13 Feb 2008
some notes on Earth First!
Wrote a whole book on these people...a big thing and a radical one in the UK.
here are some notes...critical suggestions as oppose to troll abuse (unless witty and sharp) welcome
Earth First! UK and the British anti-roads movement
During the 1990s British environmental activists used direct action in an attempt to halt road construction. A loose network of radical environmentalists Earth First! were central to the anti-roads campaign, Earth First! were originally founded in the USA and projected a philosophy of deep ecology combined with direct action using the slogan 'No compromise in defence of Mother Earth'. Particularly in the 1980s when it was first established in the US, Earth First! often advocated ecologically motivated sabotage including the highly controversial tactic of tree spiking (Lee 1995). In Britain it was far less interested in projecting a philosophy and focussed instead simply on the need to use direct action, based usually on mass mobilisation, to tackle environmental and other ills (Wall 1999).
Protest against road building predates the upsurge of activity in the 1990s. During the early 1970s Homes not Roads campaigned against motorway construction in London by squatting buildings and running anti-road candidates for the Greater London Assembly (Charlesworth 1984). A variety of local conservation societies and environmental groups have opposed and continue to oppose road construction on environmental grounds. Since the 1990s concern over climate change has fed into the sentiments of anti-roads protesters. Militant non violent direct action surged in the 1990s both because of the inspiration of Earth First! and because of an upsurge in road construction by Prime Minister John Major's government.
While there had been several abortive attempts to create an Earth First! Movement in the UK modelled on the US Earth First! Movement created in 1980, two Hastings based students Jason Torrence and Jake Burbridge set up an Earth First group in 1991. There first action was a blockade of the Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent, Torrence and Burbridge were able to tap into local peace networks to carry out the action. George Marshall, a British activist, who had been involved with the Australian rainforest movement, joined them in the early 1990s. Earth First! Focussed its early efforts on rainforest protest, attempting to block the import of rainforest timber. In 1992, an action at Liverpool docks attracted over two hundred activists including members of the Green Student Network. Another early Earth First! Action saw the occupation of a Timbet depot outside Oxford by several hundred activists
Torrence and Burbridge had been active in Greenpeace, the Green Party and Friends of the Earth but had become disillusioned with all three and want to create a more participatory and direct action orientated movement. They quickly recruited activists from these groups, the Green Student Network, the peace movement and animal rights movement. 1992 saw an Earth First! Roadshow with US activists touring Britain to pick up new recruits.
Earth First in the UK has never had a formal membership. It remains an almost invisible network with little or no national organisation. Although local groups continue to exist, there is no establish constitution or set pattern. Earth First has two enduring features, the Earth First Action Update, a newsletter which contains details of direct action and a national summer gathering. Earth First far from being marked by a deep ecology ideology spends little time debating philosophy or constructing a formal ideology. Its key feature is direct action together with organisational informality. It has and remains part of a wider network of green activism
During its early years some attempts were made to formalise the network and an often divisive debate continued between advocates of non violent mass action and those who supported ecologically motivated sabotage. During the Earth First! Gathering in Sussex in 1991, more militant activists sympathetic to Earth First! (US), anarchism and the animal rights movement came up with the term Earth Liberation Front. Acts of ecologically motivated sabotage have been carried out under this banner. Earth First! (UK) does not condone or condemm criminal damage.
Anti-car actions became important with the creation of a Armageddon campaign and the first reclaim the streets action which saw the blocking of Waterloo Bridge in London. After being contacted by activists at Twyford Down, Earth First!ers became involved in the campaign to prevent the M3 from cutting through downland near the city of Winchester. The Twyford Down campaigners had been active for several decades fighting the motorway through the planning process. Prior to the arrival of Earth First!ers both Friends of the Earth and new age travellers had camped on Twyford Down in protest at the motorway. Earth First! Involvement helped accelerate the creation of dozens of anti-road camps across Britain.
In East London the M11 campaign saw an impressive urban occupation of Claremont Road, despite defeat activist created Reclaim the Streets which carried out an increasingly ambitious series of road occupations. One street party in 1996 saw 7,000 participants occupy the M41 motorway in west London (Wall 1999:87).
In Scotland protest against an urban motorway in Glasgow brought in in socialists and community activists who had previously fought against Mrs Thatcher's poll tax. Major road protests continued in Preston.
Earth First activists have also been involved in anti-gm protests, against peat digging, in defence of migrants and asylum seekers and against war.
Earth First still publishes the action update /, runs a website http://earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/ and has a national gathering http://www.earthfirstgathering.org.uk/. Earth First activists were centrally involved in the 2007 climate camp which was created to resist the expansion of Heathrow and to protest against the contribution of flying to climate change.
Earth First!s most militant sympathisers wrote in a journal Do or Die produced by South Downs Earth First in Brighton Earth First has strongly influence the wider Green movement, the Green Party, environmental ngos, socialists and anarchist in the UK. Its emphasis on direct action encouraged the Green Party to renew its own commitment to non violent direct action with Party members supporting anti-roads protest. Friends of the Earth partly due to the influence of EF became more committed to social justice issues and urban ecology under their new director Charles Secrett (Wall 1999: 90). Greenpeace created a network for its previously passive members to contribute to direct action, this wing was headed for a time by Earth First! Co-founder Jason Torrence. Socialist and anarchist groups including the Scottish Socialist Party were encouraged to become more conscious of ecological issues by the creation of Earth First and the wider roads movement.
Earth First! Remains both an unusually loose and invisible social movement network and one which is of enduring importance. Roads protest using non violent direct action has become less frequent since the 1990s. Although the protest movement can only be said to have directly prevent the construction of two road projects the Thames Crossing and a bypass near Guildford, it contributed to the creation of new construction projects in the 1990s. Earth First! and the British anti-roads movement is an interesting example of a protest mobilisation organised on highly informal and temporary lines, one that largely rejected the production of a detailed philosophy or political programme but focussed instead on activism. Earth First! still exists at the date of writing but is almost invisible but at the same time curiously influential.
Charlesworth, (1984) A History of British Motorways. London: Thomas Telford.
Lee, M. (1995) Earth First! Environmental Apocalypse. New York: Syracuse University Press
Wall, Derek Earth First and Anti-Roads Movement. London. Routledge,1999
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