Indirect Support for Action

Featured image: Army personnel assigned to Bravo Company, 121st Combat Support Hospital, based out of Camp. When one cannot go to support an action directly, how can one still support that action?

Editor’s note: This is an edited transcript of Derrick Jensen’s talk, which you can view on Deep Green Video.

     by Derrick Jensen / Deep Green Resistance  

Napoleon, or maybe it was Frederick the Great, famously commented that an army marches on its stomach. The quartermasters are just as important as the soldiers. In World War II battles, only about 10% of the soldiers ever fired the gun in battle. Most soldiers were clerks, truck drivers, people who delivered munitions, medics, or cooks. That is a pretty common figure: about 10%, often less. Only about 3% of the IRA ever picked up weapons.

Consider a professional basketball or baseball team. You not only have the players; you’ve got all the minor leaguers, coaches, trainers, dietitians, people who sell tickets, and groundskeepers.

A movie does not just consist of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. There are gaffers and best boys and stunt people and editors and caterers. There are very few accomplishments that people actually do solo.

Most of us require support in whatever we are doing, and that support work is just as important as the more glorious aspects. My friend Lierre Keith often says that an activist movement needs two things: loyalty and material support.

For example, right now there are indigenous people and some non-indigenous supporters opposing a pipeline going across their land (of course every pipeline goes across indigenous land, but we’ll leave that aside for a moment). For those who, for any number of reasons, cannot be there  physically, there are a near-infinite number of things they can do. They can write letters to the editor locally, they can advocate in one way or another for them, they can send them supplies. The people on the front lines still need to eat and they are going to have shoes that fall apart; they’re going to tear a hole in their jeans or they’re going to get sick.

When we were attempting to stop timber sales, we would sometimes have to work very hard to meet a deadline. We would have until midnight to finish our appeal. We would oftentimes be working as hard as we could for hours and hours on this thing; we’d only have two hours left to go and we were really hungry, so somebody had to go get some food. That‘s just as important as the person who drives to the post office, just as important as the person who writes it. Physical, material support is very important. You need to develop support among the people in order to have a guerrilla army. That’s also true of activism. We need to raise public support for our positions.

In “Second Person Experiment” researchers had a bunch of people sitting in a room and then have a couple of people come in. One person would, for example, say something very racist. (They wouldn’t believe it, they would just say it as part of the experiment.) They found that the response of everybody else in the room was very heavily influenced by the response of the second person.

Let’s say the first person says something really racist and the second person says, “Hey yeah, it’s pretty funny, that’s great.” Everybody else in the room is much more likely to respond positively, than if the second person says, “That’s not really very cool.” That just came up in a very small way  this past week.

I’m on a neighborhood watch email list where they announce when somebody gets their house burgled or something. That’s pretty handy. But another thing that the people running the list do, which kind of annoys me, is they will complain every time anybody in the neighborhood sees a mountain lion or a bear. They will say, “We need to call Fish and Game and get rid of the animals, because the mountain lion was seen carrying a gray kitty.” They’ve been doing this a lot and I kept silent, but finally I just couldn’t take it anymore and wrote a very nice note: “We need to remember that we’re in their homes, and if you have a cat and you let the cat outside, that’s the risk you’re taking. The mountain lion or the bear should not be harmed because of a risk that you took and that your cat took (never mind that cats kill birds, we’ll leave that aside).” This is a very nice note, but it had to be said.

It‘s the same on the larger scale. The line by Gandhi, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” is awfully simplified, but it is really true that somebody has to go out and say something. And then somebody else has to repeat it again and again until it starts gaining a cultural currency.

In terms of the attempts to support the indigenous people opposing the pipeline, if they had 50,000 people show up, that would be great—but if that 50,000 people showed up and they had nobody show up with food, this 50,000-people-thing would last about six hours and leave a mess. You need the support in order to have a long-term campaign. That’s just as crucial as anything else.

I have a friend who is an accountant. As part of her activist work, she does accounting for various organizations. That’s something you have to do too, especially if you’re having a non-profit. You have to have somebody who can navigate that territory. I don’t care what your skills are. If you’re a good writer, they need writers; if you’re a good cook, they need good cooks; if you’re a good accountant, they need good accountants. I get so tired of being called the“violence guy” because I talk about resistance, but the truth is: We need everything. We need school teachers, we need accountants, we need cooks. We need everything.

I want to challenge everybody who’s reading this to take at least one hour every week and do some form of activism or support for somebody else’s activism. This is how I got started as an activist. When I was about 24, 25 or 26, I realized I wasn’t paying enough for gasoline. I wasn’t covering the social and economic costs. So every time I would buy gas, I was going to donate a dollar for every dollar I spent on gas to a local environmental organization. But I didn’t have any money because I was unemployed.  So what I would do instead is give myself a choice: either pay a dollar for every dollar of gas, or pay myself five bucks an hour to do activism. If I spent ten bucks on gas, I would either give ten bucks to a local organization, or I would do two hours of activism.

I challenge everybody to do that: take some amount and either tithe $10 a week to some local organization, or do two hours of work for a local organization. I don’t care how busy you are, everybody can take one hour away from their life. Write a letter, go to a protest, help start assembling a package. You can do just that much to start. It’s a wonderful start.