Reviewed: This Country Must Change: Essays on the Necessity of Revolution in the USA, Edited by Craig Rosebraugh, Arissa Media Group, 2009.
From 1997 to 2001, Craig Rosebraugh acted as a public spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a self-described "international, underground movement consisting of autonomous groups of people who carry out direct action in defense of the planet." On February 12, 2002, Rosebraugh was made to testify against his will before the US Congress’ House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. The FBI had recently declared the ELF the #1 domestic terrorist threat, and Congress had subpoenaed Rosebraugh demanding he help them investigate "eco-terrorism." Rosebraugh had already received seven grand jury subpoenas from various federal investigations, but had always refused to cooperate. After he rejected this particular Subcommittee’s offer to voluntarily testify, they seemed to think that intimidation might help. They were wrong.
Rosebraugh invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 54 times that day, instead issuing his now-famous 11-page statement declaring that "the US government by far has been the most extreme terrorist organization in planetary history." He cited a long list of crimes, beginning with the history of Black chattel slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples, and concluding with a long list of US military interventions since WWII. He argued that it was hypocritical to label the ELF "terrorist," since all ELF actions had been directed towards corporate property, and had never injured anyone: "This noble pursuit does not constitute terrorism, but rather seeks to abolish it."
Rosebraugh has since continued his public advocacy of direct action and has edited a new book entitled This Country Must Change: Essays on the Necessity of Revolution in the USA. This collection of twelve essays, most written by current and former political prisoners, discusses the many problems with today’s corporate state and why the contributors believe a fundamental revolution is the only practical solution. Furthermore, Rosebraugh writes that "it is literally impossible to create fundamental political and social change by strictly adhering to only those methods approved by the government."
Many of these writers were imprisoned for their actions with the ELF or with other groups that have used extreme direct action tactics, such as sabotage. These tactics will doubtless remain controversial, but This Country Must Change makes clear how important it is that activists reject the state’s vilification of those who use unlawful tactics. Their voices reveal that they are not "agent provocateurs," but well-intentioned, thoughtful individuals who felt limited by lawful protest tactics. Therefore, even if many in the activist community do not agree with authors’ more radical tactics, this should not be a reason to ostracize political prisoners who badly need our support.
Jeff "Free" Luers was one of the first targeted in the recent "Green Scare" repression wave against environmental activists. He received a 23-year sentence in 2001 after he admitted setting fire to several SUVs at a Eugene, Oregon car dealership. He was also convicted of putting an incendiary device on an oil delivery truck, but he has always repudiated this charge. In 2009, his sentence was reduced and he was released this past December. In his essay here, Luers defends his actions: "when faced with the degree our own government has colluded to cover up global warming, dismantle the endangered species act, give industry loopholes around the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and in general put corporate interests before the interests of its own people, the use of extreme direct action, such as sabotage or arson, against government and corporate institutions or their agents is justified."
Luers recognizes the complexity and "the severity of extreme direct action," writing "the tactic of property destruction is not nonviolent. It is true that the violence is not directed against life. Yet, property destruction, particularly arson, can create a level of fear and insecurity in those targeted It is not a tactic that should be romanticized or taken lightly." As a strategy for making change, Luers emphasizes "sabotage and political arson are only tools. Outside of targeting a specific company until it is forced out of business, they will not and cannot create social change. Only a change in the social consciousness and thinking can do that." Luers concludes that "like the numerous successful social justice movements that have come before, only the successful weaving of multiple strategies will lead to success. The combined efforts of education, non-violent protest, and militant resistance is the only method by which to both raise public awareness and confront those responsible for ongoing injustices."
The book’s most obvious shortcoming is the dearth of female writers. Rosebraugh apologizes for this, explaining that the publisher, Arissa Media Group, is planning a follow-up book focusing on female activists. The sole female voice comes from Ramona Africa, of the MOVE Organization. Africa was imprisoned for seven years, after she survived the May 13, 1985 police assault on MOVE’s West Philadelphia home. The police killed 6 adults and five children that day, firing over 10,000 rounds of gunfire, dropping a C-4 bomb on the roof that started a fire, and shooting at the occupants who tried to escape. The MOVE Commission later appointed by the mayor concluded that the deaths of the children "appeared to be unjustified homicides which should be investigated by a grand jury," however no official has ever faced criminal charges. This backdrop illustrates the truth in Africa’s argument that "legal is not the same as right. Apartheid, The Holocaust, Slavery were all legal and all wrong. Resisting these horrors were all ‘illegal’ but they certainly were not wrong. It is our duty, our obligation to revolt against anything that wrongs us, our babies, our family in any way and nobody can prove this position wrong."
Other featured writers present a variety of strategic plans to build a popular movement, including former Black Panther Jalil Muntaquim, a widely recognized political prisoner from the COINTELPRO era. Muntaquim argues that a call for human rights should be central to movement-building because it synthesizes many issues, makes the struggle international, and "embodies the collective human will to be free from racist, capitalist-imperialist oppression and domination."
Chicano anarchist Rob Los Ricos was released from prison in June 2006, following his conviction for allegedly throwing a rock at a police officer during a Reclaim The Streets protest in Eugene, Oregon on June 18, 1999. He writes that we are suffering from "a failure of imagination. We cannot envision a world, or a way of living, that is vastly different (personally rewarding, nurturing, cooperative, gentle on our planet) because it is beyond the reach of our imagination." To counter this, he argues that "we need to band together with strong-willed and like-minded people in order to produce working models of how we think life could be, were there not coercive forces severely limiting our options."
This Country Must Change makes two important contributions to US activist literature. It raises awareness around the neglected issue of political prisoners and state repression, and it encourages an honest dialogue and critical thinking about the effectiveness of activist strategies and tactics. Readers may not agree with everything written here, but they will certainly have their beliefs challenged.
Hans Bennett is an independent multi-media journalist (www.insubordination.blogspot.com) and co-founder of Journalists for Mumia (www.abu-jamal-news.com).