The winter of 2011 found me moderately depressed, barely leaving the house, a recent college graduate with no clue why my life felt so empty. Growing up Black and middle class, it was pounded into my psyche that that piece of paper was my meal-ticket to happiness, prosperity, and social acceptance. As a radical feminist, delving into the world of activism, I was left feeling less than satisfied, to say the least. So I embarked on a journey of self-discovery. I left Ohio, looking for something more, some deeper answer to the lacking I felt. I traveled to New Mexico, land of enchantment, home to where I understood for the first time that the soil contained a spirit unto itself, that this Earth was a living, breathing being. I worked on a biodynamic farm and was introduced to concepts like deep ecology and biocentrism. It was the first time I had lived off the land, being fed, comforted, soulfully nourished by beings that I had overlooked as a suburban kid raised on television screens and shopping malls. And then I met Earth First!
I traveled to Missoula to meet up with some friends. I had never read the EF! Journal and was unfamiliar with the organization, let alone the unspoken tensions between differing ideological stances within the movement, particularly regarding anti-oppression. As a person of color, my experience at my first EF! Rendezvous — EF!’s annual outdoor national gathering called a Rondy — wasn’t too unlike most of my experiences growing up in a predominantly white community. Folks were fond of politely dancing around political correctness, pretending the reality of the situation was not, something is making marginalized folks feel unwelcome. There were some interactions that left a bad taste in my mouth, the most frustrating being repeatedly mistaken for the only other Black female perceived person, amongst a sea of white faces. I called it out, apologies were expressed, I moved on.
I chose instead to focus on the seed planted that would grow into the tools I needed to strike at the very root of the problem. I became alive with the knowledge that I could take into my hands the struggle that I felt so strongly in my heart and mind. For so long, oppression felt like an insurmountable monster that I had no hope of conquering. It is one thing to find words to voice the oppression one feels, to process the hurt, to rage over the injustice. It is another thing entirely to use your hands, your tiring muscles, your strength of will to fight those injustices. It forces the leviathan into reality, the physical plane, where it can be challenged in a tangible way. Now, here I stood among forest-defending warriors and whether or not the revolution was in sight or not, the dramatic sense of power I felt in myself was undeniable. I was hooked. That summer I traveled all over the Northwest, attending various gatherings and action camps. I learned to climb trees, came to love sleeping outside, met plants who soulfully offered healing guidance that I had only digested in written form. I felt more in myself than I had my entire life.
At that time, I didn’t have the words to voice my experience, my awakening, my coming home. In her essay, “Touching the Earth” from the book Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery, cultural theorist bell hooks explores this concept. She states that there is a “modern tendency to see no correlation between the struggle for collective black self-recovery and ecological movements that seek to restore balance to the planet by changing our relationship to nature and to natural resources.” Her statement sums up my approach to the activism and social justice work that had dominated my life. I did not understand my own internalized oppression, my own struggle, my own health as being intricately connected to the oppression of this earth or to the non-human beings that inhabit it. I was blind to understanding that our states of physical, psychological, and emotional health are all connected to one another’s, or put simply, deep ecology. Further, I did not understand this, until I experienced it; The feeling of my hands in frozen soil, understanding that I held seeds of life that would nourish and feed myself and others. Sweat pouring off my body as I climbed higher, staring my fears in the face, and climbing past them. Dark nights spent in the forest being reassured that the wild is not a place to be afraid of, but to revere and cherish. hooks states that it is this disconnect between body and mind that has lead to the estrangement of black folks from nature, allowing white supremacy to inform us of our sense of selves instead. But I couldn’t understand this through words. I had to understand it through action, experience, practice. Similarly, we cannot simply talk about how to challenge oppression — we must take action. We can use words to identify problems, but that is as far as our minds can take us.
To say that I was privileged to attend my first Rondy would be an understatement. To be sure, from the Greyhound bus ticket that was bought for me by the folks at Morning Star Farm, to the education that gave me the ability to consciously understand radical environmental theory, to my middle class background that helped create social connections with friends attending the Rondy, all of these factors made it that much easier for me to attend the gathering and feel comfort in my presence and engagement. Not everyone has access to these privileges. Arguably, most folks don’t have access to them. In her essay, hooks urges us to “bridge gaps and restore broken connections,” and EF! seems primed to do so if it chooses to live up to challenge.
In the article “Thinking Long Term,” Marie Mason articulates the necessity, magnitude, and urgency of this challenge because not only is the planet dying, but so too are thousands of beings, human and otherwise, as a result of the current ecocide happening in urban centers, rural communities, and the ever vanishing wild places across the country. Within the intersecting boundaries of these various groups, we will find the next eco-warriors. The beings that stand testament to the environmental degradation that mar their bodies and minds, laying their spirits to waste at the expense of this white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal machine.
White supremacy is the system of beliefs that devalues all other races, and places whiteness as top dog. Raised in this sort of environment, folks that fall outside of the dominant identity category continually consume cultural cues and messages that devalue their identity, disfiguring their sense of self worth and love for themselves, society, and the planet. These traits mirror those of any being that falls prey to an abusive relationship. The difference being that in the relationship between individual and a globally pervasive hegemonic belief system, there is no out. This is critical. We, as revolutionary fighters on behalf of Mother Earth, must see the essential necessity of connection to the wild. For it is in this relationship, that we unlearn the man-made destruction that lives in our hands and hearts. Because in the wild, we are free from the man-made abuses that we enact upon one another. In the wilderness, reveling in the will of the land, we remember our own wills — free from abuse, free from oppression. We recall, nourish, and strengthen our authentic, wild free selves. This is our struggle, this is our fight: For access, preservation, and protection of the wild so that we can heal the wounds of abuses inflicted upon us and the earth.
When we examine the myriad effects of this oppressive system, from learned patterns of abuse to a general inability to formulate healthy relationships with other beings, we can see how the collective consciousness of folks that fall outside of the dominant paradigm, much like the Earth, is under attack. As a result, we can observe that most people now have destructive relationships with themselves, one another, and this planet. Let’s think about this same concept a different way. Instead of talking about marginalized folks, let’s substitute the Earth. We can understand the various ecosystems within it as the collective consciousness and instead of the ideology of white supremacy, we’ll substitute anthropocentrism. This is easy for most radical environmentalists to comprehend. We can easily see the same destructive cycle of abuse and understand the urgency in healing the trauma we have inflicted on this earth, and therefore with respect to the philosophy of deep ecology, we must appreciate with the same magnitude the grave necessity of healing the collective consciousness of marginalized individuals all over this planet. If that sounds like an unreasonable demand, then “no compromise” has no room for you.
In order to stop our current path of destruction, we need to fight to end further harm, but we also must heal the damage that has already been inflicted. This is of utmost importance, for it is from these spaces of unlearning, wild spaces, that we will create a different way, that we will remember the old ways. Audre Lorde said the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Earth First! has used the master’s tools for far too long. We have been focusing on the end goal so much that we have forgotten the process. It is in this process that we learn to listen, learn to heal, learn to stop abusing one another. We must examine ourselves, our movement, and our beliefs in order to unhinge the abuse guised as “just the way things are,” manifested in oppressive patterns of language and behavior.
We are codependents in love with a capitalist white supremacist patriarchal addict that exploits, manipulates, and traumatizes us and the planet. A codependent is defined as someone whose identity is undeveloped or unknown due to the maintenance of a false sense of self, built from dependent attachments to external sources. Our sense of self must be recovered from this abusive partner. We must demand a change, live it, breathe it in, let it settle into our bones. We must remember ourselves, our wild feral selves, independent and free, courageously united for the sake of the saving this entire planet. As recovering codependents, it is our inherent responsibility as part of our own healing process to create safety for ourselves. As warriors and revolutionaries on behalf of Mother Earth, it is our fight to ensure this means safety for all, by any means necessary.
Further, making the concept of challenging oppression into a workshop topic is laughable, if not completely ridiculous. We are talking about living, breathing, pervasive systems that we’ve been raised up in, and that live within us, around us, informing and shaping our relationships with ourselves and each other. What does it look like to put this challenge into action? Well, Mason’s proposal seems like a step in the right direction. With the creation of spaces where we with the privilege of feeling, knowing, breathing in the power of a relationship with the land, share with those who are currently strangled under the weight of industrial capitalism, pervasive oppression, and the surmounting traumas unreleased and festering in our collective unconsciousness. We must humble ourselves to the fact that no compromise in the name of Mother Earth means no one left behind. We cannot ignore this monumental task set before us, for the sake of this earth, for the sake of one another, and for the sake of ourselves.
*** I’ve learned to think in a circle instead of a line. My spirit lost its way some time ago between television screens and mini mall super saver Saturdays. But in pine silhouetted black nights I read the moon with my heart and in return she whispered to me resuscitating secrets always had I known.
In between struggle and revolution there is a vital flowing energy. Composing the symphony of tides and flows spirals of life cycles of death. In it, we learn to dance without thinking, feel the rhythm with our hearts hear the notes with our souls. Shedding the skin of our human masks we lose ourselves in caves and waters.
Enamored with the darkness in love with the wild, we are bosomed in the long laborious ecstasy of everything and nothing.
In this we heal. In this we remember. In this we are free.