Or, Why Working to Disempower Police May be the Most Environmentally Sustainable Decision You Can Make in Your Life
Imagine being an environmental activist in a world where police can get away with killing young people for vandalizing a fast food joint; where a government’s local law enforcers are collaborating with giant energy corporations to stifle opposition; where a sheriff demands funding for a program urging neighbors to snitch on anyone who says they hate said government.
Sadly it doesn’t take much imagination, does it? In case you weren’t inspired to click the embedded links above, they reference recent stories of these things occurring in the US.
In light of this reality, it’s crystal clear that global ecology will never be stabilized as long as the police have anything to do with it.
That’s right. Stopping the tar sands’ atmospheric climate bomb, keeping GMOs out of our food, and defending wolves’ ability to restore biodiversity depends on getting rid of the fuzz. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new movement initiative that aims to reduce the CO2 parts per million (ppm) by simultaneously slashing the cpms (cops per million). Cops are not only the industrial empire’s first line of defense against, well, us. They are also massive usurpers of the public financial resources that might otherwise be put towards restoring the Earth.
Where the Earth First! movement was once known for its epic wilderness corridor proposals in the ‘80s which became a basic foundation for the future of conservation biology, I think this plan too will shape the face of the ecology to come.
First, a slight tangent about the title this article. I did a quick search of the phrase “the ecology of” and found that we now we have a whole milieu of writing based on the “Ecology Of” something or other. There’s books on the ecology of: Commerce, Money, Games, Work…*
In the 1993 book Ecology of Commerce, author Paul Hawken proclaims that any substantial change in the way we protect our planet will have to come from business leadership. I didn’t actually read this book, just skimmed some reviews, but I agree with the general sentiment—that is, if you replace “business leadership” with “getting rid of cops.”
So maybe me and Paul Hawken wouldn’t be the best of friends. Still, I think he’d have a hard time refuting the premise here.
The author of this article experiencing the East Texas flavor of the police state, along the KXL route.
No Cops Earth First!
Whittling away at the police force is no small task. I know this, not only on the gut level, but because I’ve tried.
The city I live in spends roughly half its available budget on cops. In 2011, a bold city manager here in Lake Worth, Florida, attempted to negotiate that amount down with the support of a former City Commissioner, Suzanne Mulvehill, a community activist herself. Mulvehill noted that the city loses control over spending for law enforcement by making an annual payment to the sheriff’s office. “Fifty percent of our budget is one number that we’re not able to touch.” That’s roughly 15 million bucks out of 30 million dollar budget.
Soon after that attempt to challenge the cop’s budget (which resulted in a measly-but-better-than-nothing million bucks cut), the political climate shifted—and it was by no coincidence. Through heavy lobbying by cops, their lackeys in fire department (who unsurprisingly tend to garner much more sympathy at the polls as the face of “public servants”) and the usual suspects of the establishment—Chamber of Commerce, Realtor’s groups, business PACs, yuppie neighborhood associations, Fox News/Tea Party idiots—a pro-cop majority was elected (but just barely). First thing they did was fire that city manager. Soon after, they dismantled the Community Relations Board I was a member of, which was tasked primarily with oversight of the police.
You’re probably thinking, “Quirky small town politics… Isn’t Lake Worth home to the Earth First! Journal for fuck’s sake? Of course they need a lot of gestapo pigs.. er, law enforcement officers, there!”
That may be so. But the same goes for the whole County we live in, and well before the Journal relocated from Tucson. The general fund portion of their budget in 2012: $1,016,251,176. The proposed budget Sheriff Bradshaw “respectfully submit[s]” for the fiscal year 2012-2013: $471,302,293.
Yeah, sure, so maybe Palm Beach County was touted by Time Magazine as Florida’s “Corruption County” not so long ago, with a majority of County Commissioners, 4 out of 7, leaving office in disgrace for dirty dealings with developers…
Perhaps we should move on to another state entirely. Some rust belt spot renown for its dwindling public sector. How about Michigan?
Even in a small town like Muskegon, it looks like the police still usurped around 25 percent of the entire general fund last year. (Public Safety [sic]: $11,041,420; General Fund: $43,658,286.)
A world without cops
Here, you can try out your imagination again, or you can look at some of the numerous places around the world where local cops are far and few between. Its a lot easier to occupy a dam site, block a pipeline’s construction for over a decade, burn gold mining equipment, or set up armed forest defense camps, when the 5-0 aren’t all up in your business, like 24/7.
That’s not to say that life in the struggle is hunky dory in these places. But it usually takes a national military (or at least the big city cops), with the concerted pressure of global economic interests, to clear out this sort of resistance. Of course, that pressure tends to be born in our backyards, mainly in the US Empire and Fortress Europe.
But imagine how much stronger your solidarity actions against the Belo Monte dam, logging in Michoacan, or tar sands on First Nations land, if the cops didn’t show up so quick in your town to kick you out of the occupied embassy or corporate office.
How would your strategy change? How much could you increase pressure and build local momentum for your campaigns, and the resistance in general, if you weren’t constantly bogged down by jail, court, fines and prisoner support.
It may sound like a utopic fantasy novel, but I assure you, this ain’t no Fifth Sacred Thing that I’m proposing. If we can take on entire centuries-old industries, like coal mining or logging, and attack entire institutions that paved the way for urban life, like environmental racism and indigenous treaty violation—and actually make an impact—then we can organize strategically against the police state.
How to get there
Here’s the part where you expect some flowery poetry disguised as revolutionary rhetoric, or incoherent insurrectionist ramblings about politics and bananas. But forget that noise. I’m not even gonna use the words “prefigurative” (which basically means thinking about what you want before acting on it) or “intersectionality” (which means most all things are connected).
Earlier I referenced some examples from Lake Worth, where community organizers actually overturned the pro-cop, developer-driven City Commission and started cutting back on the police budget, for the first time in the city’s history.
Unfortunately, this experiment was only able to last a few years before the cop-loving yuppies upped their game, uniting liberal democrat realtors and xenophobic tea party republicans to re-capture tiny fraction of the populace who bothers with city elections—that’s generally a little over 10 percent of registered voters in Lake Worth (actually quite high for a municipality of its size.)
While Lake Worth earned an exaggerated reputation for having been taken over by anarchists, truth is that most of our comrades in the struggle stayed on the sidelines and watched it all unfold as spectators. While its hard to say exactly what our activists communities should be prioritizing on this ever-changing field of struggle, it is curious to wonder what could have happened with a few more hands on deck.
I know, many of you are nauseous just reading the words “vote” and “election,” but I’m not saying you shouldn’t be sick to your stomach. I’m saying suck it up and learn what’s going on around you. If you avoided every bathroom that smelled like shit, you’d be in a lot of pain and doing possible damage to your excretory system. Likewise, if you ignore what your enemies are doing because its unsavory to your senses… maybe you’re more of a liberal yuppie than you realized.
So hold your nose and try going to some City or County Commission meetings for starters. If you live in the New England area, local budgets might actually be something people are already organizing around. If you live anywhere else, it will probably be you and a few other Libertarian Party wingnuts in the crowd. Try and make friends with them, even if they’re drooling on themselves or foaming at the mouth. Chances are they can explain to you in simple terms how the budget works and who the players are. Oh, and try to look half-way decent. Most of these things are televised, and, for better or worse, its likely that someone will approach you in a local bar and say they saw you on the TV.
Thankfully, boring public meetings are not the only practical day-to-day way to organize against the police state. Let’s take some lessons from friends in Muskegon, where a handful of Earth First!-affiliated activists decided to try their hand at radical community organizing, with an eye on targeting the police state in its local form.
Between instances of racist police brutality and over-crowded jail facilities, these folks searched for an entry point, and found it in a campaign to stop the county sheriff from limiting inmates ability to correspond via postal mail. They called it Letters are Better and started with a short postcard to all the inmates at the time (whose names and jacket numbers are public record). Out of that effort spiraled tight connections to family on the outside. In one instance, inside reports of health code violations resulted in releasing around 40 inmates to alleviate over-crowding. The day after a home demo at the sheriff’s house the policy was changed half way: letters can go out, but still only post cards can be sent in.
The spotlight then turned on the Sheriff’s plan to open a new jail, the Letters are Better organizers were poised to respond, with public sentiment and community support in their favor, exposing the plan as an expansion of the police state.
The local paper called for a Letters are Better member to be on the County’s review committee for any jail plans. The lucky member was able to help elevate the voices of community affected by incarceration; and got on a tour of the jail with the sheriff! (To the dismay of the guards and cops, the encouragement of those trapped in the cages they wore a shirt with a very prominent “No Jail” on the front, and “People do not belong in cages” on the back.)
During this time, public meetings were held to discuss alternatives to police. The largest had 30 people stay for several hours, discussing how to support each other and their neighbors, and how to deal with instances of violence without calling the police.
In another community organizing example fromPennsylvania, when the State unveiled a plan to expand the police state via building new prisons, community organizing kicked in state-wide, culminating in a blockade of the first active construction site by Decarcerate PA, opening the door for a public discourse on dismantling the prison-industrial complex, which in itself is the manifestation of too many damn cops, combined with a KKK-esque white supremacy-driven “war on drugs.”
Just to throw a classic biocentric twist on things, one of the planned prisons is planning to wipe out a damn bald eagle’s nest. Seriously, talk aboutintersectionalit… wait, never mind. You know what I mean.
This image is of a tag of Israel Hernández-Llach who died earlier this month after Miami Beach police shot him in the chest with a stun-gun. Hernández, a young graffiti artist known as “Reefa,” was allegedly spray-painting a McDonalds when he was spotted by police officers. According to witnesses, police officers joked about killing him and gave each other high fives. RIP Reefa.
Ending this article (and the police state)
So, if you’re needing a break from life in the woods along a pipeline construction route, frack well site or old-growth timber sale, but can’t fight the urge to make strides towards toppling the industrial juggernaut, consider trying out some of these approaches to weakening your enemy. And even if you don’t think of yourself as a revolutionary (yet), imagine how many trees you could plant around your town with an extra couple million bucks.
Panagioti is an editor of the Earth First! Journal, a former candidate for the mayor of Lake Worth, and a new dad.
*Out of my curiosity to see who else has used this framing since Murray Bookchin wrote the Ecology of Freedom back in ‘82, I found books and articlesad nauseum, which were seemingly ripping off Bookchin’s seminal work. I’m no Bookchin fanatic. Never actually read a whole book of his other than the one about Spanish Civil War. But I think it’s worth giving some credit where it’s do—especially since the status quo generally seems hell-bent on ignoring any contributions that anarchists have made towards the shaping of society. (Even if the old fart, rest his soul, was an apologist for civilization and so-called democracy.)