Judi Bari listened to a special call-in show on Mendocino County public radio Feb. 21, and said afterward that it sounded like a funeral eulogy - her own.
Earth First! activist had hosted a weekly "Punch and Judi" public
affairs show at the station for years. Now, dying from inoperable
breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver, it was Bari's
turn to listen from her cabin near Willits,
"It's important that we pay tribute to our
heroes, and Judi Bari is definitely one of those heroes," said one
caller, former California Rep. Dan Hamburg.
died peacefully at home a week and two days later, surrounded by
family and friends. Those close to her said they will remember Bari
as a brilliant strategist, a woman of great wit, a devoted mother,
an expert fiddler and a "great imp."
But Bari is
perhaps best known as the activist who survived a pipe bomb that
exploded in her car in 1990.
happened on the eve of Redwood Summer, one of California's largest
logging protests. Thousands were expected to converge on Humboldt
County's Headwaters Forest, and the atmosphere in timber country
had become tense.
According to Jim Flynn,
co-editor of the Earth First! Journal, Bari and other Earth First!
activists had received anonymous death threats that spring. One
showed a picture of Bari with a rifle scope drawn over her face.
The year before, Bari had survived a "Karen Silkwood" kind of
accident: Her vehicle was rammed from behind by a logging
Fake press releases with the Earth First!
logo had also appeared in 1990 at a Louisiana-Pacific mill, calling
for tree spiking and other acts of violence. Then, just months
before the car bombing, someone cut down an electrical transmission
tower in the Santa Cruz mountains. Fingers pointed at Earth
First!ers, including Bari, who denied any involvement. "I was home
in bed with five witnesses," she quipped at the
"Judi was a threat because she was crafting
an alliance between labor and environmentalists," says Karen
Pickett, an activist and writer who works at the Ecology Center in
Berkeley, Calif. Bari, who had been a labor organizer in her native
Maryland, often had a good rapport with timber workers. She helped
in 1989 to organize workers at a Georgia-Pacific sawmill after a
chemical spill. She was also extremely effective at organizing
forest protests, something she'd been doing since 1988. Colleagues
said that when she organized, thousands came instead of
It was in the midst of this charged
atmosphere that a bomb blew through Bari's car seat in Oakland,
Calif., spraying hundreds of nails into her body and shattering her
pelvis and lower backbone (HCN, 6/18/90). After the bombing,
Oakland police and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation
arrested both Bari and her friend, Darryl Cherney - known
"terrorists' according to the FBI - for possession of explosives.
After charges against them had been dropped due
to lack of evidence, Bari and Cherney fought back by filing a
lawsuit in 1991 against Oakland police and the FBI, charging civil
rights violations. The lawsuit accused the FBI of arresting the two
activists to discredit Earth First! members by portraying them as
terrorists. Bari and Cherney also said that the FBI failed to
investigate the case. In seven years, there have been no suspects
other than Bari and Cherney, and some Earth First!ers say the FBI
itself may have been involved in the
"Dumb enough to carry a live
anti-personnel bomb under my car seat," wrote Bari sarcastically in
a 1994 issue of the Earth First! Journal, "but apparently too
clever to catch."
Her friends say the lawsuit
became almost an obsession for Bari. After six years of trying to
get the case heard in court, Bari had gathered more than 10,000
pages of transcripts and documentation. "She's the real brain
behind the lawsuit," said Earth First! Journal co-editor Jim Flynn
before Bari's death. "Whoever planted that bomb blew up the wrong
end of her. She's been on the bandwagon ever since."
Even after being diagnosed with cancer less than
six months ago, the lawsuit was one of three things she chose to
focus on. The other two were her family and her radio show.
Although Bari had hoped that the case would go
to court before she died, her lawyer, Dennis Cunningham, said they
taped her testimony just in case. Another of her lawyers, Michael
Deutsch, said the FBI has one more chance to appeal to dismiss the
case. But even if it goes to trial, both lawyers agree it will be a
hard case to win since they must prove the FBI knowingly mishandled
the case. Still, Cunningham said, they have "a really strong case
with really hard evidence."
"For all these
years, it's been always been "Judi Bari for Justice," but now it's
time for "Justice for Judi Bari," " Betty Ball of the Mendocino
Environmental Center told the Albion
Meanwhile, friends and activists are
confronting their loss.
"People are grieving and
trying to cope, but they know damn well they better keep going,"
says Ball. At Bari's request, a wake-party was planned. While Ball
wondered how to squeeze the expected 1,000 people into the Willits
Grange, another friend was printing T-shirts with a picture of Bari
and the slogan made famous by labor organizer Joe Hill: "Don't
"What a fabulous being," adds
Ball. "Very rarely does someone like Judi surface."
Bari is survived by two daughters, Lisa, 16, and
Jessica, 11. Anyone interested in making a donation to Bari's
family can send checks to the Judi Bari Trust Fund, c/o the
Mendocino Environmental Center, 106 W. Standly St., Ukiah, CA
95482. Or, to help continue Bari's lawsuit, send checks to Redwood
Summer Justice, P.O. Box 14720, Santa Rosa, CA 95402.
Elizabeth Manning is
HCN's assistant editor.