Arizona’s Tonto National Forest is a landscape of beautiful complexity, from the Sonoran desert’s flowering cacti to the gorges and mountains of the Mongollon Rim. Home to rare desert lakes, fertile river valleys, meandering streams and grand plains stretching across the horizon, its air is still sweet, mixed with juniper, fir and ponderosa pine.
On December 4, politicians stole this incredible wildness, this product of the forces of deep time, from the public domain. Congress passed a measure ceding 2400 acres of Tonto to mining giant Rio Tinto Group‘s subsidiary Resolution Copper, attaching the theft as a rider to its latest “National Defense and Authorization Act.” The area is now slated for destruction for the largest operating copper mine in the United States.
This is a grand theft of heritage, especially for the Apache for whom Tonto remains a native place of worship. In an emotional piece for Indian Country Today Terry Rambler, Apache Tribal Chairman, wrote: “We are concerned for our children who may never see or practice their religion in their rightful place of worship … However, the Apache people will not remain silent. We are committed to shining light on the Land Exchange and the proposed mine until we have no breath.”
Enclosure movements devastate communities. Who we are, whether we realize it or not, is greatly influenced by our ties to the surrounding ecology. Land is emotion — a product of deep and lasting roots.
But, this is of no concern to the state. Any sacred tract inside the political borders or territories of the nation-state may be taken at will — a power as unjust as it is unnatural.
However, a number of libertarian wrenches may be thrown into the gears of such power-driven land acquisitions. Two are pertinent to this situation. A third offers liberation.
The first is the Paper Wrench. Activist groups can use any and all available legal decrees to delay mining operations. Paper wrenching refers to pursuing lawsuits that force industry professionals and teams of highly paid corporate lawyers to navigate an array of legal challenges. The method is proven. In the Appalachian coalfields, for instance, the Paper Wrench has delayed some strip mine operations for years. In some cases, legal expenditures prove so great that industry abandons mining operations altogether.
The second is the Monkey Wrench. Coined by desert enthusiast Edward Abbey in his 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, the term “monkey wrenching” refers to acts of sabotage to protect wilderness areas. Willing activists may permanently incapacitate machinery and equipment to outright halt industry activity. The Monkey Wrench may also be used to inflict minor damage to force repairs thus buying time for legal negotiations (or paper-wrenching). For individuals up in arms about property destruction I pose the question: What is more violent — snipping a fuel injection line so an Earth mover will not start, or destroying a struggling arid ecosystem and place of heritage for all future generations?
The third wrench would free natural sites of sweeping land use policy by reimagining governance. It demands a reclaiming of the commons so land is not viewed as a commodity, but felt as a connection — a place of labor and heritage. In such a system place is an integrating concept. Land is associated with the community and the individual in the commons — land is legacy as space is place. Here, land is liberated from the nation-state and its enclosure movements. None are denied the holy experiences awaiting us in our cool, still canyons. The Apache could forever worship in peace.
I speak of the Anarchy Wrench.