This week on Live Like the World is Dying, Eleanor Goldfield comes on to talk about her film, "To the Trees," a documentary that highlights forest defense tactics in Northern California. The film is meant to call into question our current relationships to nature, how we might reframe them, and why that reframing is vital to our survival and having a livable future.
Eleanor Goldfield (she/her) is a filmmaker and journalist who works to highlight different movement and struggles. You can find her work and her film "To the Trees" at tothetreesfilm.com and artkillingapathy.com. Eleanor can also be found on Twitter @RadicalEleanor and Instagram @RadicalEleanor
Inmn can be found on Instagram @shadowtail.artificery
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
Live Like the World is Dying: Eleanor on "To the Trees" & Forest Defense
**Inmn ** 00:15
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host today, Inmn Neruin, and I use they/them pronouns. Today we are talking to a filmmaker about a really beautiful film called To the Trees. And I’m really excited for you all to hear this conversation. We’re going to talk a lot about logging and forest defense and just kind of like the extraction industry in general, and then just about some, you know, cultural or psychological paradigms that we have around resource extraction. But first, we are a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchists podcasts. And here is a jingle from another show on that network.
**Inmn ** 01:40
And we’re back. Hi, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Could you introduce yourself with your name, pronouns, and a little bit about your background, and what you’re here to talk about today?
**Eleanor ** 01:55
Sure, thanks so much for having me. My name is Eleanor Goldfield. She/her. I’m a queer creative, radical filmmaker, and journalist. And I’ve been doing frontline–I hesitate to say activism–I’ve been doing frontline actions and journalism since 2010 together. And before that I’d been doing organizing and community organizing since about 2003, before the second Iraq War. And I’m here today to talk about my latest offering in the film domain, which is called, "To the Trees," and it’s about forest defense tactics in so-called Northern California and also about our relationship to nature and the necessary shift that that must take for us to have a livable future.
**Inmn ** 02:50
Cool, um–I mean, not cool that a film like this needs to get made but cool that a film like this now exists and can teach people a lot of really awesome things. I highly encourage everyone to go out and watch the movie. It’s really wonderful. It’s really beautiful. But could you kind of give us just like a recap of the movie.
**Eleanor ** 03:17
Sure. Yeah, and the films available at ToTheTreesfilm.com. And all of my work is also available at ArtKillingApathy.com. So kind of a general overview of the film is that I went out there to do…. This is kind of how I work. I ask folks if they need any support–and I’m ground support, by the way, because I don’t do heights. Although, I did climb a redwood when I was out there, which was a terrifying experience. And I’m never doing it again.
**Inmn ** 03:49
They’re so big,
**Eleanor ** 03:51
They’re ginormous. And that was my first…that was the first tree I decided to climb because…yeah, whatever. And it took me 45 minutes. And it’s 200 feet up in the air, and I was terrified. And it took me like 15 minutes to get up the courage just to step off the platform. And the tree sitter, they were like, "You just step up," and I’m like, "What do you just step up? I’m gonna die," and they’re like, "No, you’re not. You’re gonna be fine. I swear" and I’m like, "Oh God, this is so terrifying." And they’re like, "Yeah, maybe you are ground support."
**Inmn ** 04:20
Ground support is crucial.
**Eleanor ** 04:23
It is crucial. Yes. And it’s very much…. That’s very much me. I was built to like just be grounded, I think. So I went out there basically saying, "I would love to help you all and do support and also, if it’s cool with you, I’ll bring a camera and I’d love to just hear some of your stories." And so folks were cool with that. And so there I go, traipsing into the woods. And it’s a beautiful tree village. And the redwood forests, if folks have never seen them, I mean it’s like Narnia. You know the forest floor is Like this plush, you know, soft and welcoming space. And then you look up and it’s like the trees are so tall that you can barely see the crowns. It’s just kind of like this green haze above you. And so I just started talking to folks and talked to a couple of tree sitters. I also spoke with somebody who does more of the judicial side of things, like trying to get forest…or like logging companies in court and how that kind of works with tree sitters. And then I also spoke to an indigenous woman, Marnie Atkins, who is a member of the Wiyot tribe, spoke to her a lot about perspectives on what’s going on in these forests and the paradigms that are different between her people and the colonizers who came. And so it’s kind of a…. [trails off] I call it at the end, I have this, I have this slide that says, "To the trees: It’s a dedication, a call to action, a promise, and a militant apology." And I wanted folks to feel that, that it’s an offering and it’s also an invitation, not just to act in whatever ways we can but also to question the way that we think about these beautiful places, whether they be the redwood forests or whether they be the the ecosystems that are outside your front door.
**Inmn ** 06:42
Yeah, yeah. And it’s…. I feel funny that this is one of my first questions, but it was one of the pieces of the film that kind of really got me–it’s like always knowing that Capitalism uses things for really silly things–but learning that the main use of redwood trees is to just turn them into kind of crappy decks. Is that right?
**Eleanor ** 07:12
Yeah, yeah, it’s based on market forces. The best use of a redwood tree is decking. And not only that, but redwoods can be 2000 years old. And of course, if you were to chop down a 2000 year old tree–which by the way, there’s no law against it in California or anywhere else in the in the United States–if you were to do that, yes, that deck would last a while–it wouldn’t last 2000 years–it would last a while. But the way that they cut down trees at the rate–because of course, no one’s gonna wait 2000 years–they cut down these trees in their infancy. So the strong heartwood of the tree has not had a chance to develop. And so you’re cutting down these trees, you know, destroying any future that they might have to rebuild an ecosystem, and you’re turning them into a deck that is not even going to last like a decade because it’s just not made of wood that has had a chance to mature. And so you’re literally destroying burgeoning ecosystems for the sake of a deck that is going to last less than, you know, the length of a Britney Spears’ single. It’s just…it’s ridiculous.
**Inmn ** 08:35
Yeah, yeah, I feel like that’s one of the harder things that I struggle with when really thinking about industrial Capitalism is just the…it’s like the cost of what it…like what it costs to do to the planet versus what is gotten from that. And it’s not even like, oh, you’re gonna get something that’s like, "We cut down this tree and it’s gonna last this family multi-generations," you know, it’s like a piece of shit that’s gonna rot and fall apart in a decade.
**Eleanor ** 09:12
And that’s the whole, you know, that’s one of the primary issues with Capitalism is that it treats things that are finite, like trees and clean air and clean water, as if they’re infinite. And it treats things that are infinite, like ones and zeros on a computer, as if they’re finite. Like, "Oh, we don’t have the money." And, I mean, it’s like–I can’t remember who it was– maybe it was Alan Watts, who said, "That’s kind of like saying, ‘You don’t have enough inches to build a house.’" Like that doesn’t make any sense. Like of course you have more money because you just make it up. It’s all a fairy tale. Whereas the things that we can’t just make up like a 2000 year old tree or a clean river, you treat as entirely disposable, and that is one of the primary issues with the paradigm of Capitalism and thereby colonialism, which was the battering ram of Capitalism.
**Inmn ** 10:08
Yeah. Yeah. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what are the life cycles or growth cycles or logging cycles like in places that are being [testing words] harvested? Destroyed? Whichever word.
**Eleanor ** 10:34
Yeah, that’s that euphemism, right? "Oh, we’re just harvesting." No! So, basically, there are several different cycles that can be used. I think one of the shortest ones for redwoods is 45 or 50 years. So if you clear-cut and then you–and redwoods are actually one of the few trees that can sprout, like from a stump. Like it’s self…I can’t remember what it’s called. Self-sprouting or something? And so you have to wait 45 or 50 years. Now, whether they always do that or not, is up for debate, especially depending on what they’re hoping to get from the products. But it’s 45 or 50 years. Some will say, "Oh, we’re gonna leave this plot for 100 years," or whatever. And again, whether that’s done or not, is up for debate. And it’s also difficult because industrial logging has only been around since like, you know, 120 years or so. So when we talk about the amount of time you really need to grow these forests, it’s like we’re going back to a time before this was even a conversation because you couldn’t possibly tear down the forests that quickly. And so we’re in this kind of odd liminal space where people are talking about, "Oh, we’re gonna have to let this grow again for 100 years," but 100 years ago this wasn’t even a contemplation. And so the cycles are based on, again, like the market forces. LIke, okay, well, at 45 or 50 years these trees will be ready to be harvested and then can be used to do whatever we want with them, you know? Truck them off to the sawmill. And that, again, is it…. Well, I could go off into so many different tangents, but I’ll pause.
**Inmn ** 12:36
I do…. We love tangents. We love rants. So this wasn’t surprising to me, but I’ve spent like a little bit of time in the coal fields of West Virginia, and it seems like there’s this kind of similar thing in logging where there’s a strong guidance to preserve the cardboard frame of what things look like from a road or something, you know, so it’s like the devastation appears a lot less impactful. I am curious what kind of lengths or strategies logging companies go to–or the State goes to–to make it seem like nothing all that bad is happening?
**Eleanor ** 13:25
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s funny you brought up West Virginia because my first documentary was actually about West Virginia. And I talked a lot about the coal fields. And I actually did a flight above them because you can’t–I mean, to your point–you can’t see it from the roads. And you can really only see the vast devastation if you’re up in a plane. Or if you have a drone or something like that. So in California, they call it the ‘visual impact’ or commonly called ‘the beauty screen.’ And it’s this idea that, particularly Inmnorthern California–because Northern California, unlike West Virginia, which is very proud of its coal, Northern California doesn’t want you to think it’s proud of logging–it wants you to think that it’s super proud of the trees, which is really twisted.
**Inmn ** 14:21
**Eleanor ** 14:22
It’s like being a serial killer and then being like, "I have a human rights organization." So they will…. Right before you get to a lot of these THPs, that’s timber harvest plans, you’re driving through, for instance, the Avenue of the Giants, which is part of a redwood forest, Redwood National Forest, and it’s gorgeous, right? And you would never think that just a few miles up in the hills there are these vast bald spots. And so they want to ensure that that stays the case, right? So you just keep driving and you keep driving up the one on one and you just see trees and then the Pacific Ocean is over here and you’re like, "Oh my god, California is amazing!"
**Inmn ** 15:06
"We love trees!"
**Eleanor ** 15:07
Right. But it’s being destroyed. And you can’t see that. And it’s very important that you can’t see that because the companies that own this land–because most of it is privately owned logging land–and the companies have this like…one of the guys in the film says, "This eco groovy PR campaign and this facade." And they want you to think that everything is done respectfully and sustainably when, of course, you can’t clear-cut sustainably. So they want to make sure that you can’t see it because that would fly in the face of their ‘eco groovy facade.’ And part of that is also that they have a certification, which is called FSC, Forest Stewardship Council certification. Which if you’ve ever been to a Home Depot or Lowe’s, oftentimes FSC wood will be more expensive because the idea is that it’s sustainable. And so you get to feel good about yourself, you know, like, "Oh, sweet, this isn’t from a clear-cut," but it is. And the Forest Stewardship Council, even if it started with honorable aims, is a complete…it’s just a rubber stamp for the logging industry. And there’s been a long list of horribleness, including stealing indigenous land, clear-cutting old growth forests, and you know, and yet they have that little FSC stamp. So people think, consumers think, that this is done sustainably. But of course, it’s not. And so this is all part of that greenwashing campaign, whether it be the ‘beauty screen’ or the FSC stamp, it’s all part of that push to ensure that the consumer remains in the dark and thinks that, particularly, Northern California is sustainably harvesting their, in quotes, ‘harvesting’ these trees and ensuring that they will be around forever.
**Inmn ** 17:09
Golly, yeah. And I imagine people also…like the consumer on the end of like…they, you know, they go into Home Depot, or they’re hiring a contractor to build their crappy deck, I’m sure they’re really ecstatic that they have this…are getting this redwood deck. Like, I feel like it’s just the name, you know, "Redwood," it sounds so majestic. It sounds so like, "Wow, this is gonna last me a really long time." Is that kind of like part of it too, do you think?
**Eleanor ** 17:44
Yeah, I think it sounds…. You know, I was in bands for years, and people used to talk about the wood that went into their instruments like, "Oh, it’s mahogany neck." and someone’s like, "Oh! It’s a mahogany neck."
**Inmn ** 17:57
It’s an electric guitar…like it doesn’t matter.
**Eleanor ** 18:01
And sure, I mean,as a former audio tech, I can be like, okay, I’ve heard the difference in acoustic guitars where you’re like, "Okay. That. Yes." But it is also pretty…. I mean, mahogany is not endangered in that sense. But still, it’s pretty twisted to be like, "Yeah, the best way to use this tree is to turn it into an instrument or a deck or whatever. It’s that like, again, in Capitalism, nothing has inherent value in and of itself. Nobody’s like, "Oh, wow, an oak tree! That’s super cool!" Everyone’s like, "Hmm, what can I do with that?" It’s like, maybe you could just leave it the fuck alone. I don’t know, Maybe that could be a thing? But nothing in Capitalism has inherent value in and of itself. So it always has to be twisted and contorted into something. And that carries with it a certain status, right? Like, oh, if you have this deck made out of redwood or if you have that guitar made out of mahogany, it becomes a status symbol. And so that is also part of like the poisoning that is Capitalism, psychologically, I feel.
**Inmn ** 19:06
Golly, I wish–I know, this is a recurring theme on the show–but if only our lives were more like those of hobbits. I mean, they just have a Party Tree, and that’s a community resource. And they’re like, "We need a party tree. It needs to be like 3000 years old and that’s a party tree." If it’s not 3000 years old. It’s not a Party Tree. Or, yeah, the forest on the edge of town that everyone’s like too afraid to go into.
**Eleanor ** 19:40
Yeah, well, and this is actually something that I think is funny, too, that we have so many stories, whether that be through, you know, Lord of the Rings, or like when I was growing up, I partially grew up in Sweden, and there’s so many stories still today about the Forest and its power. And I feel like that’s also an interesting relationship that we have with the forest is that we are a little bit afraid of it. And that also…that also pushes us into this relationship where, okay, well, I’m gonna conquer my fears, right? As opposed to the stories–and there are these stories even in European cultures–that talk about the beauty of the forest and what the forest gives us. But that’s also an interesting dynamic between a lot of Indigenous stories that I’ve heard where, yes, there might be like some being that lives in the forest that you don’t want to interact with. But a lot of it is also about how, "Oh my gosh, look at all of the beauty and the life that we get from the forest," as opposed to, "Woods are terrifying. Don’t mess with them at all. Just don’t go there." It’s like, but that’s also going to dictate how you feel about cutting down a bunch of trees.
**Inmn ** 21:04
Yeah, it’s wild that fear of the forest means we have to destroy the forest. It’s a bad mentality. As much as I love a story about the Dark Forest, you know, and wish that that was like a more sustainable option, growing a more deep connection to the forest is probably a more sustainable way to go about things. Did you ever see Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind?
**Eleanor ** 21:33
Yes, I did.
**Inmn ** 21:34
Yeah. Incredible movie about a toxic forest that will fucking kill everyone who comes into it. Because it eventually was like, "No humans. You can’t. No, I can’t take anymore. Here’s poison."
**Eleanor ** 21:50
Don’t blame it really.
**Inmn ** 21:52
Yeah, and it’s like, "No, I need several thousand years to recuperate from the harm that you’ve done and eventually I’ll be a forest you can come in again."
**Eleanor ** 22:04
Right. Right. Well, and I think… We talk about that in mutual aid spaces, or in organizing spaces, like, okay, if harm has been caused and there needs to be time to recover then possibly we can get to the point where we can be in community together with that person who did the harm…. It’s like, we do that as humans. And it’s necessary, right? And that is exactly what ecosystems need too. Like, the idea of–this is also how we fuck it up in terms of the Capitalist mentality–the idea of like, "Oh, we’re going to leave that to grow for another 45 years before we cut it down again," that’s not allowing a relationship to recuperate, right? That is, once again, treating something in that violent way, like the violence of ownership versus stewardship, right? Like, ownership is a violent relationship–I mean, just look at slavery–but stewardship suggests a respect. And I think there’s also space for fear there, too, right? I think that, you know, when I was a kid walking through woods, I would feel a little…maybe a little scared, but I would also feel safe, like, "Oh, I’m safe within the woods." So I think we can carry both of those at once. And I think that sometimes when you have a deep respect for something, there might be a moment where you’re like, "Oh, that’s, that’s creepy." But there’s also this feeling of like, "I’m safe here." And I think that, you know, I think that carrying multiple truths at the same time and multiple thoughts is just beneficial. But yeah, I think that the idea of allowing places to recover is super important, while also recognizing that we have a role in that. And that’s something that Marnie talks about in–and actually one of the tree sitters as well–talks about in the film is this idea that the relationship we need to have with nature is not removing ourselves from nature. And I always think of…I spoke with somebody who does work in Africa with the Maasai, and she was saying that the Maasai were removed from their ancestral lands in order to create a conservation park. But what happened with the ecosystem when they were removed is the ecosystem started to fall apart, because the Maasai were an integral–and had been for 1000s of years–an integral part of that ecosystem. And so it belies that notion that we are somehow outside of ecosystems. No, we are super reliant on them. And I think that kind of that kind of thinking is also super important to remember that like, you know, Indigenous peoples have used, for instance, wildfires, as a way to steward the land, because they’re not the wildfires that we see today. They were wildfires that were able to replenish the soil and the land, get rid of invasives, and things like that. So the idea that humans are a part of these ecosystems, and that we have to learn those ways of being and rid ourselves of the notion that we can somehow be outside of, and other than, the ecosystems.
**Inmn ** 25:29
I mean, it’s like, it’s…. I feel like, it’s the same thing with most struggles out in the world is we have the tendency to want to remove ourselves from those things. And it is usually detrimental to those causes for us to think of ourselves as outside of everything–which, you know, obviously, there’s struggles that we should send our specific voices around and that we should…like certain people should like not make about themselves–but like, for the most part, we are entrenched in all of in all of the thing. And we have to be an active part of them to fix them.
**Eleanor ** 26:13
Totally. And I think that, you know, the idea of like, we should always be a part of these struggles, and not make them about ourselves, right, like the struggle to defend redwoods is not about us. It’s just that in our own space, we can have these conversations about what it means for us humans to be in the struggle, just like I think, you know, right now, I’ve been in conversation with several fellow Jews about what’s going on right now and what what we’re dealing with as Jews. That is not something that I want to put out into the world like up on, you know, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it because it takes the focus away from Palestine. But within our Jewish community, I think it’s an important conversation to have. So it’s like…It’s that…It’s that way of being in the struggle. And then if you–just like I think white people need to have conversations with each other about what it means to…like what does Black Lives Matter really mean? And what does dismantling racism really mean? Don’t do that at a Black Lives Matter protest, okay. That is not the time, but in our own space and time. So I think, again, you can hold both of those, and I think it’s important to.
**Inmn ** 27:29
Yeah, golly, to go tangent for a second on that, like, I don’t know, I read this article yesterday, I think, about this…. It was an interview with this Palestinian man who was talking about being asked about antisemitism and like his response to it was like, Israel is…. Israel as a State. Israel displaced Jews living as Arabs in Palestine. Like, Israel is bad for Jewishness and Jewish people.
**Eleanor ** 28:15
Yes, thank you.
**Inmn ** 28:16
And this is like all part of this, like colonizing myth, and any colonizing myth, is to create these others to create a "side," or whatever. I don’t know.
**Eleanor ** 28:29
Yeah, that’s so true. Israel is the greatest threat to Jews in the world right now, I think.
**Inmn ** 28:37
Um, too…. Not that I don’t want to talk about this stuff more but to veer back towards the movie, I am curious about the collaboration between different…like attacking the problem from different angles. And in the movie, there’s kind of this triple-pronged approach that is presented as there’s people on the ground doing stuff in the trees, there’s people doing legal work, there’s indigenous people doing stewardship, and then there’s people coming in to make movies about it. And I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how, like, all of these things interact and like help each other.
**Eleanor ** 29:32
Sure. So, it was actually Tom Wheeler, who works at Epic in California, who said that we exist in an ecosystem with each other, which I liked. And he was talking about how–and he works on the legal side–and he was talking about why the tree sitters are important. And I really appreciated that because I think a lot of times we get, you know, the classic saying that like, "When anarchists meet, we meet in a circle. And that’s also how I do firing ranges." And unfortunately, like it’s true–not just with anarchists, it’s just that my anarchist friend happened to say that. I think it’s everybody on the left, regardless of what…if you have a title for your preferred angle. But I think it so often is the case that it’s like, "No, my tactic is the most important. If you don’t want to do my tactic then you’re wrong and you’re an asshole and you’re standing in the way," and it’s like, but not everybody can do the thing that you’re doing. Like, I can’t climb–I mean, I can climb a tree, but I won’t, there’s like, you know, the floor is lava or some shit–and not a lot of people have the ability to get up into the woods, to take that space and time. And a lot of people don’t have the expertise to do legal battles. You know, we need a lot of good lawyers out there. I think the Lakota Law Project taught us that. Look what’s happening in Atlanta. Like. you need good lawyers. So I think instead of getting on people’s cases, about tactics, I think it’s really important that we recognize that whatever your passion is, whatever your expertise or your drive is, there is a place and a need for that in our movements and in whatever struggle. And so I really appreciated that about the folks that I spoke with, is that they all were complementary and understanding of the other people in the struggle and understood that the goal was the same, was to protect these spaces and protect them out of this feeling of love for these spaces. And I think that’s the other thing that’s really important is that nobody was doing this for the, you know, the Instagram likes or because they thought it…because it paid the most money or because anything like…they were literally like, "Because I love these spaces," either because I have a strong ancestral connection to them or because I’ve just fallen in love with them from being around them. And so I think that that’s the other thing and that this diversity of tactics is necessary when confronting something so vast and so disgusting as colonialism and Capitalism. We have to do whatever we can. And these folks are doing whatever they can. And Pat, one of the tree sitters, actually talks about this too in the film, like, sit wherever you can, do whatever you can in the ecosystem that you know, in the ecosystem that you love. Like, it doesn’t have to be in a redwood. Cool if it is, but we don’t have to choose the most superlative ecosystem or the most superlative place to do this. All ecosystems are worthy and Inmneed of our collaboration and protection. And again, in whatever ways we can.
**Inmn ** 32:57
Yeah, yeah. It’s really disheartening to watch spaces kind of rip themselves apart in being upset that everyone is not doing the tactic that they want. And that is something that I’ve always really appreciated about, especially, forest defense campaigns or like other kinds of extraction industry defenses–I can’t think of words right now–is just the recognition that we need a lot of different kinds of people to do this work. And, you know, I feel like maybe part of that is people maybe having gone and done things and then gotten in a lot of legal trouble and being like, "Oh, fuck, we need lawyers," and then like, realizing like, "Oh, lawyers are really cool!" But, yeah, that’s something I just really appreciate about those campaigns. Um, yeah, I don’t know, maybe this is a funny question. Say I’m some random person–or not random–just I’m a person listening to this podcast who’s been like curious about forest defense and doesn’t really know where to start or how to get into that. Like, I want to…. I’ve never done forest defense and I want to go get involved in a forest defense campaign, either one that’s near me or one that’s, maybe, far away. Do you have any advice for someone like that?
**Eleanor ** 34:48
Sure. I mean, I think just start digging into folks who have the knowledge that you’re interested in. So like Inmnorthern California, there’s the tree sitters union, I think they’re on Instagram @thetreesittersunion. There’s also, like down around where I am, close to Appalachia, there’s Appalachians Against Pipelines. Greenpeace does a lot of like trainings, like climbing trainings and things like that. And those are also spaces where you might be able to meet folks that are like minded. But honestly, like in terms of getting started on a campaign, like…. You know, in the film, again, they just say, just, you know, I" walked up…we walked up and we saw that there was a chainsaw at the bottom of this tree And were like, ‘Oh, I guess we’ll sit in this tree.’" I think people feel like there has to be this, you know, there has to be the war room where you got all the plans and you got the poster board and you got paper clips and all that. But you don’t! Like yes, plan is good so you have water and shit, but it doesn’t have to be this really elaborate. campaign to start with. And earlier this year, I was in Germany because I was doing a tour of my film about West Virginia coal in the coal regions of Germany. And I went to this tree village that is absolutely gorgeous. And folks were still living there, even though the campaign had kind of moved on, and I was asking them, like, "Okay, so what’s the story here?" And it was the same thing. It was like, "Well, we just didn’t want them to cut down this forest." I mean, it really is that simple. Like, I think, again, there is this…there’s kind of this mystique to the idea of frontline defense. And, yes, it can build to something where you’ve got several tree villages or you have, you know, a resistance camp blocking a pipeline that’s also like a food forest. Like, sure it can become that. But you don’t need to start with that. You just need to start with yourself and some comrades, and this, again, this feeling of love for this place that is threatened. And again, like looking for organizations or like minded folks–and the ones that I mentioned are good places to start–but there are definitely others that I don’t know of personally.
**Inmn ** 37:14
Yeah. I’m having…I guess having witnessed campaigns in a lot of different places, I’m curious about this. Are there any kind of differences that you noticed between forest defense campaigns here in the United States, or like Turtle Island, versus in Europe, or any kind of like other places that you’ve been? Either in terms of repression, tactics, or just like how people organize?
**Eleanor ** 37:52
So, I’d say in terms of the repression tactics, I mean, people in Europe–I can only speak to, currently, Germany and Sweden–but people were very shocked and disgusted at what happened to Tortuguita and what happened down in Atlanta in terms of facing terrorism charges and Rico charges. But there is also, I mean, in Germany, earlier this year, the cops brutally beat people who were trying to save a small town, Lützerath, from being destroyed for an open coal pit mine. So in terms of the direct pushback, the violence, they’re not getting shot, but they are getting the shit beat out of them. And so there’s absolutely that understanding that, you know, fascism is on the rise across the globe. And neither Europe nor the United States have to look very far in their history, or their present really,to find ways of emulating the fascist state that they are moving towards. And so, in terms of repression, I think it’s mostly like the legal battles that are the main difference between the US and Europe. And I think in terms of organizing, I do see a lot of similarities, basically, because it’s the same story. It’s people who were like, "Actually, you know what, no, you can’t fucking do that. I’m not gonna let you ruin this." And I do find a little bit of the same problems in terms of organizing. Like, for instance, Inmnorthern Sweden–which a lot of people don’t know that Sweden, Finland, and Norway have indigenous peoples that were then colonized–so the Sami are the indigenous people of the far-north and their ancestral lands blanket across what is now Norway, Finland, Sweden, and parts of Russia. And that’s also where a lot of forests are. And it’s up in the Arctic Circle. And there’s a lot of still culturally important practices, like reindeer herding, that happen there that are being disrupted by deforestation and mining. You know, like Sweden announced recently that, "Oh, we found lithium in the north." Oh, great!
**Inmn ** 40:24
Oh no. Leave it there!
**Eleanor ** 40:26
Yeah, exactly. Don’t tell Elon Musk. So, yeah, there’s a push to protect these spaces but also this difficulty of like, okay, how do we, as non-indigenous people in Sweden make these inroads. And the Sami are historically very reticent of working with Swedes–I don’t blame them–or Norwegians or what have you, because of what’s happened in the past. And I noticed that here, too, right. It’s difficult sometimes for people who are not indigenous to make those connections in indigenous communities. And so I see a lot of that struggle as well. But at the same time, again, when you are coming at it from this place of, "Well, I too want to protect this out of love. And not because I’m looking for some kind of accolade or whatever," that I think that you can make those connections and you can make that struggle collaborative, as long as you’re coming at it from that space. And, so I do see that happening in places outside of the US and I think it’s rad.
**Inmn ** 41:43
Hell yeah. That’s really great. Golly, this is a really weird question, but, you know, my brain’s always on a tangent. Are there any forest defense influencers? Is this a thing in the internet and the internet world? I’m imagining the person who’s just there for, you know, Instagram likes, or something, and I’m like, is that real?
**Eleanor ** 42:10
So like, not like the straight up forest defenders, but there’s definitely like the Sierra Club type that are like…. You know, so, again, it’s like this kind of gray area–I’m a big fan of recognizing nuance–it’s like this nuanced space where the person cares and doesn’t want to see it destroyed but also wants to virtue signal to people that they care. And that gets all gummed up in the whole Capitalist shit show. So yeah, it’s a gummy area.
**Inmn ** 42:48
Yeah, and this is–golly, whatever, I love funny questions–so I’m curious about this from, you know, I’ve had my own experiences with different with different organizations, but is there any kind of tension or like problems that you do see between on the ground direct action campaigns versus these larger NGO or like nonprofit structures like the Sierra Club or Greenpeace? Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not asking for a shit post about these groups or anything, just some of the nuances or complications that can come up?
**Eleanor ** 43:38
Yeah, I mean, again, Capitalism fucks everything up. There were a couple of organizations that I reached out to when I was in California, and they were first happy to talk to me, but then when they realized that I was there supporting and speaking to tree sitters, who are, by definition, breaking the law, because it’s private timber land, did not want to speak to me anymore. And I think that’s very clearly–like whether they personally wanted to or not is not the point–but as an organization, I think they realized, "Oh, well, our donors are, I don’t know, some rich asshole over here. And if we do that, if we engage with people who are very overtly breaking the law, then that’s not good for our bottom line. And we need our bottom line in order to keep protecting the forest.: So in their mind, they were doing that so that they could continue to protect the forest. But of course, this creates that splintering that is so useful for the system. In reality, they should be working with the tree sitters. Like, you have the ability to work together to protect these spaces but because you have to make sure that you get the foundation money or these rich donors or whatever, you can’t. And so I absolutely see that and I think that’s also a global problem because a lot of this does cost money, you know? Like, rope is not cheap. Just making sure that people have supplies and food and things. Like shit costs money. And it’s not like tree sitters get paid. So it is difficult, but I tend to–I shouldn’t say…I don’t want to be prejudiced ahead of time, but I’ve I find that I often am–be prejudiced against a big organization that says, "We are protecting the forest." It’s like, are you? Or are you doing like forest walks and shit–which is cool–and like picking up trash. But that is not the same thing as standing between a chainsaw and a tree. And that’s not to say that like, "I’m more radical than you." It’s just a necessary context, I think, for understanding, again, this ecosystem that we’re a part of. Like, we need more people to be the ones standing in between the trains on the tree. And I think we need fewer people being the ones, you know, typing up newsletters about this forest walk where you can plant a sapling or some shit, just in terms of what we need. That’s what I would say.
**Inmn ** 46:25
Yeah. Yeah, It’s weird how similar the idea of an NGO or something being getting donors to lead a forest walk…. It’s the trap of building an organization that gets too big and has too many dependencies on Capital to sustain itself. It’s, yeah, it’s…. I don’t know. I think about this a lot with different projects that I’ve been a part of. Like I’m part of this community theater group and I’m like, we can’t get too big or it’s gonna cause huge problems. We can’t be too successful or else it all falls apart. Yeah, I think that would be my biggest thing with some larger NGOs is it’s cool if y’all’s thing is like bringing in money, that’s cool. But it seems like the real problem is an organization like that’s inability to accept a diversity of tactics or donors to really look past–and maybe this is a shitpost–but the idea wealthy donors who want the experience of like donating to an environmental nonprofit and want that experience of like bringing their kids on the forest walk, this is the same thing as getting a like, quote, "heirloom redwood forest timber deck that is sustainably ‘harvested’" Like it’s the same thing.
**Eleanor ** 48:15
Yeah, it is very twisted. And of course I think that’s the problem is that there’s no such thing as money without strings. And so when you have these big donors–and I know this from just other spaces that I’ve organized, even outside of the environment–okay, well, so-and-so is gonna give this much money, but then they also want us to build the website this way or they want us to make sure that the action looks like this. And it’s like, but also these people don’t know anything about organizing. So then their ideas are shit and you’re like, "Look, the whole entire campaign is falling apart because you want this sign to say something completely stupid," and it happens all the time. And that’s why, unfortunately, we as organizers have to have this balance of like, "Okay, we need this much money, but if we just get it from one or two donors, what do they want in return for all of this cash?" And there’s always going to be something. They’re not just going to be like, "Hey, really happy that we can support you in whatever you’re doing," like, that’s never the case. So yeah, it sucks. But yeah, until we can just, you know, pay rent in good deeds or something, that’s gonna be the problem.
**Inmn ** 49:35
Or like shift our cultural mindset beyond like…you know, if I’m a wealthy donor or something, then the important thing is that the people have the money and resources to do the work, not that I get anything in return from it. I don’t know, I feel like–and maybe this is my bias, having not traveled much outside of the States–is that we have this very individualistic mentality around everything, and that that extends to forest and extraction resource defense and like…. I don’t know.
**Eleanor ** 50:15
It is a…. And one of the people in the film Marni, a member of the Wiyot tribe, talks about this individualistic paradigm that has perpetuated, that we as children of Empire have, because it’s been passed down to us. And even those of us who have been radicalized, I like to say that there’s no way that you can ever be like 100% AntiCapitalist. Like it’s a daily struggle, just like you have to be antiracist everyday and antifacist. Like, there is no like, "Got it! No, I’m done." So she talks about this like this–and you know, to go back to Lord of the Rings–
**Inmn ** 50:18
The real goal podcast, right? It’s not. But…
**Eleanor ** 50:27
It all has to do with Lord of the Rings. She likens it to Gollum. And if anybody listening has not read Lord of the Rings, first of all, please do so. But secondly, Gollum is not a character that you want to emulate. Like, that is not how you’re supposed to read that. Like, oh, Gollum is cool? Like, he is literally driven to mental anguish and dismay and physical like breakdown because he’s so obsessed with this one ring. And that is not a good thing, right? It’s not something where you’re like, "Yeah, Gollum!" and he loses like all his community. Like, he’s just by himself. And yet, we have built an entire system on the paradigm of Gollum. Like be by yourself. Fuck community. Care only about the thing that you can own and that can thereby, of course, own you in return. It’s so fucked up. And yet, that is like the foundation of Capitalism. And so of course, when we step into a forest…and is one of the lines that I have in my first film about West Virginia is "How can you look at a mountain and think ‘mine.’" Which is, of course, a double entendre. Which, I’m a sucker for those. But it’s like, that’s what we do. We’ve been programmed into stepping into these beautiful spaces and thinking, "Oh, I wonder how much this would be worth if I destroyed it?" Like, what kind of fucked way is that to look…. And it happens, you know, I have a toddler and people will kind of laugh when I’m like, "We go outside and we hug trees together," and they’ll laugh. And I’m like, "So that’s kind of weird that you think it’s funny in like a derogatory way, because wouldn’t it be more fucked up if I had like a toddler axe, or some shit, and I was teaching him how to destroy these things? Like, why do we have this paradigm where it’s weird to teach your kids to love nature but totally cool to give a five year old a hunting rifle or something. Like what in the hell? And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hunt. But we hunt for fun. Like we don’t hunt because we need food. We hunt because it’s fun.
**Inmn ** 53:17
Or for the trophy.
**Eleanor ** 53:20
Right, for the trophy, which you can say is the same with the redwood deck. It’s a trophy. It’s something to show off to people. You don’t need it. Like you could, you could stack stones and have a deck. Like, you don’t need the fucking redwoods. And she also made…Marni makes this point in the film too, like, of course, people have used wood for generations, to use for firewood, to widdle sculptures, to build things. And she’s like, "I totally get that, but you can’t do it at this scale. You have to have this relationship with nature so that you only take what you need and make sure that there’s enough for the next time," and you see this throughout indigenous cultures. You know, Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about it in "Braiding Sweetgrass," the idea that–and I don’t remember if it was her tribe or another one that she’s talking about–would go out and get fish, but then they wouldn’t get all of the fish. They’d just get the ones that they needed, right? And they would know that there’s all these fish ‘getting away’–in the white perspective–but they’re not ‘getting away,’ they are surviving so that you can go fishing next time. And so again, it’s like this…it’s a very short sighted paradigm that is totally individualistic and totally destructive, that doesn’t…. And again, like Gollum is totally destroyed but he doesn’t see it himself. It’s only people on the outside that are like, "Oh, God, that guy’s not doing well." And yet again, we don’t, we don’t see it from the inside. And so I think that’s why it’s so important to step outside of that programming and just see the logic or the illogic of these situations and allow ourselves to fall in love with nature and question why that sounds corny when we say it out loud. Like, why is it corny to fall in love with a tree or a river or what have you. I mean, like, that is actually really beautiful. And it is necessary if we are to get to the space where we can say, "Defend what you love." Because if you don’t love something, you’re less likely to defend it, right? Like, you know, of course, that’s why parents always defend their children because you have this natural need, like you love your child so much, or your partner, or your friend, or what have you. You’re less likely to defend a total stranger. It’s just like a human thing, or an animal thing. And so if we don’t love these places, these spaces, then we’re less likely to be moved to defend them.
**Inmn ** 56:01
Yeah. Golly, so don’t be like Gollum. Don’t hoard ultimate power and destruction. Be like a hobbit and enjoy the 3000 year old party tree because it’s a beautiful tree.
**Eleanor ** 56:19
**Inmn ** 56:23
Well, this seems like a great place to kind of tie it off, and because we’re also almost at time, but do you have any final thoughts or questions that I didn’t ask you that you wish I’d asked you? And then after that, anything that you want to plug?
**Eleanor ** 56:43
Just, I mean, it was something that I included at the end of the film, my good friend Carla Bergman co-wrote a book "Joyful Militancy," which I also recommend to everyone.
**Inmn ** 56:53
Oh, yeah. We had Carla on not too long ago.
**Eleanor ** 56:57
I love Carla so much. So one of the things that they talk about in that book, Carla and Nick, is this idea of rigid radicalism and the need to be fluid but not flimsy. And I think that that’s something that…that’s another practice that I’m trying to get more into, because I think a lot of times when we have a stance or when we have a perspective, we can get stuck in it. And then, we can let it weigh us down. And I think it’s really important, no matter what fight we’re fighting, to be able to be fluid because it will allow us to confront the next struggle, the next shitstorm, the next fire, or whatever. But if we are too rigid, we will get caught up in the flood or the flames and be carried away. And so I think it’s important to stay fluid but not flimsy. And yeah.
**Inmn ** 57:59
Sick. Are there any places that you can be found on the internet where you would like to be found or where your work can be found? I know you plugged stuff at the beginning but we’ll throw stuff in the show notes.
**Eleanor ** 58:14
All of my work is at artkillingapathy.com That’s where my films are, my music, my poetry, and journalism. This specific film To the Trees is at tothetreesfilm.com and I am on Instagram and Twitter @RadicalEleanor.
**Inmn ** 58:32
Wonderful. And are you working on anything? Got anything coming up soon that you’re working on?
**Eleanor ** 58:38
I think I’m going to work on some of the footage that I got in Germany as kind of like an addendum, or a compliment, to my first film about coal regions in West Virginia. I have footage from coal regions in Germany that I think I’m gonna put into something.
**Inmn ** 58:58
Great. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
**Eleanor ** 59:01
Thanks so much for having me.
**Inmn ** 59:08
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