I first met Judi Bari in November 1991, just a little over a year after I founded the RFC. We both attended a conference held at the Highlander Center at which 30 environmental and civil rights activists shared their experiences and alarm at the escalating campaign of what we dubbed “corporate harassment.”
These attacks were being directed at activists who had been forming coalitions with labor unions seeking to protect their members and livelihood, and with poor and third world communities whose neighborhoods were being inundated with toxic waste.
Judi was a remarkably dynamic person. She was a union organizer, carpenter, musical performer and environmental firebrand who led Earth First’s efforts to save Northern California old growth Redwoods from corporate clear cutting in the late 1980’s. Judi was blown up in her car in Oakland, California in May 1990 while she was in the midst of organizing Earth First’s “Redwood Summer Campaign,” a daring plan to bring thousands of young people into the forests to disrupt the summer logging efforts. The bomb, planted under the driver’s seat, shattered Judi’s pelvis and crushed her backbone, but she survived.
Despite evidence that right-wing forces were behind this attempt on Judi’s life, the FBI with the aid of the Oakland Police arrested Judi in her hospital bed. They charged her and her partner Darryl Cherney with being “eco-terrorists” and alleged they were transporting explosives that went off accidently in the car’s backseat. This effort to blame the victims was exposed once photographs surfaced showing a giant hole directly under the driver’s seat of the car. The RFC came to Judi’s aid (she was now dependent on meager disability payments), providing grants for her two daughters, then aged seven and 11, starting in 1991 and continuing until they reached adulthood.
Judi and Darryl fought the charges, which were dismissed in 1991. Then they fought back by suing the FBI and the Oakland police for false arrest and violations of their constitutional rights and doggedly pursuing their legal action despite Judi’s battle with breast cancer. Judi even provided a video deposition from her deathbed in 1997. The case finally came to trial in 2002. Judi was posthumously vindicated by the $4.4 million verdict against the Oakland Police and the FBI that the jury awarded Darryl Cherney and Judi’s estate. This remains the only court-adjudicated financial victory ever won by private citizens against the FBI in our nation’s history.
But the question of who perpetrated this terrorist attack was never resolved. In fact, the FBI never subjected the remains of the bomb to any forensic tests. Evidently intent on continuing its cover-up, the Bureau notified the court in 2010 of its intention to destroy the evidence. Darryl Cherney, in the midst of producing a documentary, Who Bombed Judi Bari?, resisted this effort and obtained a court order in 2011 commanding the FBI to turn the evidence over to a laboratory for independent testing. In what Darryl’s attorney called an “historic and momentous development,” a federal court judge upheld that decision in another order released on April 2, 2012.
In the meantime, Who Bombed Judi Bari? has finally come to the big screen. As reported in the Los Angeles Times: “Cherney hopes the movie will help finally solve that mystery – and inspire a new generation of activism by highlighting the victories Bari and her cohorts won.”
I am proud to have known Judi and treasure the brief time we spent together at the Highlander Conference. Although she was in constant pain, her presence at that event was electrifying and served as an inspiration to us all. And I am so proud of the lengthy and in-depth relationship the Rosenberg Fund for Children was able to forge with Judi and her family. I urge all in our community to see “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” and to take whatever action you can to bring it to a theater near you.