Terrorist or EcoPatriot?
You see, I had just driven back from a week at the Eastern Forest Action Camp in the exceptionally beautiful Jefferson National Forest of southwest Virginia. I hadn't called Dad before heading into the woods, and I was barely getting back home in time to say "Happy Father's Day."
My dad and I are pretty close, but I wasn't sure how to tell him that the US Forest Service (USFS) District Ranger called the campers "Terrorists." It was a Father’' Day surprise, to say the least.
This year's camp was on Virginia's High Knob mountain, where local residents are working to protect their families from a Forest Service plan to clearcut in their watershed. The USFS District Ranger considers us terrorists because we intend to use non-violent, civil disobedience to stop the logging.
You may have heard about the Forest Service's 700-acre "Bark Camp" logging project planned for High Knob. Previous logging approved by the Forest Service contributed to major flooding that created 27 landslides, swept away homes and killed a man. The new logging is planned right in the flood's path.
Seven years ago, the folks on High Knob organized themselves to save their mountain and families. 5,000 local residents signed petitions opposing the Forest Service. They call themselves the Clinch Coalition for the river that runs through this part of the beautiful Southern Appalachian Mountains. (clinchcoalition.org).
The Clinch Coalition lost their final legal case in federal court last month. But, instead of giving up, they decided to keep struggling to stop the Forest Service from endangering their lives and ruining the public's forest. Left without any other recourse, the Clinch Coalition is turning to America's time-honored tradition of civil disobedience.
Non-violent, peaceful protest didn't begin with the environmental movement and it probably won't end with it, but the Clinch Coalition has been perfecting their skills in civil disobedience for several years now. Because of this, the USFS District Ranger, Doug Jones, considers us "Terrorists."
In fact, Ranger Doug told his entire staff that we were terrorists, even though he knows we only use non-violent, peaceful techniques to protest civilly. Calling us terrorists is not only ridiculous, it is the kind of redbaiting and McCarthyism that should make any public official feel ashamed.
Ranger Doug claims we are "terrorists" because we are "intimidating" and "coercing" private companies in order to stop logging in the community's watershed. Protests may be colorful and even intimidating, but taking a non-violent, peaceful stand doesn't make you a terrorist.
Were Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi "terrorists" for using civil disobedience that intimidated and threatened racist or imperialist institutions? Obviously not. We are willing to sacrifice, get arrested, pay fines and potentially go to jail for something in which we deeply believe, and that attracts public concern and ultimately changes the government for the better.
If it weren't for peaceful protest, we wouldn't have civil rights, voting rights for women, or even the five-day workweek. Many people were called things like "terrorists" in their work to secure these rights, but in the end, they were called patriotic Americans.
It is not only our right but also our responsibility to defend the families and forests of High Knob. It is our duty as Americans to defend our fellow citizens and public lands. We are Eco-Patriots.
I ask you, where is the real terrorism here: Peaceful protest or clearcuts that create killer landslides?
Across the country, the Bush Administration's Forest Service is abusing the law and the will of the people. To stop them, eco-patriots across the country are joining in the "Forests and Freedoms Summer" to stop the Bush Administration from cutting down the public's forests and cutting out the public from participating in national forest management. The effort to save the people and forests on High Knob is part of this national campaign. To learn more, check out www.endangeredforests.org.
For Father's Day, when I told my dad we were called "terrorists," he wasn't ashamed. In fact, when he heard the US Forest Service called his son a "terrorist"-a son who learned about the power of civil disobedience from his father-my dad knew it was only the mudslinging and slander of a desperate agency, and that I must be doing something right.
You can do the right thing, too. Join us on High Knob and take a stand for forests, families, and freedoms.
Andrew George is the national campaign coordinator for the National Forest Protection Alliance, an umbrella group of 130 grassroots environmental organizations dedicated to saving endangered public forests. He lives in Chapel Hill, NC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This story was published on June 28, 2004.