In our quest to interview a figure from within the eco-defense movement, we were fortunate enough to secure an hour with Matthew Bristow, the Canvass Director at Bark. For those not yet in the know, Bark is the local group here in Portland, Oregon, that has been diligently protecting Mt. Hood National Forest for the last fourteen years. Included amongst Bark’s many victories, one can find the defeat of the Palomar Liquid Natural Gas Pipeline, as well as some 17,000 acres of cancelled timber sales. As the brave soul tasked with organizing the canvassing team that represents Bark, both on city sidewalks and front porches, to the public, Matthew could not be better suited to answer questions pertaining to Bark’s work and the environmental movement. So on a fine June day, we gathered at a cafe across the street from Bark’s office in SE Portland, and sat down with Matthew to discuss both how he became involved in environmentalism, as well as Bark’s role within the movement itself.
One of the most striking and inspiring points which Matthew made, emerged during his discussion of how he came to work at Bark. For many people, the phrase “environmental activism” either conjures the image of a recycling bin, or a graphic instant replay of the Ewok battle from Star Wars, complete with anarchistic, machine-sabotaging, tree-dwellers, swinging from vines and screaming, “Yipcha!” at their enemies. Fortunately, as Matthew reassured us, there are as many ways to get involved in protecting the environment as there are people to participate in its defense, and that, with all due respect to the noble practices of recycling and vine-swinging (i.e. direct action), not all of them involve rummaging through trash bins, getting arrested, or experiencing the natural aromatherapy of months on end without a shower.
Matthew did, of course, mention recycling, but he also went on to explain that the best and easiest thing that anyone can do is to simply “get involved on any level,” big or small, with existing issues and organizations—whether in an office or swinging from a vine in the forest. When it comes to tactics, “all of the above” serve their purpose, Matthew went on to explain, and like Golem in the Lord of the Rings, even the most misdirected, and seemingly odious visage can wind up making an enormous difference in unexpected ways.
But of course, one need not be a decrepit Slave of Darkness in severe need of dental surgery to help rid the Realm of evil, so to speak—there is as much or more to do for the Gamgees and Bagginses of the world as there are for the Golems and Boromirs, rest assured. Specifically, Matthew encouraged those interested in environmental activism to find a way to utilize their own unique skills and aptitudes in any way they can—in short, “Whatever you can do, there is a need.” Whether you’re more comfortable “In the forest or in the cities, in a radical group or in a more ‘main-stream’ atmosphere, find a place where you feel comfortable and can do your best.” Such efforts need not be merely on a volunteer basis either, as Matthew himself may evince, but rather can become a means of employment and livelihood, working with non-profit groups to protect our natural resources and human rights (amongst which clean water and a healthy environment must surely be counted).
The key step, it would seem, is for people to become aware of the problems we face, and to find ways to participate in the creation of positive solutions. It is therefore up to each one of us to encourage, to inform, and to inspire one another, that we may strive together toward the greatest potential for ourselves, our communities, and our world. Opportunities are everywhere, and it only takes a moment to find them.
We would like to thank Matthew Bristow, Bark, Portland State University, and professor David Osborn for this unique opportunity to explore social change and to share our findings with others.