Judi Bari Dies But Her Struggle Continues
by Nicholas Wilson
died peacefully Sunday, March 2 at 6:45 a.m. of breast cancer
which had spread to her liver. Bari was perhaps most widely known as the
survivor of a 1990 car bombing, which nearly killed her and left her
crippled. Still in the courts is her lawsuit against the FBI, accusing it of
attempting to frame her as a terrorist in order to discredit her and her
environmental activist movement in the public's mind.
She had refused hospitalization, choosing to die with dignity at her mountain cabin near Willits, California. Beside her were her daughter Lisa Bari, 16, her companion and assistant Alicia Littletree, and fellow Earth First! organizer and close friend Karen Pickett. Her younger daughter Jessica, 11, was at a nearby motel with Bari's parents Arthur and Ruth Bari, and younger sister Martha Bari, all of Silver Springs, Maryland. They had been visiting Bari for several days, and were able to return to her home just after her passing. Bari is also survived by her older sister, Gina Kolata, science reporter for the New York Times.
in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 7, 1949, was a firebrand
orator widely regarded as the principal leader of the Earth First! movement
in Northern California. She guided regional Earth First! to adopt a policy of
non- violent direct action and to renounce the use of tree- spiking, a tactic
intended to prevent logging, but which could cause injuries to sawmill
She was a fighter and organizer for social and environmental justice. The common denominator in the causes she fought for was her indignation over wrongs and her determination to fight for justice. While a student at the University of Maryland, she "majored in anti-Vietnam War rioting," as she put it with her typical wit. While a worker at a U.S. post office bulk mail facility near Washington, D.C., Bari organized a wildcat strike for better working conditions and put out a workers' newsletter.
After meeting her husband-to-be Mike Sweeney on the East Coast, she followed him to California in 1979, where they married and lived in Sonoma County, an hour's drive north of San Francisco. She turned her attention to U.S. support for repressive regimes in Central America, working with the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). After the couple moved further north to Mendocino County, they found they had grown apart, and divorced amicably, sharing the care of their two daughters.
While working as a construction carpenter, Bari began to wonder about the beautiful tight-grained redwood boards she was hammering nails into. When she learned they came from 1000 to 2000 year old trees, she quickly resolved to work to preserve the remaining old-growth redwood forests. She became the contact person for Earth First! in Ukiah in 1988, working out of the Mendocino Environmental Center in the Mendocino County seat.
The first sustained Earth First! action she helped organize was a blockade of logging on public land near Cahto Peak, in the Coast Range mountains near the headwaters of the South Fork Eel River. Ultimately, the 16 to 18 thousand acre forest was spared from the chainsaws and became part of the Cahto Wilderness area.
Bari was one
of the early organizers of efforts to preserve Headwaters
Forest in Humboldt County. As Darryl Cherney put it, "When Greg King
and I were organizing demonstrations, dozens, maybe hundreds of people
turned out, but when Judi got involved, thousands came."
Cherney and Bari had teamed up in 1988. Cherney recalled that he had first met Bari when he was having trouble laying out a flyer for his own campaign for Congress. He was working at the Mendocino Environmental Center when Bari walked in. MEC coordinator Betty Ball knew she was a talented graphic artist, so Ball introduced the two and suggested Bari might help with the flyer layout. Cherney recalled that Bari worked ably on the layout while poking fun at him for his conceit in running. He said he instantly fell in love with her at that point, and they became a romantic duo as well as an Earth First! organizing team until 1990.
Bari continued her labor activism when she got involved with helping workers doused with toxic fluid in a Georgia-Pacific sawmill accident in Fort Bragg, California. The company told the workers the spill was just mineral oil, but testing showed it was laden with PCBs. Bari organized the injured workers into Local #1 of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W. or Wobblies) and argued their case successfully in U.S. Labor Court, despite her lack of legal training.
Another justice issue which Bari took up was the defense of a Ukiah Planned Parenthood Clinic against an anti-abortion demonstration organized by Operation Rescue. Joining other counter-demonstrators, Bari and Cherney sang a song they had composed titled "Will the Fetus Be Aborted," sung to the tune of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Bari later recalled how outrageous they had been, and how their counter- demonstration -- and particularly that song -- had horrified the anti- abortionists. She said she had not realized how much it would shock them, but said she had intended for them to experience how the women clients of the clinic might feel when confronted with shouting, singing, demonstrators holding up photos of aborted fetuses.
Betty Ball credited Bari with the feminization of Earth First!. "It had been incredibly male-dominated prior to Judi's entrance. There were women involved but none were as successful as Judi in putting the feminine spin into it, and getting rid of some of the macho chest-beating that had been prevalent in Earth First! prior to that. Judi's influence then allowed many more women to get involved, in more influential ways than had been possible previously. Judi also innately understood the importance of community-based organizing, as opposed to the nomadic style that Earth First! had before that."
Many of her supporters think it was because she was able to begin building alliances between timber workers and environmentalists that got her the attention of timber company executives and made her the focus of efforts to target and discredit Earth First!. Counterfeit Earth First! press releases advocating violent tactics were created by a pro-timber activist group and circulated to workers and the press by Pacific Lumber Company, among others, according to evidence developed in Bari's ongoing lawsuit against the FBI.
In a 1989 incident reminiscent of the Karen Silkwood case, Bari's car was rammed from behind by a log truck, totaling her car and sending her, another adult and three children to a hospital with minor to moderate injuries. Law enforcement refused to treat the incident as anything but an accident, although Bari later discovered through photographs that the truck which had struck her car was the same one which had been stopped by an Earth First! blockade less than 24 hours earlier. When the truck driver saw that there were children in Bari's car, he said, "My God, I didn't see the kids," according to Bari's account.
of 1990 was the eve of Redwood Summer, when Bari, Cherney,
and others were working to bring thousands of college students from
around the country to the redwood region in an effort inspired by the
Mississippi Summer civil rights campaign of the '60s. Coming up on the fall
ballot was the Forests Forever initiative, which was vehemently opposed by
the timber industry because it would restrict their rapid depletion of forest
resources. Redwood Summer was intended to hold back timber cutting
until the ballot initiative could be passed. The timber industry hired public
relations companies, for example Hill & Knowlton, to whip up opposition to
Redwood Summer and identify Earth First! in the public mind as violent
extremists, and label them eco-terrorists. They also described Forests
Forever as "the Earth First! initiative."
Bari and other Earth First! activists began receiving anonymous telephoned and written death threats that were, on their face, from timber supporters. When she reported the threats, and took the written ones to law enforcement, she was dismissed with the statement that there was no manpower to investigate, and "When you turn up dead, then we'll investigate," according to Bari's account published in her 1994 book "Timber Wars" published by Common Courage Press.
It was in the resulting climate of polarized tension and fear that Bari and Cherney were traveling to college campuses, recruiting support for Redwood Summer and meeting with allies such as Seeds of Peace, a Berkeley, California, based group that was to provide food service to the masses expected to come to a base camp in the redwood area.
On May 24, 1990, a powerful bomb exploded under Bari's driver's seat nearly killing her, and injuring Cherney as the two were driving in Oakland, California. Oakland Police and FBI terrorist squad members were quickly on the scene and within hours placed Bari and Cherney under arrest. Police told the press that the two were the only suspects in what police said was a case of terrorists injured by the accidental explosion of a bomb they were knowingly carrying.
Bari barely survived the bomb blast, which fractured her pelvis in several places, pulverized her tailbone, and caused extensive tissue and nerve damage, crippling her and leaving her with constant pain. Cherney suffered lesser injuries, including a facial cut and ruptured eardrums.
The bombing and police accusations against Bari and Cherney were reported in the national media, fed by a weeks-long series of statements from police and FBI claiming to have found incriminating evidence in searches of Bari's house, allegedly proving she was involved in making the bomb. These reports persuaded many people then, and some even today, that Bari was linked to making the bomb by physical evidence.
But, two months after the bombing, the District Attorney declined to press any charges, citing lack of evidence. No other suspects have ever been identified by police or FBI, and both have continued to the present to say that Bari and Cherney were their only suspects.
In May, 1991,
a year after the bomb blast, Bari and Cherney filed a federal
civil rights lawsuit against the FBI itself and several agents, and against the
Oakland Police and several individual officers. Other defendants and co-
plaintiffs were later dropped from the suit. The suit alleges that Bari and
Cherney were falsely arrested by the Oakland Police, at the illegal,
politically-motivated instigation of the FBI.
Their lead attorney, Dennis Cunningham of San Francisco, wrote in a new document in the suit, "Actually the bombing was a clear, carefully designed, criminal attempt to stop and silence Judi Bari, a leader of activist protest by Earth First! against destruction of the forest environment and local human communities by corporate logging powers in northern California; and to intimidate and weaken the movement she and Darryl Cherney were part of. The reality of this criminal -- terrorist -- attack was ignored and debunked by the defendant state and federal police authorities, and they have continued to do so up to the present."
After a court hearing in the case just two days before Bari's death, Bill Simpich, another attorney for the two, made a public appeal for U. S. Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the FBI's role in the bombing and the alleged coverup. Simpich accused the FBI of suppressing exonerating evidence, ignoring obvious evidence indicating Bari was the victim of attempted murder, making false and defamatory statements to the press and the courts, deliberately failing to investigate physical evidence such as death threat letters, stonewalling demands for other evidence through the lawsuit, and covering up its own role in the matter.
The suit will go forward, Cherney vowed. He said when he spoke with Bari by phone on February 21, she told him, "Take Richard Held to trial. Take this case to trial. Don't let them off the hook." "And that's what we're going to do," Cherney said. Held was the FBI Special Agent In Charge of the San Francisco office at the time of the bombing. He resigned from the FBI shortly after Bari, through the lawsuit, forced the disclosure of police photos of Bari's bombed car clearly showing that the bomb had been hidden directly under her driver's seat, rather than on the back seat floorboard, as police and the FBI had claimed to the press. Held also had headed FBI operations to disrupt the Black Panther Party and American Indian Movement under the FBI's codename of COINTELPRO in the '60s and '70s.
In a December 15, 1996 interview with Eric Brazil of the San Francisco Examiner, Bari said that timber workers no longer agree with the argument that environmentalism is the main threat to their jobs. "They're not stupid," she said. "In Mendocino County since 1990, Louisiana Pacific laid off more than two-thirds of its workers and closed five of its seven mills. What we've been saying is true: It's corporations versus the rural community. We've never said no to logging. We just want sustainable logging."
Among the traits often cited in describing Bari were her intelligence, determination, and ever-present sense of humor. When someone remarked about her ability to continue her activism despite her injuries she quipped, "They bombed the wrong end of me." Though handicapped by paralysis in her right foot and constant pain from her injuries, Bari continued to organize non-violent direct action protests after the bombing, including a sustained effort against logging giant Louisiana-Pacific at a place called Enchanted Meadow.
In that 1992 battle along Mendocino County's Albion River, Bari and Cherney helped residents of the "Albion Nation" mount a determined two- month struggle featuring tree-sitters, road blockades, people chaining themselves to equipment, and almost daily public rallies. The logging was eventually halted by court order obtained by Bari's friend and landlady, attorney Joanne Moore. When the logging company sued Bari and scores of other demonstrators, Bari brought in attorney Cunningham to defend them, and eventually negotiated a painless settlement of the suit.
Bari also was
a main organizer behind the large-scale rallies and civil
disobedience actions for Headwaters Forest that helped bring it to national
attention. She was the first of hundreds to be peacefully arrested at the
September, 15, 1995 rally, and was one of the primary organizers and
speakers a year later at the same place when over 1000 persons crossed
over a line to be arrested, including former Congressman Dan Hamburg
and singer Bonnie Raitt.
It was January 31 when Judi Bari's health last allowed her to host her popular weekly public affairs radio show on Mendocino County public radio station KZYX. On February 21 the station broadcast a special call-in tribute during Bari's regular 90-minute time slot for her Punch & Judi show. The host asked listeners to share stories and memories about Bari, and let them know that she would be listening from home.
Many callers spoke directly to Bari, thanking her for her work for environmental and social justice. Callers praised her courage, strength, leadership, intelligence, and hilarious sense of humor.
One caller was former Representative Hamburg, who began by saying, "It's important that we pay tribute to our heroes, and Judi Bari is definitely one of those." Hamburg said he had been involved in politics for close to 30 years, and has had some proud moments, but never any prouder moments than the two or three times he shared a podium with Judi Bari.
Hamburg went on to say, "She's feared by those in authority, whether members of the Board of Supervisors, who could see what a standout she was as an organizer, and how powerful her ideas were, but certainly also by the FBI, which certainly knows much more about the Judi Bari bombing than we've found out so far."
Then, speaking directly to Bari, Hamburg said, "But, Judi, you're feared by those people because you're truly a revolutionary. You see, with your vision, a different kind of world; a world where connections are made between the global economy and poverty and environmental deterioration. You understand what the connections are between the big picture and the little picture. And that's why, I think, for so long you've been such a good teacher, not only to me but to people all over the county, state and country.
"I agree with that previous caller who said that you're somebody who will always be thought of, always be remembered as a great person in the movement for the world that we all want to see come about. Thank you Judi. Hang in there. You've got lots of people behind you, lots of people who love you and care about you. Thank you for all you've done."
Bari said afterwards that the experience made her feel like Huckleberry Finn listening to his own funeral eulogy, but that she was encouraged and strengthened by the outpouring of love and support.
A few days before her death Bari said she wanted obituaries to list her occupation as "revolutionary." A friend said she asked people to remember what Wobbly martyr Joe Hill said just before he was executed in 1915: "Don't mourn. Organize!"
In her final
interview with reporter Mike Geniella, Bari said, "I want
want my family, and the world, to know who bombed me." Up to a week
before her death, though receiving round-the-clock home hospice nursing
care, she worked on her case with friends, passing on to them her
knowledge and meticulously organized legal notes.
Betty Ball summarized the feelings of many when she said, "For all these many years, it has been 'Judi Bari for Justice,' but now it's time for 'Justice for Judi Bari.'" After learning today of Bari's passing, Ball said, "Some holes can't be filled. Judi was the most brilliant strategist and the greatest imp I ever knew."
Bari asked that her friends get together for a party (the word she chose) Sunday, March 9 in her hometown of Willits at the Willits Grange, 291 School St., from 1:00 to 9:30 p.m. The event will be potluck, and participants are asked to bring food, table service, musical instruments, poetry, and memories to share. It was requested that no alcohol be brought, and, showing her sense of humor to the end, Bari specifically asked that there be no "om" -ing.
A trust fund was set up to provide for her medical expenses and her children. The address is: Judi Bari Trust Fund, c/o M.E.C., 106 W. Standley St., Ukiah CA 95482.
A separate fund supports Bari and Cherney's legal expenses in their lawsuit to clear their name. Contributions may be sent to Redwood Justice Fund, P.O. Box 14720, Santa Rosa CA 95402.
Further updates on Bari's legal battle will be published in the Albion Monitor, on the Internet at: http://www.monitor.net/monitor
The Monitor maintains a Bari Archive index page with links to much more information at: http://www.monitor.net/monitor/bari
A Judi Bari web page is under construction by the Redwood Summer Justice Project, and will be available soon at:http://www.monitor.net/~bari
Albion Monitor March 2, 1997 (Revised March 6) (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
All Rights Reserved.
Permission to copy granted if Albion Monitor given credit.
All Rights Reserved.
Permission to copy granted if Albion Monitor given credit.