Remembering Judi Bari
Most people in the United States and around the world, it is fair to say, have probably never heard of Judi Bari — or if they have, they may just barely recall a news story about some crazy domestic American eco-terrorists blowing themselves up in a car.
But if such people had ever spent any time on the far northern coast of California in the U.S., they would need no introduction or explanation as to who Bari was. They would already know.
A few weeks ago, March 2, marked exactly 20 years since the death of Judi Bari. In the era of Trump and the elite one-percenters who now occupy the White House and seem intent on reducing Planet Earth to a pile of rubble, Bari’s life and legacy as an environmental activist, feminist and advocate for working people still have much to teach us today — both the rewards and risks of standing up to the forces of authority in the USA.
From the 1980s onward, Bari was active in protecting the old-growth, ancient redwood forests of primarily Mendocino and Humboldt counties on California’s North Coast from being destroyed by logging companies. These are lush rainforests with gigantic redwood trees that date up to centuries old, and are every bit as important to the ecological balance of the planet as the Amazon rainforests of South America.
A radical environmental group by the name of Earth First! was Bari’s home base as an activist. The group’s slogan was “No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth” and it rejected the milder protest tactics of other liberal-run, mainstream environmental organizations. Local branches of Earth First! sprang up around the western United States, with one central goal: putting a stop to the human destruction of nature by any means necessary.
What Bari brought to Earth First! was women’s voices and active participation in what was up to then a mostly White male-dominated hierarchy. Bari also insisted that some of the more dangerous practices of Earth First!, such as tree-spiking (driving long metal spikes into redwood trees as a deterrent to the loggers’ chainsaws) be stopped. She promoted a code of nonviolent protest and demonstration as a means to ending the cycle of human violence that was destroying the ancient forests in the first place.
Bari, by all accounts, was a dynamic speaker and effective grassroots organizer and could move large groups of people to follow her. She was a carpenter by trade, a labor union member, feminist, a single mother of two children, and a musician who sang and played a mean violin at the forest-protection rallies that she helped organize. She often used humor as a political weapon, but pulled no punches when it came to vilifying the logging companies that were razing the redwood forests and leaving such complex ecosystems in ruins.
If you have ever seen, like I have, a California redwood forest that has been clear-cut by a logging company — that is, completely leveled to the ground — you would never forget it. All that remains of a clear-cut forest are huge, flattened redwood tree stumps, and shredded tree bark and sawdust scattered everywhere on the ground. There are no wild animals to be found and no birds flying anywhere nearby. It is completely silent, the sound of death in nature. The silent air reeks of the smell of grease and oil, lingering long after the chainsaws and logging trucks have gone.
In summer 1990, Bari and other activists organized a protest campaign called “Redwood Summer” that would significantly raise the stakes in what were being called the “timber wars” of northern California and other western U.S. states.
Bari got the name and inspiration for “Redwood Summer” from “Freedom Summer”, a 1964 mass-volunteer effort organized by African American civil rights groups in Mississippi to help get Black citizens registered to vote amid White racist violence. Just as Freedom Summer had done in defense of Black civil rights, Redwood Summer, under Bari and fellow organizers, sent out a call for concerned people across the country to come out to California in large numbers and join them in nonviolent resistance to the help save the last of the redwood forests — and to add an extra layer of protection from White redneck violence against environmental activists.
It was on 24 May 1990, in the city of Oakland, California, when the violence surrounding the timber wars of northern California came to a head. As Bari was driving with her partner, Darryl Cherney, a fellow Earth First! activist, to a local gig in support of Redwood Summer, a bomb exploded in her car and severely injured them both.
The Oakland police as well as agents from the local FBI office were at the scene of the car bombing within minutes, and at the hospital, they informed the wounded Bari and Cherney that they were under arrest and being charged with knowingly transporting a homemade bomb in the car. They were being treated as eco-terrorists, and that was how the American news media played up the story at the time. Bari and Cherney, on the other hand, strongly believed that the car bombing was the work of the timber companies in an effort to stop the Redwood Summer campaign from going forward as planned.
A couple months later, the FBI and Oakland police dropped all charges against the two activists due to lack of evidence. Yet Bari and her partner were still publicly tainted with that “eco-terrorist” image, despite their innocence. In 1991 she and Cherney filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland police, citing false arrest and a violation of their civil rights. The FBI, in the meantime, was making little effort to find out the true identity of the bomber(s) of the two environmental activists.
The reason for the FBI’s lack of interest in this car bombing on American soil in broad daylight soon became apparent. It was found during the trial process that the FBI had organized a “bomb school” just a month before the actual car bombing of Bari happened. The bomb school was organized by an FBI agent, Frank Doyle, and offered as a community college course at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California in Humboldt County, an area that was ground zero of the timber wars in the region at the time. Among the students attending the FBI bomb school classes were officers with the Oakland police department. The bomb school site was located on land that had already been clear-cut by the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, one of the major timber companies in northern California.
And what did they do at this FBI bomb school? They practiced blowing up a car and then responding to the crime scene. What kind of car was it? A Subaru — the exact same make and model of car that Judi Bari had been driving at the time. And a few weeks later, when a bomb exploded in Bari’s car in Oakland, who showed up at the actual crime scene within minutes? You guessed it: The FBI’s bomb school instructor, Frank Doyle, and some of his earlier bomb school “students” with the Oakland police department. So, it appeared that the FBI was linked somehow to the car bombing itself; no wonder the agency was in no great hurry to investigate the crime.
In any case, Bari always considered the car bombing to be what she called an “assassination attempt”. This was no mere warning to some loudmouthed environmentalist to get her to shut up. She was not meant to survive the bombing; she was meant to be eliminated from the scene altogether.
Bari miraculously recovered from her severe wounds, but the deep bodily injuries she sustained in the bomb blast took their toll. A few years later, she was diagnosed with cancer. She died in her cabin in rural Mendocino County, California, on 2 March 1997, two decades ago this month.
Among those who spoke at Bari’s memorial service and gave moving tributes to her work on behalf of the redwood forests — and the deeper spiritual meaning behind the struggle — was John Trudell, a Native American activist who had had his own experiences with persecution by the FBI.
Bari had wanted the federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland police to continue even after her passing, and it was indeed carried on. In 2002, Bari, in death, got the last word. The court verdict in her lawsuit came out favorably, and the FBI was ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages. My family and I were living temporarily on the North Coast of California at that time (in Arcata), and I can still remember how excited local people were to hear the news about the late Bari’s legal victory against the FBI and how widely the local press covered the story.
Looking back now, 20 years after Judi Bari’s death, we can only ask: What made her a target of the timber companies and the FBI? How could she have been considered such a threat to the status quo that she needed to be “neutralized”?
There are a few reasons. As mentioned earlier, she was an effective organizer and could move large groups of people toward a common goal. But Bari not only organized White environmental activist tree-huggers. She also worked actively to bring the timber employees and the forest protectors together. She understood that the same big American timber corporations that were screwing their own logging employees with low wages and little job security were, in fact, the same corporate criminals that were raping the land and robbing the Earth of precious natural resources for the future.
She recognized that the fight of the environmental activists and the logging company workers were one and the same. She tried to get the two sides talking to each other and even supporting each other. To some degree, she succeeded in that — which must have scared the hell out of the corporate powers-that-be in America. That alone would have been reason enough to want to eliminate her.
But there is another reason that is seldom talked about, which I think is deserving of mention here: Bari, as a White activist, took up the causes of people of color in the United States and followed in their footsteps. It is one thing for Whites to make a lot of noise amongst themselves about saving nature. But it’s quite another thing to have such Whites crossing U.S. society’s racial barriers and standing in solidarity, as Judi did, with the Black civil rights struggle and with radicals of color such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement (AIM), all of which had been targets of FBI spying, harassment and/or political assassination in the past under its Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO).
Bari was an activist who knew her American history well, but even she seemed to have underestimated the lengths to which the FBI and other such government agencies, in support of powerful U.S. corporate interests, would go to bring the hammer down on Whites who dared to reach out and stand together with people of color in their own struggles. But it’s a reality that many today understand much more clearly, in the wake of Judi’s life and death.
And the car bombing of 1990 that went on to claim her life? The identity of the person(s) who planted the bomb under the driver’s seat in Bari’s car that day has never been found, though the search for truth in the case goes on. The question remains unanswered: Who bombed Judi Bari? A recently released documentary film asks that very question; this important movie can now be viewed in its entirety on the Web.
So, here we are in 2017, two decades after Judi has been gone, with a corporate CEO by the name of Trump and his cronies sitting comfortably in the White House. The state of the planet’s ecological balance has reached a critical level, and people of color across the board are being targeted more than ever before. U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights have been steadily eroding and law enforcement agencies, armed to the teeth with military-grade weaponry, often seem out of control. Things look much worse today than when Judi was alive.
Yet if the situation looks increasingly dire, it is also true that we have more choices as well in how we can deal with it. We can do what Bari did — strategize and organize across barriers of gender, race, occupation — and work to unite people instead of dividing them. We can stand up and speak out in ever greater numbers, find common (sacred) ground with each other, and move together toward a common goal. We can keep our eyes open to the rising risks involved, but also to the many long-term rewards in overcoming dangerous or even deadly obstacles.
We can remember Judi Bari.
When Johnny Went Marching Home Again
What brought about such an unlikely victory? It may be a good time to study and reflect on that very question, for it will surely come up again in the future somewhere, someday in the USA. But without out a doubt we can chalk up the immediate victory over the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) construction to the dedication and commitment of the proud, courageous self-dubbed “water protectors” of the Sioux and other Native nations of North America. Without them, the pipeline would already be going under the Missouri River and getting ever closer to completion.
But one factor we must not overlook is the urgency that many former U.S. military veterans — Native American and non-Native veterans alike — brought to this fight over the building of the pipeline. Without them, too, there might well have been a bloodier and more tragic confrontation at Standing Rock by now. Before Johnny decided to come marching home again to rural North Dakota, the authorities responded the way they always had to Native peoples: with warnings to get out of Dodge before sundown or else….
22 August 2016 — Construction sites of the Dakota Access pipeline are blocked at Cannon Ball, North Dakota by water protectors and their allies from Indian Country and beyond. A state of emergency has recently been declared by the governor.
3 September — On the anniversary of the infamous Whitestone massacre of 3 September 1863, in which more than 300 members of the Standing Rock Sioux nation were killed by the U.S. Army, private security guards for the Dakota Access pipeline spray the demonstrators with pepper spray and set guard dogs upon them, causing several injuries. Comparisons are made to the use of attack dogs by the police on unarmed crowds during the U.S. civil rights (read: human rights) era of the 1950s and 1960s.
27 October — Nearly 150 water protectors are arrested in escalating clashes with police, who fire upon the unarmed crowds with bean-bag grenades, douse them with pepper spray and blast them with a sound cannon. The number of arrests since the anti-pipeline actions rises to about 400.
20 November — In scenes that were witnessed around the world via social media, police fire water cannons at the protectors in sub-freezing weather and shoot at them with grenades and rubber bullets. Police deny having taken such brutal action against the protectors.
25 November — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is attached to the U.S. military, issues a deadline: All water protectors have until 5 December to vacate the areas where thousands are camped out in support of the Standing Rock Sioux against the building of the pipeline, or face arrest. There is talk among the water protectors of a massacre approaching — one of many such atrocities committed against Native peoples throughout American history. The water protectors, risking serious injury or death, refuse to leave.
28 November — Tensions rise as the governor of North Dakota orders the “mandatory evacuation” of the base camps of thousands of water protectors, effective immediately. The water protectors still refuse to leave.
In the meantime, a group of U.S. military veterans, under the banner of “Veterans for Standing Rock”, watch the growing anti-pipeline tensions with concern and start “calling for our fellow veterans to assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation” to “defend the water protectors from assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force and DAPL security”. More than 2,000 U.S. veterans reportedly respond to the call.
2 December — Braving the snow and freezing temperatures, the veterans begin trickling in to the site of the demonstrations at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. One 32-year-old former U.S. Navy serviceman says the veterans showing up to join the water protectors in their fight against the pipeline are “standing on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr. and [Mahatma] Gandhi”.
4 December — In an emotionally moving scene, a leader of the veterans group approaches Native elders at Standing Rock and asks for forgiveness for the past genocide of Native peoples at the hands of the U.S. military. It is one day before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ own deadline for the protectors to leave the base camps. Before the day is out, however, the Corps announces that it is denying the pipeline company’s request for an easement to run the line under nearby Lake Oahe, sparking a celebration among the water protectors. They have won — for now.
What the U.S. government most likely feared, we can see in hindsight, was the possibility of images being broadcast around the world of U.S. military veterans getting beaten up, injured, shot at, arrested and possibly even killed at Standing Rock — in others words, being treated like foreign terrorists — for the simple “crime” of wanting to protect those who defend water as a source of life. And this, of course, at a time when the U.S. military is expanding on a daily basis its so-called “war on terrorism” abroad.
The U.S. government has never cared much about Native Americans being abused and mistreated, but how would it look, on the other hand, for “patriotic” U.S. police forces to be beating up a bunch of their own country’s military veterans? No, that would not look good at all. It would show the world what a moral hypocrite the USA really was as a nation. But in the end, the plug was pulled, the big showdown in Indian Country was averted, and the Obama administration in particular saved a lot of face.
We can confirm from this experience, moreover, that nonviolent U.S. military veterans have an active role to play in such future conflicts as well. A number of veterans gathered at Standing Rock then moved on to another place plagued with water problems — the city of Flint, Michigan — to stand up with the local people there too in their own fight for clean water.
I have made the bold prediction that a kind of Second Civil War in a deeply divided United States will be the result of a Trump presidency. I honestly hope such a war does not come to pass. But if it does, it’s good to know that we’ve got brothers and sisters from the former ranks of the U.S. military to back us up in our nonviolent struggles. There’s nothing like the sight of Johnny marching back home again, without weapons and in massive numbers, to put a little humility, respect and, yes, even fear, into the hearts of those in positions of influence over our lives.
Dakota Pipeline: Prelude to a Land Grab
You have to hand it to the U.S. government for the clever way it handled the crisis. The last thing Obama needed in the last few months of his presidency was another Wounded Knee-type showdown before the eyes of the world in the heart of America’s Indian Country, pitting the Standing Rock Sioux nation and its many allies against a Dallas, Texas-based gas and oil pipeline operator and its many allies (the U.S. government being one of them). The postponement of construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline was a victory, albeit a limited one, for First Nations peoples of North America and the protection of sacred lands.
But the conflict over the Dakota Access pipeline — with pepper spray and attack dogs shamefully used at one point against those who tried to block the construction — is merely a prelude to even bigger troubles to come for such lands, and soon: the biggest act of government theft of Native American territory in more than a century that is now in the making.
A bill is currently being pushed through the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow the western state of Utah to outright claim 100,000 acres of land belonging to the indigenous Ute tribe in the name of progress and development (in other words, potential oil profits) by the state of Utah. Yes, you read that right: 100,000 acres of Native American lands. The state of Utah wants to put these tribal “reservation” lands under its own management, as stipulated by the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, which was introduced a few months ago in July as House Resolution 5780. (A related bill, the Scofield Land Transfer Act, or Senate bill 14, is also making its way at the same time through the U.S. Congress.)
Representatives of the Native American community are calling this the most blatant act of official Yankee land grabbing and violating of Native American sovereignty rights since the late 1800s, and there is growing opposition to the plan. “We were shocked to learn that the bill proposes to take more than 100,000 acres of our reservation lands for the state of Utah,” announced officials of the Ute tribal nation. “This modern-day Indian land grab cannot be allowed to stand.”
If this does indeed go through, it would make projects like the Dakota Access pipeline look like a harmless Saturday night Bingo game at the local YMCA in comparison. So, where is the national news media coverage of this historical act of land theft? You will not find the substantial coverage it deserves by the U.S. corporate press, much as in the case of the Dakota Access project and other such development schemes that threaten to destroy natural ecosystems on Native lands for generations to come.
Native American leader Dennis Banks, co-founder in the 1960s of the American Indian Movement (AIM), described the situation well in an interview I did with him more than two decades ago here in Japan:
“The attitude of the [U.S.] government has changed from one of covert activities to one of overt activities,” Banks said. “They’re still trying to swindle Native people out of their land. They’re still trying to support Corporate America, and Corporate America has a lot of hands on Indian lands. So their attitude, as I said, is one of covert to overt business. I will never trust the policies that come out of Washington — ever. Individually, the Congress people, I’m sure, are good persons. But something happens to them when they become a collective body. They corrupt themselves, as honest as they are individually.”
In the case of the two Republican congressional sponsors in Utah of the land-grab bill, there can be no doubt about where their dishonorable priorities lie. U.S. representative Rob Bishop, known around Washington DC for his fashionable three-piece suits, has pushed for environmental regulations to be loosened in U.S. national parks to allow for more private use of public lands. The other sponsor, U.S. representative Jason Chaffetz, is known for his antipathy to laws that would protect wild animals facing extinction, saying, in one memorable quote: “The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed is on the menu of a French bistro. It does not deserve federal protection, period.”
In other words, in the 21st century, it is business as usual when it comes to the treatment of First Nations peoples and the stealing of lands inhabited by their ancestors for thousands of years before this curious thing called the “United States of America” ever came into existence.
The good news is that the controversy over the start of the Dakota Access pipeline construction has led to more and more Native people across the continent joining hands and standing up to the corporate and governmental defiling of sacred Native lands. More than 50 tribal nations in Canada and the northern United States recently formed a treaty alliance vowing to “come together in unity and solidarity to protect our territory from the predations of big oil interests, industry, and everything that represents”.
In the meantime, the struggle continues. Big Money never sleeps. The company constructing the Dakota Access pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, has already bought up parcels of sacred Sioux lands that it intends to develop as the Dakota Access pipeline construction progresses. The Standing Rock Sioux promise us that the pipeline project definitely will be stopped in its tracks, and the tribe is fighting toward that end on all fronts: in the courts, in the media, at the United Nations, and right on the ground in North Dakota.
President Obama wisely stopped the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline for now, just long enough for him to slide out of office and pass the problem on to his successor in the White House. Whoever becomes the next U.S. president, whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, we can be sure that such big gas and oil development projects will continue to be approved and supported at the highest levels under the staunchly pro-corporate policies of both candidates.
The issues of Native sovereignty rights and sacred land protection, in North America and beyond, are bound to rise in the years to come as the confrontations and conflicts grow in intensity. And as they rise, we would all do well to remember that these many Native battles to protect the land are our fights too. We need to support them wherever and whenever we can.
As for me, I know clearly where I stand: right alongside our Native brothers and sisters, wherever in the world they may be — not just to “protest” something, but rather to protect everything that has a right to life on this Earth, the common mother of us all. There can be no higher purpose to our own lives than that.
The Zen of Climate Change
“Together, humanity must act on the root causes of this environmental crisis, which is driven by our use of fossil fuels, unsustainable consumption patterns, lack of awareness, and lack of concern about the consequences of our actions,” the statement reads. “We call on world leaders to recognize and address our universal responsibility to protect the web of life for the benefit of all, now and for the future.”
This, I have to confess, sent my spirits soaring. It was a significant move that helped put Buddhists the world over on the right side of this issue, especially at this critical moment in human history. The statement by Buddhist leaders was obviously meant to influence the planned United Nations climate talks in Paris, France, and it was right on time.
It came on the heels of the Pope, representing the Catholic religion, making a similar pronouncement not long before. Finally, I thought, religious leaders are taking a stand for the Earth and getting their followers behind them. If we could get all of the world’s religious faiths and factions to do the same thing, we might actually have a chance at dealing with the ecosystem breakdowns and environmental disasters that have become all too common in recent years. We have indeed arrived at “a crucial crossroads where our survival and that of other species is at stake as a result of our actions,” according to the Buddhist statement, and the time to commit to action and follow it through is now facing us all.
The statement was also heartening in another sense for me: It showed how the notion of “engaged Buddhism”, a term coined and put into action by Thich Nhat Hanh during the American war on Vietnam decades ago, has taken root and been accepted by Buddhists of various factions and nationality on issues of international concern. People are coming together, recognizing a common destiny among humans and other living beings, and taking action to try to make positive change happen.
Engaged Buddhism, like the idea of liberation theology in Christianity, for me signifies a moving away from organized religions as enslavers of human thought and judgers of all things right and wrong. Religions have traditionally been safe, comfortable havens that deal only with matters of the spirit and getting a seat beside God in the hereafter. With planetary destruction on a level never seen before upon us today, religions are also showing that they can be houses of social change and urgent action on matters happening outside the temple doors — matters affecting every single living species on the Earth at a vital juncture in time.
Whether such bold steps by organized religions are too little, too late to save the planet at this point is something we will find out soon enough in the coming years. Yet it is a good start, and we should applaud those religious leaders, wherever they are, who dare to stand up and call for action. The world is full of problems at the moment and each problem is important to for us to deal with and try to resolve. But surely the biggest one of all, the survival of our own selves on our only home, has to rank at the top.
“Cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion, we will be able to act out of love, not fear, to protect our planet,” the Buddhist statement reads. Yes. Love has to be the primary motivation here, and compassion and interconnectedness the practical tools we can use to help us move forward — right now, today — on the critical issue of global climate change.
Much more can be found here on the Buddhist response to global warming, a website providing plenty of useful resources with which to follow up and follow through.
Given the times we live in, the recent Buddhist leaders’ statement on climate change is truly impressive and inspiring. But it won’t mean a thing in the long run if leaders of other religious faiths and other Buddhist factions around the world do not step up to the plate and make a commitment on this as well. That’s where we all come in, working from the grassroots up to make sure that leaders everywhere get the message loud and clear and are emboldened to act. And act they must, for the sake of us all.
Where is the People’s Tribunal on Fukushima?
I sat transfixed in the audience of a public hall in the downtown Japanese city of Kyoto, astonished that such a scene was playing out right before me. On stage there were prosecuting attorneys representing the public, defense attorneys representing the three leaders on trial and a procession of witnesses — including some Iraqi exiles who had come all the way to Japan just to testify about the tragedy befalling their country. (text here • photos here)
The news media in Japan, in what little coverage they gave of this event, called it a “mock trial” since there was no real power of subpoena, no real court in session, and of course, the three leaders — Bush, Blair and Koizumi — were not in attendance and were being judged in absentia.
But the “International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq”, as it was officially known, was not “mocking” anything. On the contrary, it was demonstrating something very powerful: that ordinary citizens in the nations of the world are not helpless and not voiceless when it comes to a crime of international proportions, as the invasion of Iraq most certainly was. Since the United Nations or the legal systems of the wealthiest nations would not dare to try world leaders for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, the citizens themselves would do it. This was “people power” in the flesh.
On a global level, a series of public sessions of a “World Tribunal on Iraq” (WTI) were held in several cities around the globe, with the Kyoto tribunal being just one part of that movement. At the end of it all, indictments against the U.S. and British governments were handed down, and the tribunal proceedings were collected and compiled in a book that was published in 2008. The final judgment of the WTI: Bush and Blair — guilty as charged of war crimes and of crimes against humanity.
Now in 2015, four years after the earthquake/tsunami that hit Japan, resulting in arguably the worst nuclear accident of all time, I look at the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident and wonder: What aren’t we doing the same thing with Fukushima that we did with Iraq? Where is the people’s tribunal on Fukushima?
If the people of the world could rise up in righteous anger and seek justice for the illegal invasion and occupation of sovereign nations, like they did with Iraq and Afghanistan, then surely we could do the same thing for the planet as a whole. After all, there is not one part of this globe that hasn’t been untouched by the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. The initial accident spewed radioactive fallout into the air over Japan that has been scattered by the four winds, and for most of these past four years, thousands of tons of highly radioactive groundwater and/or wastewater have been flowing into the Pacific Ocean and carried around the globe by the tides and currents.
If environmental damage of that magnitude is not a crime against humanity and nature, then I don’t know what is.
The company operating the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has, from the beginning, lied to and deceived both the Japanese public and the international community as to the severity of the accident. Thousands of Japanese evacuees from the affected areas around Fukushima still live in temporary housing, facing the reality that they may never get to go home again. The cleanup of affected areas is moving very slowly and it was recently announced by the government that it may take another half-century or so to fully decommission the crippled Fukushima plant.
In other words, the Fukushima crisis will continue long after most of us are dead and gone, and will be passed off to the next generation to deal with. The environmental damage caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident is permanent — lasting, at least, for as long as human life will exist on this planet.
And yet, as of today, the Japanese courts have rejected the notion of holding any one public official (or any other official) responsible for the nuclear catastrophe that is Fukushima.
Enough is enough. I say we, as ordinary working people of good conscience, now start thinking and talking about how we might organize a series of public hearings in the cities of the world that will do for Planet Earth what the public tribunals did for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan just a few years ago: seek the truth, gather credible evidence, compile testimony for the public record and, most importantly, hold leaders in both the public and private sectors accountable.
The World Tribunal on Iraq hearings, in particular, can give us a reliable blueprint to go by in planning something similar for a Fukushima-related tribunal. Scientists from various countries and fields of specialty could be called to testify as to the actual facts and data relating to Fukushima, and nuclear whistleblowers would be encouraged to come forward with as much legal protection as could be afforded them.
Citizen evacuees in Japan could share their personal stories of suffering, and farmers in Japan and various other countries could testify to the environmental damage and tainting of food supplies due to Fukushima. Doctors and patients both inside and outside Japan could testify to the rising radiation levels and cancer rates since Fukushima. And marine biologists could testify as to the relation, if any, between the abnormally high levels of radioactive waste in the Pacific Ocean and cases in recent months of unprecedented mass beachings of sea mammals and dying off of ocean-based species here in Japan and in various regions of the world.
Officials of TEPCO, the Japanese government, the United States government (which sold Japan the nuclear technology in the first place) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the global nuclear industry’s promotional arm — would be summoned to testify. This would be for real, not as some sort of media gimmick.
Truth and accountability to the people of the world: that would be the mandate of such a “World Tribunal on Fukushima” (WTF) or whatever you want to call it. If we can all do it for Iraq, then surely we can do it for the Earth, the common mother of us all, and for the future generations to follow us.
I, for one, would be willing to donate every spare moment I have for the rest of my days to see something like this become a reality where Fukushima is concerned. It is that important to me.
It’s time that we stopped waiting around for the truth to come down from on high about Fukushima, and started using what power we do have as citizens, individually and collectively, to really deal with this continuing crisis of environmental devastation and public deception. Will we stand together on this and move forward with some kind of citizens’ tribunal on Fukushima before any more damage is done?
You know what I think. And if your own answer to that question is “yes”, then I stand with you. Let it begin here and now — a people’s tribunal on Fukushima in which we all have a voice.
Climate Change — in the Skies and in the Streets
That was the one voice in which an estimated 400,000 people, nearly half a million strong, spoke in New York City on Sunday, 21 September, during the “People’s Climate March”. Tens of thousands more marched in solidarity in cities around the world.
Young people, old folks, First Nations peoples, religious devotees of various faiths, migrant workers, labor unionists, activists, scholars, students, everybody: There they were, a beautiful, bustling mass of humanity in living color, filling the wide avenues and transcending the social boundaries that usually confine them to their separate (and often unequal) stations in life — now joining together to stand up for Mother Earth and for their own shared future survival. If I could possibly have been there in New York City, I would have marched proudly with them.
It was The People’s turn to send a message to leaders, and the message was indeed signed, sealed and delivered in full: Climate change action now!
Will the global leaders of the world listen? Experience tells us probably not. But we are now far beyond the stage of discussion and debate, and by all accounts of scientific experts in the field, we are standing at the point of no return as far as dealing with global warming is concerned. The very real possibility of “runaway climate change” — of one environmental system breakdown leading uncontrollably to another and another — is now upon us.
From the Arctic north to tropical islands to inland areas of every continent in every region of the world, the overwhelming evidence of extreme weather patterns cannot be denied. And all along, our leaders have sat idly by twiddling their thumbs or stroking the multinational corporations representing the fossil fuel industry under the table while the Earth literally burns.
To wit, how does The Leader of the Free World respond to all this urgency? Check out this article. Concerned about his future “legacy” as United States president (as well he should be), President Barack Obama is now mumbling something about putting together a kind of “politically binding” climate change deal for next year.
But time is up. People won’t wait any longer for issues that should have and could have been addressed long ago. Screw a presidential legacy — a planetary legacy is what we’re all after: a true legacy that affects every human being and all life forms on Earth, and a legacy that is passed on to future generations several hundreds of years down the line.
After all, without a stable, sustainable natural environment under which we can all live and thrive, there will be no political parties, no economies, no cultures, no democracy, no anything. Things have become that crucial.
As I heard a First Nations woman elder aptly put it a few years ago in a public meeting in northern California: “We’re shitting in our own nest”. All this pollution and human destruction of nature’s ecosystems has come back around to face us square-on, she said, and if we don’t clean up our own shit in this nest, then we’ll surely die in it. And she was right on the mark.
When leaders don’t listen to the people and refuse to look out for their best interests, then People Power is the only way to deal with problems. We get massive numbers of people out in the streets, united behind a common cause and in a nonviolent manner, and effect change that way. History has shown us that large numbers of people in the streets often speak much louder than words, promises, legacies or elections.
Climate change is occurring daily in the warming of the ozone layer high above us in the skies, but things are also heating up right down here in the streets. May we see many more of these mass actions at this critical hour until we get what we want and need, for ourselves and for the Earth, our common mother.
The Words of ‘Wasteland’
But I recently came across some powerful words on this subject that, for me, raise sharp questions about just how far we have come in dealing with the pollution that we ourselves have wrought on the world. I share these words with you now in the hope that they may move you too.
This is a short essay titled “Wasteland” by the late author Marya Mannes (1904-1990), and it was published in her book More in Anger in 1958 in the United States. Though somewhat forgotten today, Mannes was one of the more well-known writers, editors and social critics of her time, and her words often took clear aim at the hypocrisy of life in the USA and the so-called “American Dream”.
Reading this essay from 55 years ago, it’s amazing to see how right on target she was in questioning not only the environmental devastation we’ve inflicted on Mother Earth, but the rampant materialism that has led us to that place. Mannes is speaking in this essay about the United States, of course, but today in the 21st century these words could just as easily be about Japan or any other country. That’s how far we haven’t come in dealing with the state of the world’s environment.
Here, then, are the words of “Wasteland” by Marya Mannes....
Cans. Beer cans. Glinting on the verges of a million miles of roadways, lying in scrub, grass, dirt, leaves, sand, mud, but never hidden. Piel’s, Rheingold, Ballantine, Schaefer, Schlitz, shining in the sun or picked by moon or the beams of headlights at night; washed by rain or flattened by wheels, but never dulled, never buried, never destroyed. Here is the mark of savages, the testament of wasters, the stain of prosperity.
Who are these men who defile the grassy borders of our roads and lanes, who pollute our ponds, who spoil the purity of our ocean beaches with the empty vessels of their thirst? Who are the men who make these vessels in millions and then say, “Drink — and discard”? What society is this that can afford to cast away a million tons of metal and to make of wild and fruitful land a garbage heap?
What manner of men and women need thirty feet of steel and two hundred horsepower to take them, singly to their small destinations? Who demand that what they eat is wrapped so that forests are cut down to make the paper that is thrown away, and what they smoke and chew is sealed so that the sealers can be tossed in gutters and caught in twigs and grass?
What kind of men can afford to make the streets of their towns and cities hideous with neon at night, and their roadways hideous with signs by day, wasting beauty; who leave the carcasses of cars to rot in heaps; who spill their trash into ravines and make smoking mountains of refuse for the town's rats? What manner of men choke off the life in rivers, streams and lakes with the waste of their produce, making poison of water?
Who is as rich as that? Slowly the wasters and despoilers are impoverishing our land, our nature, and our beauty, so that there will not be one beach, one hill, one land, one meadow, one forest free from the debris of man and the stigma of his improvidence.
Who is so rich that he can squander forever the wealth of earth and water for the trivial needs of vanity or the compulsive demands of greed, or so prosperous in land that he can sacrifice nature for unnatural desires? The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future.
And what will we leave behind us when we are long dead? Temples? Amphora? Sunken treasure?
Or mountains of twisted, rusted steel, canyons of plastic containers, and a million miles of shores garlanded, not with the lovely wrack of the sea, but with the cans and bottles and light-bulbs and boxes of a people who conserved their convenience at the expense of their heritage, and whose ephemeral prosperity was built on waste.
Who Bombed Judi Bari?
Judi Bari had passed away two years before, but the local people still seemed to be speaking and writing about her with a sense of reverence, respect, humanness and humor — in the way that you would go on talking about a dear friend or family member who had died in the present tense, as if they were still alive. I didn’t know a thing about the well-known environmental activist Judi Bari, but I was soon to find out that summer in California.
I learned that Judi Bari had made her home in Mendocino County, the county just south of Humboldt, where I was staying, and that she was a carpenter, musician and nonviolent social activist, especially in protection of the dwindling redwood forests of that part of the state. She was a member of Earth First!, a forest-protection group of activists whose slogan was “No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth,” and she was a labor leader and feminist. And with Judi, they all seemed to blend together.
I found out that in the summer of 1990, Judi was one of the organizers of a nonviolent, direct-action campaign called “Redwood Summer,” intended to raise public awareness of the increasing destruction of the redwood forests in California and to get ballot measures passed by the public that would keep the timber-logging companies in check.
The campaign got its name and guiding spirit from the “Mississippi Summer” (Freedom Summer) campaign of the 1960s, which drew nationwide support in the U.S. for Black voting rights in the American South. Judi and other organizers hoped to do the same kind of thing with Redwood Summer in 1990. (You can watch the official Redwood Summer recruitment video here.)
I learned also that on May 24, 1990, while Judi had been driving in the city of Oakland, California to perform at a gig in support of Redwood Summer, a bomb that had been secretly hidden under the driver’s seat of her car exploded, severely injuring Judi and her passenger, Darryl Cherney, who was her partner and fellow Earth First! activist.
I learned that the two of them were immediately placed under arrest at the hospital, with the FBI and the Oakland police announcing to the local media that Judi and Darryl were suspected of carrying explosives in the car with the intent of using them in some violent protest action. The two activists were being accused of so-called “eco-terrorism” yet they were never formally charged with any sort of crime.
And I learned that Judi and Darryl had later filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland police for violating their constitutional rights in the case, and that the lawsuit was making its way through the courts. Judi had passed away from cancer in 1997, but Darryl was carrying on the lawsuit in both their names.
In the summer of 2001, when I had come back to Humboldt County for a few years during a second stay on the North Coast, Judi’s legacy still seemed alive and well. Her and Darryl’s lawsuit was moving slowly but steadily through the bureaucratic court system, and the local media were increasingly reporting on the court case as the final judgment day neared in 2002.
I listened intently to the local radio station news on the North Coast that day, June 11, 2002, and heard that a 10-member court jury in Oakland had awarded Judi and Darryl $4.4 million in damages against the FBI and Oakland police, effectively siding with the two activists in their claim that they were bombing victims, not terrorists. In doing so, the jury acknowledged that the bombing of Judi Bari’s car appeared to have been done by some unknown party with the aim of shutting down the massive protests being planned as part of the Redwood Summer campaign.
“The American public needs to understand that the FBI can’t be trusted,” Cherney told the press, following the court victory. “Ten jurors got a good, hard look at the FBI and they didn’t like what they saw.”
As part of the court settlement, as I understand it, the city of Oakland in 2003 officially named May 24, the anniversary of the car bombing, as “Judi Bari Day,” commemorating her as a “dedicated activist, who worked for many social and environmental causes, the most prominent being the protection and stewardship of California’s ancient redwood forests.” It was a major turnaround for a city whose police officials had formerly branded her an eco-terrorist, and an acknowledgment of what many forest defenders had long known: that Judi Bari was a force to be reckoned with, even in death.
Just recently, May 24, 2013 marked the 10th anniversary of Judi Bari Day. I thought a lot about her that day. I wondered how different the world might have been, for her and for us, if she had lived and continued defending Mother Earth, specifically in the redwood rainforests of northern California. She had died tragically at the young age of 47 from cancer, caused by the severe injuries she had suffered in the car bombing. It was a miracle that she had survived the bombing in the first place. When she died, a single mother who had been raising two young girls on her own, she had been in a lot of physical pain and emotional distress. I wondered on the 10th anniversary of Judi Bari Day just how much her life and work was really being kept alive in people’s hearts after all this time.
I got my reply, thankfully, in the form of a newly released documentary film, co-produced by Darryl Cherney, titled Who Bombed Judi Bari?. The film follows Judi’s activism, the car bombing and the lawsuit, and appeared to get a warm public reception wherever it was shown in the States. I made a small donation to the film during the production stage, and was delighted to recently receive a DVD version of the film and see my name listed along with so many other supporters in the film’s closing credits. I always wished that I had had the honor of meeting and supporting Judi Bari while she was still alive, and now, in a humble way, I felt I had.
What made Judi Bari so dangerous while she was alive? I’ve thought about that a lot. Why would someone would resort to an act of extreme violence to possibly kill an activist-type like her who was nonviolent? The simple answer is that she was good at bringing people together. Give her a megaphone and a crowd of people, and she was in her element. She had been an experienced activist, especially with labor unions, in her earlier years and knew how to organize, inspire and move large groups of people in a certain direction — in this case, saving the redwood forests.
But much more importantly, at the time of her death she had been bringing together two perceived enemies: the "hippie" tree-hugging environmental activists who were trying to save the redwood trees and the "redneck" logging company employees who were cutting them down. Judi saw the fight to protect the last of the redwood forests and the fight to protect jobs and support families on a livable wage as being one and the same fight. The common enemy of both sides, she said, were the big multinational corporations who were taking over the small logging companies — corporations who didn’t give a damn about either saving trees or saving their own low-paid timber workers. And Judi was right.
Judi Bari seemed to have no fear of confronting authority or those in power. And when you get someone fearless like her who is good at bringing all sides together for a common cause, then it is easy to see why she would become a target of the corporate and governmental powers-that-be in the United States. She had become too dangerous and too effective as a social organizer, and she had to be stopped.
From time to time here in Japan, even now, whenever I open my morning newspaper (the International Herald Tribune, published by the New York Times) and happen to see an article written by Gina Kolata, a Times reporter and Judi Bari’s sister, I remember the North Coast and the fight to save the redwoods. Judi has long been gone, but the forests are still in danger in California, just as they are everywhere else in the world. And activists in the U.S. and elsewhere are still being wrongly targeted as “eco-terrorists” for daring to stand up to governments and corporations to say: “No more — not one more forest destroyed in the name of progress.”
So, the question remains: Who did bomb Judi Bari? Who had tried to assassinate and silence her back in 1990? The case has never been solved, since the FBI has never really investigated and tried to find out. We may never know who devised and planted the car bomb that nearly killed her. But at the very least, as the film points out, the FBI itself cannot be ruled out from having played some role in the car bombing of Judi Bari.
I will close here by encouraging you to buy the DVD yourself directly through the film’s official website and watch it and understand who Judi Bari was, and what she lived and died for. Buying the DVD would be a good way to not only support what environmental activists are doing to protect the last of the redwood forests of California, but also to help keep alive the memory of a person who lent her voice, her passion, her spirit and her body to the cause of a better world. This is her story — and, in the end, our story as well.
Viva Judi Bari!
A World That Can Say NO — to Monsanto
Ishihara asserted in the book that it was time for Japan to stop being America’s “yes-man” (or “mistress,” as he sometimes put it) in economic, political and military matters, and for Japan to chart its own course in the coming 21st century. Despite his rhetoric, which often bordered on the extreme, Ishihara had some valid points. He was both adored and despised at home by the Japanese public.
Ishihara was one among many Japanese leaders across the political spectrum — right, center, left — who talked a good talk about standing up to the United States and saying “no” when it was necessary. Ten years later in 1999, Ishihara had the chance to do just that: He was elected governor of Tokyo, a powerful position that he held until 2012. But as governor, he somehow forgot how to say the word “no” and distinguished himself by essentially becoming America’s reliable man in Tokyo — a political figure who seemed to stand sharply at attention whenever Washington D.C. snapped its imperialist fingers.
For some reason, that whole episode with Ishihara and The Japan That Can Say No came to my mind when I heard some encouraging news recently reported out of Tokyo. The government of Japan announced that it would cancel a planned order of wheat from the United States, after it was found that the strain of wheat, made by the U.S. corporation Monsanto, was found to contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “We will refrain from buying western white and feed wheat effective today,” a Japanese farm ministry official said. Japan and other Asian nations are concerned about the health effects of U.S.-made GMO crops and have worked hard to keep them out of their domestic markets.
Japan’s concerns are well founded. A report published just a few months ago in March determined links between genetically modified foods and a high risk of developing organ failure in animals, particularly in the kidneys and liver.
And this newfound “Japan that can say ‘no’ to Monsanto” finds much support around the world. It was reported that on Saturday, May 25, possibly up to two million people throughout the U.S. and in more than 50 other nations demonstrated against Monsanto, well known as a maker of toxic herbicides used on farms across the United States and in various countries around the world.
Organizers of the worldwide “March Against Monsanto” say it is only the beginning of public campaigns that will be waged against Monsanto, a corporation that has long had the protection of the U.S. and other governments despite a record of environmental pollution and a host of other corporate crimes.
I don’t use the word “evil” lightly when talking about business matters. But in the case of Monsanto, I think the description is well deserved.
Here is a company (based in St. Louis, Missouri in the U.S.) that has dumped toxic chemicals in residential areas of the U.S. and in foreign countries. It produced the Agent Orange toxic chemicals sprayed by the U.S. military in the 1960s and 1970s over rural areas of Vietnam (where a high rate of malformed babies are still being born today). It resembles more a mafia organization than a socially responsible company in the ways that it tries to monopolize markets, smear and silence critics, and put family farmers in North America and other regions of the world out of business for good.
There has been no shortage of scandals and lawsuits involving the Monsanto corporation throughout its 112-year history. If there is such a thing as a Corporate Hell where old companies go when they die, then surely Monsanto is someday going to spend an eternity burning there. This is one evil corporation.
Many of us may not be aware that Monsanto also happens to be the world’s top producer of vegetable seeds for agricultural crops, with sales at about $800 million annually. The company boasts of selling “4,000 distinct seed varieties representing more than 20 species” of vegetables. About 50 percent of their seed business is producing genetically modified seeds for farms.
Globally, Monsanto controls about one-fourth of the world’s total seed supply. Author and environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva of India says that “When a corporation controls seed, it controls life,” and she is absolutely correct. Monsanto is a corporate entity that seems intent on owning Life itself and, wherever it can, inflicting death at the same time.
That’s why I was excited to see the recent mass movement worldwide against Monsanto. People are waking up and understanding that such corporations are literally waging a war against Mother Earth and against ourselves, the human race, and must be stopped. Governments almost seem powerless to do anything about Monsanto and other multinationals like it, so in the end, it will have to be People Power that stands up like a mighty wave against this corporation that so falsely claims to be “improving agriculture, improving lives.”
But can the heat of the March Against Monsanto be kept on over a long period of time? Do we have what it takes to really stop this monster in its tracks? Or will we be like the Shintaro Ishiharas of Japan and the world — people who talk a good talk about “saying no” to a big bully only to bow down before the power of money and politics, and become yes-men and yes-women instead? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, a good place for each one of us to start is to investigate for ourselves what the real issues are concerning Monsanto, and keep an eye out for how we might be able to participate in and contribute to the public pressure now being put on Monsanto. Saying NO and meaning it — that’s the real task before us in confronting this thing called Monsanto and, in doing so, reclaiming our common future on this planet that we all call home.
Shut the Frackers Down
It was, and it is. Taking the time to inform myself on this issue, I found that hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking,” as it has become known — involves inserting pipes deep underground that shoot high-pressure streams of water, sand and toxic chemicals into the earth. This fractures or breaks apart the solid rock so that the oil and natural gas can be essentially sucked up to the surface and from there, taken by private energy companies to do with as they please.
Huge deposits of natural gas have been discovered in recent years across more than 30 U.S. states, reputedly large enough to supply the country’s energy needs for decades. A drilling boom, a modern-day “gold rush,” for natural gas is the result.
The U.S. government’s Environmental Protection Agency says that fracking is a “commercially viable” and clean technology that is necessary in these resource-lean, job-hungry times: “Responsible development of America’s shale gas resources offers important economic, energy security, and environmental benefits.”
As I also found out, many people in the U.S. disagree. A lot of people — including people in communities who have had their natural water supplies contaminated and unfit to drink because of fracking. Other problems being raised are contamination of the air and soil by fracking, not to mention the release of radiation during the fracking process and earthquakes that are caused by the unstable solid rock deep beneath the surface after fracking.
A key battleground for whether fracking is allowed to continue or is stopped dead in its tracks is New York state. The governor of the state, Andrew Cuomo, may or may not lift a ban on fracking in the near future, and thus he has become a lobbying target for those both opposing and supporting fracking in the state.
It is a classic case of The People versus Big Energy, and shifting U.S. public opinion against hydraulic fracturing nationwide has become the goal of many concerned citizens and grassroots activists. A 2010 documentary film, Gasland, focused on the effects of fracking in several U.S. communities; the film was nominated for an Academy Award. In May 2012, a rally that included activists, musicians and scientists was held in the New York state capital and has now come out as a film, Dear Governor Cuomo.
New York residents Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, partner and son of the late musician John Lennon, have lent their voices to the cause by starting a group called Artists Against Fracking (with a catchy video titled “Don’t Frack My Mother”). Hollywood even jumped into the fray with a drama featuring major stars, Promised Land, that takes on the issue of fracking and how it impacts and divides local communities.
The energy industry, however, has not taken the fight lying down. Billions of potential dollars are at stake here, and the industry has been hitting right back with its own intention of swaying public opinion in favor of fracking. The Independent Petroleum Association of America has denounced the Gasland film and created its own piece of pro-fracking art titled Truthland. Yoko Ono’s and Sean Lennon’s group, Artists Against Fracking, too has been attacked by the energy industry for not being an “official” lobby organization and thus having no right to speak out on the issue.
As a journalist and writer, I would recommend taking a look at how the New York City-based nonprofit organization ProPublica, which produces high-quality investigative journalism in the public interest, covers the issue of fracking (with an informative, entertaining music video of its own on the issue).
So now that I know about fracking, what will I do about it? First, I will lend my voice to those opposing fracking and supporting the use of cleaner, more sustainable energy resources for the long-term future. It is totally unacceptable that in this post-Fukushima age, after the destruction of two countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) to help “liberate” their oil resources, and the continued mass pollution by U.S. oil corporations on the South American and African continents, that we now must turn large tracts of the U.S. into mini-versions of the Middle East.
A line has literally been drawn in the dirt with this fracking issue, it seems to me, and I will stand unequivocally with those who want to put fracking in its grave once and for all.
We need to not only win this particular battle for public opinion on fracking; we also need to stop by any means necessary the combined efforts of corporations, governments and individuals to continue profiting from the rape of Mother Earth in the name of “progress” and “development” anywhere. It begins right here, right now with each of us, by sowing the seeds of a new mentality within ourselves to stop this genocidal/suicidal war on Nature that mankind has seemed intent on waging since time immemorial.
Shut this fracking business down!
Protecting Mr. Monsanto
“Here’s what I’ll do as president: I’ll immediately implement ‘country of origin’ labeling because Americans should know where their food comes from. ...We’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they’re buying.”
Six years later, not only has Obama as president broken that promise about GM labeling of foods, but he went a step further this week by signing into law a bill with provisions that would allow major legal protection to multinational biotech corporations like Monsanto that deal in controversial GM seeds and crops.
The law is being derisively called the “Monsanto Protection Act” by its critics, and for good reason. The law reportedly prevents U.S. federal courts from being able to stop the planting or sale of GMO crops or genetically engineered (GE) seeds — regardless of any health or safety issues that may come up in the future. This means that the courts will have no power to stop the spread of the seeds and the crops they bear, and no way to stop Monsanto from making massive profits from them. (For the record, here is Monsanto's response to the law recently signed by President Obama.)
In the United States, corporations are allowed certain rights in a court of law that individual citizens enjoy. But this latest law by President Obama allows “Mr. Monsanto” far more legal protection than any individual U.S. citizen would ever get. Mr. Monsanto has a long, dirty record of environmental pollution in the U.S. and abroad, and some of its chemical products are known to kill people and other living things. People in countries around the world — especially farmers — have risen up in righteous anger over Monsanto and its heavy-handed tactics to destroy small farmers, corner the international market on seeds and smear any of its critics along the way. Would any private citizen be able to get away with that in any court? No way.
Then, how does Mr. Monsanto get away with it? Because Mr. Monsanto has friends in very high government places that ordinary working persons like us don’t have. Sometimes those friends retire from government and go to work for Mr. Monsanto essentially as lobbyists to make sure the doors of business are well-greased and kept open.
But one wonders if this time, President Obama’s latest broken promise on an issue affecting the environment and public safety has gone too far. It is no exaggeration to say that Monsanto is a corporation that is hated in countries around the world (ask people in India, for one, what they think about the company). Will President Obama’s recent signing of the law that offers sweeping legal protections to companies like Monsanto be the spark that ignites and unites a broad-based environmental movement in the U.S. and abroad? We’ll see.
In the meantime, about 80 percent of all processed food products that are sold in the United States today reportedly contain some GMOs in them. Most of those products have no GMO labeling and therefore are unknown to the public. Will that figure become 100 percent in the not-too-distant-future? Or will consumers now finally say they’ve had enough, stand up in great numbers, and force the U.S. government and corporations like Monsanto to back down and label all GMO foods in the future?
I, for one, am standing on the side of the consumers. Let this uprising for truth, health and Life begin.
Green Party in Japan
But that’s the ideal. In reality, journalists on all points of the political spectrum — right, center, left — vote for political parties. They support the party they think will best represent them and other citizens like them. Sure, their news reporting as journalists has to be balanced, fair and held up to high standards of public scrutiny. But when it comes to personal values, is being “objective” really preferable...or even possible?
One party that I have made a personal exception to is the Green Party. Over the past decade, I came to understand and support the kind of “green politics” to which the Green Party and its supporters around the world stand for: grassroots democracy, ecological wisdom, social justice and nonviolence.
For years I had asked, “Where is the Green Party in Japan? Why hasn’t it taken root here like in other countries?” It didn’t exist in Japan, and I wondered when or if it ever would.
Then came March 11, 2011, with the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan. Suddenly, people in Japan were becoming aware of what nuclear power was all about. An anti-nuclear/pro-sustainable energy movement was being born at the grassroots level in this country.
In the summer of 2012, that led to the creation of Greens Japan, the Japanese version of the Green Party. Just as with major nuclear plant accidents in the U.S. and Russia in the past, it took a nuclear accident of major proportions with Fukushima to finally kick “green politics” into gear in this country as a grassroots political force to be reckoned with. I was angered and saddened by what had happened at Fukushima, yet elated to finally see this change happening in Japanese society after Fukushima.
On the weekend of March 9 and 10, to commemorate the second anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident, I went to check out two public rallies, one in Kyoto and the other in Osaka. You can link to some photos taken of the Kyoto event here on the Web Stories page of this website.
At the Osaka rally the next day, I received a handful of pamphlets from Greens Japan volunteers, pamphlets that encouraged me to support or join this new political party in Japan. As one of those Japanese volunteers told me: “After many years, finally Japan has a Green Party of its own.”
Indeed it does, and speaking personally, I intend to support Greens Japan in whatever practical way I can. But join the party as a full-fledged paying member? My journalistic instinct after all these years still tells me: “No way.” And my instinct is still right. I have always thought, and do think now, that citizens have more power as citizens in society than they do as cogs in the wheels of a political machine. “People power” is real political power.
It is thanks to my journalism professors at university J-school that I still harbor a healthy skepticism of political parties and politicians. But it is also the tireless efforts of ordinary working people in Japanese society, and any society, who believe they can change things for the better by being involved instead of being apathetic, that still inspires me to think I can too.
A Happy 100th Birthday
Though I can’t be there for that official event, I would like to commemorate Fukuoka on my own this weekend by reflecting on his life and remembering how, in his way, he helped changed the world. It would be no exaggeration to say that at least in the field of agriculture the world over, certainly in the so-called “organic farming movement” that has grown so dramatically the past few decades, Fukuoka has been a leading light and a huge inspiration to many people.
During a time of massive industrialization of agriculture in Japan after World War II, Fukuoka stood out from other farmers by advocating instead a saner, healthier relationship with nature in every way — physically, mentally, spiritually. He rejected the corporatization and government-supported mass production of food and predicted early on how this would come back to haunt us someday in a big way.
As a farmer, Fukuoka practiced what he preached by following the ancient, time-honored patterns and laws of nature, not of man, in what he called shizen noho (natural farming): no pesticide, no weeding of crops, no fertilizer and no cultivation (that is, no tilling or plowing of the land). In other words, he said, we need to let nature do its work instead of humans trying to control the course and results of nature. His methods proved to be more sustainable in the long run than the industrial-style farming practiced on his neighbors’ rice farms and by other farmers around Japan.
Most importantly, the foundation of Fukuoka’s farming practices was a strong sense of spirituality. In the true Buddhist way, he believed in the interrelated of all things in nature and in human society, and saw the only real way forward for the human race as being a return to and a reliance on nature, just as indigenous societies have done since the beginning of human time on this planet.
In 1975 Fukuoka laid out his philosophy and farming practices in a Japanese book titled Shizen Noho: Wara-ippon no Kakumei （「自然農法・わら一本の革命」）, literally, “Natural Farming: The One-Straw Revolution.” As luck would have it, Fukuoka had young volunteer farmhands from around Japan and from foreign countries helping him out on the ground at the time.
One of those visiting farmhands, Larry Korn from the United States, helped get that Japanese book translated and published in 1978 in Fukuoka’s name as The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming. The book introduced Fukuoka's farming methods to a new audience beyond the borders of Japan, and reportedly went on to be translated into more than 25 languages internationally. The One-Straw Revolution is considered today a key literary contribution to the sustainable farming movement worldwide.
With the international publicity that came from his English-translated book, Fukuoka went from being a little-known (if not eccentric) farmer in a small corner of Japan to being a respected voice in the growing movement of organic farming worldwide. Over the years he traveled to various countries and shared his farming practices and spiritual philosophy; he was always warmly welcomed, especially in India. With great passion Fukuoka took up the cause of what he called “greening the deserts” of the world, in Africa and elsewhere, using the same kind of “natural farming” method and philosophy that he had proven successful back in Japan.
Fukuoka’s proposed “revolution” was not only in the way that we humans treat nature but also in how we view nature and live with nature in our daily lives. There was a lot of radical talk in Western societies of “revolution” back in the 1960s and 1970s, but what Fukuoka proposed from an Eastern perspective was a major change literally from the ground up and from deep within us. As he wrote in The One-Straw Revolution: “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
Fukuoka passed away in 2008 at the age of 95 in Iyo, the small town where he had grown up and spent much of his life. By that time, organic farmers around the world had taken up what they call “Fukuoka farming”, adhering not only to the practices of tending to the land that Fukuoka espoused but also doing so from a spiritual base. There are today a number of such Fukuoka-style farmers in Japan and around the globe. I call them “Fukuoka’s Children” since they are carrying his message and life’s work into a new generation, something we sorely need today.
Two years after Fukuoka’s passing, in May 2010, I (as a mere backyard gardener) decided to make my own personal pilgrimage by visiting the original Fukuoka Farm in rural Shikoku. After arriving, I was quickly put to work by helping to harvest the citrus fruit that grew abundantly in the steep, mountainous orchards — not an easy job!
I imagined then how Fukuoka had planted those very same trees himself in what he once admitted were near-impossible conditions so many decades before. When I was there, though, the ripe, beautiful-looking citrus fruits were so abundant that they would occasionally drop off the trees and roll down the mountainside as we were picking and hauling them back to the warehouse for sorting and packaging. Later I helped out with the chores at the warehouse and prepared the fruits and vegetables then in season (citrus and kiwi fruits, and mushrooms) to be shipped out by small trucks.
In just the two days I was there, I saw how Fukuoka’s vision of sustainable, healthy-minded farming was alive and well, long after he had shared those practices with farmers the world over. I returned home by bus tired but profoundly inspired.
So today, on the centenary celebration of Masanobu Fukuoka’s birth, I remember the man and the message. I honor his life and his achievements, many of which you can read about in the links below. Take some time, reader, and find out who Fukuoka was — and in doing so, be reminded that one person’s life can indeed make a positive difference in this world.
I honor the light of Life that Fukuoka has shined in these desperate times, and am filled with hope and optimism that there are many people in various countries and cultures who still carry his vision forward, even as we speak.
Fukuoka-sensei, wishing you a very happy 100th birthday today!
■ Mother Earth News: "Masanobu Fukuoka's 'The One-Straw Revolution'" 
■ Mother Earth News: "Masanobu Fukuoka: Japanese Organic Farmer" 
■ Video documentary: "Natural Farming with Masanobu Fukuoka" 
■ Japan Economic Forum: "Farmer Philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka" (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) 
■ The Gandhi Foundation: "Masanobu Fukuoka and Natural Farming"