From Monkey-Wrenches to Politics
Balancing Direct Action & Political Pressure
By Ray Still
When Alyssa Estec was 12, she convinced some of her friends to destroy some construction equipment that was tearing up the forest in her hometown.
Alyssa Estec: I lived in a rural area. The whole reason we lived there was because my parents wanted me to have an appreciation for the environment. The year before everything happened, people had been doing a lot of logging on the mountainside. It really upset me, because I had been raised to appreciate this stuff, and they just wiped it out. There was this forest that my friends and I would always play in, ever since I was little. They started tearing down the forest around there for houses, and I was really upset about it. I actually went to talk to some of the construction workers who were tearing it down, saying, “You can’t do this. This is supposed to be a green area. You’re ruining this habitat.”
They brushed me off because I was young, and one of them even said, “You’ll appreciate it once the houses are in, because you’ll have more kids up here to play with.” There were only three kids up there at that time.
There were these bleeding heart flowers in the area, and they bloomed the best there. I still remember those flowers as a child, and loving them. I wouldn’t even pick them, they were so pretty. And that was a tipping point, when I saw they were going to tear down that whole area of flowers.
I convinced two of my friends to go with me, and we went to the bulldozers at night, and we tore them up. I thought that these are the things that are taking away the love of my life, and I am going to go after them.
We did a very thorough job. I had a little bit of a mechanics background from my Dad, because he ran a mechanics shop. So I knew what a spark plug was, where the fuses were, how to mess up a gas tank. I got into some of the supply crates, and they had some big canisters of axle grease in there. I opened up one of those, smeared it all over the window, and plastered it with paper so that when it dried it became cement. We took pens and wrote on the paper on the windows, writing, “Don’t hurt our forest.”
I do not regret what I did, because even though it didn’t stop the house from being built, it showed that I had dedication. If I was called to protect something that I loved, I would do it, knowing full well that I would probably get caught. I didn’t know at the time how much trouble I was making, but I felt like it was worth it. And I still feel like that now.
– Alyssa Estec
It did delay the clearing of the land for about a month. After the construction workers found it, they ended up going house to house and asking around. They came to our house, and after they left, my Dad said, “That explains all the blue gunk you had on your hands when you came home that night. Before I start chewing in on you, I want to know why you did this, and what your reasons were. Were you doing this to be a troublesome kid, or did you have a purpose?” I explained to him that this is an area I have treasured my whole childhood, because it is a place I can be free. After hearing that, my Dad said it was still not OK, but he was not as angry at me about it. He took me down to the construction workers with my piggy bank and I had to talk to the construction people. The dude was really angry at me at first, but my Dad told him to listen to me and hear what I had to say. The guy heard that it wasn’t just me trying to create problems, it was because I actually cared about something. But he used the same excuse as the guy before, saying “You’ll enjoy the people that will move into these houses.” And I just didn’t believe him. It is still that way today – the houses they put in there are not pretty. It’s not better, it’s not beautiful. It makes me sad every time I look at it.
Ray Still: What is the best way for environmentalists to work? Is it to use direct action and sabotage, or to change policy and regulations through the legal system?
AE: When I was younger, and all the way up through my junior year of high school, I thought that we need to be as gung-ho as possible. Go after the bulldozers, go after the fracking plants, and destroy them. But after being in some Evergreen classes, especially because there is political science mixed in to it, I am starting to think that while there is some place for immediate action, I think to get long term results, it will take understanding policy and the laws that play into that.
Both directions are useful. The people pushing in government for change, and the people on the ground, making a big enough scene to attract the public’s attention that there is a problem. These people care so much that they are willing to go to jail. Destroying the bulldozers is wrong, but destroying these habitats is worse. Both approaches have important aspects for a cause.
RS: What do you think about the Sierra Club, or other mainstream environmentalists?
AE: They have their place, but groups like the Sierra Club aren’t taken as seriously a lot of times. They do great work, and I love their cause, but I feel that a large majority of the public, when they hear about Sierra Club, just think about a bunch of hippie people, backpacking, doing softcore environmental work. It isn’t the attention grabbing people, like the people on the Greenpeace ship that was taken over by the Russians. That got a lot of international attention to a problem. If you ask what the Sierra Club has done lately, they say, “Those are the people that protect birds, right?” Something like that. You ask people about what the Environmental Liberation Front has done recently, or what Greenpeace has done recently, they’ll say, “Oh, I saw them on the news!
There is a time for immediate action to draw attention, and through that immediate action, get people interested in the issue, and start looking into the politics of the issue, and make changes that last longer.
RS: Do you consider yourself a green anarchist?
AE: My friend who got in touch with you guys about this interview asked me that exact same thing. I wouldn’t think I am a green anarchist, because that is not a really good way to engage with the public. That is an aggressive term that may turn people who are just a little bit interested and would consider getting into environmentalism to turn away from it. And that is not what I want to do. I think I prefer eco-liberator. I can see how “green anarchist” could fit, and qualify with some of the actions I have done. I have been a part of Greenpeace rallies and all of that, too. But if you are trying to get positive publicity, to get people with your cause, those terms might not be the best for it. Many people want to do environmental work, but they don’t want to be the people that are getting hauled off to jail, getting the fines, getting the real attention. Those terms may make those people step back and say that it is too intense for them. If we could find better language for it, like eco-liberator, they may be more likely to side with that.