Until her tragic death from cancer in 1997, Judi Bari was the US WestCoast media darling of Earth First!--direct action monkey-wrenching environmentalists advocating "No compromise in defence of Mother Earth." Her feminist and left-wing politics were the perfect foil to Arizona's Dave Foreman, Earth First's macho redneck founder and self-styled leader. Bari's biggest claim to fame was being blown up and paralysed by a car bomb in 1990 while attempting to organize "Redwood Summer", large-scale civil disobedience to stop logging of redwood old growth in northern California, which she tried to model on the historic "Mississippi Summer" of the civil rights era.
Coleman's biography is a tell-all tabloid tale that exposes Bari's darkest personal secrets in an attempt to topple this martyred icon of radical activism. The book has already generated its fair share of controversy with veteran California Earth Firsters heckling Coleman at book readings and spawning websites such as <www.colemanhoax.com> that list more than 350 factual errors.
Bari's supporters and would-be hagiographers have also gone to great lengths to point out that the publisher, Encounter Books of San Francisco, is funded by the neo-conservative Bradley Foundation. Other titles in the Encounter catalogue include books attacking Hillary Clinton and Noam Chomsky as well as works that support the war in Iraq.
Regardless of the many alleged factual errors and the publisher's pedigree, Coleman's writing harks back to the worst days of red baiting under McCarthyism. Although Bari may indeed have been a "red-diaper baby" born to Communist parents in 1949, Coleman relentlessly tars Bari with the monikers "Maoist" and "Marxist" without any closer examination or understanding of Bari's political ideology.
Bari's organizing efforts to build solidarity with forestry workers in the tradition of the International Workers of the World (IWW) union (also known as the "Wobblies") was a unique effort in the history of contemporary environmentalism. Yet Coleman incorrectly brands the IWW, the foremost exponents of anarchist trade-unionism, as Marxists. Coleman further smears the Highlander Folk School in rural Tennessee, where Bari and friends went for training, as an "authentic Communist landmark." In 1955, Rosa Parks also just happened to attend Highlander a few weeks before she refused to move to the back of the bus in racially segregated Montgomery, Alabama and catalyzed the civil rights movement that toppled racial segregation.
In the end, the reader is left with a portrait of Bari as a deeply troubled and wounded person. Despite all the alleged factual errors, there is little doubt that Bari must have led a chaotic life typical of many activists living on the edge. But Coleman's focus on personality instead of principles leaves the reader with few clues about the successes and failures of linking strategies of civil disobedience and worker solidarity in environmental struggles. This lack of learning and analysis is unfortunate as there are still dozens of active Earth First! groups around the world joined together by the vibrant "Earth First! Journal" and seeking to follow in Bari's footsteps, contrary to Coleman's greatly exaggerated reports of Earth First's demise.
Petr Cizek has spent over a decade working with First Nations in environmental struggles in the Northwest Territories. He would never advocate monkey-wrenching.
Reviewed by Petr Cizek
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|Title Annotation:||The Secret Wars of Judi Bari: A Car Bomb, The Fight for the Redwoods, and the End of Earth First!|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2006|
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