"Q" is for Quixotic
by Robert Nanninga
Quix'ote, n. Enthusiastic visionary, pursuer of lofty but impracticable
ideals, person utterly regardless of his material interests in comparison
with honour or devotion.
-- Oxford English
.. everybody, here is a little Bob
history. Long before I considered myself an environmentalist, I was a vocal
member of the animal rights movement. I became vegan, attended demonstrations,
planned and performed street theatre and even got myself arrested for what
I still considered a very just cause. I now no longer consider myself to
be an animal rights advocate. Why, you might ask, did my perception change?
Well, I am about to tell you.
About eight years ago I was participating in a Hunt
Saboteurs action. This is where you risk life and limb harassing hunters
and disrupting their attempts at mayhem. During this event, I was clued
in to the futility of my actions by a biologist in the middle of the Mojave
Desert. He explained that my efforts to protect big horn sheep from trophy
hunters could be seen as noble and a good way to get press, but it was in
fact a pointless gesture that contributed nothing to the preservation of
the species. Picture me in the middle of the desert: hot, sweaty, hungry
and totally disillusioned.
The biologist gave be a pearl of wisdom I will never
forget. He said saving individual animals makes no difference; saving the
environment in which they live is what really matters. Bingo, major revelation.
Like Moses, all I had to do was go into the desert to get it. Punctuating
this lesson was the sight of a Department of Fish and Game Vehicle transporting
a hunter and a dead ram to the base camp. At that point I decided there
would be no more tilting at windmills for me.
The question is, how do we decide what constitutes a
windmill, and how do we discern a worthy cause? Is Newt Gingrich a dragon
and the Endangered Species Act the soon-to-be-defiled Dulcinea? Is global
warming just a ploy to sell advertising space in monthly periodicals? Do
we allow the status quo to decide what is worth fighting for - such as oil
in the Middle East, short-sighted capitalism, or unequal and hateful family
A friend of mind is currently serving time - much like
Don Quixote. Rod Coronado is a Native American who refused to name the parties
involved in an Animal Liberation Front action. Although Rod was not there,
Uncle Sam has him doing five years at a federal facility in Tucson, Arizona
for aiding and abetting the ALF.
Some might say he is jousting at the windmill of animal
research. I, on the other hand, say the federal government is practicing
the politics of delusion. Rod is making a difference. By not revealing the
names of ALF members, he is enabling them to continue their campaign of
Another good example of this environmental dragon slaying
are the members of Earth First who have set up a barricade and are occupying
an Oregon logging road. For months they have declared the Cascadia Free
State off limits to logging interests, and I am sure this applies to Bill
Clinton. Isn't it odd that the federal government has yet to go after these
committed environmentalists as they did the Freemen of Montana? Could it
be that they know these young Americans are right? Or are they afraid of
yet more bad press after the salvage logging sell out.
I think windmills are a personal issue. It's up to the
individual to decide what battles need fighting. I actually agree with the
Freeman with regard to their stand on taxation without representation, yet
I would never take the stand they did.
David Koresh was fighting a loss cause that ended in
tragedy. It is obvious that the dragon he was battling was a fire breathing
dragon. The only thing America gleaned from that debacle was how well the
federal government has perfected the art of finger pointing. After all,
dead children are bad for business.
Don Quixote may have been a fictional character, but
we have hundreds of Americans who successfully slew dragons others saw as
only windmills. Henry David Thoreau spent time in jail for refusing to pay
taxes. Out of his experience he wrote the essay On the Duty of Civil
Disobedience. Not too many frontline activists are aware of this important
work, yet the fact that Gandhi carried it with him at all times is a testament
to it's far-reaching impact. Rosa Parks did nothing but take a seat on the
bus, and in the process literally changed the world. Edward Abbey had a
hard time selling the truth, but was able to create a new kind of reality
as The Monkey Wrench Gang gave birth to Earth First.
Some brave knights have not been so lucky. Chico Mendes
was slain by the dragon in Brazil. Fernando Pereira was killed when French
agents blew up the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior and Al Gore let the
dragon convince him that it was in fact a windmill. In my opinion, this
is a fate worse than death. Poor Al is obsolete at a time in history when
he is needed most.
But take heart, all you Eco-warriors: that battle has
just begun. The majority of us have learned to spot the dragons from a mile
away. The skirmishes we are currently fighting are training us for the important
work that lay ahead. The defeat of Prop 197, the mountain lion hunting initiative,
is proof that we can make a difference. The folks working to protect Carmel
Mountain are currently preventing the development of Southern California's
last pristine coastal mesa. National organizations such as the Nature Conservancy
and the Sierra Club are actually beginning to beat the development interests
at their own game.
So, ladies and gentlemen, let's not lose sight of the
prize. It is time we dug in our heels and held our ground. The greedy guys
of the industrial establishment won't give up until they have squeezed every
last ounce of profit from the planet. It is up to us to show them the error
of their ways. If we are to gain ground, we must choose our battles well,
and work in concert with each other as well as the environment. Now is not
the time for grandstanding. We must present a unified front, and this includes
at the Republican convention this summer. If we want to make sure our voices
our heard, we must refrain from trying to out shout those who share our
Remember: we are fighting the good fight and that the
truth is on our side. Mid-August you will find me at the Convention Center
with all of you, dreaming a not-so-impossible dream with the conviction
of Gandhi and the vision of Don Quixote.
Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and
active member of the Green and environmental communities.