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Deep Green Resistance Visits Sudbury

Resistance Rewritten Tour

by Rachael Charbonneau

Lexy Johnson and Rachel Ivey
Lexy Johnson and Rachel Ivey

On Tuesday, July 2nd, the Resistance Rewritten Tour arrived in Sudbury. About 20 people attended the presentation by Rachel Ivey and Lexy Johnson of Deep Green Resistance at Bell Park. The focus of the tour is to scrutinize omissions in the historical record of social change.

Our society’s dominant narrative espouses the mass movement model of social change and glorifies the exclusive use of non-violent tactics. This narrative is propped up by big name environmentalists like Bill McKibben: “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement. There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it.” Johnson disagreed and joked that she would hope someone with Bill McKibben’s clout would have researched history for some evidence to back him up. Johnson rejected this narrative as inconsistent with the historical record of social movement strategy. Tactics which employ force have been systematically excluded from this narrative and model of social change. Ivey asked, “Whose interests does the dominant story serve, and whose does it erase?”

During WWII, the French resistance to German occupation involved producing underground media, organizing strikes, gathering intelligence, sabotaging arms factories, attacks on the electrical grid and telecommunications networks, as well as attacks on German forces. This resistance was orchestrated by a mere 1% of the population. “This was hardly a mass movement,” observed Ivey. Popular support for the French resistance amounted to approximately 10% of the population.

In another example, the IRA fought back against British occupation with just over 2% of the population of Ireland’s participation. An even smaller percentage actually engaged in guerrilla warfare.

More recently, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has achieved a 30% reduction in oil output with only a few hundred militants. Ivey asserted, “This is something that the mainstream environmental movement can’t boast by any stretch of the imagination.” And MEND has now earned tremendous popular support. “Popular support is valuable, but resistance has often been carried out by small groups of determined people, not by mass movements.”

This distortion of the historical record is significant. Ivey explained, “Our understanding of history informs our strategy in the present. Our ability to imagine what is possible is shaped by our understanding of the past. Therefore, our actions in the present are shaped by our understanding of the past. And right now, our actions in the present could not be more crucial.”

Every biological indicator we have is in decline. We are losing the fight to keep the planet habitable. Two hundred species go instinct every single day. This rate of extinction is almost 1000 times above background rates. Air, water and soil pollution account for 40% of deaths worldwide. Despite our knowledge that average temperatures cannot rise more than 2 degrees Celsius, it is projected that we will reach the 3.5 degree Celsius mark by 2035. This projection does not include the positive feedbacks many experts anticipate. Seemingly, it is good news that we do not have to wait for a mass movement.

If peaceful mass movements didn’t spark most social change, what did? According to Johnson, “Winning strategies are marked by a diversity of both peaceful and militant tactics.” “The combination of economic tactics, peaceful and symbolic actions, cultural revival, and yes, militancy had an effect together.”

The British occupation of India, the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Suffrage movement have all been revised in our popular memory to exclude the diversity of tactics used in these protracted struggles. Bhagat Singh, an Indian revolutionary who was disillusioned with Gandhi’s strategy, organized strikes and militant resistance against the British occupation. While Martin Luther King Jr. is usually exclusively credited with the achievement of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement, many historians implicate his work in tandem with the Freedom Riders, the Black Panthers and Malcolm X to the success of this movement. When Suffragettes became disillusioned with non-violence, they escalated their tactics. They chained themselves to the homes of ministers, cast ballots illegally, and engaged in systematic property destruction, including arson.

In all three cases, a diversity of tactics – including sabotage – was crucial in achieving social change. Presently, activists in Europe and the US have taken to burning GMO crops in acts of sabotage against Monsanto.

The tendency of mainstream environmental activists and organizations to condemn extra-legal resistance as their first order of business is a key weakness and a key variable in why social and environmental movements are not succeeding to halt the destruction of the biosphere. It may become necessary to challenge the solidarity and effectiveness of these leaders and organizations.

Danielle Beaulieu expressed disillusionment with symbolic protests as she described her experience getting arrested at a Tar Sands protest on Parliament Hill.  She was given a fine for trespassing on private property, which the day before had been public space. As a result of her experience, she has doubts about the effectiveness of protesting anywhere other than the site of extraction. “It didn’t mean anything.”

This disillusionment is arguably correlated to a recent rise in branding activists who employ forceful tactics as eco-terrorists. “We’ve even seen recent legislation, like House Bills 2595 and 96 in Oregon, used to redefine tree-sits and other forest defence tactics as terrorism.” This expansion of the criminalization of activists reminded Christy Knockleby of a new Canadian law. “We’re not allowed to wear masks in Canada now,” she said, referring to a federal law disallowing the wearing of a mask at a riot.

According to Johnson, as legal avenues for resistance are increasingly restricted in the face of extreme industrial expansionism, prisoner support will become a crucial aspect of aboveground activism work. John Newlands affirmed, “People need to know about the various ways they can contribute material support.” Christy Knockleby expressed interest in how we can develop a culture of solidarity and support for those members of our communities who are able and willing to confront industrial expansionism directly. “People will increasingly take direct actions and we will need to learn how to support them.” We can do this by vocally challenging the narratives that deny the diversity of tactics used historically and by cultivating a culture of acceptance and normalcy by openly supporting extra-legal resistance and political prisoners.

After the presentation, Ivey and Johnson invited questions which generated an hour-long discussion. Several people expressed interest in forming a DGR group for Sudbury/Northern Ontario.

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rm_charbonneau (Rachael Charbonneau)
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
Member since May 2011


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Speaking of systematic exclusion...

Did any questions about DGR's blatant transphobia come up in the hour-long discussion?

DGR's position on gender

There were no questions regarding DGR’s position on gender.

Good question...

Good question, Sandra. I wasn't at the event, so I can't comment on that, but...well, I think catalyzing conversation about deepening our resistance to oppression, exploitation, and destruction of the natural world is desperately needed in Sudbury. But I hope that as those conversations evolve in this city, people here recognize the importance of aligning with those feminists and pro-feminists who have revolutionary, radical, and anti-colonial politics and who think about gender in ways that refuse to be dismissive of and hostile to the struggles of trans people.

The site for the Sudbury working-group of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.



About the Sudbury Working Group

The Sudbury working-group of The Media Co-op was formed to create independent media in the North, to speak to our issues and outlooks on our communities as well as the world around us. Independent media provides an avenue for people who are wishing to gain critical perspective on the issues that matter most to us, and to give a voice to those people and stories that you won't find in the mainstream media.

The Sudbury working-group site is no longer being updated and has been archived.