Julia Butterfly Hill, activist and onetime tree-sitter, answers questions
What work do you do?
I founded Circle of Life in 1999 while living in the branches of an over-1,000-year-old redwood to keep it from being cut down by MAXXAM-owned Pacific Lumber Company.
What does your organization do?
Circle of Life activates people through education, inspiration, and connection to live in a way that honors the diversity and interdependence of all life. We believe that you — yes, you — make the difference in the world.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis? What are you working on at the moment?
My days are filled with answering requests like this one from Grist. I also facilitate workshops, speak at events, fund-raise for many organizations (including Circle of Life, which also needs funds to do the work we do), strategize with team members around programs and ideas, write forewords and endorsements for books for authors who publish in ecologically sound ways, make art that is auctioned for nonprofits, and have meetings with key movement leaders.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
It actually was a road that led me to where I am now. Literally. I had a car wreck in August of 1996 when I was designated driver, driving my friend’s car (she had been drinking), and we were hit from behind by a drunk driver. It took 10 months of physical and cognitive therapy to recover from the wreck, and during that time I realized I wanted to find a more powerful purpose for being here on this planet. After I was released from my last doctor, I went on a road trip with friends which led me to California, which led me to the redwoods, which led me to found Circle of Life, which led Grist to be able to have a way to contact me, which led to this moment of me answering these questions.
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
I do not use email — it takes all I have to just keep up with my life.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Mount Vernon, Mo. I now am based in Oakland, Calif., and have been for the last four years.
Who is your environmental hero?
I have so many people I look to for inspiration and motivation including Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Amílcar Cabral, and Joan Baez. I am inspired continuously by all kinds of people, young and old, of all kinds of cultural and economic backgrounds, who are contributing to making our world a better place.
What are you reading these days?
What’s your favorite meal?
Just about anything vegan! I am a joyous vegan, and an avid cook and un-cook. I love preparing food that is healthy for people, the planet, and animals, and tastes damn good.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
Of course, the redwood forests are some of the most beautiful and sacred to me. I also have a strong love for any place that is tropical with ocean and fruit trees. I love being on the beach in the middle of nowhere, baking in the sun and listening to the hypnotic ocean.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing badly, and how could it be done better?
We are doing a sad job at un-learning and undoing racism and classism and sexism within ourselves, our organizations, and our movement. Also, as a whole, we are pretty profoundly lacking in integrity. We need to spend less time preaching and more time practicing.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
We could learn a heck of a lot from many European countries, including making manufacturers responsible for the life of the products they make, taxing manufacturers and consumers on everything that falls under the term “disposable,” and holding manufacturers responsible for paying for the end result of all their packaging.
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
My music tastes are actually still pretty much what they were when I was 18 only I have added more world music and conscious hip-hop like The Coup to my repertoire. I am very eclectic. Some of my favorite bands then and now include Sinead O’Connor, Tori Amos, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Sarah McLachlan, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Tupac Amaru Shakur (2Pac), to name a few.
What’s your favorite TV show? Movie?
TV kills your mind and your creativity.
Like my music tastes, my movie tastes are all over the place. My old-school all-time favorites are The Princess Bride, The Secret of NIMH, and The Usual Suspects. More recent favorites include the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Whale Rider.
What are you happy about right now?
This breath. And this one. And this one … It is magic every time.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Get rid of disposability consciousness — every paper bag, paper plate, paper napkin, plastic to-go container, and Styrofoam cup. I have walked on the earth that is connected to the thread at the other end of those horrific choices, and I am not being overdramatic when I say disposables are weapons of mass destruction.
And, if you are inspired by the message and work of Circle of Life, please donate whatever you can.
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