Animal Protection > Activist Interviews

Renaming, Reclaiming BE-ing ness.
The Julia 'Butterfly' Hill interview

On December 10th, 1997, 23 year old Julia Butterfly Hill climbed 180 feet up an ancient redwood called Luna and did not come down for three years. In the good old tradition of civil disobedience she conducted her courageous vigil on behalf of one of the last wild places left in the USA, the remaining 3% of those magnificent old growth trees.

Carrying on in a tradition began decades earlier in Northern California's redwood forests, Butterfly exemplifies the central role of women in today's environmental movement – combining a strong understanding of the current political aspects of the forest controversy with a deep spiritual connection to the forest and the tree she has called home.

What's more Butterfly's plight represented for many people the archetype of a giant battle taking place between good versus evil – nothing short of a David and Goliath situation playing itself out on the world's stage. One of the questions that Julia has brought to the fore is: Why does humanity persist in fouling it's own nest (the only species to do so) and refuse to be taken into account for their actions? Certainly intuitions of the interdependence of all life is an ancient wisdom and one that she and all eco-liberationists have made their raison d'ętre.

Interviewed by Claudette Vaughan

Q. Butterfly, your three years on Luna reminded me of St Simeon who spent a good deal of his life standing upon a pillar on one foot as a protest against the gross materialistic values of his times. With multi-national companies and new technology causing ecological degradation (and bureaucratic ossification) what do you foresee for the future of environmentalism?

A. These times compel us all to go deeper, work harder, be willing to sacrifice and above all else, hold ourselves accountable for the impact of EVERY choice we make, including when we choose to do nothing. The future of environmentalism changes every time a person decides to reduce, reuse, recycle, respect, rethink, and take action on any injustice they encounter. The corporations only have power because we use their stuff.

Q. There's an insidious, almost covert violence associated with multi-nationalism with subjugated lands being exploited and the insistent siphoning off of raw materials coupled with the subsequent senseless vandalism of Luna. I can't help but wonder if your message of love and peace was somewhat naive in the cold light of subsequent actions.

A. Well you are welcome to think what you like but my message is not about winning a popularity contest. My message is my belief that two wrongs have never made a right and that I refuse to live my life out of violence. I am committed to love and respect (which DEMANDS action as a crucial component!) based on the experiences I have been through and the lessons I learned as a result.

Q. Gandhi said that the fabric of any society is not finished. It is always "in becoming". It is on the loom, so to speak, and is made up of constantly changing relationships. Is this how you view non-violent direct action?

A. First, I choose words like "peaceful activism" because I think that it is sad that we use two negative words to try to articulate a positive message such as "non-violent action". Ultimately, I came to the understanding of what this activism is all about and means through facing my own fears, anger, violence, and frustration while sitting in a tree in an active logging plan. I did over time, see how changing first myself grew and reached out and helped others to change.

Q. Pacific Lumber made promises to you that were binding enough for you to eventually come down off Luna. Have they been true to their word?

A. The agreement is a legally binding deed of covenant, similar to a conservation easement that will be around long after Maxxam controlled Pacific Lumber and I are gone.

Q. Having stood outside the Shark Bar for one year as a vigil for two black-tipped reef sharks who were incarcerated in there, apart from the obvious support you get from people passing by, direct action in all its forms seems to evoke a vibe of incredulism, if not out-and-out aggression. What was your experience?

A. Yes. It is easier to project themselves on to others rather than take responsibility and action themselves. Especially as political activists in the public arena, there is always a myriad of opinions, beliefs, criticisms, etc ... that get placed upon us.

Q. There seems to be a pattern already built in to a patriarchal society that detests any kind of diversity and then makes a demand for uniformity (like a meat-packing production line). What are your thoughts on this Julia?

A. I think you must be careful using words like patriarchy. I know many of these characteristics exist within the lower selves/consciousness of humanity and not just in one sector. For example, I see in our movement that we often times beat each other up when we do not agree with each other. We are then no better than the systems we are trying to change; we are demanding a monoculture of our movement when we act this way.

Q. The mainstream anything (media, people, out-look) have no understanding of an alternative – an elemental reality existing. One that cojoins the earth, people, lands, trees, moon and stars as one body. What are your hopes and dreams for the future of the earth, the animals and all living breathing entities upon it (including the trees)?

A. That all people will accept responsibility for the impact of their choices and will choose to live in loving, joyous service to all the inhabitants and aspects of Creation.

Q. Pacific Lumber says Luna is "their tree". What drew you to her originally Julia?

A. Earth First! activists began the tree-sit in in October of 1997 using the light of the full moon to bring up supplies, platform, etc.... which is why THEY named the tree "Luna". Contrary to mainstream media, I did not name the tree. Tree-sitting was the first thing that came my way that I could help with. No one wanted to sit in Luna, so the activists had to pick me even though I had no experience in activism.

Q. Any plans to come to Australia and NZ at all?

A. I hope to some day.

Julia Butterfly Hill's website address is http://www.circleoflifefoundation.org/

Also her new book "The Legacy of Luna" is out in now.