Ecotage! (1971, New York, New York.)
For the last several months we have been pursuing some of our favorite activists and friends to write blogs introducing classics from our archives. As it turns out, our friends and favorite activists are lazy and regularly delinquent in transmitting promised writings. We still love them, even ol’ Ginger Rage, AKA Will Potter. He wrote the first of these guest editorials, and it was well worth the wait.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is widely credited with igniting the modern environmental movement, which is true, but less well known is how quickly the movement radicalized.
By the first Earth Day in 1970, anonymous individuals were making headlines by targeting polluters. Illinois’s “The Fox” and Florida’s “Eco-Commando Force” developed a cult following. They were environmental vigilantes taking on the big, bad corporations, and people loved them.
By 1971, Environmental Action held a national contest soliciting tips on “ecotage.” The tips were compiled in a book and featured in national media.
The tone and honesty of Ecotage is refreshing and a bit surprising when read in the context of the current political climate. Reader-submitted ideas for tactics included re-painting billboards, pulling survey stakes, subscribing CEOs to hundreds of magazines, waging phone blockades, and sabotaging pollution-spewing pipes.
As described in the introduction: “…if ecotage is condemned, the condemnation is of a system which demands ecotage, a system which is so unresponsive to the needs and dreams of its constituents that it forces them underground to effect change.”
During the 1970s and 80s, this mainstreaming of animal and environmental concerns, combined with tiers of lawful and unlawful groups, was undeniably a threat to the corporations targeted. They needed to displace activists from their moral high ground.
A key development in orchestrating this fall from grace was the decision to wield the power of language. For those who break the law in the name of animal rights or the environment, industry groups would change the language from “ecotage” to “eco-terrorism.”
Ecotage should serve as a reminder that there is nothing inevitable about this. The FBI labels “eco-terrorism” the “number one domestic terrorism threat,” but public support is not, and has never been, with the corporations destroying the environment; it’s with those trying to stop them.