[Ppnews] Reflections on December 7th By Daniel McGowan

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun Dec 23 15:53:09 EST 2007


www.supportdaniel.org

Reflections on December 7th
By Daniel McGowan

If I could, I would wear black today, not because 
it’s my preferred color (which it is), but 
because today is a day I mourn. Not in a 
traditional sense of mourning a person’s death 
but a day to mourn the end of one part of my life 
the day I said goodbye to a part of my life no 
one in my life knew about. Some people order 
their lives into ‘before September 11’ and ‘after 
September 11’ – for me, it’s before and after 
December 7, 2005, the day of my arrest.

Sometime around 4:15 on that day, my past caught 
up with me in the form of 3 federal agents 
standing in the entrance of my cubicle at my job. 
I was not quite sure why they were there but I 
had a feeling it was going to be bad. Although I 
sensed nothing that day, I had experienced 
anxiety in weeks prior about (then) hypothetical 
matters like “Who would do x if I was gone?” or 
“Do I really need all the Jeff Luers campaign 
materials, original master VHS tapes, et cetera 
?” I chalked it up to anxiety – the holidays were 
coming up and I was woefully behind on getting 
gifts for my family; plus the first semester 
midterms in my graduate acupuncture program were 
approaching. The perfunctory “Are you Daniel 
McGowan?” along with the macho and unnecessary 
declaration, “You’re going back to Oregon!” 
snapped me out of my stupor. The office holiday 
cards were dropped, I was cuffed and led outside 
into the frigid air without a coat into an 
unmarked car. It hit me at that point that my 
life would not be the same. The feeling of my 
secret past colliding with my present and all I 
could do was slip into survival mode. My inner 
voice screamed, “be quiet! Don’t say a word to 
them! You know people care about you and they 
will have your back, hire a lawyer and you’ll 
fight this.” I am grateful to all the lawyers and 
legal workers who put on legal trainings as it really came in handy then.

Here I am, two years later sitting in federal 
prison; if all goes well, I’ll be out in about 5 
years. When December was approaching, I wondered 
what this date means to me and how I would feel 
when it came. Last year, I was insulated from it 
all as my community held a rally for me at Foley 
Square in downtown Manhattan, near the FBI 
headquarters I was brought to and the jail I was 
housed in for a week. So, Dec 7th is here and it 
has brought up a number of feelings: frustration, 
anger, fear, nostalgia, loneliness and hope. I 
fear that as time goes on, people will move on 
and focus their attention elsewhere; that by 
being out of sight in prison, that I’ll be out of 
mind. I’m scared that people will forget what it 
is we were (and are) fighting for – that this 
‘Green Scare’ is not just about punishing us but 
about preventing them from advocating for a 
culture that doesn’t destroy every ecosystem and 
see our planet as something to profit from. We 
are here as trophies for the government and 
symbols to you that scream: “mess with us and our 
god of private property and we will crush you. 
Talk about stopping our plans and we will label 
you a terrorist and when we catch you, we’ll 
offer some of you reduced sentences for selling 
your friends out.” In the absence of information, 
it’s hard at times to figure out whether or not 
this strategy the government uses is having an 
impact or whether it’s backfired (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!).

Recently, I read an excellent book by social 
justice activist, former editor of Onward!, (and 
someone who I met last year), Dan Berger called 
Outlaws of America. It focuses on the Weather 
Underground and their actions against US 
imperialism in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Dan 
argues that the WU’s significance is not in the 
property bombings of US government buildings and 
corporations – albeit spectacular and daring 
actions. The significance and legacy to today’s 
social and ecological resistance movements is the 
politics and beliefs behind the actions, not the 
details of the bombings, how each site was chosen 
or the devices themselves. As I read this, it 
raised a familiar frustration in me – that no 
matter how hard I tried, the things people 
remembered about the ELF wasn’t the rationale 
behind the actions but were, the rumors mentioned 
in court, who slept with whom, how much damage 
the fires did and other trivial matters. There is 
a problem with the dominant idea of the ELF and 
our actions as ‘activists who burn things’ or as 
the government labels us, ‘arsonists’ or ‘terrorists.’

For me, the tactics were not the driving force in 
my actions but were the means to an end. In fact, 
the use of fire caused me great anxiety and I 
felt it was generally used with little strategy 
as we were trapped in a self-created race to be 
more “effective.” This led to strategy and ideas 
taking a back seat to the ‘why,’ which is 
infinitely more important to any discussion of 
what we were trying to do. I should say that I 
speak for myself on this issue and my opinions 
may not be similar to any of my co-defendants – 
cooperating informants or otherwise. My point 
then is that similar to the Weather Underground, 
the significance of the ELF actions was not the 
arsons, but the beliefs behind them.

I suppose in reflecting on actions I have taken 
and how they were perceived, it made me think I 
need to write more about them. If all people took 
from the actions were the sensational aspects – 
then we have failed. It is our rationale for 
engaging in such extreme action that matters, not 
the tactics. People have asked me about the 
actions and I’ve been very cautious about saying 
things for a variety of reasons. One – I don’t 
want what I say to be taken out of context. I’ve 
been screwed by the government using an interview 
I gave to Amy Goodman on "Democracy Now!" as 
justification for opposing motions for me to stay 
out on bail longer. Secondly, I have my own 
perspectives on what went down and I am neither 
ELF cheerleader nor detractor. I will not be used 
by others to criticize people who choose the same 
tactics I chose no matter what my personal 
opinions may be. Unlike the critics, I know where 
they are coming from and I can empathize. Nor do 
I want my words to be used by people whose main 
goal seems to be to encourage young people to do 
actions they will support but lack the courage to 
do themselves. I’ll do my best to avoid these 
dynamics and instead try to explain the 
complexities of one’s motivations and where we 
were coming from, to the extent I can.

December 7th reminds me that this fight is not 
over. On the legal front, many of us are in 
prison with long sentences to do plus years of 
probation and multi-million dollar restitutions. 
One person is going to trial in early February 
2008 in a related ‘Operation Backfire’ case (see 
<http://supportbriana.org/>supportbriana.org). 
The government has convened a grand jury in 
Minneapolis regarding ELF actions and Eric 
McDavid is facing 5-20 years in prison after 
losing his September trial. US environmentalist 
Tre Arrow is fighting extradition from Canada for 
very similar charges I faced although he has 
proclaimed his innocence. Jeff ‘Free’ Luers gets 
re-sentenced soon as well. Please take some time 
to educate yourself about the cases and extend 
your solidarity to these people and others. 
Perhaps more importantly, this government and its 
corporate friends continue to destroy ecosystems 
here and abroad in pursuit of unfettered profits. 
People may be opening their eyes to the perils of 
global climate change but much effort is needed 
to fight for real alternatives – not fake ones 
like bio-fuels, nuclear power, or straight-up “green capitalism.”

*Many of these ideas will be expanded on in a 
zine I am writing-- hopefully out within the next year *



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