Fighting for Mauna Kea: How Liberal and Radical Approaches Differ

The American Southwest, like all of North America, is occupied territory. Its resource are in a constant state of extraction and destruction. What would it take to reclaim the land and the life in it? Deep Green Resistance member and activist Will Falk discusses how we might do so, by distinguishing between liberalism and radicalism.

AUGUST 19, 2015
Liberalism’s Game: the Failure of Settler Solidarity in Hawai’i

When I am in Hawai’i, I ask everyone I meet if the United States will ever voluntarily de-occupy the Islands. No one ever says yes. Usually, before I can say anything else, people hurriedly start talking about the lack of a valid treaty or that the American occupation is illegal by their own laws or that the United States will pay for its human rights violations.

I am a haole in Hawai’i, a white settler in the United States. I acknowledge that every square inch of the United States of America exists on stolen native land. Leadership in land based struggles in the United States rests most properly in the hands of indigenous peoples. I will not undermine indigenous leadership, so I direct my thoughts to other settlers.

If no one believes that the United Sates will ever voluntarily de-occupy Hawai’i, why are so many of the movement’s settler supporters so focused on achieving this impossible voluntary withdrawal? Why, for example, do so many settlers spend so much energy supporting a parade in Oahu – a parade that is billed as a march for Hawaiian sovereignty while quietly being a voting drive to encourage participation in the occupying American government? Why do so many settlers hold up expensive court cases relying on American judges who are paid by the American government to make decisions leading to this mythical voluntary de-occupation as the only viable means for de-occupation?

The first answer is privilege. Settlers benefit from the current arrangement of power in Hawai’i. These Islands represent the tourist fantasy to many settlers despite the fact that Hawai’i’s life support systems are inches away from total collapse. The inability of settler support to recognize that Hawaiian de-occupation is our responsibility leads me to conclude that most settlers are not as concerned with Hawaiian liberation as they are concerned with maintaining a feel-good environment that balances settler crises of conscience while never threatening settler access to Hawai’i. Hawai’i does not have time to coax these settlers from their positions of privilege. So, I direct my thoughts to settlers of strong heart who simply suffer from a lack of analysis.

Apart from privilege, the second reason settlers have proven unable to mount a serious solidarity effort with the Hawaiian de-occupation movement is they see no alternative to a liberal mindset. “Wait a minute,” I hear a lot of confused readers saying, “Aren’t liberals good?” No, actually. It’s too late to rely exclusively on liberalism. Hawai’i has been cursed for 122 years of occupation with too much liberalism. Liberalism is the haoles’ game. Liberalism serves the United States of America. Liberalism renders resistance ineffective and must be forsaken if de-occupation is to be achieved.

The alternative is radicalism. An examination of the differences between the liberal and radical world views will demonstrate how radicalism arms settlers seeking to demonstrate true solidarity with a better analysis for forming an effective de-occupation strategy. This is not to say that a mixture of tactics cannot be effective. The Hawaiian de-occupation movement should not remove any tool from the table, but the longer Hawai’i remains occupied the clearer it becomes that decisive action is needed.


Protest against deep space telescope on the sacred summit of Mauna Kea.

Protest against deep space telescope on the sacred summit of Mauna Kea.



Before I begin, I would like to absolve the term “radical” of the bad reputation it has received in popular circles. Too many people confuse the word “radical” with the word “extreme.” But, as the great African-American activist Angela Davis has explained and as every major dictionary will tell you, the word radical simply means “getting to the root” and is most properly applied to political analyses that seek the origins of oppression.

The brilliant writer and activist Lierre Keith has pointed out two fundamental differences between liberals and radicals. The first difference revolves around individualism. Liberals believe that the basic social unit is the individual, while radicals believe the basic social unit is group or class. This reliance on individualism allows liberals to claim that every individual is entitled to their personal identity free from the realities accompanying social class. In fact, for many liberals, it is an insult to be identified with a certain group regardless of political reality.

For radicals, on the other hand, each individual is socially constructed by political reality. Radicals embrace their social group recognizing it as a source of strength. The first step to affecting change is making common cause with those who share your condition.

The other big difference between liberals and radicals is a disagreement on the nature of social reality. Liberals subscribe to a certain idealism while radicals root their analysis in materialism. For liberals, thoughts, mental states, and attitudes are the only sources and, therefore, solutions for oppression. Liberals locate reality in the human mind and tend to think that education is always the key to social change. For liberals, evil is a misunderstanding and if oppressors can just be shown the error of their ways, they will change.

How does this play out in Hawai’i? Take the role of white supremacism in the domination of Hawai’i, for example. Liberals, long ago, succumbed to the lie that racism and white supremacism are merely emotional states held in the hearts of individuals. They confine the definition of racism to hatred based on the color of one’s skin and confine the definition of white supremacism to hatred for everyone who is not white.

It is astronomers relying on a liberal definition of racism who can claim they are not racist because they hold no hatred in their hearts for the Hawaiian people while still insisting on destroying Mauna Kea’s summit to build telescopes. It is mining executives relying on a liberal definition of white supremacism who can claim no hatred in their hearts for native peoples while insisting that the guts be ripped from native land and poisons pumped into native waters to provide iron ore for the telescopes that destroy native peoples’ sacred sites.

Radicals see tangible systems of power maintained through force and working in the real, physical world as the sources and solutions of oppression. Education is an important first step to building radical consciousness, but they see organized political resistance and force as the means by which real change is achieved. Evil is not a misunderstanding. It is intentional and gives material benefits to oppressors. Oppression is always linked to resource extraction.

An emotional state – like hatred – might contribute to white supremacism, but radicals are less concerned with changing the hearts and minds of those murdering people of color and murdering the world, and more concerned with stopping the destruction. Hawaiian radicals, like Haunani-Kay Trask, for example, see racism as, “A historically created system of power in which one racial/ethnic group dominates another racial/ethnic group for the benefit of the dominating group.” White supremacism is the latest version of this system of power with white people dominating everyone else.

Racism and white supremacism establish, “Economic and cultural domination as well as political power…in the systemic dominance of the exploiting group.” Finally, radicals recognize, as Trask pointed out, that the dominating group holds a monopoly on the means on violence. It is this violence that must be confronted and dismantled if racism and white supremacism are ever truly going to be undermined.

To take this even further, consider what would happen if the liberal analysis was carried out to it’s logical conclusion. Imagine that liberals were actually successful at convincing those in power to treat every one in the world with love and kindness. Without a corresponding change in material reality, there would still be a huge problem. The dominant culture is built on the exploitation of natural resources. Resources are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Humans need to eat, for example, but topsoil is so depleted that major crops are all supported by oil. What will happen, despite the liberal conversion to loving kindness, when the dominant culture needs oil and indigenous peoples and others refuse to give up their lands to give them that oil?


A primary strength of the radical analysis is its ability to articulate the role power plays in oppression. Gene Sharp, the world’s foremost authority on civil disobedience and direct action tactics, has identified two manifestations of power – social and political. Social power, for Sharp, is “the totality of all influences and pressures which can be used and applied to groups of people, either to attempt to control the behavior of others directly or indirectly.” Political power is “the total authority, influence, pressure, and coercion which may be applied to achieve or prevent the implementation of the wishes of the power-holder.”

The powerful do everything they can to convince the oppressed that the current arrangement of power is inevitable. To believe power is inevitable is a mistake. Sharp says, “Power, in reality, is fragile, always dependent for its strength and existence upon a replenishment of its sources by the cooperation of a multitude of institutions and people – cooperation which may or may not continue.” The key to Hawaiian de-occupation, then, is dismantling American power. Power is dismantled most effectively by cutting it off at its sources.

Sharp lists six sources of power: authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material resources, and sanctions. Jacques Maritain defines authority as “the right to command and direct, to be heard or obeyed by others” and Sharp notes that it is enough that those in power be perceived and accepted as superior. Human resources are simply defined as the number of people who obey those in power and will do their bidding. Those in power derive power from the skills, knowledge, and abilities of those who will do their bidding. Closely tied to skills and knowledge, intangible psychological and ideological factors like cultural history and spirituality can be leveraged by those in power to dominate others. Those in power need material resources like property, money, and sources of energy to maintain their power. Finally, those in power must have means to enforce obedience – punishment, in other words, for those who dissent.

The goal of any resistance movement aspiring to true success must engage in shrewd target selection to undermine these sources of power. Taking Sharp a step further, it is possible to prioritize which sources of power are more essential to the functioning of power than others. The most important sources of power are the material resources power depends upon and the brutality of the sanctions they can enact through their commitment to the exploitation of resources. All the other sources of power ultimately depend on the ability of those in power to enforce their power physically. This is a radical conclusion and can be easily demonstrated.

Consider the Overthrow. Did Queen Liliuokalani abdicate the throne because she believed in American authority or the inherent right of Americans to command Hawaiians? Did the Americans command more people to do their bidding in Hawai’i than the Queen? Was Queen Liliuokalani victim to some psychological failing that the Americans exploited?

The answer is obviously no. At the time, Kingdom of Hawai’i supporters outnumbered the Americans over 13 to 1 on the Islands and constituted 4/5 of the legally qualified voters in Hawai’i. Queen Liliuokalani abdicated the throne in order to avoid bloodshed and, according to her June 17, 1897 letter to President William McKinley, because she, “recognized the futility of a conflict with so formidable a power.”

Queen Liliuokalani abdicated the throne because there were 200 United States marines, holding rifles, standing outside her door. Again, it wasn’t the moral superiority of Americans that convinced the Queen. It was, quite clearly, the threat of violence. It is important to understand the physical processes that allowed the Americans to exert that kind of power in Hawai’i. Another way to understand this is to ask, How did a nation existing thousands of miles away on another continent succeed in pointing 200 rifles at Queen Liliuokalani? The answer is, superior material resources.

In order to occupy Hawai’i, Europeans had to get there first. The only way Europeans ever got to Hawai’i and then transported themselves in numbers great enough to gain power was through the use of large naval ships. In order to build these ships, those in power needed wood and lots of it. The U.S.S. Boston that provided the marines and firepower for the Overthrow was in fact one of the American navy’s first steel warships. In order to produce the steel needed to armor the U.S.S. Boston, iron ore must be harvested. To turn iron ore into steel, vast quantities of coal are needed. To mine sufficient quantities of coal, vast tracts of land housing this coal have to be ripped up. To gain access to these vast tracts of land to be ripped up, the indigenous peoples of that land have to be removed or destroyed.

It is true that the other sources of power support the exploitation of the natural world as we can see in the manufacturing of American naval ships. Coal mining, for example, requires human resources. Most humans will not voluntarily mine coal, so those in power have to employ a mixture of authority, psychological coercion, and pure violence to access the coal they need to exert more power. But, the whole system of violence requires material resources. No one is killed by authority alone. Mountain tops are not ripped off by simple knowledge. Belief systems, by themselves, do not colonize indigenous lands. Material action in the physical world produces power. Bullets, swords, or atomic bombs at various stages of human history kill people. Oil-powered excavators and dynamite blow the tops off mountains. Soldiers delivering blankets infected with small pox clear indigenous peoples off their land.

The good news is that the more destructive those in power become, the more complex their system of murder gets, the more opportunities they expose for dismantling their power. Each step in the manufacturing of the U.S.S Boston, for example, presents an opportunity for resisters to stop the replenishment of power at one of its sources. The method is simple. Restrict those in power access to the resources they require and their power weakens. Cut them completely off, and empire comes crashing down.

The physical processes that produce warships and put rifles and cannons in the hands of American troops in Hawai’i follow a similar pattern. These processes are ultimately what make civilization unsustainable. These processes demonstrate precisely how the civilized have come to dominate the world at the expense of the uncivilized and life on this planet. Again, this present state of the world is not inevitable. It is the result of power built through the exploitation of life on the planet. The problem for life right now is the American empire shows no signs of slowing. The bigger their weapons become the faster life is pushed to the brink of total extinction.

Radicalism, then – because it springs from material reality – gives the Hawaiian de-occupation movement an ecological imperative. European contact has resulted in half of Hawai’i’s endemic species being lost to extinction. How many more species must be lost before actions that truly reflect the seriousness of the situation are taken? The American empire is built on the use of fossil fuels and the American military is the single largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. Burning fossil fuels must be stopped to avoid climate catastrophe. The American military presence is, perhaps, the most serious physical obstacle confronting the de-occupation movement. Blocking the military’s access to imported fossil fuels, then, could deal a decisive blow both to American power on the Islands and American environmental destruction.


This is the reality of the challenge confronting the Hawaiian de-occupation movement:The United States will never voluntarily leave Hawai’i and the survival of life on the Islands demands de-occupation. Too many settler liberals would have everyone believe that if Hawaiians just ask nicely enough, or cleverly enough, or with irrefutable American logic, the Americans will leave. Too many settler liberals hold up the American political and international legal systems as the only means for de-occupation. Too many settler liberals can be relied upon for sign-holding events, parades, and social media campaigns to achieve de-occupation, but when it comes down to being accomplices to Hawai’ian liberation, we are failing.

Appealing to the American political system hasn’t worked in 122 years. Appealing to the international legal system misunderstands the material reality of power. These liberal tactics can be employed to erode American authority, to persuade humans not to support American power, but there are more decisive routes to undermining American power. It’s not that liberal tactics do not have their place. But, by themselves, they do not undermine power in any serious way.

Time is short in Hawai’i. Settlers wishing to demonstrate true solidarity need to embrace a radical analysis. It is time to get to work seriously dismantling the sources of American power.

Will Falk has been working and living with protesters on Mauna Kea who are attempting to block construction of an 18-story astronomical observatory with an Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).

A Case Study in Activism and Resistance: The Castle Rock Prairie Dog Campaign

The DGR Southwest Coalition recently held their annual Southwest Gathering, sharing skills & good food, strengthening interpersonal bonds, and engaging in many valuable discussions & strategy sessions. As part of the gathering, Deanna Meyer of Deep Green Resistance Colorado joined Brian Ertz of Wildlands Defense to discuss the recent campaign against a Castle Rock mega-mall development. We’ve reported here a little bit on the struggle, and are excited to share this video of Meyer and Ertz describing the campaign in more detail.

The campaign initially petitioned the developer to “do the right thing”: delay construction until June, so threatened prairie dogs on-site could be relocated with the best chance of survival. Though this relocation would have left the prairie dogs as refugees, displaced from their homes and with the rest of their community killed, at least they would have a chance to try to rebuild their lives. When the developer responded by poisoning the prairie dogs en masse (along with many other creatures, as well as some human casualties), the campaign focused on saving those prairies dogs  who were left, and on making an example of the developer by inflicting as much pain as possible.

The campaigners were unable to stop the development or to save all the prairie dogs, but their dedicated grassroots organizing succeeded in achieving their secondary objectives. They forced the developer to halt construction for months, allowing workers to rescue those prairie dogs who survived the mass slaughter. They’ve probably cost the developer millions of dollars and countless headaches, demonstrating the practical value to future developers of doing the right thing from the start. As well, the activists recruited some allies and potential new members, and planted the seeds of a culture of resistance along the Front Range.

Learn how these defenders of life leveraged their strengths to overcome a powerful opponent despite mainstream environmental groups saying, “it can’t be done”, and how they plan to build on their win:

See more videos at the Deep Green Resistance Youtube channel

Open Letter to Reclaim Environmentalism

Given the events of the past few months in Castle Rock (resisting the efforts of Alberta Development to slaughter prairie dogs in the name of a mall), it seems appropriate to re-post a letter by Derrick Jensen of Deep Green Resistance:

Open Letter to Reclaim Environmentalism

Once, the environmental movement was about protecting the natural world from the insatiable demands of this extractive culture. Some of the movement still is: around the world grassroots activists and their organizations are fighting desperately to save this or that creature they love, this or that plant or fungi, this or that wild place.

Contrast this to what some activists are calling the conservation-industrial complex–­big green organizations, huge “environmental” foundations, neo-environmentalists, some academics–­which has co-opted too much of the movement into “sustainability,” with that word being devalued to mean “keeping this culture going as long as possible.” Instead of fighting to protect our one and only home, they are trying to “sustain” the very culture that is killing the planet. And they are often quite explicit about their priorities.

For example, the recent “An Open Letter to Environmentalists on Nuclear Energy,” signed by a number of academics, some conservation biologists, and other members of the conservation-industrial complex, labels nuclear energy as “sustainable” and argues that because of global warming, nuclear energy plays a “key role” in “global biodiversity conservation.” Their entire argument is based on the presumption that industrial energy usage is, like Dick Cheney said, not negotiable–­it is taken as a given. And for what will this energy be used? To continue extraction and drawdown­–to convert the last living creatures and their communities into the final dead commodities.

Their letter said we should let “objective evidence” be our guide. One sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns: let’s lay out a pattern and see if we can recognize it in less than 10,000 years. When you think of Iraq, do you think of cedar forests so thick that sunlight never touches the ground? That’s how it was prior to the beginnings of this culture. The Near East was a forest. North Africa was a forest. Greece was a forest. All pulled down to support this culture. Forests precede us, while deserts dog our heels. There were so many whales in the Atlantic they were a hazard to ships. There were so many bison on the Great Plains you could watch for four days as a herd thundered by. There were so many salmon in the Pacific Northwest you could hear them coming for hours before they arrived. The evidence is not just “objective,” it’s overwhelming: this culture exsanguinates the world of water, of soil, of species, and of the process of life itself, until all that is left is dust.

Fossil fuels have accelerated this destruction, but they didn’t cause it, and switching from fossil fuels to nuclear energy (or windmills) won’t stop it. Maybe three generations of humans will experience this level of consumption, but a culture based on drawdown has no future. Of all people, conservation biologists should understand that drawdown cannot last, and should not be taken as a given when designing public policy–­let alone a way of life.

It is long past time for those of us whose loyalties lie with wild plants and animals and places to take back our movement from those who use its rhetoric to foster accelerating ecocide. It is long past time we all faced the fact that an extractive way of life has never had a future, and can only end in biotic collapse. Every day this extractive culture continues, two hundred species slip into that longest night of extinction. We have very little time left to stop the destruction and to start the repair. And the repair might yet be done: grasslands, for example, are so good at sequestering carbon that restoring 75 percent of the planet’s prairies could bring atmospheric CO2 to under 330 ppm in fifteen years or less. This would also restore habitat for a near infinite number of creatures. We can make similar arguments about reforestation. Or consider that out of the more than 450 dead zones in the oceans, precisely one has repaired itself. How? The collapse of the Soviet Empire made agriculture unfeasible in the region near the Black Sea: with the destructive activity taken away, the dead zone disappeared, and life returned. It really is that simple.

You’d think that those who claim to care about biodiversity would cherish “objective evidence” like this. But instead the conservation-industrial complex promotes nuclear energy (or windmills). Why? Because restoring prairies and forests and ending empires doesn’t fit with the extractive agenda of the global overlords.

This and other attempts to rationalize increasingly desperate means to fuel this destructive culture are frankly insane. The fundamental problem we face as environmentalists and as human beings isn’t to try to find a way to power the destruction just a little bit longer: it’s to stop the destruction. The scale of this emergency defies meaning. Mountains are falling. The oceans are dying. The climate itself is bleeding out and it’s our children who will find out if it’s beyond hope. The only certainty is that our one and only home, once lush with life and the promise of more, will soon be a bare rock if we do nothing.

We the undersigned are not part of the conservation-industrial complex. Many of us are long-term environmental activists. Some of us are Indigenous people whose cultures have been living truly sustainably and respectfully with all our relations from long before the dominant culture began exploiting the planet. But all of us are human beings who recognize we are animals who like all others need livable habitat on a living earth. And we love salmon and prairie dogs and black terns and wild nature more than we love this way of life.

Environmentalism is not about insulating this culture from the effects of its world-destroying activities. Nor is it about trying to perpetuate these world-destroying activities. We are reclaiming environmentalism to mean protecting the natural world from this culture.

And more importantly, we are reclaiming this earth that is our only home, reclaiming it from this extractive culture. We love this earth, and we will defend our beloved.

-Derrick Jensen

*If you agree, please sign the letter

How to Organize: 15 Points

A good friend recently reminded me that there is a big difference between activism and organizing. Activism is to be involved at some level in political struggle; organizing is to make that struggle effective by planning for success.

Organizing requires attention to the smallest details and the broadest overview. It takes a great deal of strategic thinking, critical self-evaluation, people skills, and persistence.

Organizing is hard. None of us are born with the skills needed for effective organizing; we have to pick them up as we go.  All we have is us, and so many of us are tied up with families, jobs, and other responsibilities. But if we’re going to win struggles for social and environmental justice, we need more organizers.

With that goal in mind, I would like to share with you this list of points on organizing. I’m by no means an expert organizer, but I have gained some experience in the past decade. This list is not definitive or faultless. If you think I got it wrong, or if you have more points to add, let me know in the comments.

15 Points on Organizing

1. Reliable people are irreplaceable. One solid person is worth a dozen who don’t follow through on their commitments.

2. Beware of abusive and toxic people, as well as those who are bring nothing but drama and distraction. Set boundaries.

3. Social skills are profoundly important for organizing. Cultivate these skills. Avoid stereotyping or dismissing people based on their lifestyle, job, or any first impression you may have. Movement building requires getting outside of our comfort zone and engaging with people as individuals. You can’t have political conversations if your prerequisite is that everyone should agree with you. This is a dead end for making change.

4. When organizing people, folks seem to respond well to individual requests for assistance. For example: “I’ve noticed that you’re really skilled about getting people motivated. Can you help with promotion for our upcoming event?”

5. In organizing, details matter. Small problems can grow into major ones. Pay close attention to what is happening in and around your organizing community. But be careful to avoid getting bogged down in the small stuff.

6. Build coalitions and relationships with a wide variety of people and resistance-oriented communities. Sometimes you will be surprised at who is willing to lend support. Draw out linkages between struggles and focus on the shared visions and overlaps in thinking. Radicals are scattered and disorganized, so solidarity is critical.

7. Humility, respect, and appreciation for others are the foundation of relationships. Shared hardship, struggle, and joy are the mortar that cements these bonds. Build friendships and caring relationship with the people you organize with.


Swamp Cedars sacred site, eastern Nevada.

8. Do what you say you will do. Follow up on commitments and responsibilities. Don’t give your word lightly.

9. Ask for help when you need it.

10. Make time to recharge. Burned out and overworked activists are no use to the movement. Allow time for relaxation and self-healing after intense periods.

11. Focus on the long term struggle. Make sure that each action, event, and campaign you engage in leaves your group stronger and more engaged than before. Try to maintain positive momentum, while at the same time understanding that we fight regardless of winning or losing. We fight because it is the right thing to do.

12. Sometimes you have to take risks.

13. Never stop learning. Deepen your wisdom and plan to become an elder and mentor as you age.

14. Justice is on our side. Be heartened by the spirituality and community that comes from battling injustice and building beautiful cultures of resistance.

15. Be so stubborn they will never stop you. Never give up.

Max Wilbert is an activist and organizer from Seattle, and can be reached at

Time is Short: Where Do We Draw the Line? The Keystone XL Pipeline and Beyond


Editor’s Note: This article originally ran March 20, 2013, in the Deep Green Resistance News Service. We are republishing the entire Time is Short series, and considering that the newly elected US Senate now has enough votes to pass approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline and has made it second on its list of priorities, we think this is especially relevant.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is without question the largest environmental issue we in North America face today. It’s not the largest in the sense that it is the most destructive, or the largest in terms of size. But it has been a definitive struggle for the movement; it has brought together a wide variety of groups, from mainstream liberals to radicals and indigenous peoples to fight against a single issue continuously for several years. It has forged alliances between tree-sitting direct actionists and small rural landowners, and mobilized people from across the country to join the battles in Washington and Texas, as well as at the local offices of companies involved in building the pipeline in their own communities. It has also posed serious questions to us as a movement about how we will effectively fight those who profit from the destruction of the living world.

But it’s time for a reality check.

While TransCanada continues laying pipe in Texas and Oklahoma, the Federal government is deliberating over the permit application for the Northern Leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will run from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. Despite the overwhelming (and inexplicable) sense of hope that pervades the movement, there’s little reason to be optimistic that TransCanada’s permits will be denied. So far, the Feds have neither done nor said anything that could lead any sane or rational person to believe the project will be rejected. On March 1st, the State Department released its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which concluded that the pipeline does not pose an unacceptable threat to human health or the environment.

Yet as we have heard only too many times already, climate scientists—including former NASA climate science chief James Hansen—have repeatedly said that the Keystone XL pipeline would be “game over” for the planet, as it would provide an outlet for the extremely dirty oil coming from the tar sands.

Obviously, the pipeline needs to be stopped. We can’t allow it to be built and to operate.

Fortunately, opposition to the pipeline is widespread, and thousands of people have been trying to stop it. A series of rallies in DC, spearheaded by, have mobilized thousands of people calling on Obama’s Administration to reject the pipeline, and inspired solidarity rallies across the country and protests at TransCanada offices.

Yet appealing to those in power isn’t working. When the leaders of some of the largest Big Green organizations (including and the Sierra Club) were being arrested outside the White House in an effort to appeal to Obama to reject the pipeline, the President was golfing with an oil executive in Florida.

Those in power are going to approve the pipeline. Asking them to change is failed strategy; at the end of the day, pipelines—like clear-cutting, strip mining, ocean trawling, hydraulic fracturing, and so many other destructive industrial activities—are legal. Those in charge of an economic system based on ecological destruction and endless growth will always favor the needs and wants of that system over the needs and wants of all those—human and non-human—harmed by their activities.

Meanwhile, more and more folks have started turning to nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to fight the pipeline. In North Texas, the Tar Sands Blockade has done everything it can to slow construction of the Southern Leg of the pipeline. Activists with TSB have erected tree sits in the pipeline’s path, locked themselves to equipment and vehicles, stormed TransCanada offices, gone on hunger strikes, organized protests and demonstrations along the route of the pipeline, and even locked themselves inside the pipeline. But unfortunately, it simply hasn’t been enough.

But despite their efforts, the pipeline continues to be built. There’s no denying that the sustained civil disobedience has delayed the project and forced TransCanada to fight hard for every mile of pipe laid in the ground; but they have the resources to ensure to overcome even the most strategic nonviolent direct action. When the Tar Sands Blockade erected a tree-sit in the path of construction, TransCanada altered its route and built around the protestors.

The reality is that TransCanada has the resources to outlast the delays and overcome direct action. They’ve already gone to great lengths to stop those who stand it their way; they hired off-duty police officers as a private security force and brought $50,000 lawsuits against the organizers of the Blockade. Make no mistake, TransCanada will go to whatever lengths it deems necessary to make sure the pipeline is built; they will threaten, sue, arrest, pepper spray, taser, torture, and force it through blockades and lockdowns. We don’t have the thousands (or tens of thousands) of people it would take to permanently stop the pipeline through civil disobedience; we’re fighting a losing battle.

Given all of this, it’s time to step back and take stock of the situation. It is clear that Obama and his administration are going to approve the pipeline, and there isn’t anything we can do to change that. It is also clear that civil disobedience has not been successful in stopping construction. So what options are left?

As James Hansen said, the Keystone XL pipeline will be “game over” for the planet. Stop a moment, and think about that.

Game over. Let that sink in.

Given what’s at stake (and what’s at stake is horrific), we need to draw the line. The Keystone XL Pipeline cannot be allowed to be built and operate. The tar sands cannot be allowed to be developed or extracted. They must be stopped. By any means necessary. When we’ve tried it all—everything from petitioning the powerful to civil disobedience –and at the end of the day, the pipeline is still being built, we need to recognize the need for escalation, including sabotage and property destruction.

That’s a proposition that makes a lot of folks uncomfortable. And that’s okay.

But when we’re left with the choice of either killing the pipeline or being killed by the pipeline, can we afford to rule out any tactics? When everything we’ve tried so far has failed, is there any choice left except more militant forms of direct action?

This isn’t a suggestion that anyone undertake any form of action they’re not comfortable with; we should all fight like hell, using whatever means we choose to use. But if some choose other means, such as sabotage or property destruction, we should not condemn or oppose them.

When the alternative is “game over” for the planet, anyone who chooses militant action to stop the pipeline is morally justified in doing so.

And yet, far from being extremist and unconventional, sabotage and underground resistance are threads common and integral to the cloth of movements for justice and sustainability. This is a rich history, and we should be proud to carry forth its legacy.

Even in regards solely to pipeline resistance, there is a definite precedent of movements using sabotage to fight otherwise unwinnable battles. In the Niger Delta, communities have been fighting oil extraction and systemic injustice, and wielding direct attacks on pipelines as a powerfully effective weapon. Following repeated failures of negotiations and nonviolent protest, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) began militant attacks on pipelines, pumping stations, offshore oil rigs, and other infrastructure in 2006. Their use of militant tactics has been devastatingly effective: they’ve decreased the oil output of the entire country of Nigeria by 40%.

On the other side of the world in British Columbia, a series of pipelines were sabotaged by the mysterious “Encana Bomber,” who repeatedly bombed pipelines and other natural gas infrastructure belonging to Encana, an oil & natural gas corporation. Local residents had tried to use the courts and regulatory infrastructures to protect themselves and their lands, but were trampled over by both Encana and the government agencies charged with regulating the corporation. Fed up with systemic injustice and environmental degradation, someone (or someones; the attackers remain anonymous and uncaught) decided to use any means necessary to fight back. Between October of 2008 and July of 2009, there were six attacks, and despite bullying and intimidation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, no one has been caught or arrested for the actions, and community members have openly expressed support for the sabotage. The attacks stopped in July 2009, when a letter from the bomber(s) gave Encana five years to “shut down and remove all the oil and gas facilities” in the area.

In both of these cases, those opposed to extractive projects (specifically including pipelines) tried to affect change through the established and legal channels: through government agencies and regulatory bodies, through negotiations, through lawsuits and court action. But when those tactics proved ineffective, they neither gave up nor continued with a failed strategy; they escalated. They knew they had to choose between taking militant action (and accepting the risk that entails) and destructive injustice. They chose to defend themselves, their communities, and the land, even if that meant taking more drastic action.

It’s time we did the same.

And while we so often consider even discussion of sabotage as a potential tactic as beyond the pale, militancy has played a critical role in past movements for justice—ones we are eager to support. The Boston Tea Party is upheld and oft-cited as a proud moment of American history, yet it was an instance of individuals destroying property; would we condemn the Boston Tea Partiers as “terrorists”? Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize and was elected president of South Africa after being freed from 27 years of imprisonment, yet he was in jail for sabotage and militant resistance; do we denounce him as well?

The Keystone XL pipeline must be stopped, and neither appeals to the government, lawsuits, nor civil disobedience have been able to stop the deathly march of the pipeline. If we’re not willing to even consider sabotage and property destruction—or support anyone who employs those tactics—when it’s that or “game over” for the planet, then we’re morally defunct beings, only hollow shells resembling those who hold any shred of love in their hearts. Do we really believe that the property of corporations is more important and sacred than the bodily integrity of real living people or the entire earth?

If not, then it’s time for a collective shift in the dialogue and culture of the environmental movement. We need to start talking openly about the possibility—and role—of militant action in the fight to stop the skinning of Earth alive. Make no mistake; this isn’t an exhortation to senseless violence or a call to walk away from other means of struggle. It’s a (truly) modest proposal that with literally the whole planet at stake, we put all the tools on the table. If we’re honest with ourselves about the situation we’re in, we don’t have any other choice.

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at timeisshort at (replace ‘ at ‘ with @)