It was raining Sunday, nobody else from the AVA wanted to go, I would miss the 49er’s game on television, and I had almost no confidence in the leadership abilities of the persons organizing Headwaters Three, the rally opposing destruction of Headwaters Forest, a 60,000-acre swathe of Humboldt County now owned by a Texas magic money man named Charles Hurwitz. Adding to my reluctance, the previous week had been characterized by considerable confusion on every thing from the rally site to the intentions of the forces of law and order. Tense negotiations with the Humboldt County authorities, including the police, had led nowhere. As late as Friday morning there was no rally site and the cops were woofing about arresting and overcharging people, as if they could waive the Bill of Rights then prosecute people for trying to assemble to exercise free speech. As always, the organizers were bending over to the point of sodomy to accommodate the arbitrary application of authority by authority.
But I went, my wife pushing me out the door at 8am with a basket of aged pears, three bags of radishes and a couple of those candy bars the more gullible outdoors people think contain pure sources of uncontaminated energy. Wendy Blankenheim, an athletic young woman who competed for Chico State as a member of its dive team before she went on to a stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa accompanied me from Boonville to Mendocino where we picked up the redoubtable Rusty Norvell, my arrest buddy from Headwaters Two the previous year. “You’ve got to promise me we won’t get arrested this year, Bruce. I’m not in shape for two or three days in jail,” Norvell explained, extracting from me a promise to avoid all legal entanglements. “I’ve got to work Monday, Rusty,” I assured him. “I don’t have time to do a few days in the Eureka lock-up,” not that the prospect of incarceration is any kind of demo or arrest deterrent in these days of benign law enforcement — benign at least where applied to the white middleclass comprising the environmental movement. As a kid, I dreaded demonstrations because beatings by police were an almost automatic part of the arrest process. Lots of middleaged people can tell you stories about how they were clubbed and beaten during the 60s in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco simply for attending a demonstration but not getting out of the way fast enough when the police charged. These days, one spends a day basically demonstrating one’s docility in the face of an authority that goes home and laughs itself to sleep.
With the sky clearing and the air sweet with wet redwood on the meandering drive up highway One via Leggett to the rally site at a place called Stafford — basically a freeway off-ramp just south of Scotia from which country lanes extend east and west of highway 101 — Miss Blankenheim seemed unperturbed by the alienated conversation of her two garrulous AARP-qualified companions. The estranged free association occasionally drifted onto the specifics of the Headwaters issue which, we came to the consensus, consists of a tenuous deal to buy 7,500 acres of Headwaters old growth redwood groves from Hurwitz for lots of public money, state and federal, although Hurwitz is being sued by the federal government for essentially looting a Texas S&L for $1.6 billion dollars. Lots of people think its perfectly reasonable that Hurwitz turns over all 60,000 acres of Headwaters for permanent protection in exchange for the federal tax dollars expended to bail out his S&L thefts.
The still-contested agreement for preservation of a mere 7,500 acres of Headwaters was worked out by Democrats intent upon last year’s re-election of Bill Clinton, the worst environmental president of the 20th century. Persons intimately involved with the preservation of Headwaters, wittingly or unwittingly, depending on who you talk to, signed off on a deal turning over negotiations for Headwaters to Senator Dianne Feinstein and John Garamendi with predictable results: Feinstein and Garamendi got Hurwitz to agree to take a huge amount of money for the smallest amount of forest. Everyone involved at the time — from the Sierra Club (whose representative, Kathy Bailey was later officially reprimanded by the Club for not clearing the Feinstein-Hurwitz deal with the rank and file membership of the Club) to Earth First! and the Mendocino Environment Center agreed to leave Headwaters negotiations to big shot Democrats allied with Clinton.
Immediately after the putative deal for 7,500 acres of Headwaters was agreed to by its defenders, most of the defenders realized they’d been had and immediately torqued their demands upwards as they planned last year’s large protest at Carlotta. We now wanted all 60,000 acres of Headwaters while much of the public thought a viable compromise had been worked out. A very big negotiating hole had been dug despite a successful show at Carlotta where more than a thousand people — including famous people like the singer Bonnie Raitt — were ritually arrested. These arrests turned out to be false because the spot of the symbolic trespass that occasioned them turned out not to be on private property.
The negotiating hole is now very, very big. Sunday’s rally was an attempt to climb out of it to save all 60,000 acres of Headwaters. But how to do it without nearly the numbers of protesters of even last year — 7,000 last year at Carlotta, about 4,000 Sunday at Stafford — and without a single elected officeholder at any level of government to appeal to and no systematic means to pressure a government owned by the Hurwitz’s of America?
But the rally was fun and the people were nice. These things are always fun and the people are always nice. Niceness is the literal watchword.
We arrived at noon. Cars lined the frontage roads paralleling 101. At the foot of Stafford’s off-ramps rent-a-cops directed vehicles to parking areas while perhaps as many as a hundred bemused CHP officers lounged against their vehicles on both sides of the highway. On the overpass at Stafford, several Caltrans workers lounged chatting with the police, their huge orange guts hanging over the guard rails like used condoms, growing fatter picking up triple OT for doing absolutely nothing. Police and CHP forces were drawn from jurisdictions as far away as Santa Clara. They were on the hill across from the rally site, they were assembled complete with booking tables and three prisoner buses at the southern end of Scotia and a very large contingent was massed at Fisher Gate in Carlotta as if “the hippies” might make a sudden ten mile dash due north to walk into Hurwitz’s woods at Carlotta. And what if they did? What would the hippies do in the woods, cut down five thousand year old trees? The police presence was ridiculously over-large. There were also rumors of South African water cannons ready to wash away the enviro plague and rumors of a National Guard Unit on stand-by mobilization. All this for as peaceful a group of Americans as might be found anywhere in the land on a Sunday afternoon. And many not even the dread hippies! The crowd was in fact the usual cross-section of citizens, including one bold young man in a suit and tie. Humboldt’s taxpayers might want to mount an air-land search for intelligent life among its law enforcement brass.
Monitors lined the road about a half mile to the open field east of 101 which functioned as the rally site. A guy handed me a piece of paper called “The non- violence code.” It reminded me not to bring a gun, or run, or use drugs and alcohol, not to damage property, and not to “use violence, verbal or physical toward any being.” It was just like being back in the 5th grade, and I’ll tell you the smug faces of the monitors and their simperingly pious demeanors made me feel very, very violent.
The rally itself was an unoppressive mix of woo-woo and reality. We were welcomed by local residents whose property had been damaged by a huge slide the previous winter when a hill loosened by Hurwitz’s heedless logging practices came down, destroying the half dozen homes in its path. A local couple had donated the rally site. The husband had retired from Pacific Lumber after three decades with them and was now totally estranged from the new regime at what once had been a family-owned mill fed by forests carefully tended to provide trees and work for the foreseeable future. With Hurwitz came an accelerated cut and the theft of the worker’s pension fund, later reversed by the courts. The old boy, as many old boys in Humboldt County, was estranged from Hurwitz and his quick cash-in practices at Pacific Lumber, not that you’d know it from the area’s supine corporate media.
At the media tent I collected a package of useful stuff describing the Hurwitz problem and his present practices in the woods. This week so-called salvage logging is set to begin. Down, diseased and dying trees, officially certified — at least in theory — by CDF professionals, will begin to be removed from Headwaters. Needless to say, salvage logging gives timber companies virtual carte blanche to take trees their “experts” designate as “diseased” and “dying.”
Cecilia Lanman, the basic glue for the entire Headwaters effort over the years as others have come and gone, told the crowd she wanted “a biological solution to the crisis of the forest.” The speakers, with a few exceptions, were brief and cogent, even the mystics seemed to be on task.
Starhawk, at whose introduction Norvell and I groaned, causing nearby enviros to shoot us suspicious looks, said, “We’re here to defend the trees and learn from them, become them.” I’ve spent many, many hours among trees, gazing raptly and even reverently at them, defending them, speaking for them, and by goddess not one of the ingrates has ever so much as said thanks!
Bonnie Raitt sang about Hurwitz’s ultimate day of reckoning, Jello Biafra hawked recordings of Judi Bari’s speeches, a guy warned us that a rocket was going up into space with a 72 pounds of plutonium on it; if the loons didn’t bring it safely back to earth it could wipe us all out. He didn’t have specific suggestions as to how to stop the launch. On the day, nobody had any specific suggestions about what to do about anything on the downside of the slope to oblivion.
Former Governor Jerry Brown brought the crowd to its feet with a passionate delivery that even mentioned the fundamental absurdities of capitalism, even saying “capitalism” right out loud. How perverse, it is, the governor said, that a single person can come to own forests that existed all the way back into the first mists of time? What the heck kind of system encourages the perversion of five thousand year old trees being cut down to make some already rich Texan even richer? Brown fired us up like no one else on the day.
A vaguely simian-looking Grateful Dead drummer named Mickey Hart came on stage with a big drum. He asked everyone to place one hand on their own pulse as he beat rhythmically on his drum in some kind of mass effort to get into global harmony. I can’t swear by this because when the going gets mystic I tend not to pay attention or head for the exit, but that seemed to be the idea. “It’s the rhythm, stupid,” Hart said he was saying to Hurwitz, and probably also to rhythm-challenged people like me. Hart said we need “emotional content, not anger.” Easy for a millionaire rocker to say when what most people need is anger and the linear intelligence to direct that anger if the Hurwitz’s of the world are ever going to be brought to heel.
The rally was a sea of costumes and placards, almost medieval in effect, the crowd joyously receiving Governor Brown’s radical message, and a good speech by a union guy about how unions were going to return to their “direct action roots” with as much enthusiasm as they did the vague meanderings of several shamans.
As the festivities on stage rolled on, three local proles, probably fourth-generation scabs — walked unmolested and unargued with — through the crowd carrying a placard which read “We Support The Timber Industry.” The timber industry doesn’t support you, pal, and you’re old enough to know that and you’re also old enough to know that if all you’ve got to sell is your sweat you better get off your knees and get together with people like yourself to protect yourself against the ownership or you’re even more screwed than you are now. But it’s hard to blame local kids for their stone ignorance of real world conditions: they never hear a word in the school years about unions and certainly never a word about class realities they’ll need to defend themselves against. In fact, the entire message — K-12 — propagandizes by word and deed against any kind of civic involvement.
At a little after four, the crowd streamed out of the rally meadow, headed west to the Stafford slide behind cadres of drummers. A middleaged woman sat down in the middle of highway 101, monitors a-twitter at this unsanctioned act which was the most pertinent but unimitated direct action on the day. A youngish kamikaze hurled himself at the police cordon blocking an on-ramp. He got arrested and hauled off, the only arrest of the day.
About six, a brilliant rainbow appeared in the east sky to a murmur of “O Wows” and “Ooo Walla Woola Woogs.” Headwaters Three was over for most of us for the year, but the next day more than forty noble young people were arrested as they tried to stop equipment entering Headwaters to begin salvage logging. Bless them, and maybe some day they’ll have a leadership worthy of them.