A week ago I took some time out of my hectic schedule to attend an event put on by some of the wonderful volunteers that run the completely unfunded DIY (do it yourself) 56a infoshop, a social centre and radical bookshop based in south London www.56a.org.uk Because the infoshop is quite a small space, crammed to the brink with books and pamphlets on diverse topics that range from the Spanish civil war to vegan cooking to feminist literature from decades past, the event had to be held in another building nearby. In a city with an excessive number of empty buildings, I was pleased to see the large open space on the bottom floor of a local squat was being used, not only as a home for the lovely people that are fixing up the building, but also as a café that works to raise money for a local boy with leukemia by selling vegetarian food to the public. That night, it was also being used as a space for presentations, such as the one put on by our two guests from south Florida U.S.A.
With a combination of educational presentations, healthy food and the savvy utilization of unused space, you can almost wonder how anyone could possibly complain. However, the neighbours did manage to raise their voices in protest just a little throughout the evening’s activities, bemoaning the fact that the spectators´ numerous bicycles were locked to their fences. The things people find to complain about are sometimes outstanding!
Despite a few cranky neighbours, the night was an irrefutable success. Our guests for the evening were two members of the environmental activist movement Earth First, a movement that promotes direct action as the most effective way to fight environmental degradation. They also promote a belief in bio-centrism, or the radical idea that the earth is actually just as important as humans and that, contrary to popular belief, nature was not created for the sole purpose of human exploitation. Many “Earth Firsters” believe in what is known as the philosophy of “Deep Ecology”, which essentially postulates that all living beings have an inherent worth and a right to live and flourish unimpeded by human hands.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Earth First is that it’s a completely decentralized and non-hierarchical movement. Instead of having a central organization that all local cells must report back to, small subsections of “Earth Firsters” spring up autonomously wherever they perceive the natural habitat to be in danger. Through education and creative civil disobedience, participants in the movement attempt to stop threats to the ecology of their local areas by impeding corporations and other perpetrators from destroying the natural environment. Earth First claims not to compromise, which means it separates itself from other environmental groups that try to transform policy by lobbying and through compromise with big industry and government.
What makes Earth First so special is its hands on approach. Embracing a wide range of tactics “Earth Firsters” don’t sit idly by making feeble attempts at lobbying their local governments when faced with the permanent destruction of valuable natural resources and open space. If a timber company is planning to deforest an area in southern Oregon, “Earth Firsters” set up a barricade, hang themselves from trees (also known as tree sitting) and generally physically stop the destruction of natural space. As a result, many activists have entered into lengthy court battles with the corporations attempting to mine, deforest and pillage the land, and some have even landed lengthy jail sentences. However, the movement has also had many victories, including halting the slaughter of wild buffalo in Montana and the sale of timber in certain areas of the U.S.
Our two visitors from Earth First showed an hour long slide show informing the room full of curious activists (some whom were previously involved in Earth First actions here in the U.K and others who had never heard of the organization) about the many facets of the organization and its past work. The group also entered into open discussions about the detrimental environmental impact of producing solar panels, fracking www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing (For more information please see the documentary: Gasland www.gaslandthemovie.com), and the dire situation in the Alberta Tar Sands.
The Earth First movement is an example to other new social movements that are currently becoming more numerous. The fact that a completely non-hierarchical movement has been able to survive and thrive, continuing to organize effectively since the 1980s, is proof that this type of organizing is highly effective. For Occupy and other social movements that are trying to create non-hierarchical and more egalitarian models of organizing, this is a great example of a movement that has been organizing in this way for decades.