I’m teaching Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang in my undergraduate environmental literature class. I say that I’m teaching it, but the teaching is not going so well so far. Despite telling the students how controversial the book was (and, I suspect, will be again), despite the fact that I told them that it led to Dave Foreman’s founding of Earth First! and his publication of Ecodefense: A Guide to Monkey Wrenching – the purchase of which is rumored to place one on an FBI’s watch list – about half the class has yet to buy Abbey’s novel (you won’t get placed on an FBI watch list, at least I don’t think that you will, for buying Abbey’s book).
So because only half the class had done the reading yesterday (and because the half that did the reading hated it…), I spent much of the class talking about the book’s four epigraphs. The first is from a poem by Richard Shelton:
. . . but oh my desert
yours is the only death I cannot bear.
We talked about how a desert might die. My students suggested that deserts are already dead. One suggested that you could kill a desert by adding water. I told them that perhaps the death of a desert would signify the ultimate death; deserts, I argued, would seem impossible to kill. The animals and plants that live in the desert (deserts are not already dead, dear students) are well equipped to survive the extremes of desert life. The death of the desert would mean the death of us all, I suggested.
The second epigraph is from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: “Resist much. Obey little.” Whitman, I suggested, was a badass. I also let my students know that earlier in the day, activists from Greenpeace had scaled a crane near the capital building and unfurled a huge banner upon which was emblazoned one word: “resist.” Think you’re reading in a vacuum? I asked. Think again.
And the third is Thoreau from his journals: “Now. Or never.”
With both the Whitman and Thoreau quotes, Abbey has changed the punctuation: Whitman’s line is “Resist much, obey little,” while Thoreau’s is “now or never!” The periods give both Whitman’s and Thoreau’s words a contemporary makeover; I suggested that perhaps #Now.Ornever might trend on twitter. Now. Resist much. Obey Little. Or never…
But the epigraph that gave me the most pause was the one on the page that followed, the definition of the word “sabotage.” Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition:
and here's the definition of sabot:
Put your foot up someone's ass, in other words.
The term “ecoterrorism” has been roundly applied to the real life actions of those who followed Abbey’s fictional lead. In 2004, the FBI launched Operation Backfire to deal with the so-called terrorist activities of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front; those activities were destructive acts to property including setting fire to a meat processing plant, fire-bombing a ski resort, and destruction of an energy plant. No one was harmed or killed in these attacks, but the financial cost was around $80 million.
The conflation of sabotage with terrorism is erroneous; terrorism targets people, sabotage targets property. It targets the machinery of ideology, of capitalism, of religion, and of government. And in the U.S., destruction of property – something with a monetary value – makes a much more profound impact on our esteemed leaders than the destruction of human (and nonhuman) life. Men take note when the money stops flowing, not when women march around the world in opposition to their policies.
Yeah. Let's talk about veganism, shall we?
The resistance within which many of us find ourselves at the moment must disrupt the money, and for that to happen, you need to involve your whole body in the fight. We must monkeywrench and jam the system. Posting on Facebook and signing every petition out there won’t change anything. We have to be willing to physically kick the machinery off the cliff, into the canyon, and listen to it explode when it hits.
Abbey’s fictional monkeywrenchers put their feet in the gears. They place their bodies in opposition to the machines, setting fire to billboards, blowing up bridges and dams. They disempower the national infrastructure by pulling at its purse strings.
You can do that, too, and you don’t have to set fire to a thing. You don’t have to go out there and destroy anything. You can just become vegan.
Asheville's Ashley Capps!
At the women’s march in New York City on January 21, I looked at all the environmentally aware signs, those that said, for example, “I’m with her” and had a picture of the earth on them. I marched beside a woman wearing a fur coat (and I thought, really? People still wear fur?). I wondered how these women at this march were vegan and how many are still missing the point, that all of this oppression of all of us – women, people of color, immigrants, and nature – is enmeshed and reinforcing.
That when you’re eating the body of (likely) a female animal or an animal’s feminized protein in the age of climate change, you might want to reconsider whether or not you are actually a feminist or an environmentalist.
Am stealing these images from here.
The 500+ people who are friends with me on Facebook likely all have the resources to be vegan – and many of them already are. This is what you get when you write a book on the subject and have a significant other who owns a really well-known vegan restaurant. I received an email from a friend the other day telling me that he was eating a vegan diet, but most of my non-vegan friends won't go there. Decolonize your food choices. Put your foot in the machine of our industrial food complex. Yeah, I just said that. Vegans scare the living shit out of the patriarchy, so if you want to do some serious sabotage, here’s your in. Kick that tractor off the cliff and do some damage.
We aren’t terrorists, but they’ll treat us like we are. We're saboteurs. And Bannon, Pence, Conway and the rest will lie about that, too….