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December 2006/January 2007
A Radical Change

The Satya Interview with Rod Coronado

 

Rod Coronado. Photo courtesy of Chrysta Faye

On March 24, 2004, long-time earth and animal liberation activist Rod Coronado was arrested for his involvement in an Earth First! campaign against the killing and removal of mountain lions in the Sabino Canyon recreation area outside Tuscan, AZ, an area usually closed to hunting. In December 2005 he was found guilty of “conspiring to impede or injure an officer of the U.S.,” a felony, “interference with a U.S. Forest Service Officer,” and “aiding and abetting the depredation of government property,” both misdemeanors. On August 7, 2006 Rod was sentenced to eight months in federal prison and three years of supervised release (probation) in which he is forbidden to write, publish or speak about the animal and earth liberation fronts, Earth First!, or encourage illegal activities practiced by those groups.

While serving his federal sentence, Rod Coronado shared with Sangamithra Iyerhis thoughts on recent animal enterprise terrorism legislation, his changing perspectives on direct action, and the magic of Harry Potter.

Can you talk a bit about the Sabino Canyon case?

The depredation of government property stems from the alleged destruction of a mountain lion snare set in the canyon by a federal lion hunter. The trap was never damaged, only sprung, but that never came out in court. Our efforts were very public, and I served as spokesperson for the people who represented the lions. When all legal measures to stop the hunt were exhausted, AZ Earth First! was contacted by the Center for Biological Diversity to help intervene as we were the only group opposing these trophy hunts authorized by Arizona Fish and Game. I was arrested in Sabino Canyon along with a reporter from Esquire magazine after being chased by a helicopter and cornered by federal and state officers. We had succeeded in stopping that hunt, but learned in our trial that after media attention died down, hunters returned to the area killing four lions and capturing more.

What are your thoughts about recent federal legislation targeting animal and environmental activists? What do you think it means for the future of animal activism in this country?
This recent legislation is typical for a society that uses law enforcement as a means to resist social change while also protecting the special interests of industries with powerful friends in Washington. It reminds me of the abolitionists of the 19th century who were faced with prosecution under the Fugitive Slave Act for aiding runaway slaves, something we consider downright heroic today. Just as rich landowners were frightened at the prospect of losing slave labor, corporations today worry about the impact on their profit margins should they ever be held responsible for committing large-scale animal cruelty and environmental [destruction].

With animal welfare it is economically unfeasible to be compassionate while remaining profitable. I read about the global threat to fisheries if pollution and overfishing continue unabated, yet the fishing industry assures us everything is fine. When it comes to the environment we have a historic record of showing scarcity of a resource simply drives up the market value, fueling industries to relentlessly exploit it until total ecological and market collapse. With such a record of inaction no one should be surprised that some people become frustrated and find no other avenue besides lawlessness. If Congress truly wanted to prevent “animal enterprise terrorism” they would generate greater responsibility in managing the natural resources of the earth instead of dragging their feet when a serious environmental catastrophe is at our doorstep.

Since 9/11 the political climate makes it far too easy for actions that destroy property to be seen as a form of terrorism. In response, we can best adapt our activities towards avenues, which do not result in some of our brilliant young leaders being criminalized as terrorists. We have to shift the blame to where it belongs, with irresponsible profit-driven corporations and public policies that cater to them. At the same time we need to return to a very grassroots approach and not allow animal and environmental activism to be relegated to the work of national and international organizations who operate as corporations themselves, capitalizing on societal concerns for animals and the environment. We need to return to a level of democracy where it’s not lawyers representing our interests, but the affected communities themselves.

Has your position on direct action changed?
Yes, personally and politically. When I began my career as a direct action activist, animal rights and environmentalism were still very fringe issues to the mainstream. Now thanks in part to direct action these issues have extended to the forefront of society. We have Prime Ministers and former Vice Presidents sounding the alarm we were ringing years ago. Of course law enforcement has responded with draconian laws that categorize direct action on the same level as terrorism. Dealing with political actions against corporate interests and property more severely than most physical crimes of violence.

In my opinion, direct action in first worlds like the U.S. have served their purpose and it is time for us to evolve strategies away from a focus on what’s wrong with our world and direct our energies toward what is right. Those who have been sounding the alarm now have a chance to show disenchanted citizens our vision of a peaceful, harmonic and sustainable way of living. There is a greater example to be made by us through mutual aid and cooperation, free education, organic gardening, etc. than any act that seeks to attack our destructive system.

I could continue to do what I have done for the past 20 years, but what would come of it? Martyrdom and a life sentence. No, I want to be part of the rebuilding. I want to watch my children grow and live the way I believe we should.

Do you have any regrets?
Of course, who doesn’t? I regret my children suffer from my separation. I regret not having learned the things I now know before they began causing pain. I regret externalizing my unhappiness with the world onto others rather than first endeavoring to change myself. I regret having hurt people I love. But I am human and like most of us, we learn from our mistakes. I learned that nothing helps us prevent future acts of insensitivity like our past acts of insensitivity. It’s just a question of whether we are courageous enough to accept what we have done wrong. If only our government could do the same.

One thing I don’t regret is accepting the challenge to live in a way that doesn’t make me a pawn of our political climate or a slave to the dogmatic self-defeating patriarchal worldview.

What advice do you have for fellow activists?
We make our lives the model of how we want others to live. I believe in relating to people as a counter measure to the corporate media and fear-mongers who portray us as extremists. What we represent should never be termed as extreme because nothing could be simpler than living with consideration towards others. What should be labeled extreme are political agendas at the expense of all life on earth.

All of us want to see an end to suffering, but we have to accept that many others have tried and sacrificed, often more than we ever will, only to see the injustice they fought outlive themselves. And while it is important to stand up for what we believe in, little is gained from being knocked down. Let’s not do the state’s work and allow our actions to resemble the terrorist acts they allege them to be. Let’s embody what we represent: love, compassion, respect and peace and leave out the war, destruction and greed. People are smart. They will be able to tell the difference, but not if our actions represent those of the system we are trying to stop. It’s not going to be a handful of individuals attacking the state that effects change, but the multitudes of oppressed standing in solidarity as victims of injustice. It’s our job to win people over without lying to them and by offering realistic solutions they can understand and embrace.

Most importantly be happy. There is great joy to be discovered in helping others.

I understand this incarceration has been a transformative experience for you.
This time in prison has been transformative just as it would be for anyone imprisoned for their political actions or views. What I see as my current state of transformation began earlier this year when for the first time I began to reflect, not just on my political activities, but on my personal actions as well. In pursuit of my activist career, I hurt a lot of people very close to me, always keeping my “eyes on the prize” and never questioning the hypocrisy of my own actions. Last winter, the pain I was causing became too great to ignore and I was ashamed of how I had been justifying my personal behavior that was nowhere near embodying the respect, compassion and love that I have endeavored to represent. That’s when I decided to “retire” from my confrontational politics and antagonistic positioning and focus on a simpler way of practicing what I want to preach. As a father and a partner in a relationship that meant working on being emotionally, spiritually and physically available to those who teach me about love more than any type of actions against violent injustice.

It’s been a whole new revelation and more rewarding than any “revolutionary” action I had previously engaged in. More importantly, it taught me to live life with the great level of joy we all desperately need to survive and sustain ourselves in the coming years of turmoil.

It has also helped me find common ground with “enemies” and see that however misdirected we both might be, there is enough commonality for us to discover a mutual way of resolving conflict without violence. I no longer believe in “good vs. evil.” I believe we are all capable of good and evil, it’s just a matter of being accountable.

What’s really sad and frustrating is not being able to convince my past opponents of my willingness to work towards change in a different way. The system is totally unforgiving and unwilling to look past my actions of before to see the potential in working together now. When I was sent to prison, I accepted the punishment, but really would have liked for Arizona Fish and Game to ask for a sentence of community service so that we both might learn an alternative form of conflict resolution that is less punitive. Still, whatever injustice I personally suffer will not sway me from extending myself to explore a different way of dealing with social and ecological problems. The system can refuse to change but I won’t.

What have you enjoyed reading in prison?
I’ve really enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which are a wonderful exploration into a parallel world where magic still exists. They are beautiful stories that remind us that more important than power and control is friendship, respect, unity and tolerance. It’s funny but ever since I became a parent, I’ve found such inspiration in children’s books. So often the heroes are those who rescue animals or risk their lives to save their loved ones—important lessons that many grown-ups could benefit from learning again.

What gives you hope?
I know there is much pain in the world. I’ve seen the faces of thousands of animals suffering in cages, the destruction of ancient forests…No one needs to remind us of the dark times we face. But if we are going to make it through, we are going to make it by helping one another. This world is still a wonderful place. They haven’t destroyed it all yet, and there’s still enough to inspire hope. We are a crazy species, but smart enough to pull ourselves out of this nosedive if we act now and stop pointing our fingers at others. We just have to hold on tight to what we love, our children, each other, the Earth and I think we will be all right.

For more information visit www.supportrod.org. To learn more about Rod, read the two-part 1997 Satya interview “Freedom from the Cages” www.satyamag.com/interviews.html.

 

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