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Addressing Sexual Violence and Misogyny Within the Green Movement

Our movement needs to do a better job of addressing patriarchy and abuse within its ranks.

While most of us may be irritated but not surprised to deal with misogyny in our day-to-day lives, we don’t expect to experience it within our supposedly “woke” environmental organizations. Alongside the commitment to saving the planet from abuse, we’d like to assume preventing abuse and microaggressions between our comrades would also be a priority. Unfortunately, that has not necessarily been the case.

Both the deep green movement and the environmental movement at large have at times struggled to respond to sexual violence and abuse among their ranks in an appropriate, effective, and supportive manner. The history of responses to such incidents indicates that internal policies need to be backed up by clear, and at times public, communications about incidents of harassment, abuse, and assault. This communication must coincide with clear support for survivors who come forward.

Unfortunately, power dynamics within the green movement impact who receives this support. One way in which the patriarchal dynamic is perpetuated within the radical green movement, for instance, is in how tasks are often relegated during direct actions. While men do more of the physical and visible direct-action work, women are often expected to “do the housework” behind the scenes — wash dishes, act as secretaries, cook the meals, and gather food. Additionally, men who have vital skills for the movement often share those skills only with other men, which perpetuates the pattern of “active” and “passive” gendered roles. Thus, women consistently are expected to act as the “agents” for male activists, who take the role of “celebrities.” This kind of systemic misogyny enables violence against marginalized women and trans people, and protects abusers and misogynists.

Boudicca, who was involved in radical environmentalism in the Pacific Northwest in the early 2000s and whose name has been changed to protect her identity, says call outs of abusive behavior often tend to be ignored by movement members if the person making the accusation is seen as less socially “vital” to the community. (Call outs are a way anarchist groups, which don’t believe in the State, hold their members accountable instead of filing charges or going to the police.) Such complaints would only garner attention if “a socially ‘rich’ person joined the fray,” she says. And inevitably, an accusation of abuse would end up highlighting the various ways misogyny was impacting the group, with survivors being seen as suspect and urged to stay quiet for the sake of the movement. This mimics a larger social expectation that women should remain silent about direct and indirect misogyny in order to protect leadership, often male.

Let’s look deeper at one such example.

Rod Coronado, a 52-year-old Native American of Yaqui heritage, is something of a folk hero to many in the radical movements. These days, Coronado leads Wolf Patrol, a group that eschews Earth First!-style monkey-wrenching and observes and documents wolf hunts in the US with the goal of exposing the cruelty of wolf hunting. But back in the 1990s he was a key part of “Operation Bite Back,” a nationwide campaign waged by the Animal Liberation Front, against the fur industry.

In 1995 Coronado was sentenced to 57 months in prison for destroying equipment at Michigan State University’s animal testing research facilities. In early 2006, he was convicted again for explaining, during a 2003 lecture in San Diego, how he made the incendiary devices he used in his arsons. Another charge related to the talk in San Diego was brought in 2007. He pled guilty to these charges and accepted a deal for a one-year prison term that ended in December 2008. But there are other serious charges against Coronado circulating within the movement that he has been doggedly evading. These have to do with his supposedly predatory behavior.

Reports about Coronado’s sexual misconduct first surfaced in the summer of 2014, when a group of activists started raising concerns about his reportedly abusive behavior. We’ve reviewed emails sent between July 2014 and February 2015, which claim Coronado had been violent towards an ex-partner. The emails also assert that Coronado had been predatory towards younger women in EF!.

Wendy, loosely affiliated with EF! between 2005-2014, told us via email about her involvement in bringing Coronado’s behavior to light that year. She, and two EF! activists, Panagioti and Toby, tried several times to get Coronado to initiate an accountability process. Coronado appeared open to this at times, but never followed through. While the trio were trying to figure out the best course of action, in November 2014, Coronado apparently sexually assaulted a younger Wolf Patrol member named Julie.

When Wendy heard about Julie’s experience, she felt “a stark clarity of Fuck, we made the wrong choice.” She says the three of them had failed to grasp the urgency of the situation, particularly the risks they took by waiting to alert the broader community about him.

Julie, too, wanted a public call-out of Coronado, this time on the EF! Journal newswire. After a prolonged, painful debate among movement members, the magazine published an interview where Julie outlined the story of her relationship with Coronado, eventual rape, and the subsequent backlash and victim-blaming. (Full disclosure: The interview was done by one of the authors of this piece).

While many in the movement offered solidarity and support, others, including Coronado, called Julie everything from a liar to a snitch who was using FBI-style tactics. Brett, a former member of Wolf Patrol, shared Julie’s statement on Facebook in March 2015. After doing so, he reportedly received an email from Lauren Regan, the executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Centre in Eugene, Oregon. In the email, Regan suggested that sharing Julie’s statement on Facebook, a platform monitored by the FBI, was “the equivalent of snitching” on a former political prisoner like Coronado.

In November 2016, Julie wrote a personal account in Earth First! Journal of the assault and “the most bizarre and confusing in-fighting” that followed. The account included the original statement that Brett and others had shared a year and a half earlier. She wrote:

“This assault didn’t happen in a dark alley. He didn’t grab me by the hair and shove me into a closet and put his hand over my mouth. That would be easier to comprehend, easier to forgive myself. No. Rod was my friend. I thought we had established a great working relationship. I thought he respected me as a comrade, that we got shit done together. He was my friend. That’s what makes this so incomprehensible. He was my friend.”

For Julie, speaking up was about making the movement safer. After all, Coronado had put her and others at risk by his actions. Over email in July, Julie wrote that she spoke up because staying silent was enabling “Rod Coronado to continue to use the movement as his platform, as his hunting ground.” She also wanted the movement, including the EF! Journal, to offer unequivocal survivor support. She is ambivalent about whether this happened. “It depends on how much you know of the situation,” she wrote. “Did the EF! Journal appear to [offer support], after we pressured and pressured? Yes. Did we go thru our own trauma trying to make that happen? Yes.”

The publication of her interview didn’t lead to further call-outs in the EF! Journal of other possible perpetrators in the movement. Meanwhile, Coronado continues to run Wolf Patrol. (Earth Island Journalran a cover story on Wolf Patrol in its Winter 2016 issue. At the time the editors were unaware of these allegations against Coronado.) Julie continues to feel the repercussions of Coronado’s actions. According to a recent report in The Intercept, Julie was targeted by an FBI agent in February 2018, who was trying to exploit the current #metoo movement as a way of pressuring Julie to become an informant against Coronado or other environmental activists. This example underscores the disruptive nature of abusive and harassing behavior in the environmental movement. In addition to reducing organizational effectiveness, such behavior can leave groups, and survivors like Julie, vulnerable to heightened levels of state interference.

While the Coronado Case is a pretty clear illustration of how #MeToo has been necessary to move forward public discussion of these difficult issues and to hold offenders accountable, it is not the only such incident by any means. Neither are sexual harassment and violence, or the tendency to ignore them, limited to the radicals within the environmental movement.

Take, for instance, the February resignation of Humane Society of the United States President and ceo Wayne Pacelle following allegations that he had sexually harassed three female subordinates. Interestingly, Pacelle quit a day after the HSUS board voted to allow Pacelle to retain his job and Board Chair Rick Bernthal announced that the board “did not find that many of these allegations were supported by credible evidence.” (The vote did lead to the immediate resignation of seven HSUS board members in protest.) Pacelle is now working with Animal Wellness Action, a new political action committee whose executive director, Marty Irby, is a former colleague of Pacelle’s at HSUS.

Greenpeace is another big green group hit with sexual harassment scandals at its international offices in recent years. In 2015, a former employee of Greenpeace India spoke out in a blog post about her experiences of sexual harassment, rape, and misogyny in the organization’s New Delhi office, opening up a can of worms that revealed that senior staff at Greenpeace India had not only ignored earlier complaints against a serial sexual harasser, they had gone so far as to label one of the women who had complained about workplace sexism as “hysterical” and “menopausal,” and had advised her to see a psychologist. That woman eventually quit. Due to the public outcry that followed the 2015 blog post, Greenpeace India’s executive director and communications director were forced to resign.

In April, the organization was in the hot seat again over the alleged abusive practices and harassment of women by the executive director of Greenpeace Argentina, Martin Prieto.

Prieto, who was also responsible for Greenpeace’s offices in Chile and Colombia, was suspended after more than 40 former Greenpeace employees and volunteers wrote a letter accusing him of “discrimination and gender-based violence, abuse of power against female employees, sexual harassment, workplace harassment and bullying.” Previously, Greenpeace Argentina’s head of logistics had been dismissed over similar accusations.

In June this year, Greenpeace International executive directors Jennifer Morgan and Bunny McDiarmid made a commitment to survivors of sexual harassment in the organization that they would ensure “all cases, no matter when they occurred, are appropriately considered and responded to.” They listed multiple ways in which they planned to fulfill that promise, including increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions and following through on their zero-tolerance position around “harassment, bullying, and discrimination.”

It is clear that a viral focus on misogyny and abuse has impacted environmental groups in a significant way. Victims are beginning to speak up and they are, to quite an extent, being listened to. Many organizations are making renewed commitments to taking action around misogyny in the workplace that goes beyond setting up official policies. As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune wrote in his essay “#MeToo Moments in the Outdoors” in March, “If anything has become clear during the past year, it’s that official policies are not an end solution — they are merely a starting point. To eliminate harassment will require confronting and rejecting the toxic culture that tolerates and encourages violence against women.” The group aims to manifest that confrontation in multiple ways, including anti-oppression training and partnering with their labor unions to “create new policies that define and establish accountability for toxic behavior among our staff,” says Kerry O’Donnell, Sierra Club’s human resources director.

But it is also clear that there is a long way to go until systems for victim-centered and anti-oppressive accountability are in place. Continued efforts to eliminate misogyny in these spaces will take work, care, and a desire to see growth — just like any seed planted in rocky soil, it cannot blossom without consistent care. May we live to see women in the environmental movement given the safety they deserve, and treated with the same respect that we seek to show Mother Earth.

Last names have been withheld to protect identities.

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