Any of the following would be enough to earn Mike Roselle a place of respect in the world of eco-activism:
* Co-founded Earth First! in Jackson, Wyoming in 1979 with the goal of introducing nonviolent civil disobedience into the public lands conservation movement, particularly for the preservation of the last roadless areas and old growth forests.
* In 1983, co-founded the Rainforest Action Network to fight for the survival of the tropical rainforests by confronting the US corporations that profit from their destruction.
* In 1995, founded the Ruckus Society to train environmental activists in the effective use of nonviolent direct action.
* Worked for Greenpeace and, in 1998, was a member of their board of directors.
* Author of “Tree Spiker: From Earth First! To Lowbagging: My Struggles in Radical Environmental Action”
However, if you know anything about Roselle, you know he’s all about action, and today, he is campaign coordinator for Climate Ground Zero, a campaign to end the controversial practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in Southwestern West Virginia. Roselle has been arrested over 50 times and is currently facing two and a half years for trespassing on a strip mine operated by Massey Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal companies.
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Below the video is my conversation with this dedicated activist …
Mickey Z.: As someone who seems to be able to identify problems and organize groups to address those problems, what do you suppose is behind the widespread activist inertia regarding urgent global environmental issues?
Mike Roselle: This is something I give a lot of thought to, but the answer is “I don’t know.” There is widespread belief that we have to act, and act soon, but nobody seems to want to give up what they have. Activists in the U.S. are some of the most well-off people on the planet. The trend seems to be that they are buying houses and having babies. Youth have very few models of activism that works, and are being taught to do things in order to just look busy. We have to find ways to engage them, and we’re not. Perhaps our computers have made it too easy to be an activist. No one wants to risk anything, and until they are willing to put their lives on the line, to first transform themselves, nothing will happen.
It’s as if we’re more afraid of cops than of, say, 90 percent of the large fish in the ocean being gone? What enables you to step out of this mindset and deal with multiple arrests, etcetera?
It’s simply a sense of personal responsibility. In 1968, at the age of 14, I went from supporting the Viet Nam war and campaigning for George Wallace to opposing the war and supporting Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panther Party. The war ended in the early spring of 1975 and I became disillusioned with the movement, and moved to Northwest Wyoming, wanting to spend time in the wilderness, which I already knew was rapidly vanishing. Within a few years, I owned two trailer houses, a construction business, and was building a house of my own. But I had an uneasy feeling about where I was heading. Wasn’t I going for a piece of the pie like everyone else? The Northern Rockies were being overrun with people like me, thinking only of themselves, and all of us were cashing in on the destruction, sort of the dark side of John Denver. I grew up in the middle of the civil rights struggle, which had a large and lasting impact on my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. While I refused to side with the white power structure, I did not have a very deep understanding of nonviolence then, and it wasn’t until I worked in the anti-nuke movement that I came to understand the Nuremberg Principles and the fact that we have obligations to stand up against injustice, not just the right to do so. It’s required under international law to oppose the power of corrupt institutions. I had become a soldier.
It can be powerful to recognize this and change your perspective.
Stepping out of the mindset was liberating, and since I was also now in the movement to protect the last wilderness, this gave me many opportunities to spend time in these very special places, and of course the camaraderie of working with others on behalf of something you love. Out of this came Earth First! and a lifestyle that required little money but yielded a rich and fulfilling existence, although one with little security. It was as if we had become hunter-gatherers.
How can you keep your eyes on the prize in the midst of so much global crisis?
For me, the most important thing is to engage, and that means confrontation. It was through vigorous confrontation that Earth First! defined itself, and our many victories in those early years validated our approach, which was more tactical than strategic. Action, it turned out, really was the antidote to despair. Today, I am 56 years old, own nothing bigger than a guitar, have no health insurance or savings, and yet I feel that my life is richer than that of many of the millionaires that I have met.
How can activists connect with you and your work and get involved?
We have a resistance camp on the Coal River in Southwestern West Virginia where we teach and practice nonviolent direct action. You can learn more by going to our web site. At this moment in time, I believe nonviolence is our only hope. If you can’t come, then you can help by donating money. If we can’t stop mountain top removal in the U.S., there is little hope that we can stop tar sands development in Alberta or coal mining anywhere. Coal is literally killing our planet and we must switch now or face an even bleaker future than the one we’ve been handed. Join up with those in your community that are fighting coal burning power plants or new mines.
Mickey Z. is the author of ten books and is a 2010 recipient of a Project Censored Award for exposing the U.S. Department of Defense as the planet’s worst polluter. He can be found on the web at MickeyZ.net.