Remembering Judi Bari
Most people in the United States and around the world, it is fair to say, have probably never heard of Judi Bari — or if they have, they may just barely recall a news story about some crazy domestic American eco-terrorists blowing themselves up in a car.
But if such people had ever spent any time on the far northern coast of California in the U.S., they would need no introduction or explanation as to who Bari was. They would already know.
A few weeks ago, March 2, marked exactly 20 years since the death of Judi Bari. In the era of Trump and the elite one-percenters who now occupy the White House and seem intent on reducing Planet Earth to a pile of rubble, Bari’s life and legacy as an environmental activist, feminist and advocate for working people still have much to teach us today — both the rewards and risks of standing up to the forces of authority in the USA.
From the 1980s onward, Bari was active in protecting the old-growth, ancient redwood forests of primarily Mendocino and Humboldt counties on California’s North Coast from being destroyed by logging companies. These are lush rainforests with gigantic redwood trees that date up to centuries old, and are every bit as important to the ecological balance of the planet as the Amazon rainforests of South America.
A radical environmental group by the name of Earth First! was Bari’s home base as an activist. The group’s slogan was “No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth” and it rejected the milder protest tactics of other liberal-run, mainstream environmental organizations. Local branches of Earth First! sprang up around the western United States, with one central goal: putting a stop to the human destruction of nature by any means necessary.
What Bari brought to Earth First! was women’s voices and active participation in what was up to then a mostly White male-dominated hierarchy. Bari also insisted that some of the more dangerous practices of Earth First!, such as tree-spiking (driving long metal spikes into redwood trees as a deterrent to the loggers’ chainsaws) be stopped. She promoted a code of nonviolent protest and demonstration as a means to ending the cycle of human violence that was destroying the ancient forests in the first place.
Bari, by all accounts, was a dynamic speaker and effective grassroots organizer and could move large groups of people to follow her. She was a carpenter by trade, a labor union member, feminist, a single mother of two children, and a musician who sang and played a mean violin at the forest-protection rallies that she helped organize. She often used humor as a political weapon, but pulled no punches when it came to vilifying the logging companies that were razing the redwood forests and leaving such complex ecosystems in ruins.
If you have ever seen, like I have, a California redwood forest that has been clear-cut by a logging company — that is, completely leveled to the ground — you would never forget it. All that remains of a clear-cut forest are huge, flattened redwood tree stumps, and shredded tree bark and sawdust scattered everywhere on the ground. There are no wild animals to be found and no birds flying anywhere nearby. It is completely silent, the sound of death in nature. The silent air reeks of the smell of grease and oil, lingering long after the chainsaws and logging trucks have gone.
In summer 1990, Bari and other activists organized a protest campaign called “Redwood Summer” that would significantly raise the stakes in what were being called the “timber wars” of northern California and other western U.S. states.
Bari got the name and inspiration for “Redwood Summer” from “Freedom Summer”, a 1964 mass-volunteer effort organized by African American civil rights groups in Mississippi to help get Black citizens registered to vote amid White racist violence. Just as Freedom Summer had done in defense of Black civil rights, Redwood Summer, under Bari and fellow organizers, sent out a call for concerned people across the country to come out to California in large numbers and join them in nonviolent resistance to the help save the last of the redwood forests — and to add an extra layer of protection from White redneck violence against environmental activists.
It was on 24 May 1990, in the city of Oakland, California, when the violence surrounding the timber wars of northern California came to a head. As Bari was driving with her partner, Darryl Cherney, a fellow Earth First! activist, to a local gig in support of Redwood Summer, a bomb exploded in her car and severely injured them both.
The Oakland police as well as agents from the local FBI office were at the scene of the car bombing within minutes, and at the hospital, they informed the wounded Bari and Cherney that they were under arrest and being charged with knowingly transporting a homemade bomb in the car. They were being treated as eco-terrorists, and that was how the American news media played up the story at the time. Bari and Cherney, on the other hand, strongly believed that the car bombing was the work of the timber companies in an effort to stop the Redwood Summer campaign from going forward as planned.
A couple months later, the FBI and Oakland police dropped all charges against the two activists due to lack of evidence. Yet Bari and her partner were still publicly tainted with that “eco-terrorist” image, despite their innocence. In 1991 she and Cherney filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland police, citing false arrest and a violation of their civil rights. The FBI, in the meantime, was making little effort to find out the true identity of the bomber(s) of the two environmental activists.
The reason for the FBI’s lack of interest in this car bombing on American soil in broad daylight soon became apparent. It was found during the trial process that the FBI had organized a “bomb school” just a month before the actual car bombing of Bari happened. The bomb school was organized by an FBI agent, Frank Doyle, and offered as a community college course at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California in Humboldt County, an area that was ground zero of the timber wars in the region at the time. Among the students attending the FBI bomb school classes were officers with the Oakland police department. The bomb school site was located on land that had already been clear-cut by the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, one of the major timber companies in northern California.
And what did they do at this FBI bomb school? They practiced blowing up a car and then responding to the crime scene. What kind of car was it? A Subaru — the exact same make and model of car that Judi Bari had been driving at the time. And a few weeks later, when a bomb exploded in Bari’s car in Oakland, who showed up at the actual crime scene within minutes? You guessed it: The FBI’s bomb school instructor, Frank Doyle, and some of his earlier bomb school “students” with the Oakland police department. So, it appeared that the FBI was linked somehow to the car bombing itself; no wonder the agency was in no great hurry to investigate the crime.
In any case, Bari always considered the car bombing to be what she called an “assassination attempt”. This was no mere warning to some loudmouthed environmentalist to get her to shut up. She was not meant to survive the bombing; she was meant to be eliminated from the scene altogether.
Bari miraculously recovered from her severe wounds, but the deep bodily injuries she sustained in the bomb blast took their toll. A few years later, she was diagnosed with cancer. She died in her cabin in rural Mendocino County, California, on 2 March 1997, two decades ago this month.
Among those who spoke at Bari’s memorial service and gave moving tributes to her work on behalf of the redwood forests — and the deeper spiritual meaning behind the struggle — was John Trudell, a Native American activist who had had his own experiences with persecution by the FBI.
Bari had wanted the federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland police to continue even after her passing, and it was indeed carried on. In 2002, Bari, in death, got the last word. The court verdict in her lawsuit came out favorably, and the FBI was ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages. My family and I were living temporarily on the North Coast of California at that time (in Arcata), and I can still remember how excited local people were to hear the news about the late Bari’s legal victory against the FBI and how widely the local press covered the story.
Looking back now, 20 years after Judi Bari’s death, we can only ask: What made her a target of the timber companies and the FBI? How could she have been considered such a threat to the status quo that she needed to be “neutralized”?
There are a few reasons. As mentioned earlier, she was an effective organizer and could move large groups of people toward a common goal. But Bari not only organized White environmental activist tree-huggers. She also worked actively to bring the timber employees and the forest protectors together. She understood that the same big American timber corporations that were screwing their own logging employees with low wages and little job security were, in fact, the same corporate criminals that were raping the land and robbing the Earth of precious natural resources for the future.
She recognized that the fight of the environmental activists and the logging company workers were one and the same. She tried to get the two sides talking to each other and even supporting each other. To some degree, she succeeded in that — which must have scared the hell out of the corporate powers-that-be in America. That alone would have been reason enough to want to eliminate her.
But there is another reason that is seldom talked about, which I think is deserving of mention here: Bari, as a White activist, took up the causes of people of color in the United States and followed in their footsteps. It is one thing for Whites to make a lot of noise amongst themselves about saving nature. But it’s quite another thing to have such Whites crossing U.S. society’s racial barriers and standing in solidarity, as Judi did, with the Black civil rights struggle and with radicals of color such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement (AIM), all of which had been targets of FBI spying, harassment and/or political assassination in the past under its Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO).
Bari was an activist who knew her American history well, but even she seemed to have underestimated the lengths to which the FBI and other such government agencies, in support of powerful U.S. corporate interests, would go to bring the hammer down on Whites who dared to reach out and stand together with people of color in their own struggles. But it’s a reality that many today understand much more clearly, in the wake of Judi’s life and death.
And the car bombing of 1990 that went on to claim her life? The identity of the person(s) who planted the bomb under the driver’s seat in Bari’s car that day has never been found, though the search for truth in the case goes on. The question remains unanswered: Who bombed Judi Bari? A recently released documentary film asks that very question; this important movie can now be viewed in its entirety on the Web.
So, here we are in 2017, two decades after Judi has been gone, with a corporate CEO by the name of Trump and his cronies sitting comfortably in the White House. The state of the planet’s ecological balance has reached a critical level, and people of color across the board are being targeted more than ever before. U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights have been steadily eroding and law enforcement agencies, armed to the teeth with military-grade weaponry, often seem out of control. Things look much worse today than when Judi was alive.
Yet if the situation looks increasingly dire, it is also true that we have more choices as well in how we can deal with it. We can do what Bari did — strategize and organize across barriers of gender, race, occupation — and work to unite people instead of dividing them. We can stand up and speak out in ever greater numbers, find common (sacred) ground with each other, and move together toward a common goal. We can keep our eyes open to the rising risks involved, but also to the many long-term rewards in overcoming dangerous or even deadly obstacles.
We can remember Judi Bari.
Sisters for Hillary, Unite!
Two icons of American female success quoted in the story — Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright — in particular caused a bit of an uproar. While it seems that my progressive sisters on social media and elsewhere have this matter well under control and are putting everything into proper perspective for the press, for what it’s worth I offer a few independent observations of my own. After all, if Steinem and Albright are the type of people who are waving the banner for Hillary Clinton, then it’s important that we know all about them.
So, let us look a bit more closely at the two prominent women quoted in that story. And to deal with any lingering doubts or questions that may remain, a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” is provided for the benefit of readers at this end of this blog column.
Secret Agent Woman
In a recent television interview, Gloria Steinem, when confronted with the issue of why younger generations of women are today supporting presidential candidate Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, responded: “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie or wherever,” implying that hormones, not intellect, are the primary factor for young women in deciding which political candidate to support.
She also mentioned something that made a whole lot of sense to me: “Women get more radical as we get older. It’s the opposite of men. Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, and women get more radical because they lose power as they age.”
It made sense to me because it helped explain why Steinem, at such an “unradical” young age in the late 1950s and 1960s, decided she would work as an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as this New York Times story from 1967 recalls.
Author and professor Hugh Wilford, in his book The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Harvard University Press, 2008), details how Gloria Steinem, a young, politically idealistic person, knowingly joined a CIA media front company (the Independent Research Service) to essentially help sabotage youth festivals in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s that were believed to be under communist influence.
When the whole thing came to light in 1967 as part of an exposé by the San Francisco-based muckraking magazine Ramparts, Steinem, to her credit, did not deny her four-year service to the CIA, as this television interview at the time shows. On the contrary, she was pleasantly surprised at how “liberal” the CIA really was: “…I had the conventional liberal’s view as a right-wing incendiary group, and I was amazed to discover that this was far from the case — that they [the CIA] were enlightened, liberal, nonpartisan activists of the sort who characterized the Kennedy administration, for instance.”
Just to put it all into proper perspective: This was at a time when the U.S. war on Vietnam was raging with full CIA participation, and in an age when the “enlightened, liberal” CIA that Steinem worked for was waging secret wars around the world, and overthrowing democratic governments and installing puppet leaders more amenable to the whims of Washington and Wall Street.
In the years and decades that followed, as Steinem came to be increasingly respected as a symbol of American feminism, she never denied her earlier CIA ties — but never renounced them either. To get a more complete picture of Gloria Steinem’s importance to feminism and woman’s rights, though, you are encouraged to visit her website and spend some time looking around. You’ll find much to be impressed by there (except, of course, anything having to do with the CIA).
The Bureaucratic Butcher of Baghdad
At a campaign rally recently, Madeleine Albright, a respected U.S. diplomat and politician, said in support of Hillary Clinton: “Just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” as the crowd roared and Mrs. Clinton laughed heartily. Albright assured Clinton that she was “not only going to the White House, but to that other place” as well, and pointed upward to heaven (as opposed to hell), earning a warm hug from the candidate.
But have we forgotten so soon who Madeleine Albright was and what helped her to earn her esteemed place in history? During the presidency of U.S. president Bill Clinton, Albright served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She later served as secretary of state in the Clinton administration, the first woman in U.S. history ever to do so. Impressive credentials, to be sure.
Yet it was in Albright’s capacity as U.N. representative that she had pushed hard for severe U.N. economic sanctions to remain in place as a punishment for Iraqi military dictator Saddam Hussein thumbing his nose at the mighty USA. In 1996, the CBS News program 60 Minutes, in a rare show of sympathy for victims of U.S. imperialism, aired a segment filmed in Iraq that showed the real victims of those U.S.-led sanctions — the civilian population of Iraq, and especially Iraqi children.
Reporter Lesley Stahl asked Albright, in her role as ambassador to the U.N., in an interview if the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children were worth the moral price of keeping those sanctions in place. Albright’s infamous reply: “I think this is a very hard choice. But the price — we think the price is worth it. It is a moral question, but the moral question is even a larger one: Don’t we owe to the American people and to the American military — and to the other countries in the region — that this man [Saddam Hussein] not be a threat?”
This shocking statement was reported widely in news media of the Arab world at the time, but almost unreported in the domestic U.S. press. With those words, Albright was justifying the past deaths of an estimated half a million Iraqi children, and many more Iraqi people in the years to come. And notice the “we” in that statement, representing the consensus of the Democratic administration of then-president Bill Clinton and undoubtedly the support of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Albright was in a position to exert some moral authority and call for the lifting of economic sanctions on the Iraqi people, but she would not and did not do it. She had sold her human soul by then.
It is true that Saddam Hussein (who the CIA originally helped put in power back in 1963) was a tyrant who did unspeakably horrible things to political dissidents in his country. But one thing he never did was condemn half a million or more of his own nation’s children to death. Madeleine Albright, on the other hand, had no qualms about doing just such a thing. If Saddam Hussein had earned the heinous title “The Butcher of Baghdad” in his lifetime, would it be going too far to say, then, that Madeleine Albright is “The Bureaucratic Butcher of Baghdad”? I don’t think it goes too far, and that’s exactly how I see her. And I know I’m not the only one in the world who thinks so.
And the Middle East is not the only place where Albright is an unpopular U.S. governmental figure, either. Witness the scene at a bookstore in Czechoslovakia (where Albright is originally from) just a few years ago: Some pro-Serbian activists approached her and criticized her role in the American-led 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, calling her a “war criminal”. Albright responded with an ethnic slur: “Disgusting Serbs! Get out!”
This is the eminent person chosen to help rally for Hillary Clinton in her current election campaign — an eminent person who literally condemned to death not only Iraqi children but also directed to purgatory any women in the U.S. who do not support Clinton as U.S. president. No wonder many young women activists are now taking Albright (and Clinton and Gloria Steinem) to task. They know the score, and are more in touch with what feminism means today than those three icons will ever be.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
Question-1: All right, Mr. Smarty Pants — who are you going to vote for in the upcoming presidential election, a man or a woman? A liberal or a conservative?
Answer-1: It’s none of your business; that's what we have private balloting for. But I can tell you who I did vote for in the recent past for U.S. president: Dr. Cynthia McKinney. She would have made a damn fine U.S. president — not because she’s a woman or because she’s African American, but because of her stated policies of the massive redistribution of wealth in the United States and her commitment to human rights and environmental protection. I’m all for that.
Did she ever have a chance at getting elected U.S. president? Well, she would have, if more people had joined me in voting for her. And I sure don’t remember any icons of American feminism coming anywhere near McKinney’s campaign at the time. One thing is for sure: Cynthia McKinney would have shaken up the White male-dominated worlds of Washington and Wall Street in ways that Hillary Clinton (and Barack Obama too, for that matter) would never dare to do.
Q-2: What have you, a typical male, ever done about advancing the cause of womanhood?
A-2: Well, there’s always more that can be done on behalf of our sisters and getting them elected and placed in important decision-making positions, and we should always be committed to doing that. And what have I personally ever done for women? Well, I started out young in childhood: When my drunken, alcoholic father would be beating my mother to a pulp in the middle of the night, I would be the only one of three young boys to bother with protecting or defending her. In fact, it was I who eventually threw that chauvinistic pig of a husband/father out of our lives forever, thereby bringing some measure of peace and stability to the family. I was also put to work at a young age (in violation of labor union rules and child labor laws) so as to help my single mother pay the bills.
Many years later, when I was working at my first newspaper reporting job at the Tahoe Daily Tribune in South Lake Tahoe, California, I once wrote up a nice story on a prominent woman politician in our city. At that point, my boss (a female managing editor) promptly killed the story, saying that the prominent local woman who I chose to interview happened to be a political enemy of our newspaper publisher (a fat, obnoxious, middle-aged Republican White male). So, my news story was censored and never ran, teaching me a valuable lesson about how women’s issues really work in the USA, especially in the media. I could go on with more examples, but you get the picture.
Q-3: How dare you equate the honorable Madeleine Albright with a cold-blooded killer! Where is your sense of shame?
A-3: Probably back there somewhere in the 1990s with all the Iraqi mothers who had to lose their innocent children to starvation, malnourishment and lack of medical attention — all so that Washington and the United Nations could make a geopolitical point in the Middle East region.
And the same goes for all the mothers of Afghanistan and Iraq who lost their loved ones during the unlawful U.S. military invasions of their countries, respectively, in 2001 and 2003 — invasions that were fully supported at the time by Hillary Clinton and other “liberal” members of the Democratic Party, both male and female. I’ll stand on the side of Afghan and Iraqi women any day of the week; they know what it really means to take the brunt of war policies carried out by powerful, well-connected U.S. women like Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton.
Q-4: What do you suggest we do, let the Republicans come back into the White House again? That would be a total disaster. What can’t people like you just get behind the Democrats now and support Hillary Clinton?
A-4: Sure, right. As if the drastic escalation of the so-called “war on terror” by President Obama, a Democrat, hasn’t been a disaster in itself for the U.S. and the world these past eight years. Sister (and I’m assuming you’re a woman here), you should know your American history better than that by now. The U.S. presidential election is little more than “The Great American Ping-Pong Game” staged with great fanfare and obscene amounts of money every few years, with the two players being the Republican and Democratic party elites — and the ping-pong ball they swat back and forth being us, the voters.
It’s all about money and power, and who holds it and who doesn’t. Like many other people, I stopped voting Democrat (and started voting progressive) years ago and have never regretted it for a moment. It’s time for many more of us to opt out of the ping-pong game, overturn that playing table, change the rules, and make it a more honest and equitable game for all — not just for the wealthy, privileged few.
And if supporting Hillary Clinton and her ilk is absolutely your thing, then go for it. I guess all I can really say to you in that case is: Sisters for Hillary, Unite! All Power to the (Wealthy White Female) People! Unoccupy Wall Street! Chelsea Clinton for President in 2024!
Q-5: Self-hating women can be just as obstructive as men when it comes to moving women’s rights forward. Why don’t you understand that?
A-5: Oh, I get that part, all right. What I don’t understand is how you can have people of strained credibility like Secret Agent Woman (Gloria Steinem) and The Bureaucratic Butcher of Baghdad (Madeleine Albright) as your supporters, and then condemn to purgatory, as Albright literally did the other day, other feminists and women activists who don’t “get with the program” of voting for an elitist politician like Hillary Clinton.
The “self-hating _________ (fill in the blank)” is a very useful tool for shaming people: There are the so-called self-hating Jews and Muslims, the self-hating Blacks/Latinos/Asians/Natives/Whites, the self-hating Christians and Protestants, the self-hating Republicans and Democrats, the self-hating Progressives, even the self-hating yuppies. (Wait a minute, scratch that last one.) Where does it all end? Stop the harmful accusations and the negative labeling, for starters. Maybe then we can get somewhere and start changing things for real.
The Stain of Sexual Slavery
In January of this year, the Tokyo-based publisher Suken Shuppan announced that it will drop the terms “comfort women” and “forcibly taken away” from newly published textbooks to be used starting in the new school year in April. It is widely assumed (though not confirmed or denied by the publisher) that the pressure for such a change came from the government itself.
Terms like 慰安婦 (ianfu, literally “comfort women”) and 強制連行 (kyosei-renko, “forcibly taken away”) are sensitive, loaded terms in Japan, even after all these years. That is because they convey how the military of Japan had kidnapped, coerced or physically forced thousands of fellow Asians into slave labor and sexual slavery during the war.
Perhaps emboldened by their success at such textbook censorship at home here in Japan, some right-wing Japanese historians have now turned their ire toward a university-level textbook published in the United States and are disputing some of its contents.
Far-rightist prime minister Shinzo Abe recently expressed “shock” from the floor of Japan’s parliament about that particular U.S. textbook and pledged to do what he could to make sure the “correct” view of Japan’s history is reflected in the book instead.
That textbook, titled Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, is a hefty, 1,000-page world history textbook published by McGraw-Hill in the United States. I have recently obtained a copy of the new sixth edition of this textbook from the publisher and am considering whether I will use it as a supplementary book for my own university course in Japan this coming school year.
So, let me share with you the precise part of the U.S. textbook that has Abe and other right-wing revisionists in Japan all up in arms. It appears in the book’s Chapter 36, “New Conflagrations: World War II and the Cold War”, at the bottom of pages 874-875:
Women’s experiences in war were not always ennobling or empowering. The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted, and dragooned as many as two hundred thousand women aged fourteen to twenty to serve in military brothels, called “comfort houses” or “consolation centers.” The army presented the women to the troops as a gift from the emperor, and the women came from Japanese colonies such as Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria and from occupied territories in the Philippines and elsewhere in southeast Asia. The majority of the women came from Korea and China.
Once forced into this imperial prostitution service, the “comfort women” catered to between twenty and thirty men each day. Stationed in war zones, the women often confronted the same risks as soldiers, and many became casualties of war. Others were killed by Japanese soldiers, especially if they tried to escape or contracted venereal diseases. At the end of the war, soldiers massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation. The impetus behind the establishment of comfort houses for Japanese soldiers came from the horrors of Nanjing [China in 1937], where the mass rape of Chinese women had taken place. In trying to avoid such atrocities, the Japanese army created another horror of war. Comfort women who survived the war experienced deep shame and hid their past or faced shunning by their families. They found little comfort or peace after the war.
That’s it, in its entirety: two paragraphs, 235 words in total, out of a thousand pages in the textbook.
One of the book’s authors, University of Hawaii professor Herbert F. Ziegler, recently got a firsthand taste of how Japanese government censorship works during a surprise visit to his campus office by a representative of Japan’s government, insisting that those two paragraphs were wrong and needed to be changed. This eye-opening interview with Ziegler reveals just how far the government of Japan will go to whitewash the truth of history, even in foreign countries.
Ziegler, in the interview, appears at a loss in understanding why the Japanese government is going to such great lengths to rewrite this U.S. history textbook. But take a closer look: The answer is right there in the first paragraph, third sentence, reading “...the army presented the women to the troops as a gift from the emperor...”.
If you live in Japan long enough, you learn to read between the lines where Japan’s royal family is concerned, and it seems that what is really offending the right-wing Abe administration of Japan most (aside from the high numbers of women listed as sexual slaves) is the fact that the emperor’s honor is unforgivably stained by the notion that the imperial Japanese army “presented the women to the troops as a gift from the emperor”.
That phrase, I would say, is undeniably true but is also open to being misconstrued. The army of Japan probably didn’t officially announce to the troops at the time: “Now, these girls are a gift from the emperor, boys. Go and have some fun with them”. But on the other hand, it didn’t need to say it. It would automatically be assumed by the troops that those thousands of Asian girls — many of whom were not even women yet — were “property” of the imperial Japanese army and that they, the soldiers and officers, could do whatever they wanted with them. “A gift”, in fact, may even be too polite a term to describe the brutal institution of sexual slavery that Japan had in place in those days.
We would also do well to understand that unlike Germany and Italy, Japan as a fascist military state fought the war in the name of Emperor Hirohito, who, like all other emperors before him, was considered a god under Japan’s indigenous Shinto religion. In other words, World War II for Japan was every bit a holy war in its own way as the kind we see today by a small but violent element of Islamic fundamentalism. Different names, same game.
Of course, Emperor Hirohito, under the terms of postwar surrender by the Americans, renounced his divine status and was treated from then on simply as a “symbol” of the Japanese state. He was no longer a god and held no political power. But alas, old thinking dies hard, and there is still a “cult of the emperor” in Japan among rabid rightists today that treats the slightest perceived staining of the emperor’s honor as an inexcusable act that must be protested or avenged.
So far the publisher, McGraw-Hill, to its credit, has resisted any pressure by the government of Japan to censor the offending parts of the book. Likewise, a group of U.S. scholars has also recently stood firmly behind the textbook and its U.S. authors. In return, however, a group of Japanese scholars has turned up the heat and vowed to fight on, sending a couple of respected academics from its ranks to attack the U.S. textbook before the foreign and Japanese press in Tokyo just a few days ago.
Japanese society may be used to blatant censorship of this sort, but the rest of the world is a different story. Book publishers in overseas countries, unlike their timid counterparts in Japan, are not going to roll over and play dead at the first sign of an unhappy and bullying government. My hope is that both McGraw-Hill and the U.S. textbook authors spell out in no uncertain terms what the arrogant revisionists in Japan can do with their suggested “corrections” for this book.
But much more importantly than that, we should remember that the so-called staining of the Japanese emperor’s “honor” pales in comparison to the horrific stain of sexual slavery that destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent girls and young women from countries throughout Asia during that part of the 20th century. Until Japan comes to term with the sheer inhumanness of its past system of institutionalized rape and sexual slavery, it will continue to be distrusted and isolated among its fellow Asian nations in the future.
Not only should school textbooks around the world continue to publish the facts about Japan’s imperially sanctioned system of sexual slavery during World War II, those textbooks would do well to devote much more than two paragraphs to one of the darkest periods of recent human history. The whole tragic truth about the victims of sexual slavery, uncut and unpolished, must continue to be told.
Who Bombed Judi Bari?
Judi Bari had passed away two years before, but the local people still seemed to be speaking and writing about her with a sense of reverence, respect, humanness and humor — in the way that you would go on talking about a dear friend or family member who had died in the present tense, as if they were still alive. I didn’t know a thing about the well-known environmental activist Judi Bari, but I was soon to find out that summer in California.
I learned that Judi Bari had made her home in Mendocino County, the county just south of Humboldt, where I was staying, and that she was a carpenter, musician and nonviolent social activist, especially in protection of the dwindling redwood forests of that part of the state. She was a member of Earth First!, a forest-protection group of activists whose slogan was “No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth,” and she was a labor leader and feminist. And with Judi, they all seemed to blend together.
I found out that in the summer of 1990, Judi was one of the organizers of a nonviolent, direct-action campaign called “Redwood Summer,” intended to raise public awareness of the increasing destruction of the redwood forests in California and to get ballot measures passed by the public that would keep the timber-logging companies in check.
The campaign got its name and guiding spirit from the “Mississippi Summer” (Freedom Summer) campaign of the 1960s, which drew nationwide support in the U.S. for Black voting rights in the American South. Judi and other organizers hoped to do the same kind of thing with Redwood Summer in 1990. (You can watch the official Redwood Summer recruitment video here.)
I learned also that on May 24, 1990, while Judi had been driving in the city of Oakland, California to perform at a gig in support of Redwood Summer, a bomb that had been secretly hidden under the driver’s seat of her car exploded, severely injuring Judi and her passenger, Darryl Cherney, who was her partner and fellow Earth First! activist.
I learned that the two of them were immediately placed under arrest at the hospital, with the FBI and the Oakland police announcing to the local media that Judi and Darryl were suspected of carrying explosives in the car with the intent of using them in some violent protest action. The two activists were being accused of so-called “eco-terrorism” yet they were never formally charged with any sort of crime.
And I learned that Judi and Darryl had later filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland police for violating their constitutional rights in the case, and that the lawsuit was making its way through the courts. Judi had passed away from cancer in 1997, but Darryl was carrying on the lawsuit in both their names.
In the summer of 2001, when I had come back to Humboldt County for a few years during a second stay on the North Coast, Judi’s legacy still seemed alive and well. Her and Darryl’s lawsuit was moving slowly but steadily through the bureaucratic court system, and the local media were increasingly reporting on the court case as the final judgment day neared in 2002.
I listened intently to the local radio station news on the North Coast that day, June 11, 2002, and heard that a 10-member court jury in Oakland had awarded Judi and Darryl $4.4 million in damages against the FBI and Oakland police, effectively siding with the two activists in their claim that they were bombing victims, not terrorists. In doing so, the jury acknowledged that the bombing of Judi Bari’s car appeared to have been done by some unknown party with the aim of shutting down the massive protests being planned as part of the Redwood Summer campaign.
“The American public needs to understand that the FBI can’t be trusted,” Cherney told the press, following the court victory. “Ten jurors got a good, hard look at the FBI and they didn’t like what they saw.”
As part of the court settlement, as I understand it, the city of Oakland in 2003 officially named May 24, the anniversary of the car bombing, as “Judi Bari Day,” commemorating her as a “dedicated activist, who worked for many social and environmental causes, the most prominent being the protection and stewardship of California’s ancient redwood forests.” It was a major turnaround for a city whose police officials had formerly branded her an eco-terrorist, and an acknowledgment of what many forest defenders had long known: that Judi Bari was a force to be reckoned with, even in death.
Just recently, May 24, 2013 marked the 10th anniversary of Judi Bari Day. I thought a lot about her that day. I wondered how different the world might have been, for her and for us, if she had lived and continued defending Mother Earth, specifically in the redwood rainforests of northern California. She had died tragically at the young age of 47 from cancer, caused by the severe injuries she had suffered in the car bombing. It was a miracle that she had survived the bombing in the first place. When she died, a single mother who had been raising two young girls on her own, she had been in a lot of physical pain and emotional distress. I wondered on the 10th anniversary of Judi Bari Day just how much her life and work was really being kept alive in people’s hearts after all this time.
I got my reply, thankfully, in the form of a newly released documentary film, co-produced by Darryl Cherney, titled Who Bombed Judi Bari?. The film follows Judi’s activism, the car bombing and the lawsuit, and appeared to get a warm public reception wherever it was shown in the States. I made a small donation to the film during the production stage, and was delighted to recently receive a DVD version of the film and see my name listed along with so many other supporters in the film’s closing credits. I always wished that I had had the honor of meeting and supporting Judi Bari while she was still alive, and now, in a humble way, I felt I had.
What made Judi Bari so dangerous while she was alive? I’ve thought about that a lot. Why would someone would resort to an act of extreme violence to possibly kill an activist-type like her who was nonviolent? The simple answer is that she was good at bringing people together. Give her a megaphone and a crowd of people, and she was in her element. She had been an experienced activist, especially with labor unions, in her earlier years and knew how to organize, inspire and move large groups of people in a certain direction — in this case, saving the redwood forests.
But much more importantly, at the time of her death she had been bringing together two perceived enemies: the "hippie" tree-hugging environmental activists who were trying to save the redwood trees and the "redneck" logging company employees who were cutting them down. Judi saw the fight to protect the last of the redwood forests and the fight to protect jobs and support families on a livable wage as being one and the same fight. The common enemy of both sides, she said, were the big multinational corporations who were taking over the small logging companies — corporations who didn’t give a damn about either saving trees or saving their own low-paid timber workers. And Judi was right.
Judi Bari seemed to have no fear of confronting authority or those in power. And when you get someone fearless like her who is good at bringing all sides together for a common cause, then it is easy to see why she would become a target of the corporate and governmental powers-that-be in the United States. She had become too dangerous and too effective as a social organizer, and she had to be stopped.
From time to time here in Japan, even now, whenever I open my morning newspaper (the International Herald Tribune, published by the New York Times) and happen to see an article written by Gina Kolata, a Times reporter and Judi Bari’s sister, I remember the North Coast and the fight to save the redwoods. Judi has long been gone, but the forests are still in danger in California, just as they are everywhere else in the world. And activists in the U.S. and elsewhere are still being wrongly targeted as “eco-terrorists” for daring to stand up to governments and corporations to say: “No more — not one more forest destroyed in the name of progress.”
So, the question remains: Who did bomb Judi Bari? Who had tried to assassinate and silence her back in 1990? The case has never been solved, since the FBI has never really investigated and tried to find out. We may never know who devised and planted the car bomb that nearly killed her. But at the very least, as the film points out, the FBI itself cannot be ruled out from having played some role in the car bombing of Judi Bari.
I will close here by encouraging you to buy the DVD yourself directly through the film’s official website and watch it and understand who Judi Bari was, and what she lived and died for. Buying the DVD would be a good way to not only support what environmental activists are doing to protect the last of the redwood forests of California, but also to help keep alive the memory of a person who lent her voice, her passion, her spirit and her body to the cause of a better world. This is her story — and, in the end, our story as well.
Viva Judi Bari!
One Billion Women Rising....and Rising
One billion is the number of girls or women who are projected to suffer violent physical abuse at some point in their lives at the hands of men. That’s one out of every three girls or women worldwide. One Billion Rising was, first and foremost, a campaign for women to unify, stand up in great numbers and reclaim themselves — physically, mentally, spiritually — and to do it through dance.
As the event’s organizer, author and activist Eve Ensler, put it: “Dance is dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive, contagious, it breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone and everyone, and it’s free. Dancing insists we take up space, we go there together in community.”
One Billion Rising, in essence, took the news stories and cold statistics of violence against First Nations women in the United States, brutal rape-killings in India and many other such stories in many other countries, and placed them right in our hands to see, touch and do something about. Whether men or women, we all have a stake in taking steps to see that such cycles of violence are brought to an end — and not in some far distant future, but right now. Today.
As part of the one-day event of One Billion Rising, many well-known people stood up and declared their defiance of public apathy and shame surrounding sexual violence, and encouraged us to stand up and speak out too. One of them was Anoushka Shankar, the sitar virtuoso and daughter of the late Indian sitar composer/maestro Ravi Shankar. Anoushka spoke openly about having been sexually abused as a child by a trusted male friend of the family and how she still deals with the pain today. Anoushka Shankar is someone whose work in music I have long respected, and to have people like her come out in the media and say “I am standing and rising too” was deeply moving and inspiring.
And it was not just celebrities in the media. One Billion Rising brought to mind for me the women I’ve known personally in my own life, both in the United States and here in Japan, who have gone through the trauma of sexual abuse or rape in childhood or as adults. Some of these women have confided in me how they were raped while on a date or elsewhere. Other women I’ve known have hesitated to come out directly and tell me of their childhood sexual abuse at the hands of their own fathers, but let me know in their own way that it had happened. The evidence of the scars on their hearts and souls were clear to see, in any case.
I remember how one afternoon in the U.S., back in the 1980s while in my early 20s, I had dropped by unannounced at the home of my then-girlfriend’s best friend, M., who I had always treated as a kind of younger sister. I found her lying together with her father (or stepfather), naked, on their living room sofa-bed, sheepishly covering their bodies from my prying eyes with a bed sheet. I walked out without saying a word, and never spoke about it to M. or to anyone else at the time.
Not long afterward, M. started showing signs of unusual behavior in public or at her workplace, such as walking around in a daze, unable to look people in the eyes and to have a conversation with them. She was checked into the psychiatric ward of a nearby hospital apparently by her mother, and when I telephoned M. at the hospital one day to offer moral support and assure her she would be all right, she replied with a sense of hopelessness: “Brian, I’m crazy, can't you see?”
That turned out to be the last contact we had with each other. It seemed to me then, and still does now, that years of sexual abuse of M. at the hands of her father had taken their toll on her mind and body. Looking back now, the warning signs of sexual abuse by her father were plain to see all along, but at the time, none of us had the slightest idea of the trauma she was going through.
There are as many ways of dealing with the pain of rape, sexual abuse or incest, of course, as there are women who go through it: depression, self-hate, a feeling of unworthiness, drug or alcohol abuse, dangerous sexual promiscuity or addictions, a slide into prostitution. Self-destruction, in other words. In some cases, sexually victimized women may then sadly go on to prey on boys, young men or others considered “weaker” than them by society, which just keeps the cycle of sexual abuse going on and on and on. One Billion Rising called for this whole tragic cycle of violence against women to stop, and it really hit home for me when I thought about the women I’ve known in my own life who have been the victims of such terrible abuse in their lifetimes.
That includes too my own mother, recently deceased, who was often badly beaten when I was a kid by our violent alcoholic father. I had tried to intervene and get the violence to stop, and felt helpless when as a child I couldn’t. I can still remember my mother going to work a couple times with her sunglasses on all day, even indoors, to hide the bruised, swollen eye that she had gotten from a beating the night before. If anyone happened to ask me about her injury, she instructed me, I was to say that she fell off a ladder while changing a light bulb and hurt her face. So sad.
Now, all these years later, when I watch the short film made last year to promote One Billion Rising, I can feel the power of women as a rumbling of the Earth itself. When I listen to the anthem “Break the Chain” composed especially for One Billion Rising, I feel the power of women to raise their voices in song and raise public awareness.
And when I watch the online broadcasts of One Billion Rising shown around the world and the sheer power of dance, especially Zumba, to move people into action, my spirit soars. Never again will I look down on Zumba as some cheap, pop fad, as I used to think of it. I now see Zumba as being having the power to get people off their lazy butts and do something: Move your ass and your mind will follow!
In the end One Billion Rising left me, as a man, with the strong sense that “change” begins with me: If I want the cycle of violence against women anywhere in the world to stop, then I need to start with my own mind and with the women I know in my own life. I need to change my own judgments about incest, rape, and sexual abuse and violence, and open myself up as a brother, son and friend to women who need such support in their lives. I need to be able to listen to them, understand their pain, love them, and stand up right alongside them when they need my own voice to say “Stop the violence.”
One woman is all women. The sooner we men can apply that locally to our own relationships — to turn unhealthy sex and violence into healthy sexual relationships (“Make love, not war” never sounded better) — the sooner will be the day when violence against girls and women declines globally. The human race has much work to do today to save the planet, and men and women will need to tackle these things together, not separately.
Change begins with me and it begins today — that’s the gift that One Billion Rising gave me on 14 February 2013.
And on that closing note, much love and healing goes out to my sisters, whoever and wherever you are in the world. You are truly one billion beautiful, strong women rising....and rising and rising in even greater numbers in the years to come.