Ask folks in the Pacific Northwest about late activist Judi Bari, and
they're likely to remember her as the woman who survived an apparent car-
bombing during a 1990 environmental campaign to save the redwoods.
Whether or not these people agreed with her politics, there was a general
consensus among those who knew her that Bari was a strong and spirited
woman, and one who would not give up easily.
But Jello Biafra, former singer for punk pioneers the Dead Kennedys and owner
of Alternative Tentacles records, which recently released an album of Bari's
speeches and songs, contends there's yet another side to Bari -- one that
helped her persevere through the trials and tribulations of the "Redwood
Summer" environmental campaign as well as survive for six years after the
nearly fatal bombing, until she died last year of breast cancer.
"She was an extremely courageous person, but she also had this wise-ass,
sarcastic-prankster spirit to her that allowed her to maintain a warped
sense of humor through unbelievable adversity and physical pain," Biafra
said recently by phone from his home in San Francisco. "That's partly what
drew people to her and to the various causes she had been a part of. She
knew how to make resistance and revolution fun and important."
The new album, Who Bombed Judi Bari?, is designed to stand as a
testament to Bari's fortitude. It combines speeches centered not only on
environmental causes and the car bomb that nearly killed Bari, but political
songs, such as
"Redwood Summer" (RealAudio excerpt), and spoken-word pieces on
her subsequent legal battles with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and labor-
organizing, as well as on her painful struggle with cancer.
The 72 minutes of speech and song on Who Bombed Judi Bari? were
culled from hundreds of hours of recordings. "It's vital that her work not have
been in vain," Biafra said. "Spreading her power and spirit around is one of the
best ways to make sure that won't happen."
"Judi was a combination of a 75-year-old elder, wise woman and an 8-year-old
little girl, all wrapped up in a fortysomething package," said Darryl Cherney,
Bari's organizing and singing partner who helped assemble the album and who
says a second volume of the activist's work may be released in the future. "She
was very short, but she carried a presence that was very large. She was a
karate expert, so she held her body in a way that was very assertive."
And she was resilient.
On May 24, 1990, Cherney and Bari were traveling to a rally to recruit
volunteers for "Redwood Summer" -- a campaign targeted to halt the
accelerated destruction of old-growth forest by timber companies -- when a
bomb ripped through their vehicle.
"All of a sudden, I thought I was dead," Cherney said by phone from Eureka,
Calif. "I thought, something's happened. The world is no longer the same. I
started very analytically to go through my mind what had happened. Judi knew
it was a bomb right away because it was under her seat. I had no idea. I
ultimately emerged from that car relatively unhurt. It was a miracle. But Judi
was almost dead, literally."
While Bari and Cherney maintained that the bomb was planted by an enemy of
their anti-logging activities, the FBI branded them terrorists and said they were
carrying the explosive device themselves. The activists subsequently filed a
lawsuit alleging that the FBI accused them of bombing themselves based not on
factual evidence but rather solely on the basis of their political beliefs.
The case is still awaiting trial. George Grotz, public affairs officer at the FBI's
San Francisco office, said he could not comment on the bombing or the lawsuit
because the case is still pending.
In the meantime, Bari and Cherney's supporters hope Who Bombed Judi
Bari? will spread her unique perspective well beyond the Pacific Northwest.
"Everybody could identify [with] her analyses once she made them -- but few
had put the ideas together beforehand," Cherney said.
"She came from a labor background and was a carpenter herself, so she had
respect for people who work with their hands," Biafra added. "She saw this
as a labor-organizing issue and not just an environmental issue. That's
why the timber companies and the FBI tried to kill her. She actually was
very capable of bringing two different sides together. She didn't dismiss
loggers as hopelessly ignorant rednecks -- she saw them as a reachable,
oppressed labor force." [Sat., Dec. 6, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]