Judi Bari and the FBI

Judi loved to howl, so we howled for her, we howled for fun, and we howled for justice. 24 May 2002 marked exactly twelve years since a bomb ripped through Judi Bari and the car that she and Darryl Cherney were in. The motion-activated pipe bomb was conveniently placed right under her driver’s seat with the intention to kill and, although lucky to survive, Judi lived with a limp and chronic pain until she died of breast cancer in March 1997. 24 May 2002 also marked the sixth day of deliberations, after seven weeks of trial, for the jury before it returns its verdict in an historic trial against the FBI (and the Oakland Police Department)—for falsely arresting Judi and Darryl and violating their civil rights, for failing to go after the bomber(s), for obstructing justice and covering up their own illegal misconduct, for framing the victims as the perpetrators and engaging in a new COINTELPRO against these peaceful eco-activists.

Judi was a union organizer, a feminist, an environmental activist, and a mother. Although I only met her twice, I know she was also a funny and otherwise wonderful person. She always took the time to build bridges and make connections with workers, welfare, war, and waste, to mention a few, recognizing the humanity of her fellow humans and the wildness of the wilderness, while injecting these often thorny issues with joy and humor. There’s no doubt that Judi’s spirit was infused with what Abraham Joshua Heschel, the rabbi who marched with Martin Luther King and proclaimed that he was praying with his feet, described as “radical amazement”. These and other marvelous qualities made her dangerous.

The bombing in 1990 slowed her down, but it never stopped her. Like Joe Hill who urged before his own death “Don’t mourn, organize” and Mother Jones who couseled “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living”, Judi was a tireless pacifist fighter for the Earth and its inhabitants. Her “revolutionary ecology” was her expression of love for life, especially the magnificent redwood trees that she chose to live amongst. This case against the FBI was important to Judi as yet another prong in the struggle for social and ecological justice. “This case is not just about me or Darryl or Earth First!”, Judi once said. “This case is about the rights of all political activists to engage in dissent without having to fear the government’s secret police.” Imploring the FBI to do its job instead of attacking activists, she always said that “the FBI should find the bomber and fire him”.

In honor of this auspicious day, we held a spirited rally in front of the Oakland Federal Building, where the trial is taking place and not far from where Judi and Darryl were bombed. Earth First! gatherings are the closest things most of us will ever get to Ecotopia (from Ernest Callenbach’s classic novel). It was a burst of beauty! It was so nice to again see Darryl Cherney and other Earth First!ers, Tony Serra and the rest of the dedicated legal team, Utah Phillips and other musicians, Wavy Gravy and other hippies—along with some Wobblies, Radical Women, and other activists of various stripes and flavors. Physically gone, Judi and her spirit were certainly there nevertheless. Earth First! takes Emma Goldman seriously. Emma once quipped, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”. In their own ways, everyone danced.

While the cops were surveilling us and some of us were surveilling the cops, we were speaking, singing, dancing, howling, and proudly displaying our colors like political peacocks—in addition to distributing and sharing flyers and free bottles of organic spiced tea. There were, of course, lots of fiddles and anyone who had a musical instrument was encouraged to join in, whether or not they knew the songs. The rest of us sang along to such songs as “Fiddle Down the FBI”, a reference to the FBI having seized Judi’s childhood fiddle and never returning it, which included a chorus of

                Fiddle up the justice
                Fiddle down the lies
                Fiddle up the truth
                Fiddle down the FBI

During this song, one middle-aged woman with grey hair, who was otherwise quite youthful, spontaneously grabbed my arm with hers and we spun around each other until she moved on to another person, and then another. It was a rally, but it was also a festival and we were all celebrating together.

Amidst signs asking “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” and declaring that “You Can’t Bomb the Truth”, we sang. Across from posters referring to the FBI as “Forever Busting the Innocent” and “Fires, Bombing, and Intimidation”, we danced. And under banners urging us to “Rise Up” and that “Action is the antidote for despair”, we cheered. We also took the time to note that at one point during their deliberations the jury was heard laughing uproariously and the thought of it made us laugh too. Interestingly, when the jury asked for a copy of the U.S. Constitution, they were denied it. In normal circumstances this would be ironic, but these are not normal circumstances to be sure. Instead, it is emblematic and tragic.

Regardless of what decision the jury comes back with, as Darryl said in his speech, history will record that we are on the side of truth and justice and that the FBI is on the side of deception and repression. Naturally, we all howled.

For more information on this history-making trial and how to help, please go to: www.judibari.org

Dan Brook teaches sociology at UC Berkeley and can be contacted via [email protected] For CyberBrook’s ThinkLinks, go to: www.brook.com/cyberbrook.

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