Cultures of Resistance

The book Deep Green Resistance studies the American Civil Rights Movement, the British Women’s Social and Political Union, and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. All these “cultures of resistance” provide loyal support for their members, so they may do the difficult work of demanding social and political change. I’ve looked into a few other such cultures and offer them here:

An excellent example is the diverse resistance put up by many ethnic minorities to Burma’s military dictatorship. The State Law and Restoration Council (SLORC), a military junta of General Ne Win, took control of Burma in 1962 and renamed it Myanmar. Already troubled by decades of British colonialism and a 1942 Japanese invasion, Burma’s diverse peoples—Rohingya, Karen, Padaung, Mons, Kachins, Akha, many more—were subjected to enslavement, rape, forced prostitution, all the usual manner of violence committed by the powerful against the powerless.

The military government also (as usual) sold off great swaths of forest to foreign timber companies, and seized slaves and land for other economic enterprises like railroads and agriculture. The Burmese human-rights disaster is somewhat well-known for the politician Aung San Suu Kyi, kept under arrest by the SLORC despite her overwhelming 1990 election win. The movie Beyond Rangoon also has publicized this struggle. Though exactly the sort of entrenched oppression supposedly condemned by the West, the very opposite of democracy, no serious intervention was ever mounted from outside Burma. One reason, perhaps, is that the SLORC’s business partners were familiar to anyone in the US: Amoco, Texaco, and PepsiCo, then owners of Pepsi-Cola, Taco Bell, Frito Lay, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut. Admiring the bravery of Aung San Suu Kyi is one thing—she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her devoted, nonviolent activism—divesting from an obscure overseas horror when there’s cash to be made, quite another.

Though there were some UN efforts to alleviate the suffering in Burma, by and large the people were on their own. There would be no cavalcade of outraged freedom fighters taking on the SLORC or its army, the Tatmadaw, on behalf of the 300,000 Rohingya refugees forcibly displaced into desperate camps in neighboring Bangladesh. It’s frankly impossible for most people in the US to imagine just how terrifying this sort of frontier resource warfare really is; I surely can’t begin to grasp it. Human rights activist Edith T. Mirante writes: “[T]he Refugees described a systematic campaign of terror-rape by the Tatmadaw. A military buildup in the area had apparently been accompanied by one of the largest-scale uses of tactical rape in Asia since Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanking, China. It is worth noting that present-day [1993] Burma is ruled by a general trained under that same Japanese fascist military.” Women and young girls from the frontier zones were also abducted and sold to Thai brothels. They were advertised as being “AIDS free,” but as Mirante writes, “they don’t remain AIDS free for long.”

Women traditionally held positions of respect within their pre-colonial communities, and this carried forward into the resistance to the military dictatorship. The Shan people believed a woman’s bullet could defeat an enemy’s defensive magic, and I daresay they were right. Mon women—the Mon are a Buddhist people—served in the rebel army in combat roles, “perhaps inspired by Chama Devi, queen of an ancient Mon empire.” There was scarcely anything so fearsome to Burma’s tribal people as a tattooed woman with a gun. A well-organized, complimentary non-violent strategy played an important role, as well: “[E]thnic minority women in exile have worked tirelessly to make people in other countries aware of Burma’s plight. Shan, Karen, Kachins, Pa-O, and other female activists have organized demonstrations around the world, lobbied governments and international organizations for refugee aid, and publicized issues like the destruction of Burma’s rain forests and the threats of AIDS and forced prostitution.”

A similar coalition of indigenous peoples in Canada has recently formed to fight tar sands pipelines and oil tanker traffic in the lands and waters that have sustained them for thousands of years. In a rare, breathtaking show of solidarity, “more than 130 First Nations governments in western Canada have firmly declared that they do not support the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and that they will not support such projects anywhere in the traditional territories of opposed First Nations; as a result, there is unprecedented unified opposition to both the Enbridge and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects,” according to West Coast Environmental Law. Canada’s tar sands mines are so outrageously destructive, so obviously the last desperate grasping of the end of the oil age, that opposition is finally beginning to match the scale of the psychopathology driving such activity. The coalition-building and superb organizing is a model to be admired and duplicated.

In a very different part of the world, the alliance Moskitia Asia Takanka has defended the tropical Moskitia rainforest and Patuca River from the occupying Honduran government for thirty-five years. As the international human rights group Cultural Survival notes, “For 3,000 years, Indigenous people have plied their dugout canoes up and down the Patuca River, the central artery of Honduras’ vast Moskitia lowland rainforest. On its rich floodplain they grow cocoa, oranges, rice, beans, cassava, and other crops for subsistence and sale, and its fish provide a vital source of protein. ‘The river is our life,’ says Lorenzo Tinglas, president of the Tawahka people’s governing council. ‘Any threat to the Patuca is a threat to four Indigenous Peoples—the Tawahka, Pech, Miskitu, and Garifuna—and we will fight to the death to protect it.’”

Danielle DeLuca writes in Cultural Survival Quarterly: “Despite years of protest from local Indigenous Peoples and international environmental groups, in January 2011 the Honduras government signed a contract with a Chinese company to start construction on the first of three dams that would have many irreversible consequences in the Moskitia, Central America’s most biologically diverse tropical wilderness…[C]ommunities are fighting for their futures as dam construction gets underway.”

There are plenty more examples: The 1980s militant resistance of the Bougainville islanders to a copper and gold mine owned by industrial giant Rio Tinto-Zinc and the Papua New Guinean government, that successfully closed the mine. This struggle was popularized in the documentary film The Coconut Revolution, and is fascinating not only because the small Bougainville population took on the Papua New Guinea Army and won, using resources like coconut oil for diesel fuel, but for its tidy representation of every facet of the global situation: their landbase was being destroyed for a limited resource they themselves had no use for, their water was being poisoned and they had nowhere else to go. Unfortunately, commodity prices are pressuring the mine to reopen.

Endnotes

http://mendnigerdelta.com/ Accessed 3/7/12.

McBay, Aric; Keith, Lierre; and Jensen, Derrick. (2011.) Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet. New York, NY.: Seven Stories Press. 113-192.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi Accessed 3/2/12.

Another story of women’s important role in armed struggle is the Nepalese People’s Liberation Army, “Maoist guerrillas, who were waging an underground war to abolish monarchy in Nepal and promulgate a constitution of, by and for the people.” http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106139 Accessed 2/21/12. Thanks to Premadasi Amada for bringing this to my attention.

Mirante, Edith T. (1993.) Burma’s Ethnic Minority Women: From Abuse to Resistance. In: Miller, Marc S., editor. (1993.) State of the Peoples: a global human rights report on societies in danger. Boston, MA.: Beacon Press. 7-14.

Mirante, Edith T. (1993.) Burmese Looking Glass: A Human Rights Adventure and a Jungle Revolution. New York, NY.: Atlantic Monthly Press.

http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/first-nations-north-south-and-interior-stand-against-oil-tankers Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G5KtqPSW8Q Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/sustainability/2012/01/17/enbridge-northern-gateway-joint-review-panel-smithers-finds-100-opposition Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/enbridge-pipeline-first-nation-says-an-oil-spill-is-inevitable-and-would-wipe-out-their-1627405.htm Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.culturalsurvival.org/take-action/honduras-dont-dam-patuca-river Accessed 7/8/11.

http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/pursuit-autonomy-indigenous-peoples-oppose-dam-construction Accessed 3/4/12.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDpvxQe_Jhg&feature=gv Accessed 3/4/12. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bougainville_%E2%80%93_Our_Island_Our_Fight Accessed 3/4/12.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/bougainville-president-backs-panguna-mine/story-e6frg8zx-1226058523408 Accessed 2/19/12.

http://www.abc.net.au/correspondents/content/2010/s2900363.htm Accessed 2/19/12.

http://www.mpi.org.au/1new-page.aspx Accessed 2/19/12. See also: http://www.mpi.org.au/about-mpi.aspx

About Michael Carter

Activist and author of Kingfisher's Song: Memories Against Civilization, Wasteland Press, 2012. View all posts by Michael Carter

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