Originally published in: Harbour Life Magazine,
Nanaimo, British Columbia, February 1997, page 3
Copyright (c) 1997 by Kim Goldberg All Rights Reserved by Author (firstname.lastname@example.org)
by Kim Goldberg
Harbour Life columnist
In his famous essay titled "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," nineteenth century American writer Henry David Thoreau urged citizens to "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence." Nothing less than liberty and democracy were at stake, Thoreau maintained.
However, when citizens follow Thoreau's advice, using their bodies and voices to confront anti-democratic practices and agents of injustice, they often pay a steep price, while their victory is seldom clear or immediate.
More than 800 such citizens who were arrested, convicted and sentenced to jail for blockading a logging road in Clayoquot Sound in 1993 were able to savour a belated victory this January when MacMillan Bloedel announced its plan to cease logging in Clayoquot for at least 15 months.
While the company's final disposition on Clayoquot was uncertain at press time, the initial announcement is considered by many to signal MB's permanent departure from this ancient rainforest, whose remaining pristine watersheds have simply become too "hot" to log, even if the company can clear the regulatory hurdles imposed by the government's new logging rules for Clayoquot.
But for many citizens elsewhere who have sought to follow Thoreau's edict, the personal price has been higher and the victory absent, demonstrating just how ellusive democracy can be.
A preeminent example of a citizen who has paid an extreme price for her "crime" of speaking truth to power, and who is unlikely to ever see justice served, is Judi Bari.
In 1990, a car bomb of nails and shrapnel ripped through the body of this prominent labor organizer and non-violent environmental activist while she was campaigning to save the California redwoods. Miraculously, Judi survived, and although she's crippled for life and in constant pain, she continues to organize, unmask abusers of power on her weekly radio show, raise her two daughters single-handedly, sue the FBI for gross civil liberties violations, and search for her assailant--a task the local police and FBI have steadfastly declined to undertake.
Judi had been receiving anonymous death threats for weeks prior to her bombing. But it wasn't until years later, after obtaining thousands of pages of FBI documents through court order, that she learned:
All of which leaves any intelligent person asking: What did the FBI know about the identity of Judi Bari's bomber and when did they know it?
Sadly, Judi is unlikely to ever learn the answer. Last fall she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given less than a year to live. It's a victory for those who seek control through terror and intimidation, but an immeasurable loss for democracy.
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