Interview of Julie de la Terre ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Juliee de la Terre. She holds an MS from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She has been an activist since she was a child helping her mother care for injured wildlife.She lives on a small farm in southwest WI where she grows most of her food and teaches others the art of self-reliance. She is a member of Save Our Unique Lands, an NGO that opposes massive powerline expansion infrastructure. She owns Ethos Restoration Landscapes, a chemical free and native plant and food poly-cultural landscaping business which emphasizes removing lawns and restoring native plants (, which is always a good idea.

As an environmental consultant she is engaged in a food sovereignty movement with the Ho-Chunk Nation and leads foraging walks. She hopes to launch a multi-faceted deep green immersion project with the tribe that will explore the natural world from earth to sky through various pedagogical methods and an in place poly-cultural green space. She organized and facilitated a 33 days long, trans-state walk in 2016 in Wisconsin, to unpack the dangers of the 4 pipe Enbridge pipeline corridor and oppose any expansion of same. She is recently in partnership with Earth Law Center, to initiate the Great Lakes Rights of Nature Coalition working with concerned people all around the Great Lakes ecosystem to enact legal structures that take rights away from corporations and acknowledge the rights of the lakes to exist, persist and flourish, which is what we’ll be talking about today. She travels the country giving talks on various subjects and this last weekend presented at the Democracy Convention in Minneapolis, MN about institutionalized violence, its effects on humans and the natural world and how to address it. She believes that transformation begins in hearts and minds and expands to all living systems and that we need to replace war mongering messaging, iconography, education etc with the narrative of acknowledging the intrinsic rights of all living systems. She maintains her blog called “Sacred Water Sacred Land” about the sacredness of all things.

So first off, thank you for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

JT: Thanks, Derrick! Great to be here.

DJ: Thanks. Today, let’s talk about this partnership with the Earth Law Center to initiate the Great Lakes Rights of Nature coalition. But before we do that, let’s talk about the Great Lakes. People may have heard of them, but I don’t know if a lot of people recognize the trouble they’re in.

Actually, can you back up? Can you talk about how amazing and wonderful the Great Lakes are and then talk about the threats to them, and then talk about how they are currently.

JT: Okay, well the first thing to realize is the Great Lakes hold over 20% of the world’s fresh water supply, which is absolutely amazing when you think about it. So they are a global issue, the health of them, the maintenance of them, making sure the water stays there, it’s really really important. There’s a huge amount of culture that surrounds the Great Lakes, 157 tribes share all the land around the Great Lakes, plus all the communities and all the people and all the stories and all the history that has to do with those lakes.

The lakes have been threatened for quite a long time, beginning with colonization of course, when they started using it for trade, and then cities started growing up along the edges and dumping their sewage in them, and then in Lake Huron there’s a nuclear power plant, so there’s heavy water in Lake Huron now. In Lake Superior there’s a whole bunch of barrels, like 200 of them, with toxic waste that the Army Corps of Engineers just threw in the middle of the lake, and the tribes have been trying to extricate them.

Of course, the lakes are also the recipients of surface water nutrient pollution coming off of agricultural areas, and now having dead zones, and having bloom. And then everybody remembers Lake Erie, and all their problems in the 70’s, before all the environmental acts which now Trump is destroying, came into being, And Lake Erie’s going back to being, well the people on Lake Erie are trying to keep it from going back the way it was before. There’s actually a group of people in Toledo, Ohio that drew up the Bill of Rights of Lake Erie, and they’re working with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund on that. I got to peek a little bit at that, so that’s a whole group protecting one of the lakes, so that’s really cool.

What was the third thing I was supposed to comment on?

DJ: Before we get to the third thing – do we know – I know that prior to colonization here, you can read accounts of European early explorers who talked about salmon so thick on the Klamath that the entire river was black and roiling, they said. So do we know anything, do we have an account of, like, how many fish were in the Great Lakes? Was it the same sort of amazing, at this point almost unbelievable fecundity?

JT: Oh, Derrick, I’m sure that’s the way it was. I mean, lots of people made their livings just fishing the Great Lakes, and there are still countless people doing that. Fish stocks are declining just like they are everywhere else in the world. That’s really what’s happening. We’ve got shifting baselines, and what we might think is abundant now is maybe one thousandth of what it should have been. And that’s all because of global capitalism in the society that we live in. Everything is treated like a commodity. So obviously we’re not thinking about it longterm.

DJ: And also I presume that, because they’re lakes, I presume that it’s incredibly important to all sorts of waterfowl. Is that the case?

JT: The sloughs and the backwaters of these huge lakes are where you’re going to find the waterfowl, but of course it’s all connected. And as they develop the edges of these lakes and destroy those areas where the water would pool and be cleansed before it entered the lakes, of course that’s going to compromise the lake. So you would assume any kind of, they call it “development” but the kind of urban destruction along the edges is going to destroy that, and of course it’s going to destroy the habitat for the waterfowl.

DJ: So, the third part was the – the first part was “What was it like before?” The second part was “What is the current state of the Great Lakes?” And the third part was “What are some of the primary threats to the Great Lakes?”

JT: Some are saying that fresh water is going to be the new gold. Nestle’s already in the lakes. I think they’re primarily in Lake Superior with their ships, drawing out water. There’s a law that they can’t package it a certain size, so what they did is just put it in different sized containers. So Nestle’s already in there taking out the water. I can’t remember which city here in Wisconsin has gotten the go-ahead, the green light to take water directly out of Lake Michigan, and that’s never been allowed before because there was the Great Lakes Compact, which didn’t let any entity draw water out of the lakes. So maybe we’re going to end up with the Great Lakes Water Wars or something, but I guess I could speak for a lot of people who are concerned, that we don’t want it to get that bad. We don’t want it to be a big conflict, and we want to keep that water in place, because that’s all part of our regional ecosystem.

Just like anything else, when you deplete one part of it you’re going to deplete the whole thing. So there’s the taking of the water, there’s a whole bunch of invasive species that have gotten into the lakes, that’s when people come in with boats from overseas and they let the bilge water out and then pretty soon, you know, everybody’s heard about the zebra mussels clogging up all the pipes. There’s the sea lamprey, there are a couple of other fish that aren’t supposed to be in there. I can’t list off all the invasive species but it’s certainly an issue in the lakes like it is in a lot of other lakes in the midwest. And then, of course, using the water for manufacturing. A lot of companies will go on the edge of these lakes because they can just take all the water they want and they can just kind of let their poisons leak into the lake, and who’s going to know? And I know that’s happening. So there’s that. The list could go on forever, really.

DJ: So let’s move to the current campaign. You talked about Great Lakes Rights of Nature Coalition. What is the foundation for that? What does all that mean?

JT: Way back in 2005, after they passed the U.N. Declaration of Universal Human Rights, after that they passed, in 2005, the Declaration for the Universal Rights, I don’t know if I’m saying this correctly, of all living things? And out of that came the Rights of Nature movement, as I understand it. Several different organizations were formed at that point. The one that I became the most familiar with is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Their organization was the one that was involved in the Ecuadorian amendment to their constitution, the Rights of Nature amendment. And then Bolivia, and then, what’s that other country, was it New Zealand? Anyway, they’ve been all over the world,

So I went to a couple of Democracy Schools and learned about how our Supreme Court has ruled many, many times, in favor of corporations and not in favor of all living things, and once a person begins to know that, you realize we don’t really live in a democracy, and we don’t live in a system that’s actually going to preserve anything for the next seven generations, and that’s only if you’re concerned about human beings. I’m concerned about all living things, not just human beings.

So anyway, these legal structures that are written by these specialist lawyers that are schooled in this, have been enacted, ordinances have been enacted in over 150 places in the U.S. so far, and now there’s a river out in Oregon, the Siletz River is going to court on behalf of itself. This was just within the last couple of weeks, so it’s gaining momentum. Essentially it’s just legal language saying that the natural entity – I shouldn’t say “natural entity,” these nonhumans have standing in court. Of course, a human will have to speak on their behalf, but they have standing in court.

So what I did was get ahold of the Earth Law Center and asked if they would like to enter into a partnership with Sacred Water, Sacred Land to try to protect the Great Lakes. And so we’ve been at it for a couple of months now and it’s kind of slow going. Maybe 95% of the population may not realize how little constitutional protections they have and nature has under our current system. So maybe you could ask me a little bit more specific question about how it works? Or something?

DJ: Sure. Let’s back up a little bit. What do you mean by a natural right for a nonhuman being? What rights are you asserting that a lake has?

JT: A lake has the right to exist, persist and flourish, in all of its natural cycles and systems. That’s how they would say it in the language.

DJ: It seems absurd to me that we even have to make the argument that the Great Lakes have the right to exist.

JT: You’re exactly right, Derrick. We shouldn’t have to do this, but we’re in the thrall of global exploitive capitalism and patriarchy, which gives absolutely no rights to anything other than white rich men who pull the strings on everything. So, yeah; we shouldn’t have to have these laws at all. It’s insane.

DJ: It’s also insane that, you know, corporations, as you and I both know, corporations have rights. Are granted rights, I should say. So organizations of these rich men have rights, whereas the real, physical world doesn’t. That’s always been quite an extraordinary thought for me.

JT: Yeah, it’s really extraordinary, considering the fact that they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have a natural system to live in. It’s like they’re completely ignoring their origins, which is a perfect symptom of runaway patriarchy, because you’re not going to acknowledge anything other than your own narcissistic, psychopathic desires. That’s what it is.

DJ: Let’s talk about the Nature Coalition. You mentioned a group in Toledo, you mentioned CELDF. How many groups in how many states are associated with this? And first off, how many states are around the Great Lakes? I’m sorry for my ignorance, and then how many states are your people in?

JT: (laughing) Hey, you know, you’re making me bone up on it. I’m thinking it’s nine states, and I’m thinking four Canadian provinces. I might be wrong, might be more, so I guess I better sit down and look at a map so next time somebody asks me, I can really be sure of my answer. I do know it’s over 1500 communities and 157 tribes, and I don’t know how many nonprofits, or community organizations. And to answer your first question, we’re just very new, we just got the Organic Consumers Association to come on board. That’s kind of a no-brainer. And then Grant Wilson of Earth Law Center was talking to somebody today from some religious group, and he didn’t give me all the information, so like, there are different players in the coalition, he and I and other people associated with him. We’re trying to reach out to people we think might be interested in engaging, and eventually enacting these legal structures in their communities. So hopefully this interview with you will make it more visible and maybe more people will come in board.

It’s not an easy task. It’s not like there’s a whole bunch of people out there ready for this information. And then trying to explain to them what it really means, and how engaging is actually going to accomplish anything, because so many people are like “Ah, that’s just another thing coming down the pike, it’s not going to accomplish anything, why waste my time?” You try to get them excited, say “Okay, this is something that actually works. A river in Ecuador, the Vilcabamba, won in court.” And you gotta tell them and get them to realize there’s a whole different way of looking at legal structures in our society. It’s almost like you have to turn their whole reality upside down, or something. So it’s not just a campaign about what law can do. It’s a campaign about what they can do. It’s a campaign about how they’re connected with nature. It’s a campaign about thinking about the next generation. It’s a campaign about interconnectivity. There are so many layers of significance that I feel like the campaign is more useful in the campaign itself than the actual legal structure at the end of it. Because you’re having all this dialog in between.

DJ: So … this might not be a fair question, but if it’s not fair, then we’ll just move on. Give me the strongest argument you can against having the Great Lakes – what is the argument that would be used by the other side to attempt to discredit you? Why should the Great Lakes not have rights?

JT: Any group that would argue it would be one that was standing to make money somehow off of the lakes not having protection. I would think it would be some sort of corporate entity and they would say “Well, it’s interfering with commerce.” The Commerce Clause is the one they always bring out to fight anything that takes away their profit. And you know as well as I do, all corporations go into court and say “Look, they took away our profit. They won’t let us do that thing and now we can’t make 18 gazillion dollars, and you gotta pay us the money we would have made if you hadn’t of stopped us.” So that would be probably the most important argument. That’s why all these other campaigns have to happen in the meantime, which is “Maybe we need to look at economic progress differently, and have a progress indicator that’s not based on the commodification of our reality, and more on ‘How well are we doing?’ and ‘How healthy is our environment?’” There’s a whole nother layer to this. And so the people that stand to gain money from exploiting the lakes are going to fight it, saying “You’re cutting into our profits.” That would probably be the most visible argument.

DJ: And they will also say “Look at all the jobs that we’re bringing in, and so basically you want all these families to starve.”

JT: Right. So being part of a corporate monetary commodification system is our first enslavement, isn’t it? So until we can walk away from that enslavement they’re always going to use that argument.

DJ: Which is one reason that you also work on food sovereignty issues, I believe.

JT: Yes, it is. I mean, taking care of yourself is your first step towards independence, if not the most important step.

DJ: So walk me through, step by step … if this campaign to gain Rights of Nature for the Great Lakes … walk me through a more or less, not ideal, but a fairly positive, realistic estimate of how you would like the campaign to go over the next year or two. What are you hoping to accomplish in the short run and what do you need to accomplish that?

JT: That’s a good question and I guess I’ll take what I learned from a new colleague of mine. His name is Henk Ovink and he’s from the Netherlands and he’s the United Nations first World Water Ambassador, and I had him on the phone last week, because I just wanted to know what works? What works in big, big projects, because he’s done some big ones. Like, he came in after Hurricane Sandy and tried to get everybody to figure out what to do about rising sea levels.

His first piece of advice to me was to make the lakes the conversation. So I would take him up on that, and I would make the lakes the conversation. And then he said the second thing is to get every school around the lakes to have a lake immersion experience, so they understand the importance of the lakes and why they need to be protected.

I shouldn’t say – sometimes I gotta pay attention to my narrative. To protect them means I’m better than them. So, like, the lakes need to be acknowledged, by humans, for the intrinsic value that they have. Because they’ve always had value. It’s not up to us to say whether something has value or not.

So, to get people to realize how they fit into the universe, that it’s not all about human beings, that our children realize the value of having clean, fresh water in order to survive in this climate chaos, that the lakes become part and parcel of people’s understanding of who they are in the space that they inhabit.

Indigenous people do that through stories. So I thought; well maybe we should come up with some lake stories or something, or ask for people to tell stories about the relationship with the lake. Because before writing and modern times, everything was by word of mouth, and it was person to person, story to story. That’s how we learned for most of human existence. So I’d like to see that come about somehow.

DJ: Let’s talk about the school thing for a minute. How would one go about – what sort of immersion would you like to see from individual schools and teachers, for their students, and what would be the steps required? I mean, say somebody is hearing this, and they live somewhere in Michigan. What would you want them to do? And what would you want the school program to look like?

JT: Wow. We’re putting a lot into 45 minutes. Okay. Earth Law Center came up with this little thing where they’d bottle an ecosystem, and the kids do this thing, and they make their own little enclosed ecosystem, and then they figure out how to protect it, as a way to think about legal structures to protect a natural system.

My idea would be to go out to some body of water, if you’re too far away from the lake, an inland lake, or some type of lake, or river even, or something, and the kids would pick out, you know, their little piece of it, and then they would be in it, and they would describe it, and observe it, and then they would talk about what its intrinsic rights were, which is really hard, because we’re talking about narratives that aren’t normalized in our culture.

So the teacher would have to spend some time adjusting their pedagogy in class from one of teaching all natural systems as objects, to one of subjects, and getting the kids to understand that they’re part of their ecosystem. And that would be maybe a whole new way of actually talking to their students. So that might have to be the first layer, getting them into that head space. And then to enter in relationship with their little ecosystem, wherever that may be. It could even just be a single plant. But teaching by example through story and narrative that we are all in relationship with the entire planet, with all ecosystems.

That’s not what we’re taught. So it would be kind of challenging for your average teacher to do this, perhaps. Especially if they have certain programs that they have to do in schools. So maybe it would have to be a program that would be extracurricular, a program put on by a nonprofit where they would invite the students to come, so the burden wouldn’t be on the teachers to actually have to develop it.

So I’m sorry I don’t have a more fleshed out answer to that. I haven’t written any curriculums yet. I’m just talking about what we would be trying to accomplish and how that might look.

DJ: I remember specifically, from fourth grade, in my elementary school, we went to a farm that was right next door to the school, and we were given a tour of their barn, so that we could see the barn owls and see all the, you know, when owls eat the mice and then they vomit up the little mouse pellet? So we were shown those, and my point is that that is one of the few days I still remember from fourth grade. So I think that these larger projects would be really great, but I think just getting children simply out of the classroom and, as you said, into some slough, or into – I remember another day, about that same time, when my friend and I went for a long long long long walk, and we came across this pond we’d never seen before, that was all full of frogs. The point is I still remember that day. I can still remember – the pond, unfortunately, was also full of – it was on a farm, and so it was all full of garbage from the farm, old tractors or whatever. But I still remember seeing the frogs just all over the pond. And I think, at the very least, it’s helpful to help children to gain those memories.

JT: I think it’s almost violent to not allow them to have them. Because look at how significant that was for you. And I’d have to say, Derrick, I share the same sort of memories, because of all the running around I did with my brothers and sister, and the deep memories were out in nature where we’re just walking down the road, or finding monarchs in a ditch, or going down to the quarry, or a pond or whatever. Those are very vivid memories for me. I remember walking down the road and there were countless, I call them monarch plants, not “milkweed,” because I don’t like the word “weed,” and there were thousands, hundreds of thousands of monarchs everywhere, so much abundance. It’s really sad that we’ve lost 50% of all our animals in my lifetime. And then I was reading the other day, 60% of the insects. This is craziness. This is nuts. This planet was so abundant and so amazing and so beautiful, and what do we do, we’re trying to McDonaldize everything? So that all we have left is an industrialized, burned out landscape with like five species of trees or something? And that’s supposed to, like, feed our soul? You know, it’s insane.

DJ: I agree with you. So, we’ve talked briefly about what schools might do. What do you want – how else are you going to build this coalition? Who else are you going to reach out to? You mentioned a religious organization. So just talk to me more about building this coalition, and what you would hope might happen.

JT: The first layer would be to reach out to everybody that says “Great Lake something-or-other,” which is what I’ve been doing. And then reaching out to the tribes, which is a whole different ballgame altogether, because I’m not native, I’m a white woman, and of course you know they have a certain understanding of what us white colonizers think and do, so I probably have to mediate my message through some native person. I think we might have a young native woman on board who might mediate that message to the native community, because they’re probably not going to give me the time of day. But that’s okay. We do it how we do it.

Then probably put on some events, and see who comes. But it’s early. We haven’t written any – there’s a possible grant, but right now I’ve put in two months of volunteer work, I’m not paid for any of this. So it would be nice to have somebody pay for my gas. I’m running around. But often that’s the case, the people that are doing the really really important work, it’s not the work of exploitation, it’s the work of all living things. There’s not a lot of monetary gain to that. There’s just the gain of knowing you’re doing something good that will hopefully live beyond yourself.

So like I said, it’s early, we’re trying to reach out, I’m trying to go – me, personally, I’m trying to go to conventions, to reach out to people and network. The two lawyers, Grant Wilson and Art Helmus are doing their own thing. They’re all the way across on the other side of the country, I’ve never met them, they’re out in California. So we speak on the phone once a week. We have an online conversation where people can check in and talk to each other via text. We put that together, and so far, nobody’s really taken off with that. Some of the difficulties with this sort of a campaign are just communication, because it’s just a huge area, it’s a huge concept. Like Einstein said; “It takes a great mind to take a complex idea and make it so anybody can understand it.” And I think right now we’re struggling with that. What does that look like?

So we’re trying to roll out a logo and a tagline, something that catches people, and I hate to say it, but I mean, we almost need to use marketing techniques. Because that’s what people are accustomed to. Saul Alinsky said “Use what the people are familiar with,” so we want to roll out some sort of campaign that way. And so I can’t really tell you. It’s early, you caught us early on. I’m hoping that things hold and build exponentially, because we really don’t have a long time to do this. The Paris climate talks last year said we had two decades to make some progress with the mess we’ve made of this planet. So every morning I wake up and I’m like, oh my god, I better keep going on this. Don’t let it go. Work on it every day. I’m one of millions of people thinking this, I’m sure.

DJ: So, something I often do with my writing is if I’m trying to figure out what to say in some paragraph or sentence even, or page, whatever, is to just stop and then say “Okay. What am I really trying to say?” And forget rhetoric. So just pretend you and I are having a private conversation, and just tell me, what’s the point? What do you really hope to accomplish? What do you want with this Great Lakes campaign? If I were to say what I want for the salmon, it’s very clear. I want there to be more wild salmon every year than the year before. So what do you want? What do you want to see? What’s the real bottom line? And don’t be rhetorical. Just say whatever comes to head.

JT: Well, that they fall in love with themselves, their community, and the planet. That’s what it is.

DJ: Okay, I love that. That’s great. And then what do you want for the Great Lakes?

JT: That they are able to exist, persist and flourish without being degraded anymore. Perhaps even made healthier.

DJ: And so what would that look like? I’m going to come back to people in a second. What would that look like for the Great Lakes to be actually recovering and healthier? I mean, I know for the Klamath River what that would look like is more water flowing through the river, fewer dams, more salmon, more lampreys, less algae, less ich, that’s a fungus. So what would it look like for the Great Lakes to be healthier?

JT: Well, okay; what you said. A greater fish abundance, less disease on the fish, less algae bloom, less persistent toxins. No more dumping of waste, no more influx of invasive species, no more messing about in the lakes like they’re some kind of test tube. You know how it is when they get an invasive species, they’re going to bring in another one, and then another one, and another one. It’s just like one big long continuous science experiment.

But I think probably the most significant part would be people having a spiritual relationship with the water, and to understand that the water in their bodies is the same as the water in that lake. So like there’s this whole understanding that that lake is as precious as anything out there. So there’s like almost this energetic relationship between the people and the water. And I’ve experienced that up on Lake Superior, on the edge of Lake Superior. I was just sitting there meditating and this piece of driftwood started talking to me. I was like, whoa, this is really amazing, this is cool. So I remember that experience. And that’s the kind of experience people should be having. That is the meaning of being a human on this planet, all these layers of understanding.

DJ: So let’s go back to people for a second. And when you raise this issue, when you start talking about the Great Lakes having rights, and talk about them flourishing, what is the response by the environmentalists you talk to, and what is the response by the sort of regular people you talk to? Are people open to this idea? And also, either before or after you do that, you said that one of the concerns that people might have is “Oh gosh, this won’t accomplish anything.” The second thing is I want you to answer that concern. So you can answer those in any order you want.

JT: So I was just at this Democracy Convention and there were a bunch of Move to Amend people there. And I tried to have a dialog with them about the Rights of Nature laws, enacting Rights of Nature laws. They’re very focused on changing the Constitution because they feel like that’s how to answer it. One way of looking at it is that people still have a lot of confidence in our existing legal structures, our Constitution, what presumably is supposed to be representing everyone, or all the humans, of course, not the nonhuman world. But there’s still a lot of faith in changing that to reflect a real society, a real egalitarian society. And I feel like, and Rights of Nature people feel too, that we can’t wait for these legal structures like the Constitution to have all the corporate rights removed from them before we move forward. We need to just assert the rights no matter what the Constitution says.

So I guess the biggest difficulty for me, talking about this, is so many people still have faith in the existing Constitution, that if we just tweak that somehow everything’s going to be okay. It’s not going to be okay, because the Constitution was written by white male property owners. It was never written for any of us or the nonhuman world. It wasn’t written for us. So it’s hard to get people past that, right? That’s the biggest difficulty. Some of the feedback I got was “Okay, so you pass it, you write the administrative rules – you can pass a law, but then you have to write administrative rules – and then how do you enforce it? What if a corporation says ‘We’re going to go ahead and dig that high capacity well whether you like it or not, and we don’t care about your rights of nature laws.’”? So their question is “Who’s going to enforce the law?”

Well, that’s another question, isn’t it? You almost have to have your local sheriff on board, on your side, standing up for the community law, the community rights law, and these battles are being fought out right now. There’s one – I can’t remember the community in Pennsylvania where the community passed a law that said it was okay for people to engage in civil disobedience on behalf of their health and the health of their ecosystem, and the corporation is challenging people’s rights to actually say anything. So the corporations are trying to destroy free speech for the community where they’re trying to dump fracking wastewater.

So essentially they’re saying all the people and all the nonhumans where they’re dumping this frack water, they’re all disposable. Henry Giroux likes to use that term, the culture of disposability. So the corporations on steroids treat all of us as disposable beings, whether we’re humans or nonhumans. We’re not part of their algorithm. So the challenge is to get people to realize current laws will not be protecting you, and trying to play the game the way that it was written is not going to get the job done either.

DJ: It seems to me – I know Thomas Linzey has said this to me many times, that one of the things he does, is doing with his work, is giving people the tools of democracy, and then if they work, that’s great, and if the corporations and the government come and stomps on them, he has made clear the contradiction, that we believe we live in a democracy when we don’t. And it seems to me that this is one of the things you’re saying, too; is that if you present this, it’s very reasonable to expect the people in the Great Lakes to want for the Great Lakes to be healthy and flourish. It seems you can’t really – you take the moral high ground there. And it’s great if you present this, and then if the corporations come and argue; “No, the Great Lakes don’t have the right,” or if the government argues “No, the Great Lakes don’t have the right to flourish,” that seems – yes, that’s an overt power play and they may win in court, but that seems it’s just a dreadful PR nightmare for them. I means it seems you – that’s a great, as you said earlier, a great way to raise awareness about the health of the Great Lakes.

JT: Right, and like you said, what Thomas Linzey says is that dichotomy in what we think we have in the way of rights, and what, when it comes right down to a lawsuit, we realize we don’t. And so it’s that dichotomy that he’s playing on.

But unfortunately, people don’t realize that until they’ve ended up in the courts, and that takes, what, three or four years? And by that time some egregious thing may have been happening in this precious space that they were very concerned about. And a lot of this damage, once it’s done, like injecting frack water into a deep well, you’ve contaminated an entire aquifer. Do we have three or four years to adjudicate? And look for damages? You can’t return that aquifer back to the way it was before, ever. And so that’s the space of opportunity, trying to get people to realize you don’t want to go there. You don’t want to let that happen. And so I live in southwestern Wisconsin on top of karst, and we have beautiful water here, and my concern is we need to have protections here so that somebody doesn’t swoop in and start taking our water just like they do other places. I don’t want to wait until they’re doing it before anybody does something about it. But unfortunately that’s the way a lot of these situations go, the damage is already done.

DJ: That’s a really good point. So when you go to something like a Democracy Convention or you go to speak to other people, how much do you run into a problem of what I call human supremacism? Where people think the entire world was created for humans and basically “Screw the Great Lakes, or screw the aquifer, screw any of that; if we can use it, it’s ridiculous that nonhumans even have the right to exist.” Do you run into that very often or is that not a problem?

JT: It’s typically not a problem in my circle, but I’m surrounded by a lot of conservative Christians where I live, and yes, you got it, that’s where they’re at, but you know, I try to use stories and metaphor to talk to them, and I would say something like “Suppose your parents gave you a beautiful house and everything you could ever want, it was just a luxury to live in, and you just took a jackhammer and a sledgehammer and you smashed it to bits and you burned it down, and then what would your parents think about that, after they gave you that beautiful space to be? Is that respectful? Is that something you would do?” And essentially that’s what we’re doing.

And on some level, they can understand that. So, I don’t run into it, like you said, because I don’t run in those circles, but when I do talk to people, I try to make it really simple to them. And I’ve actually had some pretty good conversations with the Amish around me. They don’t understand climate change because they don’t watch media and they don’t really spend a lot of time engaged in studying scientific papers or listening to climate scientists. But they see a lot of what’s going on and they’re interested in changing. Of course, they have families of 15 or 19 kids, which is like one of the major problems. I don’t think I could ever talk them out of that.

Every audience is different. I feel like, as the paradigm shifts and we start to think about how all things have intrinsic rights, and that includes women, children, elderly, LGBT, whatever, Blacks, Natives, whatever – it’s all one big picture, it’s all one thing. Because it’s whether we respect anything outside of ourselves. It’s whether we have empathy or compassion for anything outside of ourselves. It could be a human or it could be a nonhuman. So I feel like we’re trying to shift a culture of extreme narcissism to one of compassion, empathy, and relationship.

And so that’s huge, because this violent way of thinking has taught the children from a very young age, and lots of your interviews talk about such things, so you know what I’m talking about. So how do we shift that? So I feel like Rights of Nature campaigns anywhere can be part of shifting public consciousness to what I’m talking about. To one of love instead of hate.

DJ: What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. So, let’s say the coalition has been formed, and you’ve got a fairly large group of people around this question of rights for the Great Lakes. What would be the next sort of tangible steps to be taken to protect aquifers, for example, or to protect the lake itself. Would this then be moved forward in a lawsuit fashion? What would happen next, do you know?

JT: Yes. I would, or I am imagining and sharing with the group kind of a two-pronged approach, it could be more than that, but at least two. One is education and one is unrolling a legal structure. So boilerplate legal structures, examples of structures that municipalities could use, or a community could use, or a tribe could use. The language that actually ends up in court. So, first giving the community an opportunity to realize, on a really deep level, what it takes for themselves and their region to be healthy and flourishing. And the other is to what would legal protections actually look like, fitting together in a group, going through the motions of making an official action and passing the legislation, whether it be at a township level or a county level or a municipal level. It could be a state level if we had any states in the United States that were willing to take it on. Certainly not Wisconsin. And getting that language to them so they can see what it looks like. And then let them run with it, and then support them if they get sued.

So I feel like that has to be a major piece, and have a discussion about how to enforce the laws once they’re enacted. I think it kind of all rolls out in the discussion over time, and I’m kind of hoping that we get, like, nodes of activity around the lakes, where these discussions can happen. And like it’s kind of a no brainer to have Flint, Michigan; or Chicago; or Milwaukee, or any of these big cities that are on the lakes; you’d think that would be a great place to have a discussion like that and roll things out. But because the project’s so huge, we need to find people in those areas that want to take it on and run with it within their own communities, because that’s their community, they should be doing the work in their community, and we just support them while they’re doing it.

DJ: So that really leads to the last question. We have a couple of minutes left, and the last question is; so for anybody who is in the Great Lakes region especially, outside of it too, but especially inside the Great Lakes region; and they want to participate in this, or they want to find out more information about it, what should they do? If there is a person listening in Milwaukee who thinks they might want to start that process in their community, what do they do?

JT: Well, there’s a Great Lakes Rights of Nature coalition on Facebook, or there’s me or the Earth Law Center that they can contact. By email is julieedelaterre at gmail. So that’s my personal email, and I can get them into the loop. Or they can get ahold of the people at Earth Law Center ( Grant Wilson, Directing Attorney, gwilson at earthlaw dot org). Great people over there. So that would be what they can do.

DJ: Well, thank you. Is there anything else you want to say about this before we sign off?

JT: I guess what I’d say to everybody out there is love each other, take care of yourselves, your community and the planet, because we can’t afford not to.

DJ: Well, thank you so much for all that. And I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Juliee de la Terre. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on November 5th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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