I watched shaky video footage on the Internet. A person in a forest in Texas walked out in front of a dinosaur-like machine that was biting large trees and ripping them out of the soil. With giant jaws, the tractor operator held a tree near the activist and dropped it at his side, brushing the activist and causing the camera operator to yelp. This was the site of a protest against the construction of another pipeline for oil.
Whether the action was crazy or courageous depends on your views of industrial civilization, your notion of progress, your confidence in corporate-influenced democratic procedures and the effectiveness of kind-hearted editorials to save us from our own destruction.
Back during the era of the Vietnam War, U.S. citizen James W. Douglass, along with others, sat on a road in Hawaii, blocked a convoy of troops and went to jail for his actions. Later, in his book Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation (Dell, 1972), he wrote about our need to stand up against perpetrators of violence.
“In the age of the global ghetto, a sustained resistance to mass exploitation and killing is the outward expression, the validating fruit, of a genuine inner liberation,” wrote Douglass. “To translate Jesus into the moment: By their resistance you shall know them.”
Pushing resistance even further, some have called for activists to engage in strategic acts of violence. This is the main focus of the thick book, Deep Green Resistance by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen (Seven Stories Press, 2011).
Speaking at an environmental conference in Oregon in 2011, Keith appealed for supporters to take action. She cited the Irish Republican Army and the armed resistance against oil companies in Nigeria as examples of small groups of people using violence to successfully defend territory. She wishes to defend the land and its creatures from the destructive ways of humans and their—our—civilization.
The conflict over global “resources” is already upon us. At best, it’s called the geopolitics of war; at worst, I fear it is Armageddon or the onset of a global winter. Those of us in the extracting nations are largely shielded from the magnitude and urgency of the destruction. Even as we watch reports of irreversible pollution and the death of species, we deny the desperation of the situation.
Authors of Deep Green Resistance say that “liberal” approaches to social change are ineffective. Consciousness-raising, lifestyle politics, nonviolent demonstrations, even permaculture environmentalism: each of these does not—cannot—halt the progress of industrial civilization.
My gut tells me their diagnosis is accurate. I’m deeply impressed by the commitment and courage of radicals to defend the land and sea and all their inhabitants. Am I convinced that violence against the property of corporations engaged in the industrial agenda of “resource extraction” is justified? I do not have a quick response.
An act of self-defence seems just as, or even more, justified than the violence inflicted on the earth by those with huge machines, laws, guns, prisons, big advertising budgets and giant media conglomerates. While this view may seem naïve, it has a certain poetry that rings true.
But my spirit tells me that agents of violence, even counter-violence, succumb to the forces of destruction. I am still moved, to the point of passion, by the story of Jesus who resisted the temptation of the Zealot option, as John Howard Yoder calls it in The Politics of Jesus.
I am sympathetic with the radicals. And because they condone violence, it’s a troubled affinity. But I have a troubled affinity with police officers and other representatives of the state as well.
At this point, I let the life of Christ be my guide. Well, in theory anyway. He rankled authorities, was taken into custody and was executed. Me? So far, I just write articles.
Aiden Enns is co-editor of Geez magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.