On October 27, 2006, my friend, fellow activist, and independent journalist Brad Will was murdered by paramilitaries (as well as off duty police) while documenting protests and riots in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was filming the struggle by the teachers union (APPO) against policies of the mayor of Oaxaca and the unrest in the streets. As I write this, Brad’s killers walk free after their token arrest shortly after his murder. Others have written more eloquently about the situation in Oaxaca (leftturn.org, Narco News) so I’ll stick to what I know – Brad, and the gap in our NYC activist community he left behind.
I first met Brad in the fall of 1998 when he gave a slideshow on the Fall Creek Tree Village at ABC no Rio, two days before a planned move to California for me. I had big plans to participate in the campaign to save Headwaters Forest, but Brad attempted to talk me out of going to northern California with tales of Cascadian resistance to old growth logging at Fall Creek. He told me how the dogma and rigidity of nonviolence codes just didn’t exist at Fall Creek (that’s not to say protesters were violent because they weren’t. They did eschew guidelines that prevented them from defending their bodies from physical harm doled out by angry loggers or Forest Service cops). Brad was a cornucopia of information on the forests, advising me on how to waterproof my backpack, move quietly in the forest, where the hot campaigns were and how to get there, as well as tales of his two months in the trees. I ended up going – or trying to get to – Headwaters Forest. Sadly, an activist named David “Gypsy” Chain was killed by an out of control logger while I was en route.
Over the years, I started to see Brad everywhere. (This was funny to me years later when Brad contributed to an Anthology called We Are Everywhere. I remember thinking, “you certainly are!”) First, I saw him at the WTO protests in Seattle, then at Earth First! Gatherings, in random Midwest cities, and back home in NYC when I came to visit. You could always count on Brad to come zooming by a protest with a huge grin on his face. When we went to the Mexican consulate the night after he was killed, people joked that they expected him to show up at any moment. The energy there that night was definitely something he would have wanted to be a part of.
I won’t canonize Brad either, because that would be a disservice to his memory. There was a potluck at my house once that Brad showed up to with empty hands and much later that night, he drained 3/4 of the last bottle of wine while singing that annoying song that doesn’t end! But, I’ll take no wine with Brad any day over the alternative which, sadly, is reality right now.
Instead of that, I think about our interactions during my legal court case. Even when I was facing life, he was super positive with me – at a time when it was very easy to slip into despair. He passed legal fund donations to me from the sale of rather sketchy and provocative patches and always offered to post my legal updates on 10 or more Independent Media Center websites. My last email from him was in response to a request for people to translate materials into Spanish about the Green Scare. It was simple and in his style: “Send it over, b.”
With Halloween approaching, I can’t help but think of Brad – it was a random phone call from a friend I expected to see at the Times Up! Halloween party later that night who gave me the news. Seeing the photo of Brad on the La Jornada website, plugging the words into a Spanish translation website, and trying to tell myself it wasn’t him was my way of coping – a vague attempt to tell myself, No, they took another one from us.
When Brad was murdered, the NYC activist scene lost a special person – a catalyst who connected people to each other, seemed to know everyone, and took special interest in new activists, trying to make them feel comfortable in the movement. He pressed for US activists to take concrete actions and offer mutual aid to the global sound. He documented the struggles of the landless workers in Brazil, almost getting beaten to death in the process. People will remember his stand on the 5th Street squat in the Lower East Side, where Brad stood down a wrecking ball years ago. He is more than the sum of his actions, though.
So, as Halloween approaches and the anniversary of our friend’s death nears, take a moment to remember Brad Will or read about who he is. Join the efforts of those here and in Mexico who are continuing to put pressure on the government of Mexico to arrest his murderers. Don’t ever let them forget that we know who is responsible for these deed.
Rest in peace, b. You are missed.
P.S. Brad would be happy to know that Fall Creek (what the Forest Service call the Clark Timber sale) was cancelled weeks ago, thanks to the efforts of hundreds of activists using direct action, lawsuits, and public outreach.
(Note/Update from a friend: The Fall Creek sale hasn’t been canceled yet unfortunately. It was supposed to be part of a package deal of cancellations, but that sale got left out in the end. Its not in danger of being cut, but still is not canceled.)