- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.