Archive for the ‘Environmental, Eco’ Category
Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
The next event will be December 19, 2013 at Fontana’s Bar at 105 Eldridge Street, Lower East Side, NYC.
We’ll be in the back, in the two-story Chandelier Room (don’t worry, despite the name it’s not too fancy).
We’ll have vegan Ethiopian food from Bunna Café, serving up their new Holiday Menu!
The December 19th Vegan Drinks benefits NYC Anarchist Black Cross and the tremendous work they do supporting all U.S.-held political prisoners. In particular, you’ll have an opportunity to support Animal and Earth Liberation political prisoners by signing holiday greeting cards and writing letters to let our comrades know they are not forgotten, especially during the holiday season. NYC Anarchist Black Cross is a “collective focused on supporting U.S.-held political prisoners and prisoners of war and opposing state repression against revolutionary social justice movements.”
RSVP on Facebook if you like.
Vegan Drinks is a monthly social networking* event for people interested in promoting veganism and advocating for animal rights. Vegan Drinks’ mission is to bring together a diverse group of people—from cupcake aficionados to animal lawyers to veg*ns of all stripes in between—to build new coalitions and promote the sharing of resources. Vegan Drinks is for newbies and oldies. All we expect is an interest in animal rights, veganism and the pursuit of after-work fun. Show up and introduce yourself, pass around business cards (if you’ve got ‘em) and embarrass yourself at least once an hour.
*Although we think love is grand, Vegan Drinks is not a singles’ event. But, if you happen to meet the love of your life at Vegan Drinks, don’t forget to invite us to the wedding!
Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Daniel McGowan: The FBI’s Least Wanted
He did his time for burning down two Oregon lumber mills, but he’s not exactly a free man
By Anna Merlan email@example.com
Wednesday, Sep 25 2013
At six o’clock on a cool June morning, after five and a half years in federal prison and six months in a halfway house, Daniel McGowan went home. From the halfway house in Vinegar Hill, he took the F train to downtown Brooklyn, crawled into bed beside his wife, Jenny, and slept for a few hours. Then he headed out to meet his probation officer and a mountain of paperwork. It was his first day as a freed domestic terrorist.
“The definition of terrorism is exactly what they did.”
“I was really horrified at the time of my sentencing at being called a terrorist,” he says. “I’m still horrified.”
At 39, McGowan is a little skinnier than before he went to prison, a little grayer. But he doesn’t look too different from the guy who helped burn down two Oregon lumber mills on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front in 2001, or the guy a federal judge sentenced to seven years in prison for those crimes in 2007. On a recent evening, he’s wearing a loose green T-shirt and several days’ worth of stubble, a bike seat by his side and a smartphone in his hand. He glances at it every few minutes.
Courtesy Jenny Synan
McGowan can’t associate with environmental or animal-rights groups.
“I used to make fun of people who texted all the time,” he says. “And now I’m one of them.”
With a summer of freedom behind him, McGowan is still figuring out the rules of his new reality. Besides being a convicted terrorist, he owes nearly $2 million in restitution, which he’s expected to pay in full. The peculiar terms of his probation forbid him joining “any groups or organizations whose primary purpose is environmental and animal rights activism”—a prohibition that includes nonprofits such as PETA and the Sierra Club. He can’t associate with anyone with a felony on their record, or anyone convicted of illegal environmental or animal rights activity, even a misdemeanor—a tall order for a man who had spent much of his life in activist circles. And, as he learned in the halfway house, writing about his experiences in the prison system has the potential to land him back in jail.
McGowan says he left the ELF soon after the second Oregon arson. He was working at a nonprofit for victims of domestic abuse when he and 12 others were arrested during the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Operation Backfire, which ferreted out ELF members responsible for a series of arsons and other crimes between 1996 and 2001. Vandals targeted lumberyards, slaughterhouses, and U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service offices, wreaking a record $48 million worth of damage.
Several of those arrested agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. One ELF member secretly recorded conversations with McGowan, helping to convict him on several counts of arson and conspiracy—actions that, in the eyes of U.S. District Court Judge Ann L. Aiken, amounted to terrorism: attempts to create “fear and intimidation to achieve a goal and affect the conduct of government,” as the judge put it at McGowan’s sentencing.
Ten months into his prison term, McGowan was transferred from the general population at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota, to a newer wing in Marion, Illinois, known as a Communication Management Unit. Much of the CMU population is Muslim, but politically affiliated prisoners such as McGowan also find themselves there. The main hallmark of a CMU is restricted contact with the outside world: McGowan was allowed two short, no-contact visits per month—he wasn’t permitted to have any physical contact whatsoever with his wife for the duration of his sentence—and his phone time was limited to a single 15-minute phone call per week. (The BOP has subsequently revised the CMU limits to two 15-minute calls and two four-hour visits.) His mail was delayed and often rejected by a censor as inappropriate. In 2009, while he was incarcerated at Marion, his mother died of cancer. (McGowan was later transferred to the nation’s only other CMU, in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he spent 22 months.)
Court documents would later show that the initial decision to move McGowan into the CMU was made by Leslie Smith, head of the counterterrorism unit of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Smith acknowledged that McGowan’s disciplinary slate was clean but argued that he posed a threat to public safety because his jailhouse letters and articles constituted “attempt[s] to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements.” Additionally, he had requested that his lawyers send him copies of leaked BOP documents—a blatant attempt, the BOP contended, to escape its monitoring of his communications.
After five and a half years in prison, McGowan was sent to a halfway house in Brooklyn to serve out the last six months of his sentence. While he was there, he wrote an article for the Huffington Post detailing his time at the CMU. On April 4, three days after the story was published, federal marshals arrested him, took him to the Metropolitan Detention Center, and issued him an orange jumpsuit. From there, he assumed, he’d be sent back to the CMU for the remainder of his sentence. But his lawyers quickly secured his return to the halfway house and quashed the BOP’s effort to impose a gag order.
“As far as we know, this is a made-up rule applied only to Daniel, in a further attempt to chill his freedom of speech,” wrote Rachel Meeropol, McGowan’s attorney at the New York–based nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights.
The BOP quietly dropped the matter.
Will Potter is a journalist who has written extensively about environmental activism. He says restrictive parole conditions for activists are becoming more common.
“It reflects the political nature of these prosecutions,” Potter says. “And how this terrorism language can follow people long after they leave the courtroom and long after they leave prison. This is something that can follow these activists the rest of their lives.”
McGowan should not expect the surveillance to stop when his supervised release ends, Potter emphasizes. “At speaking events we’ve done with other former prisoners, law enforcement has been there. Sometimes they come in publicly, flashing badges. In FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests later on, I’ve also gotten information about [undercover] police officers at public events. I just can’t imagine what that would be like. It’s a constant cloud over you all the time.”
For Steve Swanson, McGowan’s terrorist designation and the terms of his release seem like justice. Swanson is president and CEO of the Swanson Group, which used to be called Superior Lumber, one of the two companies whose buildings McGowan helped to burn down.
“The definition of terrorism is exactly what they did,” Swanson says. “They were trying to change our behavior by inflicting terror on us. It’s not different than Islamic terrorists or what the IRA was doing back in the ’70s. To say they were nonviolent is just not accurate. We have a total volunteer fire department that responded. Any number of those people could’ve been killed.”
Adds Swanson, “Frankly, we used more wood products to rebuild all those things they burned down.”
At his sentencing, McGowan apologized for the fires, saying he felt “deep regret” for frightening the lumber workers. “Although I now know it’s hard for people to believe, my intention at the time was to be provocative and make a statement,” he told the court. “Not to put individual people in fear.”
Swanson says McGowan has never apologized to him directly.
In the meantime, both men have moved on. The Swanson Group tore down the remnants of its old factory and built a larger one. McGowan recently participated in Running Down the Walls, a fundraiser for political prisoner support groups. He figured it was permissible because it had nothing to do with environmental issues.
Still, he says, that April night in jail was jarring: “Sometimes things feel fragile.”
A federal judge recently ruled that because McGowan is no longer an inmate, he has no standing to participate in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons that challenges the constitutionality of CMUs. Instead, on Tuesday, September 17, he filed a formal complaint against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, alleging that the re-arrest deprived him of his liberty and caused emotional harm.
Saturday, March 9th, 2013
Daniel’s lawyers at Center for Constitutional Rights have released a new flyer about the Communication Management Units (CMU) that the Bureau of Prisons operates. These are the units Daniel was held in for most of his prison sentence and the subject of a lawsuit (Aref v Holder) brought by Daniel and former/current CMU prisoners.
You can read the text of the flyer here.
You can download a PDF of the two page flyer here.
A more substantial update on the case and how Daniel is doing on the outside is coming soon.
Wednesday, April 4th, 2012
Dear Friends and Supporters,
In a nice change of pace from the usual tenor of our communications, we are happy to report some really good news: Daniel McGowan’s stay in the CMU is coming to an end! Despite many punitive measures over the course of the years, Daniel has maintained a sterling record in prison and has accrued enough “good time” to take 1 year off his 7-year sentence. What is even more exciting is that he has qualified to serve the last 6-months of this time in a halfway house in Brooklyn, beginning in December 2012! After so many years, and so much antagonism from Federal authorities, we are overjoyed to welcome Daniel back home, where he belongs.
The support you all have shown over these past 5 years has helped Daniel get through what are undoubtedly the hardest years of his life. Now that he is on the verge of rejoining us, and never looking back upon these dark times, the focus of support for the Family and Friends of Daniel McGowan is in assisting him in his re-entry and securing him meaningful employment. Not only is finding a job an important condition of Daniel’s being in the half-way house — in addition to his supervised release once he is done with his sentence — but it is also extremely important to Daniel himself, who joins thousands of other ex-prisoners who struggle to find employment because of their prior records.
Lots of people are looking for work these days, and it’s a daunting task for anyone. However, while Daniel is as highly-motivated and hard-working as many others seeking employment, it is obvious that he faces serious hurdles in getting a job because of his conviction. Daniel is a warm, intelligent, passionate, and dedicated person and he would love to find employment at a place that is doing work he cares about and finds meaningful. Over the years many of you have asked how you can help — helping Daniel find such a job would be the most important thing you could ever do for him.
HELP DANIEL FIND A JOB:
In addition to having a Bachelor’s degree, Daniel completed a paralegal course as well as every continuing education and vocational course available (over 25!) while in prison despite limited opportunities for education, as well as frequent moves. He is extremely driven and has a broad skill-set that he is looking to utilize at a NYC-based, non-profit organization. Much of Daniel’s career experience from 1997 onward is within the non-profit world he has ample experience in development/fundraising, communication and IT positions. Daniel has a particular interest in working as a paralegal for civil liberties organizations but would welcome and appreciate work in any of these fields/areas:
*Civil liberties/Free speech
*Harm reduction/Drug policy
If you work for a NYC-based non-profit, have a close friend, partner or contact at one, or have a specific organization in mind that might be open to hiring Daniel, we’d love to hear from you!
All emails can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please put “jobs” in the subject line.
His resume will be made available upon request.
**Daniel is still in prison, in the CMU, and will be until the end of 2012.**
Thursday, December 15th, 2011
Here are the winners of the December 7th raffle. We’ve already been in touch with the winners but if you see your name and haven’t heard anything, let us know.
Congrats and thanks!!
Will P Pie Any Means Necessary
Carey S BORF Print
Kathleen M The Will of the Many
Ryan O Winds From Below
Joe S Certain Days Calendar
Ryan K If A Tree Falls DVD; Combustion Books Pack
Beve C Pie Any Means Necessary; If A Tree Falls DVD
Evan W Compassion Buttons
Michael V Compassion Buttons
Compasson Co. Daniel Shirt – Purple L
Dylan P Bluestockings T-Shirt; Elektra KB Art
Ethan W Bluestockings membership; Book Thug Nation Gift Certificate
Yuri C Live Scribe; Recipes for Disaster
Nikki C Work; Signal: 1
John O IFC Membership; Firebrands
Josue M If A Tree Falls DVD; Celebrate People’s History
Anastasia C Dr. Bronners Gift Basket; Boom! DVD
John Eberhardt Notes; Let Freedom Ring
Nikki K Eco-Warriors
Karen O Agriculture and Food in Crisis
Michelle D Fifth Estate Subscription; If A Tree Falls DVD
Cindy Toward Climate Justice
Olga N Eberhardt Zine Pack; JustSeeds Organizer
Jay Spectacle Theater Tickets
Deborah D Green is the New Red
Eliza C Book Thug Nation Gift Certficate
Meil E Quagmire; Acupuncture by Famous
Lana P Wilder Brook Farm Maple Syrup
Smokey We Interrupt This Empire
Benjamin P Eberhardt Notes; Daniel T-Shirt
Sangamithra I Support Daniel Water Bottle
J G Certain Days Calendar; Eberhardt Book Pack
Willie L If A Tree Falls DVD; 4Struggle Mag Subscription
Tom G Oppose and Propose
Dave R Paper Politics
Ainsley B Eberhardt Notes
Janine Suffled How It Gush
Spencer S Combustion Books Pack
Molly G Burning Books Gift Certificate
Melissa M Pie Any Means Necessary
Dayna Mittens; Boom!
Karen F We Interrupt This Empire
Sideshow Sparrow Shirt
Leah T Compassion T-Shirt
Julie R Daniel Water Bottle
Vera B Daniel Water Bottle
Stavros C Eberhardt Book Pack
Mirza Fifth Estate Subscription
Catherine F Sparrow Media T-Shirt
Harry N Pie Any Means Necessary
Nicolas U Uses of a Whirlwind
Monday, November 14th, 2011
WHAT: Panel discussion with Robert Meeropol, Will Potter and Jenny Synan with an introduction by Rachel Meeropol plus an AMAZING raffle
WHEN: 6:30-8:00, Wednesday, December 7th
WHERE: Community Church of New York (40 East 35th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues)
COST: Free entry; raffle tickets are $2 each or three for $5.
Every year we commemorate Daniel’s arrest with an event on or around December 7th. This year’s event will link advocates, activists and concerned individuals to think critically around the Red and Green scare, and ongoing repression of political dissidents in the United States. On the sixth anniversary, Family & Friends of Daniel McGowan, The Rosenberg Fund for Children, Will Potter of GreenIsTheNewRed and the Center for Constitutional Rights are hosting this panel discussion. In addition to the panel, we’re planning on doing a raffle to raise money which goes to Daniel’s commissary account in prison and any future legal expenses.
Raffle now over (12/08/11)
RAFFLE PRIZES are being added daily, but currently include:
Tuesday, October 25th, 2011
Live from Little Guantanamo
A Conversation with Daniel McGowan Inspired by the Film If a Tree Falls
The award-winning documentary, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, premiered at Sundance last spring and continues to screen in theaters across the globe. The film, which aired on PBS earlier this fall and is now available on DVD, details the events that led to the imprisonment of environmental activist Daniel McGowan and raises critical questions about ecological crisis, terrorism, and government repression of political activists.
Those who see If a Tree Falls are likely to be left with a number of lingering questions. How is Daniel doing now? When will he be released from prison? What does he think of the movie? Daniel, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence in the Communications Management Unit at FCI Terre Haute in Indiana, answered some of these questions and others in the following interview about the film, prison life, and his thoughts about the future.
Question: What was it like being interviewed and filmed while you were on house arrest awaiting trial during such an obviously difficult time in your life? How present and intrusive where the filmmakers? Did it add stress to your situation?
Daniel McGowan: It was at times frustrating and other times, comforting. What I mean is that throughout the period of house arrest, I felt stifled and unable to be productive. Having the filmmakers over for half of the day helped me motivate, get out of bed and organize my day. In that way, it countered the severe monotony of being stuck in an apartment and helped jolt me out of periods of depression. The whole experience was surreal – wearing a microphone for part of the day after being recorded on a wiretap by an informant was one of these bizarre instances. There were times that I said something and realized that it may end up in the film! That was disconcerting, as was the negative impact a camera had on social situations.
Was it a hard decision to agree to be the subject of this film during that time? What did you hope would be the result?
DM: The decision to allow myself to be filmed would never have been made if I had not previously known Marshall Curry. I worked for his wife [Elizabeth Martin, founder and former Executive Director of WomensLaw.org] and knew him somewhat and was familiar with his previous film, Street Fight. Originally, my sister raised the issue as I was flying back from Oregon after getting bonded out of jail in 2006. The thought was basically that Marshall was considering my situation as a topic for a film and whether or not that eventually happened, footage of me coming home would be essential.
Once I got my ankle bracelet, so probation could monitor me, and got settled in, we spoke at length about his ideas and we took it from there, setting up some longer background interviews. After a few months, despite frequent grumblings on my part, I was fully committed to it.
Having seen my indictment announced on cable TV and seeing how we were all being portrayed as crazy, dangerous terrorists, I felt strongly that it needed to be countered.
The film to me was a way to challenge the narrative the prosecution and media put out about us, knowing it was a long-term thing. My hope was that people would be able to hear my own thoughts and version of events instead of accepting the mainstream media version, which was exceedingly shallow and accepting of the law enforcement view.
Were you able to watch the film from prison when it aired on PBS? Do you even want to watch it?
DM: When I found out PBS was going to air If a Tree Falls, I was excited that huge amounts of people nationwide were going to view it. However, I have no intention of viewing it while in prison. There are deeply personal scenes, especially interviews with my wife and the day I turned myself in that I want to view by myself, at home. I want to have the chance to emotionally deal with that in a safe environment.
As the film’s primary subject, what is the number one effect that you would like the film to have on viewers? In general, what do you hope the film achieves?
DM: It is difficult to dive into some of these areas because I haven’t yet seen the film. While I have spoken to many people who have seen the film, and read many reviews, there really is no substitute for seeing it myself. That said, I hope people see it and feel a form of discomfort – not in a bad way, but one that has them thinking about what they saw for a few days or weeks after. That discomfort would be because the film challenged previously held ideas, like what a terrorist is, who the kind of people are that commit property destruction, and whether the U.S. government really is on the right path environmentally, with prisons and the isolation of political prisoners in special units.
What would you like for viewers to know or understand about you, Daniel McGowan, on a personal level?
DM: From what I have heard, the film does a pretty good job of showing who I am. Friends and family have all commented that my personality shines through and I credit the filmmakers for editing all their footage so well! The letters I have received from people who have seen the film have been sympathetic but I fear people may worry too much. The film is a snapshot of my life at a time where I mentally and physically was not doing well at all. That time has passed, though, and I am in the homestretch now. There’s a huge difference between facing 30 years and having almost completed your sentence. All things considered, I am doing okay.
The other thing I want people to know about me is that there really is no major difference between myself and most viewers of the film. Like them, my circle of compassion is wider than myself and my family. Similarly, I seek to live my life as close as possible to my ideals, though like everyone, I fail at that sometimes. On a less serious level, I love fantasy fiction, singing in the shower, and I am a sucker for children and animals – I’m pretty sure some of those details never made the film!
The film ends with your family and friends walking with you to report to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn to begin your sentence, which began in 2007. If you could add 30 minutes to the film to bring it up to present day, what would you add to the story? What are the most important things that have happened since you started your sentence that the public should know about?
DM: If I could add 30 more minutes to the film, I would discuss how unusual my stay in prison has been since July 2007. My friends and I have joked that we should print one of those concert tour t-shirts but instead of listing the cities that shows were played in, it would list the prisons I have been at! Let’s just say I have seen more of the Midwest than I ever wanted to.
After an uneventful 8 months at a low-security prison in Minnesota, I was held in contempt of court in Wisconsin during a grand jury I was called to against my will. Once that ended, I was shipped to the Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Marion, Illinois, where I spent 26 months. While there, I persistently sought a transfer hearing to dispute the rationale for my placement there, and I also finished a paralegal certificate. One day I was told to pack up and was released to Marion’s general population, where I spent 4 months and then was sent to the hole (secure housing unit). Two days later, I was driven to the original CMU – FCI Terre Haute in Indiana. I’ve been here since February 2011.
I am not sure to what extent the filmmakers addressed the CMU issue, whether in the film or ‘extras’ on the DVD version.
Two years ago, you wrote an insider’s account of life in the Communication Management Unit facilities that you have been housed in for most of the past 3 years. What is life like in these units? How does being housed in the CMU compare to life in general population?
DM: The CMU is extremely different than general population, from my limited personal experience. For starters, the Bureau of Prisons has moved people to these units since 2006 without any form of due process. There have not been any hearings, evidence presented, or any real methods of issuing a grievance about the issue (other than asking for reconsideration from the very same people who have moved me here). This is one of the main issues we sued about in our civil lawsuit, Aref v. Holder.
There is extensive monitoring of all contact between CMU prisoners and the community, whether it’s phone, visits, mail, or email. A separate part of the BOP exists in Washington, D.C. that monitors all our communications. In addition to monitoring, there is a drastic reduction in our communications that has resulted in widespread anxiety and disruption to familial relations.
Prisoners in the CMU are given two 15-minute phone calls a week that must be scheduled a week in advance and take place within a specified time slot. Comparatively, most prisoners in the prison system can use 300 minutes a month. In the CMU, we have two 4-hour non-contact visits a month. There is a no physical contact allowed and the call takes place over a phone so that it can be monitored and recorded. Our visit room has a small glass window with bars in addition, which seems excessive. This is clearly one of the crueler aspects of our placement here. Many of my neighbors have chosen not to have their families visit. Their children do not understand why they cannot hug their father when some had contact visits at previous prisons. Most prisoners in general population receive up to 8 visits a month, up to 8 hours a day, where they can sit with their loved ones, hug and kiss their children, share food and play games.
If there is a good aspect to the CMU, it’s the people. Many of the men here are highly educated, considerate and generous. We share our magazine subscriptions, watch BBC news and football, and lend a helping hand to those in need. The unit is highly diverse, multilingual and there are quite a few men who got raw deals from overzealous prosecutions. At the end of the day, it’s prison and living so close to others creates annoyances. Ultimately though, things here are resolved through dialogue.
In the movie, when describing your political awakening, you say: “I had never seen with my own eyes what kind of world we lived in. I feel like I’m in perpetual mourning and I have been from the moment that… I kind of took the blinders off and was like, ‘Holy crap what the hell are we doing?’” Do you still feel this? And how do you deal with this deep sense that something is wrong in the world, now that you are in prison?
DM: Yes, I would say I still feel this way, though ten years later, I am better able to deal with the frustration that comes with seeing the world like that. When I first got involved in activism, around 1997, I felt like I was exposed to so much, so fast. Part of this was due to where I got involved – at the (now closed) Wetlands Preserve bar, which had an extremely active environmental activism center. Each week, I learned about new injustices and due to my pragmatic nature, felt a desire to put my energy into combatting them. I still very much feel we are on a very ill conceived path but I tend to be calmer about what I see and realize that one person, by himself, cannot do everything.
Prison, and I would say finding yourself in a legal case, has the effect of narrowing one’s focus. This is a dynamic that occurs due to the need to focus on your day-to-day survival and well-being. In this environment, no matter the cordial relations you may have, you are truly on your own. Your emotional, physical, and mental well-being is your responsibility. This focus on the self inevitably changes how you deal with events occurring outside the walls. It used to frustrate me to no end that I stuck in here while my friends were out there, able to work on issues we both care deeply about. Ultimately, what I learned (and I’m not suggesting this concept works for everyone) is that you fight injustice where you are. Can I, as a prisoner of the United States, really be an active participant in outside campaigns? No, of course not – though I am more than happy to share my opinions. I have done what I can, while in prison, to counter the injustice I see. Sometimes, this means refusing to believe what I have read about a prisoner and judging him on his actions and from what I see. Other times, it’s more concrete, such as soliciting the aid of various legal organizations to address the CMUs. I share what information and resources I can so people can effectively and legally fight their cases.
Do you think it’s a better or worse climate for environmental activism now in 2011 vs. 2001 when the actions you are in prison for occurred?
DM: Since I have been in prison for four years now, it is truly difficult for me to judge the state of environmental activism in 2011. When you are free, you learn about and absorb information in a totally different manner than when you are imprisoned. In here, I rely on what I read and the viewpoints expressed in letters by friends and family. This leads to very spotty analysis, since the information I do receive is so subjective. Unfortunately, many publications have ceased publication or gone all-digital since 2007 and there is a dearth of high-quality environmental publications. Also, the majority of people I correspond with are not heavily involved with environmental campaigns.
That said, I cannot say environmental activism is in a better position now, in 2011. So much has happened since 2001 that bodes poorly for progress in environmental activism. I was amazed at how the BP oil well disaster played out, how in the aftermath, there were calls for accountability on the part of BP but as time went on, it petered out. BP set up a reimbursement fund and a bureacratic and lengthy process by which people could be compensated. No talk was made of restoration to the Gulf or reparations for the environment or non-humans that that rely on a healthy ecology. In fact, within months, BP handled the PR struggle well and blunted public anger. The environmental movement was unable to change the long-term dynamics of deep oil drilling, and business has gone on as usual already.
Another example where I feel the environmental movement is worse off in 2011 is in countering well-funded and articulate public relations campaigns for the coal, tar sands oil, and hydro-fracking industries. As scrutiny increases on one form of polluting and carbon-producing source, for example coal, the response is to highlight another source of energy, which is usually no better than the first. Coal dust spills lead to people saving on coal, which leads to nuclear being portrayed as carbon-neutral. The Fukishima disaster occurs, leading people to get fuel from tar sands oil from Canada. The process continues, yet we never move toward healthier and sane sources of energy, or more importantly, any fundamental questioning of the consumer driven culture that requires such insane amounts of energy.
Do you think at all about what your life will be like when you are released?
DM: Being relatively close to release, I often find myself thinking about life on the outside. A lot of my thoughts focus on employment, halfway house, probation and serious things like that. Also, I find myself daydreaming about spending time with my wife, playing with my nieces, traveling, eating good food and being able to play music – loud and whenever I want! I try not to romanticize these things and fall into thinking life will be problem-free on the outside. It’s hard because prison is just so bland, negative and soul killing that life outside feels heavenly.
When do you expect to be released from prison? What are your hopes and ambitions for life after prison? What challenges do you think you will face? What do you fear?
DM: As things stand now, I should be released to a halfway house in New York at the end of 2012. Then, after a few months of adjustment (which entails a job and getting passes home), I’ll go home and begin 3 years of “supervised release”. After four years in prison and many hours spent in reflection, I have loads of ideas on what I’d like to do. Primarily, I want to get on my feet, spend quality time with my wife, family, and friends, and seek out meaningful employment. My hope is to work as a paralegal or communications director for a non-profit engaged in issues I care about. Prison reform is one of these issues as is urban agriculture, the struggles against homophobia and the marginalization of activists in the U.S. I have ideas for different projects and campaigns, most of which are long-term and involve books, dumpster-diving and “free-cycling.” How’s that for vague?
The challenges most on my mind are the preconceived notions and biases of potential employees as well as people I meet – who do not know my past. I have no interest in hiding my history, if that were even possible. Realizing that people may judge me based on being a ‘felon’ or having been convicted of arson and erroneously being labeled a terrorist is a tough pill to swallow. I don’t want to be mired in this though and instead, I plan on devoting time and energy to campaigns that seek to de-stigmatize felons and remove the barriers that deny us full personhood in this country. Remarkably, in 2011, there are many states you cannot vote in once convicted of a felony and thus, there are more than 5 million such disenfranchised people in the U.S. today.
If you could ask everyone who sees If a Tree Falls to do one thing, what would it be?
DM: This is a tough question because I loathe the idea that somehow, my suggestion would be relevant or suitable for people reading this interview. In the context of this film, I would ask everyone to be skeptical in how they perceive the words and message of the U.S. government and mainstream media. You can see by watching the film that the issues presented – about terrorism, tactics, environmental politics, incarceration – are more complex than how you will find them portrayed in governmental press releases or the newspaper. When I see the way that I have been presented in the [mainstream] media, even I don’t like myself! It’s truly important for all of us to consider the intent and political goals behind those crafting the messages we are exposed to daily. I am really appreciative of anyone who took the time to see the documentary and question the hype around cases like mine. You can learn more on my website and on Facebook.
This interview was conducted by friends of Daniel McGowan in the fall of 2011. An abbreviated version of this interview also appears on Huffington Post [www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-mcgowan].
Friday, June 17th, 2011
IF A TREE FALLS opens Wednesday, June 22 at the IFC Center in NYC, where the filmmakers will be doing Q&As at primetime shows from the 22nd to the 25th.
The film is also playing at 2 festivals in NYC beginning this weekend — June 18 at BAMcinemaFest, and June 19th and 20th at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
And in Eugene, Oregon, it premieres Thursday, June 23rd at the Bijou Cinemas, where the Thursday screenings at 6:15pm & 8:45pm will be followed by a moderated Skype chat with the filmmakers.
Ticket sales at the IFC theater and Eugene will be monitored by other theaters around the country to determine whether they want to pick up the film. Please consider attending the IFC and Eugene screenings during the opening week as ticket sales there will assure the film’s widest possible release!
MORE ABOUT THE FILM:
Winner of the U.S. Documentary Editing Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, IF A TREE FALLS is a feature-length documentary that offers a behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s “number one domestic terrorist threat.” Centering on the story of Daniel McGowan, an ELF member who participated in two multi-million-dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies, the film investigates the origins of the ELF in America and explores how a working class kid from Queens found himself facing life in prison for “eco-terrorism.” Using never-before-seen archival footage and intimate interviews from all the players — including ELF cell members and the prosecutor and detective who were chasing them — IF A TREE FALLS weaves an intriguing and suspenseful story that asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism in America today.
If a Tree Falls is distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories and will screen nationwide this summer. Click here for more information and screening times.
Please follow us on facebook and twitter.
And check out the trailer online here and here!
See you at the movies!
**Note from Family and Friends of Daniel:
We feel that both Daniel’s story and the message of the film are important to share, and we hope that as many people as possible are able to see it. We also want to highlight an issue we feel the film did not go far enough to illustrate–that Daniel and other non-cooperating defendants have been put behind bars in large part due to the betrayal of former friends who turned government informants. Some of these informants, like Suzanne Savoie, who is interviewed in the film, received sentences that were only slightly less than those who did not cooperate and many of them are currently out of prison because of this betrayal. It is paramount that we as a community do not forget the damage they have done, or allow them opportunities to try to reintegrate into our circles. For this reason, we are at odds with the filmmakers’ decision to invite informants like Savoie to film screenings and we encourage the audience to question and object to any government informant’s participation in the release of this film.
Monday, March 2nd, 2009
I’ve decided to post the blog entries on the site again. There’s nothing new up but at least you can read the older entries.
Thanks for the support,
Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
It is an unfortunate fact but during the course of my legal case, my codefendants and I received very little organizational support from the environmental and social justice movements. While prisoner support groups like ELPSN (UK) and ABCF and legal organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and Center for Constitutional Rights were quick to extend their solidarity, the environmental movements’ silence was palpable. Other than Forest Ethics and some Earth First! groups, there was nothing but private support offered; an inability to organize a response to the terrorist enhancement and at worst, condemnation offered from NGO heavyweights, Rainforest Action Network, Ruckus Society and Greenpeace. While this speaks volumes about our movement’s conception of solidarity and the discomfort expressed by non-profit organizations in dealing with cases of property destruction, this is beyond the scope of this blog entry. One group that did not act like the previously named groups and went well beyond the call of duty is the Civil Liberties Defense Center based out of Eugene, Oregon.
A tiny, young organization funded by environmental lawyer and activist (and I’m proud to say, a good friend of mine) Lauren Regan, the CLDC had the Operation Backfire defendants’ backs from day one. During the chaotic weeks following the first wave of arrests in December 2005, the CLDC made valiant attempts to find lawyers for all the defendants and quickly became a hub for families of defendants, lawyers and media contacts. Sitting in Lane County Jail, just 3 blocks from their office, I took solace knowing there were local lawyers advocating for us, keeping everyone well informed through conference calls and providing a local and long-term perspective (being that they lived in Eugene during the time of the conspiricy 1996-2001).
As the case progressed, I was freed on bail, returned to New York and relied on the CLDC’s extensive court reports and posting of legal documents. I devoured the court reports and was able to determine which codefendant started to cooperate at which time and better determine my chances of success at trial. When people ask me what it is that defendants in those cases need, I reply that it’s the unglamorous and tedious work that the CLDC does, sitting in court for hours concentrating hard and taking copious notes, getting those court reports and analysis posted on sites like Portland Indymedia, monitoring databases for relevant court documents, legal research, setting up a local media collective and press strategy and visiting people regularly at the jail. The support was invaluable with the preparation of my defense and helped my wife, family and NYC support group make sense of the case and develop solid and powerful defense strategies.
Now, don’t mistake the CLDC for some large, well-funded outfit based on their impressive resume. They are a few lawyers, an office and a dedicated crew of volunteers operating on a shoe-string budget. Since I have been imprisoned, I have relied on their work to keep up on Green Scare cases like Briana Waters and the campaign to repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The CLDC is one model of how an organization can provide support for complex legal cases and free the defendants and their families to deal with the pressure of the case itself.
Please support the CLDC with their ongoing work if you are able. On their site, cldc.org, you can make a donation or send a check to them at Civil Liberties Defense Center/ 259 East 5th Avenue, Suite 300 A/ Eugene, Oregon 97401. Don’t forget— if you are arrested for an offense like mine or face a grand jury subpoena, do not hesitate to call the CLDC at 541.687.9180 or the NLG’s hotline at 888-NLG-ECOLAW.
Many contacts were made by my support group to RAN and Ruckus Society directly through email, to people on RAN’s board of directors and informally to staff of both organizations. RAN, at least, expressed support privately. Board member Jodie Evans, in particular, expressed support and committed to raising this issue with her executive director. A staff member of RAN commited to writing a letter from RAN regarding the terrorist enhancement issue and never did. Ruckus Society members/staff never once responded to emails, informal contacts, or info packets sent to them. Greenpeace’s director, John Pascantando, took it further condemning us publically— you can read a criticism of that statement in an article by Michael Donnelly on Counterpunch.org from 2006.
What is sad is that defendants in this case had professional relationships with RAN and Ruckus. I had worked on the Mitsubishi, Home Depot and U’wa campaigns RAN organized, getting arrested while committing civil disobedience and dedicating countless hours to these campaigns. I attended two of Ruckus Society’s action camps including the ‘Globalize This’ pre-Seattle/WTO camp with many of my codefendants. We also worked with the Direct Action Network to some extent in the months leading up to the WTO protests in 1999 (DAN was partially a creation of RAN, Ruckus Society, and other groups). Additionally, a fugitive in my case was a former trainer for Ruckus and local organizers in Seattle, employed by RAN, and dealt with harrassment and search of their former residence by the FBI related to this case. The links were many but the support from these groups was sorely lacking.
The CLDC’s involvement begins well before December 7, 2005— the day of the first arrest in Operation Backfire. Lauren Regan represented an early target of the investigation in 2000/01 and participated in community efforts to protect the individuals who had received grand jury subpoenas.