Round River EF! Rendezvous

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In the days and weeks leading up to this year’s Earth First! rondy my thoughts were often preoccupied with the state of this world that is lurching from crisis to crisis and slipping deeper into chaos. In a time when our victories seem increasingly few and strictly symbolic, and as the machinery of industrial capitalism continues its assault on the earth and those who depend on it for survival, I was very much hoping for the rondy to be a place of reflection, strategizing, commiseration with like minds, and yes, escape from the mental stress of the city. To a certain degree I was not disappointed; there were a lot of great conversations, interesting workshops and time for reconnecting with nature. Yet, as is often the case, there’s no real escape from the intellectual and emotional quagmire of civilized life.

What was clear after only a short time was that the inevitable tensions between the social justice zeitgeist and the traditional biocentrism/homogenous demographics of EF! could have perhaps been anticipated with greater foresight. The tensions that arose during the camp seemed to stem less from carelessness on the part of the organizers and more so from certain blind spots that are not uncommon even among the most well meaning and politically radical. The main reasons for the existence of these blind spots were ironically articulated by Sha’an Mouliert, one of the speakers on an anti-racism panel on the second day. She spoke about Vermont’s history of eugenics which has led to this liberal paradise now having a population almost completely devoid of so-called minorities. The federal census of Vermont says the population is between 95-96% European/Caucasian. The social planners and eugenicists were obviously successful. Given the history of this country and the enduring injustices perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy, we can see how a gathering of mostly Europeans on stolen Native land during the latest outbreak of the ongoing race wars might run into some difficulties. But enough about that for now, let’s focus first on what went right at the gathering.

The location was very well chosen. The main camp area was a short hike from the road on a path that led out of the tree cover and into a sprawling meadow of lush blueberry fields with a breathtaking view of the mist shrouded Green Mountains in the distance. From what I experienced, the camp was very well organized with a lot of attention paid to details that helped make things as smooth-running and accessible as possible. Wooden stepping stones and planks laid down across muddy paths, a quiet camp far from the rowdy areas, well maintained latrines, and well chosen common spaces all made moving about and living in the space fairly easy. Seeds of Peace was amazing as usual, serving up filling portions of delicious food for as many as about three hundred people at the height of the camp. Those with health issues or emergencies had access to a well stocked medic tent where treatment by both experienced street medics and health care professionals was available pretty much around the clock. There was also a choice between filtered spring water and chemically purified water which for me was great since living in a big city usually hinders ones access to water that’s not chemically treated. Overall it was obvious that many hours of careful thought and planning went into both the logistics and the location of the rondy, and this preparation was definitely appreciated.

A few of the workshops that I liked won’t be mentioned here for security culture reasons, but I must say that one of my favorites was the anti-racism panel moderated by Panagioti of the Prison Ecology Project with Sha’an Mouliert, Natdahe, and Monica speaking to, among other things, the importance of making anti-racism and racial justice central planks of the environmental/eco-defense movement. A panel with local Natives from the Abenaki and Penobscot tribes was somewhat underwhelming for me due to very heavy strains of liberalism and “working within the law” rhetoric. I honestly wanted to scream out, “What has working within the law gotten you so far? Wake up!” But on the bright side we got some really good information about local struggles that people could plug into. The number of trainings and workshops were too numerous to get into here, but they covered a range of topics from the practical like plant walks and climb trainings to the more theoretical like anti-civ and discussions on gender roles. Though not exactly workshops, the space made for daily POC (People of Color) meet ups and TWAC (Trans and Women’s Action Camp) were definitely very necessary and welcome for people who don’t fit into the cis-hetero-white dominant paradigm.

Sometime during the middle of the rondy a rupture took place that led to much discussion as well as many emotional outbursts. It also led to a general malaise which in turn led to a mass exodus of about half the camp. It was sparked off by the usual suspects: identity politics, issues of cultural appropriation, and general feelings of discontent with demographics. I’m not going to go into detail about that situation because I’m sure others will be chiming in with their own perspectives on this situation. All I will say about it is that I’ve encountered this sort of thing before at other non-EF! gatherings. There has definitely emerged a certain group of people who take it upon themselves to disrupt what they see as white supremacist organizations. While I wish that they would take that shit to a Hillary Clinton rally or something, I can respect the spirit of it if not the specific tactics and general anti-social, juvenile and trollish behaviors of some of these people (one of whom almost got a fist to the face for trying to get up in mine). Radical communities are struggling enough as it is and don’t really need that sort of social justice warrior adventurism malarkey, but hey, this is the landscape we currently inhabit and what we must endure by having spaces that are open to everyone.

In any case, now’s a good time for me to rant a bit and say that I hate the identity politics that were so much on display at the rondy because, as someone whose main focus is the environmental crisis, it often feels like a side-show and a distraction from the fact that the world is literally burning. Within civilization, people have always been oppressed, killed and exploited since the days of the Pharaohs and the Kings of Mesopotamia. Civilization is oppression. To be civilized is to be simultaneously the oppressed (by other people and institutions) and the oppressor (of the natural world). The fight for human survival and dignity within this system is not new, but what is new is that now humans have the power to destroy not only each other but much of the living world and the biosphere as well. Of course it also goes without saying that our fellow creatures that are being killed off and the wild places that are being wrecked could care less about the intricacies of human identity and human struggles. Yes, like many early EF! people did, it can indeed be very tempting to take a strictly biocentric and misanthropic approach to the ecological crisis. Yet the immense challenges we are facing will overwhelm us in our isolated and fractured groups. If we do not find a way to overcome our differences, our neurosis, and our bitterness and find a way to be effective together, there will be no human future worth living.

For those who are interested in eco-defense, finding balance is especially important. It would be wonderful if we could run off to the woods and magically shed the identities and traumas imposed on us by society, but alas, this is not possible (at least not in large groups) thanks to the fact that the past lays a heavy burden on the present. In order to effectively work together to literally save ourselves from annihilation we must confront, dismantle and reconfigure the oppressive systems we have inherited from previous generations, using discernment to realize who our enemies are while not getting them confused with our potential friends and allies. However, just as it’s a mistake to move too far in the direction of biocentrism and misanthropy, it’s also a mistake to get so caught up in the human world of identities and perceptions that we disregard or sideline our obligation to protect the natural world on which we and other creatures depend on for survival.

Spaces like the EF! rondy that are open to everyone should of course stick to their core values, but they must also evolve to be very intentional about accommodating a variety of identities and experiences. I’m still conflicted over how well this was handled by the Round River EF! rondy organizers. There was definitely some thought given to these identity issues, and there was a willingness to discuss and adapt to things as they came up, but as mentioned earlier, there was not enough anticipation of some of the issues that arose, particularly the effect/perception created by the racial demographics, etc.

This was my first EF! rondy and I’ll probably be attending more in the future because I love getting out of the city and into the woods to go camping, hiking, swimming and all that good stuff. Getting to do it with other rad people is a bonus. Hopefully there will be an EF! style gathering for POC next year. These sorts of gatherings can be a mixed bag, but despite their annoyances, they are nevertheless extremely important for cultivating revolutionary tendencies and networks. The times we live in demand that this should be our main focus. With that in mind, I will end with this excerpt from the Invisible Committee’s ‘To Our Friends’, from the chapter entitled, Let’s Disappear:

The real question for revolutionaries is how to make the lively powers in which one participates increase, how to nurture the revolutionizing developments so as to arrive finally at a revolutionary situation. All those who draw satisfaction from dogmatically contrasting “radicals” with “citizens,” “active rebels” with the passive population, place obstacles in the path of such developments. On this point, they anticipate the work of the police. In the current period, tact should be considered the cardinal revolutionary virtue, and not abstract radicalism—and by “tact” we mean the art of nurturing revolutionizing developments.

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