Originally published in:Harbour Life Magazine
Nanaimo, British Columbia April 1997, Pages 10-11
Copyright (c) 1997 by Kim Goldberg All Rights Reserved by Author (email@example.com)
by Kim Goldberg
Harbour Life columnist
Judith Beatrice Bari
November 7, 1949 - March 2, 1997
It is not often that someone comes into this world who is such a firestorm of passion, wit, insight and resolve that she ignites everyone she comes in contact with, forever altering her universe.
Judi Bari was one such firestorm. A carpenter by trade, and a champion of the oppressed by calling, Judi led an exuberant, defiant, uncompromising life, refusing to relinquish her life-force to a 1990 car bomb that left her permanently maimed and in constant pain.
At the time of her bombing, this charismatic Earth First! leader, with deep roots in labour history and workplace organizing, was mobilizing recruits for the upcoming Redwood Summer - a mass demonstration in defense of northern California's ancient redwoods. It was work she continued up until last fall when more than a thousand people were arrested for blockading logging in one of the last remaining stands of old-growth redwood forest.
"We'll be back in either March or September when logging resumes," Judi told me last December in her customarily emphatic manner. Sadly, that was not to be. At least not for Judi.
On March 2, after a 5-month struggle with inoperable cancer, Judi died peacefully at home in her bed. Two of her closest friends and one of her two young daughters were by her side. She was 47.
More than any other person, Judi can be credited for instilling feminist principles (and leaders) in Earth First!, for leading her northern California chapter of Earth First! into renouncing tree-spiking and adopting a code of non-violence, and for forging an unprecedented alliance between loggers and Earth First!ers when confronted with a common enemy: rapacious timber corporations stripping jobs and ancient redwoods from the region. Someone flicked the switch to "On" in Judi's brain at birth and never turned it off. Stopping was simply not an option for this woman, even after she discovered last October that she had aggressive breast cancer that had already spread to her liver.
Four weeks before her death, I interviewed Judi in her tiny hillside cabin in northern California above the town of Willits. A bed had been set up downstairs in Judi's crowded office when she became too weak to climb the stairs to the sleeping loft. She lay in bed as we spoke, slightly groggy from a string of sleepless nights and from her last radiation treatment two hours earlier, but determined to use every remaining ounce of energy, every breath of life left to her, to continue the struggle. Never surrender.
With the woodstove warming us on that chilly February afternoon, we discuss her blue-collar history as a postal employee when she edited a militant workers' newsletter, her subsequent job as a carpenter and job foreman for California Yurts, her ongoing lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland police who falsely arrested her for her bombing, and her own search for her bomber. (She has a suspect but won't name him, saying only that he's in the timber industry, knows a key FBI agent, and is higher up the ladder than a "rank-and- file logger.")
Moving from the specific to the general, I ask Judi what people should do once they become alerted to injustices around them. Her answer is instantaneous.
"Chain yourself to something!" She says it with a laugh, but she's not joking. "Direct action at the point of production - which I learned in the labor movement - is the most effective tactic," she explains. "It seems to be one of the only places where powerless people have power in this system. We don't have power in voting - that's for sure. We don't have power in petitioning or going through the system. In fact, the system is designed to expend our passion without bringing about any change."
This is the essence of Judi Bari's "mystique" - her uncanny ability to see through the charade and to concisely tell the rest of the world exactly who holds the power and how to subvert it to reclaim some small fragment of democracy, whether on a job site, in a rural community, or wherever.
Shortly before Judi's death, I asked some of her closest friends, including activists and former millworkers, "What's the first word that comes to mind when you think of Judi?" All smiled at the question. Some thought longer than others. But the answers poured forth: "courage," "compassion," "powerhouse," "buddy," "brilliant," "imp," "generous," "humor," "refusing to shut up."
Judi Bari touched many people in many ways, perhaps because she was a living testament to our greatest hopes and also our greatest fears. For in a way, we are all Judi Bari - all potential targets for anti-democratic forces that we dare to challenge, but also all potential transformers of the world around us. Let's live her legacy.
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