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  • We Made the Change by Talking About ItMovement Narratives of Antiviolence Activism in the Radical Environmental Organization Cascadia Forest Defenders
  • Kiera James Anderson (bio)

Left-leaning activist movements in the United States have a long history of confronting oppressive behaviors of the State—and non-State opponents—alongside attempts to deal with intramovement power struggles. These tensions reveal patterns of oppressive and aggressive behavior that reinforced gendered and racial hierarchies, which many groups made concerted efforts to dismantle.1 This article provides an analysis of how narratives and counter-narratives were deployed to reinforce and resist patterns of abusive and violent behavior within Cascadia Forest Defenders (CFD), a grassroots environmental organization based in Eugene, Oregon. CFD was founded in 1995 by a group of mostly white activists in their twenties and thirties—University of Oregon students, activists from the grassroots environmental network Earth First!, and a few Eugene locals.2 Their first major victory came in 1996, with the halting of logging in an area known as Warner Creek in the Willamette National Forest. The Willamette National Forest—like Eugene and surrounding towns—exists on land stolen from the Kalapuya people during the colonization of the Pacific Northwest, a fact obscured by CFD's suggestion that national forests are "public land."3 In 1998 CFD set up tree-sits in the Clark timber sale, an area of old-growth forest in the Willamette National Forest at risk of being logged.4 The timber sale's proximity to Fall Creek, a popular recreation site, led CFD to choose the latter name for their tree-sits.5 Humus, a white male CFD activist, worked on the Fall Creek campaign and acknowledged the impact that "lots of dysfunctional people, lots of men with anger management issues" had in the early days. John, a white CFD activist, observed some of these conflicts playing out: "There was issues constantly being sorted out by the crew and as usual for the time it was either things didn't get said or all of a sudden somebody's really, you know, on the outs."6 [End Page 136]

CFD dealt with these issues alongside intragroup disagreements over tactics and strategy. Denali—a white woman who got involved with CFD around 1995—suggested that some original members disagreed with the use of tree-sits at Fall Creek.7 However, ultimately the tree-sits were put up.8 CFD's sits generally consisted of two pieces of wood—approximately 4 feet x 7 feet—connected by smaller sections of wood to encircle the tree.9 They were deliberately built high, in the canopy of trees often 250 feet tall, to make it harder for U.S. Forest Service officials to arrest the activists occupying them.10 Tree-sits depended on activists maintaining a constant presence in the trees and required significant levels of support from town. Denali summarized this in regard to movement tactics:

A lot of people were critical of the Fall Creek campaign as a strategic decision because tree-sit campaigns are really resource-dependent. They require a lot of input and constant support, and they require a lot of energy.11

Tree-sitters remained in their sits around the clock, necessitating regular food drop-offs from town and the disposal of human waste.12 The often fraught relationship between tree-sitters and those who did "town support" became a gendered dynamic within CFD. At Fall Creek, town support work often fell to women—the majority of whom were white—while it was primarily white men who spent long periods of time in sits.13 The act of tree-sitting came to be viewed as more heroic than the support work that made tree-sitting possible. Wind, a white woman who did town support for CFD, identified the gendered nature of this dynamic: "When it became clear that the sitters in the tree were almost exclusively men, and that the carriers of support were almost exclusively women, we thought, you know, that doesn't feel fair."14

Within CFD, gendered frictions between the activists in the woods—who began referring to themselves as Red Cloud Thunder—and activists in town intersected with tensions between...


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pp. 136-170
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