Tree-sits: Transcendent protest glory or just bottles of pee?
A tree-sit was organized to challenge strip mining in 2011 and in 2012. This year the tactic was used to resist fracking and to protest a new biolab in Florida. Other “climbers” have included members of the Ruckus Society, students at the University of California Santa Cruz and the University of California Berkeley. But the most enduring example was Julia Butterfly Hill’s two-year tree-sit in the late 1990s.
It’s almost the 15-year anniversary of Hill’s Northern California campaign against redwood clear-cutting, and the tree-sit tactic has never been so popular. It’s practically become de rigueur for the environmental movement.
Tree-sitters fuse the tactics of environmental nonviolent direct action (pioneered by Greenpeace and other organizations) with the methods of groups like Peace Brigades International and Witness for Peace, which offer “protective accompaniment” in war zones. They stand in the way, often slowing down the process of destruction and sometimes stopping it.
Some mainstream activists — signers of petitions and marchers in sanctioned marches — turn up their noses at tree-sits and other direct action as being too radical. They’re radical, but they’re also pretty boring.
Still, tree-sits can actually work.
To be effective, movements must use all the tools they can. Sometimes those tools include camping out in trees for weeks, months, even years. Yeah, I’m gonna say it: Sometimes those tools include pee bottles and shit buckets. You should probably keep it in the bucket, though.