It’s been over a decade since the first time that activists coordinated an international day of solidarity action around the case of environmental prisoner Jeff Luers. Luers was charged with a relatively small crime, damaging several SUVs in a car dealership lot, but sentenced to 22 years in prison with the explicit intention of sending a chilling message to the environmental movement. In response, supporters organized an international day of solidarity with Jeff on June 11, 2004. The day saw 23 events around the world including places as a far as Russia, Norway and Australia, with a focus on the event in Jeff’s hometown prior to incarceration, Eugene, OR. His parents showed up to greet a crowd of several hundred with this message:
Good evening… .Thank you all for coming… .Today is intended to be a day for public education and awareness about Jeff and his case… .The FBI, in it’s bulletin to law enforcement agencies, has chosen to make it sound like an ELF (Earth Liberation Front) call to action. That’s wrong, but it got Jeff and his case some good publicity in places such as Morgantown, West Virginia and Palm Beach, Florida that may not have developed otherwise….My wife, Judy, and I want to thank all of the organizers and attendees at this event and similar events around the world designed to bring attention to the injustice done to our son, Jeff “Free” Luers.
Aside from getting Jeff’s parents to turn out for it, there were some other unique and important components to the first “June 11″ event. For one, people from diverse struggles attended and spoke at the event, making connections between the repression of Black and Indigenous communities and rise of repression against environmentally-motivated action that Jeff’s case represented. In addition, the event included an explicit position on the broader issue of mass incarceration and specifically opposition to Oregon’s “Measure 11″ mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines. For participants who knew of Jeff’s case from his environmental motivations and local involvement, this discussion of prison policy was likely some new territory. But environmental activists in that region were headed for a crash course on the politics of repression and incarceration.
The year 2005 would become a very significant moment in both the environmental and the prisoner support movements. This was the year that the Green Scare hit the headlines, with dozens of environmental activists being arrested or indicted and accused of domestic terrorism, unveiling what the FBI called Operation Backfire for what amounted essentially to high-dollar vandalism cases.
“We have seen a trend of using the terrorist label and federalizing a lot of criminal activities that would have gotten a far less stringent sentence before,” said the former director of the National Lawyers Guild, Heidi Boghosian, referencing the status of the Green Scare cases in 2009.
Regardless of how one felt about the particular actions that individuals were charged with in Green Scare cases, the point that many observed was that the punishment for the environmentally-motivated actions was disproportionate with punishment for comparable non-political, non-environmental acts.
In 2009, thanks to the international solidarity campaign, Jeff was released in a re-sentencing hearing. Upon his release, he lent his support to the continuation of June 11 as a day of solidarity with other eco-prisoners. Starting in 2010, a group based primarily in Bloomington, Indiana (a former home of eco-anarchist prisoner Marius Mason) formed a June 11 organizing group, which developed support among a larger international network of anarchists. By June 11th, 2014, there were at least 41 events in 39 cities in seven countries, as well as many actions declaring support for J11. While this group re-framed June 11 with a more explicit focus on anarchist prisoners who were serving longer sentences, the environmental origins of the day have also remain central to most all who participate around the world. The new incarnation of J11 highlighted the cases of Eric Mcdavid and Marius Mason. Eric is now free thanks in part to the pressure created by J11 organizing. Folks are still fighting for Marius’ freedom.
Although there have been some heated disagreements on how June 11 is presented, momentum around this day has been maintained and for the past 5 years, there have consistently been 30+ events in a dozen different countries honoring June 11.
As a result, the concept of an environmental prisoner, or eco-prisoner, has begun opening an arena of political activism to a broader audience by connecting efforts for ecological protection with work towards prisoners’ rights, criminal justice reform and civil liberties. Take efforts like Daniel McGowan’s fight for the Good Time Bill and exposing the CMU that he was in or, more recently, Kevin Olliff’s support for the fight against book bans and exorbitant phone rates for prisoners. These have been amazing moments of building cross movement relationships.
Not to mention, eco-activists were starting to learn a thing or two about mass incarceration and prison policy.
For more info about the June 11 day of Action go to: www.june11.org