Topics in environmental activism

  1. Environmental activist group Earth First! was formed in 1979 in response to the RARE-II re-evaluation of public lands in the US and from there became one of the leading radical environmentalist groups in America. Focusing on topics related to wilderness and wildlife preservation, the group later gained notoriety for its practice of more radical, hands-on tactics, including tree-spiking, tree-sitting, and using banners and paint to decorate dams with cracks. As Earth First! and splinter group Earth Liberation Front (ELF) became more confrontational and controversial, accusations of FBI planting of ideas, especially acts of violence that lead to arrests of members, abounded.
  2. Journalism has a significant role in both communicating and participating in activism. Cases such as the the one depicted in Spotlight, reporting on the Snowden leaks, and Amy Goodman’s arrest while covering the Dakota Access Pipeline are all examples of journalism engaging with activism. Interesting research in this  area could examine specific cases of the First Amendment protecting freedom of the press concerning activist movements. Current trends in widespread access to online, non-professional information sharing is also relevant to this topic.
  3. In early 2016, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was occupied by 40 armed militants, lead by Ammon Bundy, whose father, Clive, was involved in a 2014 standoff also concerning rights to publicly-owned lands. In this area, I am interesting in looking at the history of public reactions to public land as well as more recent events, specifically comparing law enforcement reactions to the Bundy standoffs and Dakota Access Pipeline encampments.
  4. In recent years, activist voices concerned about the abundance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products have gained prominence. Calls for boycotts of GMOs and legally-mandated labelling of GMO products have prompted national discussion, despite the lack of conclusive scientific evidence. While no legislation exists yet, many individual stores and brands have started advertising as GMO-free. A possible research topic in this area is investigating the dilution of other environmental narratives by buzzword-heavy, factually-suspect claims.
  5. Throughout the Southwest, water rights are a complicated issue that touch on areas ranging from agricultural productivity to Native sovereignty and religion. Two recent lawsuits, one against the EPA in the 2015 Gold King mine spill and another against Snowbowl Ski Resort in response to artificial snowmaking on sacred mountains, highlight issues in Native water rights. Research in this area could look at Native appeals through the US legal system concerning rights and usage of water in the Southwest.

Of these, I’m most interested in exploring different instances of occupation-based engagement with public lands. Government responses to activist movements have varied significantly, as has the success of different examples. Comparing the Bundy and DAPL engagements is particularly interesting because of the intersection of these issues with Native sovereignty, racial biases, and gun regulations. There is also a lot of room to look at what happened to individuals from each movement that entered the legal system as a result. In the Bundy standoffs, there was no significant direct physical engagement. Many arrests were made and of those, some individuals pleaded guilty to specific charges, others were tried and found not guilty. In Standing Rock, there was much more direct physical engagement from both the government and private security hired by pipeline companies. Individual responses to being arrested varied significantly, including some who may end up incarcerated in order to avoid giving names of other activists. I think looking at America’s public land is of importance now, as questions concerning our climate future become increasingly critical. There is also a strong connection to American history and federalism especially concerning rights to land and federal and state oversight on different types of land.

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2 thoughts on “Topics in environmental activism”

  1. The topic that you elaborated upon is definitely worthy of further research. I think you could gain some interesting perspective from students on campus who attended the protest in North Dakota. With access to first hand accounts of interactions that took place, you could add emotion to the issues you explore. It would also be interesting to explore how effective it was when people used their facebook location to check-in at the protest. What is the legality behind the idea of using that to prevent the incarceration of the people there? Another thing that may be of interest to your research is the California law that makes all beaches public property. However, when all access to the beach is private, the law is effectively nullified since people can be charged with trespassing in order to get to the public land. That may be a fascinating aside regarding the definition of public land when the land is de facto private.

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  2. Hey! I’m also interested in writing about environmental activism. You mention in the last sentence that there historically has been legal debate about state vs. federal rights. That’s also present characteristic in my topic. I’m aware of activist movements opposing ‘overreach’ by federal authorities on the grounds of state right, but I was wondering if you knew about any movements in support of the federal government’s right to intervene. I’ve heard of movements that support a federal intervention itself, but not of any movements supporting the right to intervene as a whole. This is something I’m working to understand and so thought it might be relevant to you.

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