Judi Bari made national headlines 30 years ago with her passionate protests against the clearcutting of California's old growth redwoods.
She helped organize Redwood Summer, a three-month-long, non-violent protest against logging in Humboldt County. Then just weeks before the kick-off event, a homemade bomb exploded under the driver's seat of Judi's car.
Local Oakland, CA, police officers tracked her to the hospital where they arrested the seriously injured woman, labeled her a terrorist and arrested her on arrested on suspicion of transporting illegal explosives. They accused Judi of planting the bomb that nearly killed her.
Two months later, they dropped the charges due to lack of evidence. But why has no one ever been charged in the crime?
The Vietnam War launched Judi Bari's life's work as an activist but her job as a carpenter sparked her "environmental epiphany."
As a student at the University of Maryland, Judi joined protests against the Vietnam War. She moved on to work as a labor organizer in Washington, D.C, leading postal workers to victory in a wildcat strike against the U.S. Postal Service. After her efforts to unionize grocery clerks fizzled, Judi moved to Northern California and took a carpenter job.
While siding a house one day, she marveled at a board she handled. The long piece of wood didn't have a single knot and she wondered aloud if it was old-growth redwood. Her supervisor confirmed the piece of siding had been cut from a redwood 1,000 years old.
''A light bulb went on: We are cutting down old-growth forests to make yuppie houses,'' Judi later told an interviewer. ''I became obsessed with the forests.''
Judi imagined Redwood Summer arousing the civil rights spirit that had characterized protests throughout the South in the summer of 1964 and encouraged student from all over the state to join the protests.
As summer approached, Judi had made little progress convincing lumber workers to help protect the forests and tensions in the community escalated. Judi and other organizers received death threats and a logging truck rammed her car.
On May 24, 1990, she and Darryl Cherney took a concert and speaking tour to recruit college students. They were driving through Oakland when a motion-triggered pipe bomb wrapped with nails exploded directly under Judi's driver's seat.
Judi would be maimed and permanently disabled by her injuries; Darryl suffered minor injuries. The two told paramedics and responding police officers they believed they had been targeted because of their activism against the timber industry. They had copies of the written death threats they're received with them in the car.
Oakland police, OPD, tracked Judi and Darryl to the hospital, arresting them as primary suspects in the case. Working with the FBI, they pursued a case of terrorism, insisting they had evidence the two activists had been transporting the bomb with evil intent when it accidentally detonated. Originally, the announced to the press that the bomb was in the back seat of the car when it exploded.
Arraignment in the case was delayed seven weeks until the District Attorney said he would not file charges due to lack of evidence. The Oakland Police closed the case, but the FBI continued investigating, telling the media Judi and Darryl were their only suspects.
When law enforcement reported no progress in the case a year after the car bombing, Judi and Darryl filed a federal civil rights suit against the FBI and OPD claiming law officers were trying to frame them as terrorists to discredit their political organizing to protect the redwood forests.
The case dragged on for years, but in 2002, a federal jury concluded the pair's civil rights had been violated by the FBI and Oakland Police Department. The two were awarded $4.4 million. Unfortunately, Bari had died of breast cancer in 1997. Her share went to her two teenage daughters.
The jury found that three FBI agents and Three OPD officers had violated the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and for the defendants' various unlawful acts, including unlawful search and seizure in violation of the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights.
After the trial's gag order was lifted, a juror told the media that she believed the law enforcement agents had lied.
"Investigators were lying so much it was insulting.... I'm surprised that they seriously expected anyone would believe them ... They were evasive. They were arrogant. They were defensive," said juror Mary Nunn.
As of 2015, North Coast Journal reported it appears no official effort has been made to determine who put that bomb in Bari’s car in 1990.
The timber wars of the 1990 scored some victories for the environment that could serve as models and inspiration for climate warriors today.
Judi Bari's organized, mass protests served as one prong in a concerted effort to disrupt corporate greed and preserve and protect irreplaceable resources.
Environmental activists camped out in trees to prevent logging, sometimes for months or years. Other filed lawsuits challenging the government and timber companies’ supposed right to destroy old-growth forests. Others gathered the support and evidence of scientists, regulators and politicians to the cause. Rallies and protests drew media attention across the country increasing support for old-growth forests.
The final deal was not close to perfect," says Darren Speece, author of "Defending Giants: The Redwood Wars and the Transformation of American Environmental Politics." "It didn’t save enough of the giant redwoods, nor did it provide enough protection for the broader redwood forests but direct actions in the woods delayed specific logging threats in the most vulnerable places, where the trees are more than 1,000 years old and grow to upwards of 300 feet tall. During the delays, the courts officially halted logging in those endangered forests."
Speece says the bold and persistent, near-daily activism for more than 20 years demonstrated that small groups of people can alter the direction of a hostile system.
Judi Bari was recognized for her dedication to the protection and stewardship of California's ancient redwood forests by the City of Oakland in 2003 when the city council voted unanimously to establish May 24th as Judi Bari Day.
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