Interview of Jason Flores-Williams part 2/2 ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Jason Flores-Williams. He’s a noted civil rights attorney and author who has litigated some of the most important cases of our time. He has been featured on CNN, The New York Times, Washington Post and has given speeches about resistance to audiences around the world. The Law Firm of Jason Flores-Williams along with the aid of Deep Green Resistance has filed one of the first federal law suits asking the court to declare that nature has fundamental rights and standing. The law suit is based on the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s work in seeking natural and community rights in Ecuador, Colombia and India. 

We talked last week about the case, and this week we’re going to talk a little bit about some of the objections that will come up to this case.

So first, can you do – can you spend five or ten minutes reintroducing people who may not have heard last week’s show, to the case we’re talking about.

JFW: Sure. So here’s the problem that we’re trying to address with this lawsuit. Corporations obviously have tons of money, tons of resources, infinite war chests to manipulate the legal system and to do whatever they want and deem necessary to make their shareholders happy, which is profits.

Nature, on the other hand, on which all of human life depends, and from whence the corporations take all kinds of resources to turn into profit, has no rights. It has nothing. It has no way of defending itself. So what we’re doing with this suit is equaling the playing field. The suit is going to confer upon nature something like rights. So in this suit, it’s going to be the Colorado River. So that – this is where it gets a little legal and not really that interesting, but to sum it up, is that for someone to bring a lawsuit into the federal courts, what they have to do is have standing. Standing requires a direct injury to them. And they also have to have personhood that is recognized by the courts.

And so nature – the Colorado River, the natural entities upon which we depend, has no recognized personhood or standing. So it’s a lot, if you want to make this analogy, very similar to slavery, where you had human beings who had no rights and were treated as property, and nature is also treated as property in this way.

And so, what we’re doing, and this example exists throughout our law, in situations where an entity or individual, say like a kid, could not go into court and litigate lawsuits on their behalf, so they had something like guardian ad litems, in the trusts arena you have executors, in business you have fiduciaries, who are legally entitled to litigate and represent the interests of another.

Well, that’s going to be the same kind of relationship we want to have for nature, so that the Colorado River and other natural entities will be able to be represented and bring litigation and colorable claims in court, because they will henceforth if this lawsuit is successful, have standing, and by having standing, that means we – it would be a kind of personhood, for lack of a better term. We have to deal with the terms that are currently available to us right now in our jurisprudence and so we say things like personhood.

So it won’t have to show river, mountains, Pachamama as it’s called in Ecuador, the Ganges as it’s called in India – these entities, which are so vital, and so dynamic, and upon which we all depend, and which we can’t exist without – they will not have to show injury to human beings to have colorable claims in court, which is an interesting way of saying we recognize damage and injury to nature as deprivations and insults unto themselves. Which is to say that we recognize that the natural world upon which we depend, and at our best times are integrated with, has its own rights and dignity.

DJ: So, everything you’re saying makes perfect sense to me. I live in an extremely conservative area. I sometimes call it Mississippi on the north coast of California. There’s a very strong kind of anti-environmental ethos here. And I can just hear some of the local people saying “So, what? What if I want to fish? So I gotta ask permission? And I gotta sue somebody in order to fish?” What if somebody wants to fish from the river? What happens then?

JFW: If someone wants to fish from the river?

DJ: Yeah, do I have to ask permission?

JFW: I think what you’re saying – if I may – I think what you’re saying is that there is going to be these common sorts of critiques regarding this suit and seeking standing and rights for nature.

And where all of those critiques come from, Derrick, is the view – and this is similar to slaves, that nature is property that is ownable and that is owned, and that human beings have the right to do whatever they want to, to it.

So with that, my response to that – there are numerous responses to it. On one level there is the response, well you do realize that injuries to nature, and treating nature as though it was completely and utterly your plaything that you can do whatever you want to it, that you can exploit, that you can damage, that you can fish in, whatever you want – that you can take out of, whatever you want, in any way that you want.

You realize that by doing that unchecked, ultimately is you do do damage to human beings. We’ve discussed in our last conversation that the Colorado River, which is becoming smaller and smaller all the time, and it’s heading toward its own extinction. And with the extinction of the Colorado, come the extinction of all the biological entities and ecosystems that are integrated and dependent on it, is that because of the way we view nature, as a piece of property to be done with as we wish, the current demands on the Colorado are more than 100%, in fact 120% of what the Colorado River can actually provide, and these demands are made by the various states, and the agricultural urban demands that they’re making on it.

So, when you have a river on which life is dependent, that is being drained into extinction, and you have cities that are dependent on it, then, y’know, it gets real simple. You can’t drain the river – because if you drain the river, it’ll hurt you.

I think that’s the American Way, really, is you gotta explain to people how it’s going to hurt them, how it’s going to do damage to them. People just don’t see – we just saw this with (Hurricane) Harvey, is that you had a city that was just no regulation, abject growth, no consideration for nature, but then when it came time, when Harvey came along, what happened was that they were reminded, in a very direct and personal way, that they are dependent on this planet, and if they don’t act in accordance and with respect for it, and to try to integrate with it rather than dominate it, then horrific things can happen.

Now that is the way a law and most of Americans need to understand what we’re doing. “It’s going to hurt you, unless we balance the playing field, it’s going to result in damage to you.”

DJ: So I was asking sort of sarcastically as a right-wing person here, but now let’s – I mean, part of the purpose of law is to make definitions. You can park your car here, but if there is a bus stop, you can’t park your car there. You can withdraw money from the bank if you have a bank account there, but if you don’t have a bank account there; robbing, taking money from the bank is called theft. It’s all about definitions.

So, now, instead of me being sarcastic, it’s real. So what – for what – where do we define the distinction as to when someone would have to face a lawsuit if they are – I don’t think you and I are worried about two eight-year-olds going down and fishing from the Colorado River, and in fact if the Colorado River had fish in it, had water in it, they could fish better. But where are we making that – do you see the question? Where is the distinction as to what –

JFW: As I said earlier, this is about balancing or equaling the playing field. The kind of degradation, and the kind of destruction of nature that concerns us, and that is, to use a now-common term, unsustainable, is the exploitation of nature that is coming from multinational corporations. And not just multinational corporations. There’s a factory there, that’s putting in – that’s taking water out of the Colorado river and bottling it – as an aside, we just saw that Donald Trump took the Obama-era regulation concerning the limitations on using plastic bottles and has just done away with them. So that we are now in the age of the Return of the Plastic Bottle, though we know how damaging and exploitative it is to our environment and therefore to us.

To summarize, the real concern here is the kind of exploitation and using up of nature that large corporations engage in that are not only on the river, like the factory I talked about, but who also are in cities, and in corporate agriculture. I think we can make a general point here that using nature for profit is something that we should look at very carefully. I think we would reverse-engineer it from the profits that are being generated from nature. And those would be the sorts of moments – because you truly are simply draining nature and converting it into your own self-interests. Those would be the moments when we would look at that and reverse-engineer it from the amount of profit that is being made, and say “This is where nature, equal the playing field, is going to have to have some rights and standing to show that what you’re doing to it is unsustainable.”

DJ: So who gets to decide what is in the interest of the river? I’m thinking about conversations I’ve had many times with loggers who say “I know what’s better for the forest than does some damn environmentalist,” and ranchers, I had a good friend in my twenties who was a rancher who, we used to fight bitterly about this. He would say “You know, I know what’s better for the land much better than does some city slicker who doesn’t know a cow pie if he steps in it with his brand new loafers.” So there was this very strong notion that they don’t want outsiders telling them what to do. So that’s the hyperbolic part. And the real part is, who actually does get to decide what is in the river’s best interest?

JFW: Interesting. Well, you know, I don’t automatically side with the city slicker when it comes down to people who actually live in rural America thinking that they know more than city slickers do about it, and I actually understand that I wouldn’t want somebody who’s never been to a piece of land or other natural entity I’ve spent my life around, coming in and trying to define that relationship for me, and telling me how I can act and telling me what I can’t do.

So I respect that. But – this would not be simply somebody who puts themself in the stead of nature and says “I’m the guy. I’m the person. I know what’s best for nature, and you do not.”

What’s best for nature, and we define this in the complaint, are the rights that we described. In the same way that the rights of men that are enumerated in the Bill of Rights, tend to be pretty good descriptions when realized, of what it is to have the opportunity to be a full human being.

Nature has a right to flourish, nature has a right to exist. These things are objectively quantifiable. Are the current demands on the Colorado River unsustainable? Or are things going along, in some other world, there could be a Colorado River that is being respected, and that is actually flourishing, and existing, as are all of the biological systems that depend on it.

So it’s not just going to be some person who’s maybe having a bad day and says “Well I’m going to sue those guys over there because I don’t like the looks of them and I got this job protecting the river.” That ain’t gonna happen.

In the complaint, that anybody would have to generate, it would have to first off prove that they share the values that respect whatever natural entity is at stake here, and that also share objective values and to have the kind of expertise to know when an activity is occurring that is actually causing a direct injury to the river. Versus someone simply saying “I don’t like what’s being done.”

So all of these things that we’re talking about here, and the reason that we want to get standing and have some basic rights conferred on the river, is we need to equal this relationship. And I think that equaling the relationship, what we’re going to get is a reshifting, a paradigm shift. Where I actually believe that people in rural America, they want this. They want an equal playing field. The reason that they’re often driven to the brink is because corporations came in and bought the land next to ‘em, and are suing them because some seeds flew into their property, and the kind of competition that exists out there is putting them in a place where they have to manically exploit any resource that’s available to them.

So if all of a sudden you had an equaling of playing field by granting some rights so that you just couldn’t randomly incur injury and deprivation and drain the river and other natural resources, that would be applicable to everyone. And so we would have a kind of a result with regard to the way that a lot of the activities that depend on the river – I’m mainly thinking of agriculture here – are done.

Things are objectively verifiable as to what works and fits for the right of the river to exist and flourish. These aren’t arbitrary, subjective things based upon whomever is put in the profound responsibility of having this role of being a fiduciary to the river, whatever person or entity.

DJ: So who … how do we choose who gets to – why should DGR (Deep Green Resistance) be allowed to be “friends to the river” in this case, and … there’s a process that is gone through, before someone can be a guardian ad litem. So what would be the process?

Let’s say that you are successful in this, and it moves forward. What would be the process in the future for someone to declare themselves “friend of the Adirondacks” or “friend of the Mississippi River”?

JFW: So what would be the mechanism by which that status would be conferred on them?

DJ: Yeah. As opposed to somebody from the Corps of Engineers declaring they’re a friend of the river and they want to put –

JFW: I mean, the law is really already there with these kinds of qualifications. It’s like the same thing as when an expert witness goes into trial. If somebody wants to be an expert witness on a certain area – say, for example, in the J20 prosecutions that are occurring in DC right now, where I represent some of the defendants there. Those prosecutions, that’s where more than 200 people are being charged, facing more than 75 years in prison each for a couple of broken windows on inauguration day.

You have – we have an expert – the government says that the reason that people wear black masks is to create anonymity. And that’s what Antifa and Black Bloc are. Well we have an expert, who has written for The Nation, and specializes in dissent, protest and policing in America, who, once he is qualified, will say “No, the reason that people wear masks is because there’s been an increased use in chemical agents as a way to chill and deter protest in America.”

And for him to be able to say that, we have to go through an entire process called voir dire, where I have to turn over to the State, or the government in this case, his CV, his information, his writings, everything he’s done that substantiates that he is an expert to be able to speak in this field. And the court sits back and the court says, after we go through this voir dire, as it’s called, expert qualification, the judge says “Okay, I’ve heard all of this and I’m going to decree that you are an expert in this area.”

I see it as very similar to being the same kind of mechanism in qualification processes.

DJ: Great. That’s good, that’s one concern we don’t have.

So here’s another concern, which is that, I understand you’re talking about leveling the playing field, and that’s very very important, and that doesn’t alter the fact that if 120% of the Colorado River is allocated, and if the Colorado River is given the legal right to once again reach the ocean, and to flourish, we can presume that some of that water will no longer be removed, which is going to mean that some golf courses are not going to be watered –

JFW: (Laughing) No.

I’m sorry. Go ahead.

I’m just responding to the tragedy of a couple of golf courses being eliminated because they didn’t have enough water. But, please.

DJ: Let’s just mention, by the way, in case people don’t know this, that the same amount of water is used by municipal golf courses as is used by municipal human beings. So having set that aside, I know that in the 1830’s and 40’s and 50’s, this was a huge impediment to the abolition of slavery, was that there were analyses done of the economic value of these enslaved persons, and in order to compensate the slave owners for their “property,” that would have bankrupted – there was not enough money to do that. And so the point I’m getting at is that if the Colorado River gains some of these abilities, there are people who are going to lose a lot of money. And there are some farmers who won’t be able to – I saw this 60 Minutes several years ago, on the Sacramento River being drained, and they actually said in there, sympathetically they said of farmers – the thing was terrible – of farmers, they said “These people are creating life, and the people who want to keep the water in the river are creating death,” because it would kill the almond trees.

JFW: (Laughing)

DJ: So leaving aside that propaganda, the fact is, if the water stays in the river, somebody’s not going to get it, so – so that’s it, so go.

JFW: Okay, so somebody’s not going to get it. Again, let’s just get back to objective criteria. Now I don’t know the exact numbers, but science shows that cattle ranching, for example, is really not a very sustainable activity. I dunno – do you happen to know, like, how much water goes into producing a pound of beef?

DJ: No, but I can tell you George Wuerthner does, if you want to contact him at some point. I can put you in contact.

JFW: Okay. Well, it’s an incredible amount. And it’s a very wasteful amount. And so – you know, this is America today, where being a good American is not questioning the status quo. So I guess I’m a bad American, Derrick, in that I think some activities simply have to be questioned. No, you don’t get a golf course. Screw you. You don’t get to live that way, when it means that other people, and nature, are being hurt by your activity. So you don’t get a golf course. Make some sustainable golf courses, or keep your golf courses to a limited number and make them in a way so they aren’t injuring nature and ultimately, because nature is being deprived and injured, injuring human beings and other biological systems.

So, there’s some things that aren’t good, scientifically speaking. Now, going back to what I was saying, about how this could change behaviors, because the river would become a natural entity with rights and standing, it would change those behaviors for everyone, so that the idea of a corporation, Nestle is one that I have kept an eye on for some time, being able to go to the river – we all have water already, and we’re thankful for it. So we really don’t need Nestle to go to an already overdrawn river, with plastic bottles, and start draining the river in order to make as much money as they can, while also, you know, simultaneously drain the river and also damaging the environment by putting more plastic into it, and we are already way past our carrying capacity on plastic.

So that kind of behavior, because the river would have its rights, the river would be able to sue back if you unnecessarily drained it, and injured its right to exist and flourish, just to make you and your friends on the Board a buck, that would have to be stopped.

And – good! You know, there’s no reason – that’s why we’re doing it. It’s so ridiculous, wastes of precious natural entities, they’re not allowed to stand. No pun intended, y’know, “standing.”

But it’s – some things must end. And that kind of greed and exploitation, it needs to end in general, in this world. But conferring standing and rights upon an entity like the Colorado River would be a real strong step in ending what is unnecessary and is really consigning all of us to a very bleak future.

DJ: So, I completely agree with everything that you’re saying, and agree with the notion that nature has rights. It seems to me – and this should have been, from the beginning, but it seems to me that in some ways what you’re doing is – it seems to me that the law is about at least 120 years behind history. Because, you know, Frederick Turner wrote that very important essay about the closing of the frontier back in the, what, 1890’s?

JFW: Yes.

DJ: Everything you’re talking about seems to me to be about moving from a frontier mentality to an inhabitory mentality. Is that making sense?

JFW: Sure it does. I view it as – here’s how I view this. Whenever I go camping, in the Rockies- there’s two types of people who go camping – who, like, are out in nature. The first group are the ones with, like, the four-wheeler ATV’s. And you know, who go glamping out of the back of their car, are there and then take the ATV’s or whatever instrument they’re using and go off-trail and do whatever it is they want. That group is the frontier mentality because nature for them is something to be dominated. It’s the same old “… property, we own you, we can do whatever we want with you. God is with us, God’s country, God will fix it all. Nature is ours. So, let’s drive our ATV’s over tundra that takes, you know, 200 years to form. And who cares? And leave more beer cans around.”

That’s the frontier mentality. That’s domination. The mentality that we’re talking about is more alive. It’s about the people who go camping and they’re very conscious about the environment around them, and they’re out there to learn from nature.

I didn’t get the opportunity to finish what I was talking about, about how some people can only understand things in terms of direct injury to themselves. And you’re going to have to talk to them about, and you’re going to have to say “Okay, here’s why, when you screw with nature, you hurt nature, this ends up being bad for people. Let me show you why that is. When you dump that pesticide in the river, this is what happens, so ultimately you’re going to get a big lump in your neck. So, and then all of a sudden they’re “Well, wait, I don’t want that pesticide dropped in the river.”

But the group I like the most are the people who have actually spent a lot of time in nature in the integrative model, and who are just overwhelmed by its power, and its beauty, its poetry and all the amazing things that it has to teach us. So I don’t imagine that this argument will be too hard to make to them. And so part of this is we have to, to the one group, which is the mass group of Americans who would see this, they have to be explained how this could be – an injury to nature is an injury to them, and also I think they understand what I would amount to the Bernie Sanders argument, that we gotta equal the playing field between corporations and nature, or there just isn’t going to be any nature left by the time it’s all said and done.

Then there’s also this component, this third group, and I think probably we’re in this group, and I’m proud to be in it. Where we just simply understand the dynamic power, and that nature is in some way, it is our spirit. I believe that nature is its own kind of god in a way. And it is as important and as alive and as beautiful and as dynamic as – well, probably more dynamic than most human beings I know. At least as many human beings. And that it needs to be respected, and the systems that exist within it are the same systems that exist within us.

So, those people – going back to this, this transfer to beginning to respect nature rather than simply seeking to dominate it and use it up, which is the transference from the frontier mentality to a more inhabitable? Or integrative mentality that you were talking about.

DJ: So, you’re running up against this notion of nature as property, and specifically when you take on the Colorado River as opposed to some other natural being, you’re also running up against Western water law, and a lot of established law there, and for people who don’t know, I’m sure you know this much better than I do, but Western water law, the phrase is “first in time, first in right.” And what that means is, the first people who showed up and took water from the river, to use for what they call “beneficial uses,” get to maintain that right. So somebody comes, and they can take a million acre-feet from the Colorado River to use to irrigate their alfalfa field or to run their mine, then since they were the first one there to claim it, they get to claim it.

The point here is that – three points. One point is that the human beings who were traditionally, who were living along the river, they did not count as beneficial uses. Drinking of it, or catching salmon or whatever. And second, the use of the fish – and the use of the river – the use by the fish of the river, and the use by the trees of the river – those are not recognized as beneficial uses either.

And the third point – this is the real point and this is the question; is not only are you demanding that rivers have a legal standing, but you’re also going specifically up against, what is it, 150 years of Western water law?

So, is that a concern? Is that a problem? That’s certainly a challenge. That’s all. I don’t really – just take it wherever you want from that.

JFW: Yeah, it’s a challenge. Absolutely a challenge. And it’s not – water law. Let me tell you something, is; an attorney would be a fool unless they’re a real expert in water law to explore that area. I’m familiar with the basic tenets that drive it, but that kind of litigation is its own complex set. So, but – what I can speak to in a more legally philosophical way, is that what water law derives from is the idea of nature as property. And property, what that derives from, obviously, is this idea of the discrete legal unit that cannot be trespassed. And to be able to cognize a trespass, you have to have standing or personhood.

So that’s, in an interesting way, is that you can think about this suit as saying that we are giving the right of nature, to nature, to not be trespassed against.

So I think that is a way, perhaps, that people can understand that in the way that perhaps you have property; nature, that cannot be trespassed against, and the way that you cannot be trespassed against, we call that an assault or a battery or potential infliction of emotional distress, something like that – nature has, because it’s its own sensitive system and it can die, and it can be drained, and it can suffer, in very many of the same ways as other natural entities, including us, suffer; and that is, it can become sick, it can become toxic, it can stop to function. And the creatures within it become sick, toxic, and stop functioning.

So that – what we were saying, is that you cannot trespass against natural entities. And so that grounds us, Derrick, in the history of Western law. Okay, so that’s the Western law. Now, where it can get really interesting and funky – and this mountain, I doubt this mountain is going to be climbed any time soon in America, but that said, it’s been climbed in India, Ecuador, and Colombia. Is that nature, unto itself, is – nope. Do you want me to stop there? Because I’ve learned to stop at a certain place when I’ve said what I think I needed to say.

DJ: So, yeah. It seems – I just said a moment ago that you’re going against 120 years of Western water law and you just said that you’re going against Western property law, which goes back, what, a thousand years?

JFW: That’s right. So it goes back a thousand years. Going back to the mountain that’s going to be very difficult to climb, is that this mountain, the concept of property, which serves as the cornerstone of Western law, y’know, it was codified in the Magna Carta, is that – which gives rise to this gross disproportional power relationship between corporations and people and entities, and nature, that exists today, because nature isn’t viewed as something that has standing, that can be trespassed against.

I don’t know. I don’t know. When I put it in those terms, it seems pretty daunting. And so, I want to get back to something that we talked about last time, which is the procedural defect. As we discussed last time, is this idea that the courts don’t really want to be silent in matters that they know are damaging. And not only damaging people, just simply damaging. And so it’s like the courts are just completely silent in this huge area. They’re almost helpless in the realm of global warming. Judges are intelligent, they read, they look at things, they read about the extinctions that are occurring, they read about, and understand the planet is warming, and are seeing what’s happening, the intensification of hurricanes.

But the courts, because of this kind of standing requirement, where you have to show direct injury to a human being – in cases that have come to them, to this point, they had to just simply dismiss them and be silent, and have no voice, because of this procedural defect that nature doesn’t have standing.

So instead of taking back – I’m kind of thinking through this as I go, and this is good – instead of going back and saying “well, we need to overturn, or shapeshift a bit, our fundamental conception of property law, which is the basis of all of Western law, from the Magna Carta forward,” it may just be easier to characterize this as a procedural defect, because that’s what it is, and addressing the procedural defect, so the courts will have a voice in being able to address the most relevant injustices of our time, which are occurring within the environment.

DJ: And it seems also that one of the things that will be really fortuitous is if at some point a judge can be found who has the courage of – I can’t remember his name right now, but the British lord who abolished slavery in the U.K with the ruling that we must do what’s right, even though the heavens may fall.

JFW: Yeah. “May justice come, though the heavens fall.” (

DJ: It is daunting, and of course all of our work is daunting, but I keep thinking, and this is corny as hell, but I keep thinking about a slogan that was on my locker room wall, in college, the athletic wall, which was “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” And, you know, you can’t – things may be daunting, but you have to do them, and then sometimes they fail, and then you do them again, and sometimes they fail, and at some point, they don’t fail.

JFW: Yeah. And I think in the law, one of the strategies also is to introduce important legal concepts, like the rights of nature, in a way that the court can understand them and cognize them.

The court is like its own sort of thinking brain. The first time it hears something it seems strange. But maybe by the tenth time it hears something, and sees something, it begins to make a kind of sense.

There is, in the animal rights law – I don’t know their names, but there are people who have really taken it upon themselves to file complaint after complaint regarding the rights of, say, a chimpanzee to bring suit.

DJ: Steven Wise.

JFW: Steven Wise. Amazing guy, amazing guy. And so, he’s done that and the first couple of times he did it, he was nowhere. Probably laughed out of court. He might have even been sanctioned. This is what we talked about last time. In these situations, and this is especially relevant for us, because corporations, they exploit nature for profit. There is this dependency.

I’ve always wondered, and I’ve heard about this, Derrick; I bet you know. Is it possible to quantify how much nature contributes to the economy?

DJ: Well, the whole thing (laughs).

JFW: The whole thing. The whole thing.

DJ: Because without nature, you have no economy. You don’t have any money.

JFW: That’s right. So without nature, you have no economy. Okay. That sounds like something I could go with. I’m sorry, we’ll have to step back, and think about what I was saying. If you can recall and kind of get us back online.

DJ: You were asking me the amount – Steven Wise –

JFW: That’s right. Steven Wise, and the efforts that he’s done – in our case, this goes back to what I’m saying with corporations, is that because nature is the economy they depend on and exploit nature for everything, is that when you file something like this, they’re going to come back at us hard. I know with the case of Thomas, they had filed simply an intervenor motion, in a case that was happening in Pennsylvania a couple of years ago, they tried to cognize some basic natural community rights, and that’s Thomas Linzey of CELDF. I think – I forget what the corporation was, it was an energy corporation, ( ) and they came back at him trying to get attorney’s fees and do everything. I call it – there’s a word for it, I call it “chevroned.”

A colleague of mine, Steven Donziger, went down to Ecuador. Steven is a really good friend. And he goes down to Ecuador, and he had the frikkin temerity to try to say “Okay, hey look Chevron, you cannot pollute the lands of indigenous people to the point where it becomes unlivable, these people are dying because of what you’re doing. These people have value and worth as well.”

And so he went down there, and he had the guts to fight Chevron. And actually he was fairly effective. More than fairly effective. And in response – and this is what I mean by “chevroned” – Chevron is now seeking $32,000,000 against him, in attorney’s fees, and trying to get him disbarred.

So that’s what happens when you go up against the system and the entrenched forces, and you are effective. So, you know, we can only hope that – for me, that word is a badge of honor. The harder they come back, it means the more effective we’re being, and the more scared they are that we might actually do something, like I said, that equals the playing field.

DJ: So we have about five or six minutes left, and this is not the question I want to end with, but is one that I think that – especially those who disagree with us will ask, is “If the Colorado River is granted rights, okay, I’ll grant you that. But where do you stop?” And Steven Wise has addressed this question himself. He agrees that all of nature should have rights, but he himself has carved out – he’s going to do it step by step. He’s starting with great apes, and then he’s going to move from there to cetaceans – I don’t know if he’s already doing cetaceans. Anyway; great apes, cetaceans, and then move to monkeys, and then just do it – eat the monster one bite at a time.

So that’s great, that’s one great approach. But what do you do about somebody who says “Well, do viruses have rights? Does the smallpox virus have a right to exist?”

JFW: Those kinds of questions are just ridiculous. Like I said, there are objectively quantifiable ways of looking into the complexity of a system. This is interesting – is that human beings aren’t out of this picture in this quantification. In looking at what should have rights, where should the rights stop? To what degree do human beings depend on it? It’s another value and another question.

And so these sorts of things like “well, you’re committing genocide because you killed 100,000,000 bacteria” by moving the coffee cup from here to here on the kitchen sink.” These are just absurdities that are about as persuasive as the three a.m. wine-fueled comment when someone’s just trying to be smart.

I’m usually the one who’s trying to make those comments, by the way. It’s very easy to get real smart and to make good judgments and find real solutions as to what should have rights and what shouldn’t. You know, like for example, is that I am always in this conundrum – I really like spiders, spiders are amazing, they’re beautiful, and they’re highly complex creatures who do amazing things. But I’m always scared that the spider is going to – it might be a poisonous spider. So I’m always in this place where I’m kind of wondering if I should endure and respect the right of a spider to put up a nice little web in my house.

And that doesn’t really answer the question, but I’m always interested in how people integrate with some of the bugs that come into their home. I guess, some people that automatically say “just kill them.” Because there’s no comparison. But for me, I find it enjoyable to contemplate the spider, and contemplate whether or not it’s possible for us to have a relationship, based on the spider web that’s up on my ceiling that I can see from right here. It’s working out so far.

DJ: There’s spider webs all over here too, I completely agree agree with you.

For myself, I think the question, for me, is not quite so much whether the individual fish would have, necessarily, rights; but specifically the larger fish community. For me, that’s how I would get around the whole smallpox question. Is that – I love this line by the mushroom guy – Paul Stamets – he said “Nature loves a community.” And, for me – once again, this is irrelevant – I don’t know if it’s irrelevant or not. But I’m more interested in the Colorado River community as a larger entity, and that having rights, than I am in any individual within that community. Does that make sense?

JFW: Yeah. I think what you’re saying is that when you look at collective, and included in the collective, is nature. Then the concept of what rights are can change a little bit.

I think it’s important to add here that I think there’s been this kind of false dynamic that’s been created, like “Well, if you’re for the environment then you’re against people.” I don’t see it that way at all. The reason I am very interested in the environment is that I’m also very interested in people. I see them as going hand in hand. So as part of the greater calculus of all this is also the human community and community rights.

So all of this really ends up being is just empowering the relationships between all of us, and all of us includes nature, so that we can plan on being here a little bit longer than it looks like we’re going to be here right now.

DJ: So, last time I ended by asking you about how people who live elsewhere can either assist in your efforts or do efforts on their own, and this time I’m going to ask the same question but in a different subset, which is … there are a lot of young people I know who want to become attorneys to defend nature. And, what (a) advice can you give them, and (b) how can they best help nature, do you think?

JFW: Ahh … I would say first, don’t do it. The attorney existence – I’m being very frank here. I probably have one of the best attorney existences that you can carve out for yourself. Being a civil rights attorney who takes very interesting cases, that are usually at the forefront of social issues, and, you know, doing this kind of – being able to make enough money to survive while doing that and take on things like this.

But one of the things I didn’t calculate, in doing this, is that when you become an attorney, you’ve got to believe in the system to a degree. You’ve got to take the system seriously. Being a lawyer is being enmeshed, being a cog in the system. And you can say, well, you know you can challenge the system, and that’s what we’re doing here, from certain angles. But at the end of the day, it’s like we’ve been saying for these last two conversations, is you’ve got to put all of this into the language of the system. You’ve gotta have it make sense for the system. So that ultimately – or otherwise the system will just penalize and ignore you. Or both.

But ultimately, being a lawyer, you are part of the system. And – I’m going to be real honest with you, is that my biggest questions about this entire thing is, I actually love people. I love nature, and I have a pretty good time in my life. But one of the things that’s really starting to haunt me now is that this system just isn’t working. It’s cashing us out and it’s taking us to a place that we’re not going to come back from. And I mean this politically and environmentally, the whole thing. We’re not in a good place. And so one of the things that sometimes I wish – sometimes I wish that, you know, I didn’t have this attorney thing with me. Because I’m aware of the fact that I’m able to do a lot of good with it. But sometimes I myself feel limited, in the sorts of things – the way that I can talk about things, and the sorts of things that I can do. Is that, you know, that I believe in the right and just cause of civil disobedience, when necessary. For the right just cause, and to preserve nature, and to hinder exploitation of nature and other human beings.

But as an attorney, that requires at times breaking the law. So I’m not allowed to encourage or participate in that endeavor. And a big part of me really wonders if systemic solutions can really even do this anymore.

So that’s the kind of thing that I sit on, so while I’m writing out the motions, going to my law office, living this life, doing this career; there’s kind of this thing that hangs with me saying “Are you contributing? By creating the illusion of a functioning system? By creating the illusion and the veneer of due process? By creating the illusion and the veneer of justice?” Because sometimes I worry that that’s what I’m really doing, and not actually really achieving any of those things.

DJ: Yeah, I completely hear you. And I feel the same about writing. One of my most famous lines is “Every morning when I wake up, I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam.”

JFW: Yeah. Writing is good. Writing is important. But these are all institutional, systemic things. They are things that are ultimately – I wonder about, say you write this brilliant piece on the environment for the New Yorker or something, or wherever it’s going to come out. At the end of the day, just because of the medium it ends up being something more along the lines of liberal entertainment, rather than “it’s known!”

Put it this way. And I hope you understand that I’m just talking about writing itself. Your writing, Derrick, I have a tremendous amount of respect for, because with your writing it has an organizational reach, or, I’m sorry, an outreach quality to it, where you are using words to craft a possible response and way of being that could actually solve some of these problems. You’re engaged in a lifelong call to resistance, I think it’s fair to say.

That’s a little different than saying, writing educated articles that just end up being intelligent entertainment, but suffice it to say irregardless that none of these things, none of these endeavors are actually, like you said, going out, in the tradition of Edward Abbey, stepping up and saying “This far, no further.”

So I wonder, very personally, if I’m just creating a veneer in this role, or really that I should be doing other and different things that might have a real impact. I think at the end of the day we just do the best we can.

DJ: Well, thank you so much for all that, and I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Jason Flores-Williams, this is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on September 17th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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