From the Whiteaker to the Woods: The Rise of the “Eugene Anarchists,” Part 1
“That was the kind of equation if you will, I remember talking to people, and everybody was saying, “If the urban, anarcho-punk types ever connect with the tree-sitters and forest defense people – it’s gonna really take off.” – John Zerzan
“That surge of creative, autonomous energy attracted fresh new blood to town, eco-anarchists ready for action. They’d heat up not only the streets of Eugene but also the surrounding forests, staging direct actions and road blockades that would make Warner Creek seem vanilla by comparison.” – Eugene Weekly
In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we again return to the topic of the 1990’s, this time in a two part series that will center on the green anarchist and eco-defense movement in Eugene, Oregon. In the first part of the series, we talk with long-time anarchist John Zerzan, and in the second part, we will talk with a member of Cascadia Forest Defense. Born into a working class family, John soon found himself in the strange land of Stanford University, and quickly dove into the radical politics of the 1960s. Originally working as a union organizer, John soon became interested in the ultra-left, the Situationists, and the rioting that was breaking out in Berkeley over the weekends while living in the bay area.
As time progressed, Zerzan concluded that that the formation of class society marked by the shift from hunter-gatherer bands to sedimentary life through agriculture and domestication led to the creation of the State, patriarchy, and industrialism, and has since sent humanity on course towards our current industrial climate catastrophe. Moreover, he argued that by giving up such a form of life, human beings were leaving behind an existence largely of freedom and autonomy. Into the 1970s and 1980s, Zerzan found common cause in the emerging anti-civilization milieu that included writers such as Fredy Perlman and Jacques Camatte, and publications like Fifth Estate and Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed.
By the 1990s, Zerzan was living in the working class neighborhood of the Whiteaker in Eugene, Oregon, a small college town. But by the mid-1990s, things were stirring, as our conversation takes us through the formation of one of the most vibrant anarchist enclaves in the past 25 years, as well as the factors that led to its breaking apart.
As John discusses, there was an attempt to bring together both the anarcho-punks living in towns and in the cities in the Pacific Northwest along with the emerging tree sitter movement which was fighting to save old growth forest from industrial logging, which was clear cutting and devastating entire areas. Rising up to meet the Timber companies was a new generation of 1990s eco-activists. Their power and determination was seen most clearly in the Warner Creek blockade, which lasted for months, even through harsh winter, and saw the emergence of the “Cascadia Free State,” an autonomous zone hell bent on fighting the logging.
In many ways, the project of melding the anarcho-punks with the new generation of forest activists was successful, and created a vibrant community in Eugene from the mid-to-late 1990s until the early 2000s. This community engaged in a wide range of activities and organizing endeavors, from running a cable access Television Program, Cascadia Alive, to fighting militant pitched battles against the destruction of green space in the town. From community gardens to supporting tree sits to a growing print culture, the Eugene scene was just as much about building as it was fighting. However after a series of anti-globalization riots broke out in the area, including in Seattle, Washington against the WTO meetings in the November of 1999, where the “Eugene anarchists” where specifically blamed for leading the black bloc, soon the mainstream media was firmly locked on Eugene.
Around the same time, the underground group, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) began to take action, and while hurting no living begin, successfully burned down millions of dollars of property – targeting everything from GMO crops to wild horse slaughter houses.
In the aftermath of such actions, repression ramped up, and soon both police, corporate media, and FBI agents had descended on Eugene, making several arrests. Internal stresses and divisions within the movement also broke people apart, leading to many to drift way in the face of rising scrutiny and law enforcement presence. We thus end our conversation with John by talking about this reality, and what could have been done differently.
Be sure to tune in for our second installment on this topic, as we we talk with someone who was involved in the growing eco-defense and tree sit movement. Until then, enjoy the interview!
More Info: Flames of Dissent from Eugene Weekly on history of Eugene anarchist movement, collection of articles on late 1990’s Eugene movement and the Whiteaker neighborhood, John Zerzan’s weekly anarchist radio show.
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This post was written by It's Going Down