This year's annual Women's History Day Celebration
in Ukiah, California was dedicated to Judi Bari
Sponsored by National Women's Political Caucus and American Association of University Women
March 10, 1997
Speech by Ellen Drell
Founding member of the Board of Directors, Willits Environment Center, Willits, California
Judi Bari asked that her obituary read "revolutionary" as her occupation. And so it should, for first and foremost Judi was a social activist. She realized that the forces that allowed men to order the felling of 2000- year-old trees were the same forces that caused poverty and injustice; the same forces that allowed factory foremen to cut corners on worker safety; the same forces that allowed company presidents to force loggers to cut away their own futures; the same forces that put welfare mothers in jail for cheating on the system, but allowed top CEOs, bilking millions from the public, to go free.
Judi understood that the fabric of social activism and environmental defense were seamless, and when she moved to the North Coast, where nature's resources, the economy and people's lives are so obviously entwined, she became a champion of Earth First!. And because she lived on the North Coast, she took on logging of the redwoods as the most visible, stark, and dramatic example of how ecosystems and people both are used up by the corporate "sleaze," as she liked to call them, in pursuit of profits.
For me, Judi Bari was an angel of agitation descended on the North Coast. Though not to diminish the work that we environmentalists have done over the last two decades, we had become in a way hand-wringers, letter writers, meeting goers. We owe a great debt to Judi. Dare I say, she made the word flesh, and for it she was crucified. Judi turned ideas into real people locked together across logging roads; into troubadours singing the dangers of pesticides on food to shoppers in front of the produce stand; she mocked the childish opulence of CEOs' getaways by staging a party in their hot tubs. Judi brought flesh and blood to the environmental movement.
Judi was a bold strategist and a brilliant analyst, but she never let the process of organizing mute her rage over the injustices she saw. From the first day in 1987 when she asked the source of that incredible, purplish/red, tight-grained beautiful wood she was working with, and learned it came from fast-vanishing groves of multi-thousand year-old trees, she never once doubted the justice of her cause. She never backed down despite the pressures, especially on women, to be reasonable, to compromise, to find the middle ground, to not, god forbid!, be strident!
But Judi was a woman in the full flower of what that means. She cuddled her kids and talked of school projects when they came home from school, and she could bellow through a bullhorn, "We do not recognize the right of L-P to strip the forests. The forests belong to the ages. Earth First! Harry Merlo last!"
Judi worked her garden with loving and sure hands, and she just as surely bore into the FBI defendants with relentless precision that is now having some success in exposing their lies, their perjury under oath, their falsification of the evidence, the fact that the FBI held a bomb school on L-P property two weeks before a bomb of the very style they "studied" exploded under the seat of Judi's car.
Judi lived for almost seven years in near constant pain from those injuries without a word of self-pity, with a remarkable stoicism, and yet she could joyfully, raucously lead a thousand people in singing.
But Judi Bari did not accomplish her goals. Two-thousand-year-old trees still fall. She was not able to convince Mendocino County to seize L-P property, nor to even slow down the looting of their 300,000 acres of so-called "private" property. She was not able to get mill and woods workers to unite against their employers who were forcing them down the road of inevitable job loss through over-cutting. Nor did she leave a strong alliance between loggers and environmentalists — an effort to which she gave her heart and soul.
So why do we dedicate this event to Judi Bari? Why has her death had such an effect on us? Most people in this room have probably never attended an Earth First! event, much less engaged in civil disobedience to protect the environment, the cornerstone of Judi's activism. And heaven knows the state Senate has done nothing to rein in the L-P's and the Pacific Lumber's from wasting our North Coast forests and fish, yet last Monday they adjourned in Judi Bari's honor.
So why do our hearts ache? The Senate mourn? The Wall Street Journal note her passing? Why do I feel a little frightened now that's she gone? And why is there a rumor about that last Tuesday six dolphins and two whales circled just off shore while friends gathered on the beach in memory of Judi?
I'll tell you why. Because we are people desperate for some truth in a United States of America drowning in lies. And Judi told the truth brilliantly, with courage, and with laughter. She strode up into the face of Pacific Lumber's John Campbell and said, "What you're doing is wrong, it's evil. Stop!". She had the strength to tell our children the truth, and they responded by forming a small army, willing and eager to fight for the earth.
And Judi grabbed hold of the FBI when they tried to walk away from her broken body, and wouldn't let go until you and I understand that our government is involved in murdering people who put themselves between corporations and their profits; until we understand the evil of these men who only one month ago looked Judi in the face, a face already yellowing with liver failure, and accused her of faking her cancer to gain support for her lawsuit. And of this FBI Judi wrote a song: "The FBI Stole My Fiddle," and I want my fiddle back!
So we dedicate this day to Judi — strident, raucous, irreverent Judi — the Judi that gave voice to our other half — the half that we as women seem to fear. Certainly the half that we have been told is unladylike. But this is the high-pitched half that we must use if our voices are to be heard above the din of men making deals! ... if we are to live to see the day when women and men supporting a family earn a living wage no matter what work they are doing; to see the day when food is not grown with poisons, and our roadsides are not sprayed with chemicals implicated in breast cancer; to see the day when trees older than our civilization are no longer cut down for money.
It's easy to say, don't mourn, organize and continue the work that Judi did. But who of us has the courage?
As we dedicate this event to Judi, can we make a promise to ourselves, and our friends here, that we will do something for the earth, for the garden and family beyond the safe enclosure of our own fences, something doubtless inconvenient, not on our schedule, and something that scares us, even a little? Then we will be carrying on, to the best of our ability, the work of Judi Bari.
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