• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Judi Bari Obituary: An Earth First! Activist Remembered

Air Date: Week of

Earlier this week, Earth First! organizer Judi Bari died from breast cancer. The victim of death threats and a car pipe bomb explosion earlier in the decade, northern California anti-logging activist Bari was arrested by the F.B.I. which accused her of blowing herself up. Producer Peter Thomson remembers Bari in this obituary profile.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. One woman's impassioned fight to protect northern California's redwoods is over. Judi Bari, a 47-year-old environmental activist from Endocino County, died of complications of breast cancer on March 2nd. Ms. Bari was instrumental in bringing national attention to the logging of ancient redwoods. She organized protest rallies and blockades under the banner of Earth First! In 1990 she made headline news after she was nearly killed by a car bomb. Judi Bari will be remembered by some for her efforts to forge common ground between conservationists and loggers against control of the forests by corporate interests. Living on Earth's Peter Thomson has this profile of a woman who was both loved and hated, but who most agree had immense courage.

(Traffic sounds)

THOMSON: On Highway 101 far north of San Francisco, gnarled live oak trees give way to stands of spiky fern and pine and finally to groves of massive redwoods so dark and deep that the road itself seems to disappear.


THOMSON: Judi Bari came up this road in the mid-1980s, another migrant from the urban east. She hadn't come to save the forest. In fact, she was a carpenter and was soon building homes out of redwoods. But it wasn't long before she grasped the connection between her work and the ancient forests that were rapidly falling around her. Soon Judi Bari was leading the charge against what she saw as the over-cutting of the forests under the banner of the radical group Earth First!

(People shouting)

BARI: I'm glad we have that in common! We have a lot more in common than you think. Charlie Hurwitz isn't here to help you!...

THOMSON: She was a top-notch organizer and brought to the forest battles a sharp tongue and a wicked wit. But she'd also been a labor activist back east and understood the link between the fate of the forests and the forests jobs. So he seized every chance to try to make common ground with timber workers against what she saw as profiteering by corporate landowners.

BARI: We're not here because of the loggers. We're here because of Charles Hurwitz, some slime dinner [word?] from Texas, who's never seen a redwood in his life, make $4 million a year. That is 10 times what the average mill worker will make in a lifetime...

THOMSON: Judi Bari also came to realize that she couldn't win over many of her neighbors if they saw her as a threat to their safety. Tree spiking had been an Earth First calling card, but in the late 80s, after a spiked log nearly killed a local worker, she publicly renounced tree spiking and all other forms of violence.

(Protesters shouting)

THOMSON: Judi Bari's efforts at a worker-environmentalist coalition met only modest success, and her in your face style actually made her a lot of enemies. But she did win the respect of many in the industry. Art Harwood runs a mill in the tiny town of Branscom.

HARWOOD: She had a lot of courage. I mean, she risked a lot to do what she did and she paid a heavy price. I mean, she got hurt real bad doing this.

(Ambient voices in a crowd)

NEWS ANNOUNCER: For the second night in a row environmentalists are camping at the Oakland Police Department in a show of support for Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, who yesterday were injured when a bomb exploded in the car they were driving and today were charged with possessing and transporting that bomb intentionally.

SPOKESMAN: The decision to arrest...

THOMSON: Fellow Earth Firster Darryl Cherney was only slightly injured in the bombing in May of 1990, but Judi Bari nearly died. The FBI and Oakland police initially branded the 2 as terrorists, but the charges were soon dropped for lack of evidence and Judi Bari initiated a false arrest lawsuit against the FBI. The bombing remains unsolved. Her injuries kept her on the sidelines throughout Redwood Summer, a series of mass demonstrations in 1990. But within weeks she was back stumping for the action from her hospital bed.

BARI: This is not a symbolic act. We hope to literally slow down the logging by using our bodies nonviolently this summer, and we hope to do that so that they'll be something left to save by the time any legislation can be passed to regulate them.

THOMSON: Mike Ginella, who covers timber for the local Santa Rosa Press Democrat, says Judi Bari ultimately turned the bombing tragedy into a triumph.

GINELLA: I think Judi ended up winning a lot of people over when she returned to Mendocino County after that, fought very hard with the FBI to clear her name, including filing a lawsuit, and I think she ended up showing people in this community, even her -- her harshest critics, that she was a real person who had strong beliefs. And I think by that fact she helped shape the future discussions and I think helped ease some of the tensions.

THOMSON: In the years since, Judi Bari precariously balanced her public and private roles. She raised her 2 daughters and focused more and more on Maxam Corporation, which had taken over the region's largest old growth redwood tracts in 1985 and immediately set out to more than double its cut. She also pursued her case against the FBI. It may have been overwork that kept her from noticing her illness. By the time her breast cancer was diagnosed last fall, it was inoperable. Still, she didn't let up. She scoffed at a recent deal to protect a small part of a contested Maxam land known as the Headwaters Grove and continued to push a more sweeping alternative. After several months of slow decline, the end came quickly at home with her parents and daughters nearby. No one things the fight over the last contested swatches of California redwood ecosystem will die with Judi Bari. But those involved, like Cecilia Landman of the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville, say it might well have never gotten as far as it has without her.

LANDMAN: If some point in the future we get to stand somewhere and say we did it, you know, Headwaters is saved, now we can perhaps stand shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm with the working people of Humboldt County and put this place back together, you know, we'll be able to celebrate her life and her work at the time that we ultimately save Headwaters forest.

THOMSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Peter Thomson.



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth