Redwood Summer and Beyond

An interview with Earth First! organizer Darryl Cherney

November 1990; page 13; Volume 2, No. 2
Polemicist

The following interview was conducted by a Polemicist editor with Darryl Cherney at the Hole in the Wall on October 1 in Austin. Cherney, an Earth First! activist from Humboldt County, California, was the victim of a car bomb last May along with his organizing partner Judi Bari. At the time of the bombing, Cherney and Bari were in the process of organizing Redwood Summer - a massive direct-action campaign to stop the destruction of old-growth redwoods in northern California.

Redwood Summr targeted Maxxam Inc. and its CEO Charlie Hurwitz, a corporate raider from Houston, Texas. Cherney was in Austin to participate in a Earth First!'s Barton Creek Week and to research George Kozmetsky, the chief economic advisor to the UT-System Board of Regents, long-time corporate raider and business partner of Hurwitz's, and former director of Maxxam. What follows is only half of the full text of the interview - if we have space (read: money), next month we'll run the other half.

Polemicist: You've just finished Redwood Summer which was one of the most massive mobilizations of people for direct action around an environmental issue in American history. How would you evaluate Redwood Summer? Was it a success? Did it fulfill your expectations?

Cherney: Well, we had about 3,500 people participate over a three month period of time between June and September. And that exceeded our expectations. We felt that the redwoods were a good issue to mobilize people around, but we are not redwood elitists. That is, we are not only interested in protecting redwoods. We wanted the redwood to be a spokestree for other species. We explored building alliances with the labor movement. We felt we were setting a prototype for actions in the future. Also we knew that we would be training thousands of people in non-violent direct action tactics and those people will now go home to their respective communities prepared to do the kind of Earth First! protests we think are effective all over the country.

It was our intent to slow down the logging and to call attention to what we call "speciesism," which is the discrimination against species other than human. We did slow down the logging the summer. We did it by bringing national attention to the issue both through grass-roots organizing and by working through the media. And the California Department of Forestry actually did slow down their [logging] approval process, they've admitted that. Of course, they won't give us credit for it, but having the public eye focused on their timber harvest approval definitely did slow them down. We did actually protect a couple of groves with our bodies as well. Nevertheless the amount of giant redwoods which are being cut down - still the number is about 10,000 acres a year - is unacceptable.

But we never expected to be able to stop the cutting of old growth or force the companies to log for sustained growth in a short three month period of time. As far as the drawing attention to speciesism is concerned, we definitely woke the timber industry up like never before both in northern California and in the Pacific Northwest and this is a process in which first the loggers and then the public are awakened to the problem. Earth First! essentially is serving as an alarm clock. We all know nobody likes their alarm clock but everybody has one. And now we feel ready for the next step: alerting people to the real problems such as speciesism and corporate exploitation.

Polemicist: As a follow-up to Redwood Summer, you're now in the process of organizing what you call Corporate Fall. Describe Corporate Fall and what goals you expect to accomplish.

Cherney: Basing campaigns on the seasons is a concept we're introducing and I think it's a good one. For one, it puts us more in the rhythm with the Earth in terms of the kinds of campaigns that we're doing. But secondly it gives us a bit more of a long-term approach, even if it's in three month increments.

During Redwood Summer activists were blocking bulldozers and essentially getting in the way of the logging. Unfortunately the loggers are not the people dictating corporate policy in the ancient redwood forests or anywhere else for that matter. Those people live in ivory towers and places like Houston and Austin, Texas. And Charlie Hurwitz of Maxxam in Houston and George Kozmetsky in Austin are two of those people that we want to target for the next three months during our campaign called Corporate Fall.

So what we plan on doing is sit-ins in corporate offices, leafletting secretaries as to how they can subvert their company legally. We plan on protesting outside the buildings, going to Hurwitz's and Kozmetsky's houses and protesting out there. Essentially holding the corporate titans responsible for the destruction they're wreaking. The motto of Corporate Fall is "The Earth is not dying, it's being killed, and the people killing it have names and addresses."

What we're finding out the more we research Charlie Hurwitz, George Kozmetsky, Michael Milken of Drexel Burnham, and so many others is that these people are involved in more than one scam. For example, Charlie Hurwitz and George Kozmetsky are involved not only in the looting of the redwoods but in the looting of the savings and loans, specifically United Savings and Loan of Texas which was once Texas' largest thrift. We see Drexel Burnham financing both the Pacific Lumber takeover and selling junk bonds to United Savings and Loan. We see Charlie Hurwitz looting desert habitat of bighorn sheep, and draining creeks in Tuscon to build golf courses.

In a sense, Kozmetsky and Hurwitz think very globally. We see them surrounded by criminal figures such as Michael Milken, Mark Rich who is corporate public enemy number one with a $500,000 price tag on his head for tax evasion, and Ivan Boesky, of course, who made $3 million on insider information in the Pacific Lumber deal, and Boyd Jeffries who was another broker Hurwitz was involved with and he was also convicted of parking stock and is a convicted felon.

So Hurwitz and Kozmetsky are essentially amidst a den of thieves, which, you know, if one judges them by their friends, then one could at least extrapolate that Hurwitz and Kozmetsky deserve intensive criminal investigation. However we know that those investigations are not forthcoming because the government would much rather investigate poor people in Oakland as part of their war on drugs than rich white corporate authoritarians who have enough money to pay off anybody they want.

Polemicist: The type of organizing that you and Judi Bari do in northern California is certainly not without consequences. In fact, that's a pretty big understatement. The best-known examples is when you and Judi were the victims of a pipe bomb in her car on May 24 last spring. What has come of the investigations of the bombing - what's the status of the attempt to find out who's behind the incident?

Cherney: Basically there has been no investigation of the bombing, except the blatant attempt to frame two non-violent Earth First! activists, i.e., Judi Bari and myself. Even the letter that took credit for the bombing signed by "The Lord's Avenger" which the police say accurately described the bomb was not researched at all by the Oakland police or the FBI, so it's very clear that they have no interest in finding the bomber. However, they have a great interest in smearing the environmental movement and Judi and I in particular because of the successful work we've done in raising public consciousness as to the plight of the forests, and in directly organizing thousands of people to take part in activism surrounding the deforestation in the United States.

For the benefit of folks who don't know me or Judi, besides lifetime track records of non-violence, I can tell you that I've never lit a firecracker in my life. I've never hit another person with my fist in my life. Judi organized with labor unions 10, 15 years ago for seven years. She's committed to both humanitarian as well as ecological goals. And both of us, in a sense, want to ban the bomb. We're not bombmakers, we're trying to ban the bomb.

However when you look at the track record of guys like Charles Hurwitz and George Kozmetsky, who are very wrapped up in the military-industrial complex, they're actually people who make bombs, and who actually use bombs all the time during their normal everyday operations in logging, mining and oil businesses. So, in a sense they are bombers, they're bombers of the Earth. The question is are they bombers of people, and certainly their track records of their friends would indicate that we can't rule that out.

Polemicist: One of the more innovative and controversial aspects of your organizing in northern California has been your and Judi's attempt to bridge the gap between the environmental and labor movements. Describe your and Judi's work in trying to bridge that gap.

Cherney: Judi Bari spearheaded the founding of an IWW Local #1 at the Georgia Pacific mill in Fort Bragg, California. IWW stands for the Industrial Workers of the World. They are the Wobblies, the radical labor union founded in 1905 by Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood and basically an all-star case of labor union organizers. Their position was "no compromise," they advocated sabotage, they sang a lot of songs, so if they bear a resemblace to Earth First! it should be no surprise.

And the fact that Earth First! is now affiliated closely with the Wobblies was perhaps inevitable. The Wobblies essentially were busted by the FBI. Tens of thousands of them were arrested during the Palmer raids in the 1920s where J. Edgar Hoover studied under the tutelage of A. Mitchell Palmer and cut his chops. Once again it's no surprise that the FBI is targeting the direct lineage of the Wobblies with Earth First!

Judi, with seven years of organizing experience in the U.S. Post Office in D.C. and the retail clerks union in Baltimore came into the Georgia Pacific mill as on outside organizer but immediately won the hearts and souls of a number of sawmill workers who had been affected by poor worker safety conditions, most notably a PCB spill which had actually poisoned a number of workers; one severely - he will die, in fact.

If you think about the implications of that, they are phenomenal. Not only would that completely bridge the gap between the two groups the timber industry wants most to see fighting, but it really does change the whole dichotomy of politics on the west coast if that was to become a success. So, the fact that Judi Bari became a target for assassination was no surprise at all. But the fact that she could wear an Earth First! shirt and organize sawmill workers is a tribute not only to Judi's astounding abilities as a labor organizer, but also to Earth First!'s no compromise positions. And it clearly shows the potential - Earth First! doesn't have to turn off rank and file timber workers, who have their hands directly on the machinery, I might add.



In June 2002, a federal jury decided against the FBI and the Oakland Police Department and awarded $4.4 million in a landmark case to Darryl Cherney and the estate of Judi Bari, who died of breast cancer in March 1997. For much more information on the case and the life of a great environmental and social justice leader, visit www.judibari.org.


For more on the bombing, see:

For more on the connection between George Kozmetsky and Charles Hurwitz, see:

  • Kozmetsky's Raiders: The Early Years, By Kathy Mitchell. November 1991; Pages 4-5; Volume 3, No. 2. Polemicist.