Environmental Unionism Caucus co-founder Steve Ongerth remembers the framing of Fellow Worker Judi Bari, who was bombed thirty years ago.

On the morning of May 24, 1990, two activists — Judi Bari and her friend and comrade Darryl Cherney — set out from Oakland, California while on a tour to build support for a campaign they had organized called Redwood Summer. They were part of the radical environmental movement known as Earth First!, which had a reputation for militant tactics, including the sabotaging of logging and earth moving machinery as well as spiking trees — the act of driving large nails into standing trees in order to deter logging operations. The previous year in Arizona, five environmentalists, including Peg Millett and Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman, had been arrested and charged by the FBI for a conspiracy to sabotage power lines in protest against nuclear power. Some welcomed Earth First!’s uncompromising reputation. Others denounced them as reckless, or even as terrorists.

According to the mainstream media, Earth First!’s radical agenda earned them the animosity of the timber workers whose jobs the environmentalists supposedly threatened. They were described as “outside agitators” (among many other things) who had “polarized” the timber-dependent communities of northwestern California’s redwood region with their militant and uncompromising “environmental extremism.” Their alleged hard-line anti-logging stances were seen as too extreme even by most environmentalists, and they supposedly stood upon the radical fringes of the ecology movement. Redwood Summer was reportedly planned as a summer-long campaign of direct actions by these “fringe” environmentalists to thwart the harvesting of old growth redwood timber in northwestern California; specifically Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties.

On May 24th, Bari and Cherney’s planned destination was Santa Cruz County, where in the previous month power lines had supposedly been sabotaged by unknown perpetrators calling themselves the “Earth Night Action Group”. Just before 11:55 AM a bomb in Bari’s car exploded, nearly killing her and injuring Cherney. Within minutes the FBI and Oakland Police arrived on the scene and arrested both of them as they were being transported to Highland Hospital. The authorities called them dangerous terrorists and accused the pair of knowingly transporting the bomb for use in some undetermined act of environmental sabotage when it accidentally detonated. The media spun the event as the arrest of two potentially violent environmental extremists.

In truth, however, Bari and Cherney were innocent. Earth First! was radical and militant but they were also steadfastly nonviolent. Redwood Summer, far from being a campaign of terror, was modeled after Mississippi Freedom Summer and its original name was Mississippi Summer of the California Redwoods. The organizers of the latter had already renounced the tactic of tree spiking and had adopted a strict nonviolence code, based on a similar one adopted by the SNCC. They had routinely been the victims of violence but had consistently answered that with nonviolence. Further, Redwood Summer was not anti-logging or even anti-worker. It was anti-corporate logging, and it sought, among other things, to draw attention to the plight of timber workers who were, according to Bari, as much the victims of timber clearcutting and liquidation logging practiced by the three principal timber corporations dominating the region (Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific, and Pacific Lumber) as the forests themselves.

Bari and Cherney weren’t just Earth First!ers, they were dues-paying members of the IWW, partly inspired by our 1917 campaign for the eight-hour work day, which we waged through radical point-of-production oriented unionism — in spite of incredible opposition from the ruling class, including the timber corporations of the day. Indeed, even some of the timber workers whom the media claimed were the sworn enemies of Earth First! were also members of the IWW and covertly working with Bari and Cherney. There were even a handful of timber workers who had openly declared their alliance with Earth First! and their support of Redwood Summer.

Bari and Cherney were completely unaware they had been transporting an armed explosive and investigations soon showed that the bomb was most likely intended to murder Bari and make it appear as if she was transporting it to use in an act of industrial sabotage.

Following the bombing, the FBI and Oakland Police went to desperate lengths to try and “prove” the victims were guilty, to the point of providing false leads and manufacturing evidence. As for the Arizona arrests, these had been a clear case of entrapment by the FBI. By it’s own admission, one of the organizers of the action that led to the arrests had been an undercover agent who infiltrated Earth First! with the express purpose of discrediting the environmental movement. The bombing of Bari and Cherney had eerie similarities to the Arizona case.

May 24, 2020 will be the thirtieth anniversary of this historic event and we call on all of you to honor Judi Bari’s memory and keep her work going.

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