The Earth First! gathering on the Caribou Trail later this month has concerned a number of business people and private contractors in the county, and for good reason.
The movement did spring from the 1975 Edward Abbey novel, "The Monkeywrench Gang," named for the loose-knit band of anarchists who destroyed trucks, dams, billboards and various other acts of "sabotage for the sake of protecting the wilderness." While this might make for entertaining fiction, it is a chilling prospect in reality.
But is the reality of the current Earth First! visit to Cook County something to anticipate with fear and trembling?
It is true that Earth First! was highly critical of a 1998 Vail, Colo. development and ski lift which, they claimed, encroached on lynx habitat. The project was ringed with fire one night and over $12 million in damage was done. Although the Earth Liberation Front, a separate entity from Earth First!, claimed responsibility for the arson, all eco-activists were painted with the same brush.
Certainly, with a tainted history like this, it is well to prepare for the worst.
Preparedness was the message Sheriff Dave Wirt brought to the county board and businesses around the county last week. It makes sense to secure valuable equipment and buildings at all times.
And should loggers or highway road builders be concerned that Earth First! activists might shackle themselves to equipment, thus stopping work and costing them money? When the Web site puts "lockdown devices" on the list of things to bring to the encampment, perhaps.
Having said that, it would be equally important to examine the rest of the list of things to bring - banners, sign-making materials and spirit - and to notice that the workshops planned are "herbalism, identifying wild edible plants, Native American resistance history, technical climbing (rock, small tree, and urban), self-defense and discussions on strategy, tactics and movement building."
Even more interesting is the last paragraph of the invitation to attend: "The RRR committee is concerned about our relationship with existing communities in northern Minnesota. We hope that some of the people from these communities will attend and that any impression the RRR leaves with them and other residents will be good! The 2003 Rendezvous is not only going to be a great gathering, but also the potential beginning of friendships and relationships with residents of northern Minnesota."
Without a doubt, there will be some people who attend this encampment who are worthy of mistrust. There will also be many, we believe, who come here as friends.
People usually live up to what others expect of them, for good and ill. The community should strive for balance in preparing for the Earth First! visit. Be ready to defend against the worst, but equally important, be prepared to celebrate the best.