as the occupation of universities and factories across France. At the height of its fervor, it brought the entire economy of France to a virtual halt. The protests reached such a point that political leaders feared civil war or revolution; the national government itself momentarily ceased to function after President Charles de Gaulle secretly fled France for a few hours. The protests spurred an artistic movement, with songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans….
The unrest began with a series of student occupation protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions, values and order. It then spread to factories with strikes involving 11 million workers, more than 22% of the total population of France at the time, for two continuous weeks. The movement was characterized by its spontaneous and de-centralized wildcat disposition; this created contrast and sometimes even conflict between itself and the establishment, trade unions and workers’ parties. It was the largest general strike ever attempted in France, and the first nationwide wildcat general strike.
The student occupations and wildcat general strikes initiated across France were met with forceful confrontation by university administrators and police. The de Gaulle administration’s attempts to quell those strikes by police action only inflamed the situation further, leading to street battles with the police in Paris’s Latin Quarter, followed by the spread of general strikes and occupations throughout France.
‘If there’s one thing in common … it’s young people’s despair,’ says Antoine Guégan, whose father Gérard staged campus sit-ins in 1968.
“It’s terrifying to see that this is becoming the norm for riot police to be sent into universities,” said Guégan, who is doing a doctorate on representations of slavery in American cinema and teaches at the campus while studying at another university in Paris’s suburbs…
“If there’s one thing in common between 1968 and today, it’s young people’s despair,” he said. “But it’s a different kind of despair, because the social and economic context is not the same. In 1968, there was a global movement, there was rock music, new sexual freedom, a different culture and a desire to change the old world. Today’s youth is facing a moment of stagnation, with little to lean on, which makes the struggle harder.”
One of Gérard Guégan’s favourite slogans from May 1968 was “Be realistic, ask for the impossible”. He said: “We were constantly thinking of what we called dreams, and what could be called utopia … Everyone was convinced that something massive was happening.”
– Angelique Chrisafis is The Guardian‘s Paris correspondent
Note: The quote “Be realistic, ask for the impossible”, is one of Ernesto Che Guevara’s most most popular quotes. Che Guevara image (below) is a world wide symbol of resistance, especially in Latin America.
The 2003 march on the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico. When the march had to stop due to chainlink fences blocking the marchers from the WTO meetings, a South Korean farmer committed suicide. photo: Orin Langelle