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The woman in the tree 

by Pia K. Hansen


Imagine living more than two years (738 days, to be exact) in a space that's roughly four by seven feet. You cook, sleep, wash, go to the bathroom, write, read, exist all within this space. You have no power, except what can be gotten from batteries, and you have no reliable source of heat. Sound difficult? Well, then add the fact that your living space is suspended 180 feet in the air, in the crown of an old redwood. And then there's the harassment from the lumber company that's trying to get you to come down from the tree that it claims to own.


Julia Butterfly Hill took activism to a whole new level when she committed to a tree-sit in a 1,000-year-old California redwood standing in the Headwaters Forest Complex. She named the tree "Luna" and refused to come down until she and her fellow activists had finalized a deal with Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation (which is CEO'ed by Charles Hurwitz of Kaiser Aluminum) that left Luna, as well as a 20-foot buffer zone around the base of the tree, safe from the threat of clear cutting. Since coming down from Luna on December 18, 1999, Hill has written a book about her experience and founded the Circle of Life Foundation. On Tuesday, she speaks at Eastern Washington University.


To launch its 2001-2002 Dialogues Speakers Series, the University is bringing not only Hill, but three other activists, all part of what's known as the Spitfire Tour.


"The idea for the tour came from a couple of people, among them Zack De la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine," says Sarah Haynes, the founder of the tour, which features dozens of activists on its list. "I've done some tours and concerts, and he came to me and said, 'We have this idea, we know you are an activist. What do you think?' "


The original idea was to bring activists out to the high schools and speak to youth there, one on one. But Haynes quickly realized that was a much too consuming project.


"That's how the tour idea came about," she says of the non-profit Spitfire Tour. "We've done seven tours over the past five years."


In the presentation at EWU, Hill will be joined by musician Jello Biafra, comedian Andy Dick and activist John Trudell.


Leave it to Biafra, the lead singer/songwriter of the punk band Dead Kennedys, to come up with an intriguing title for his presentation: "The Nonviolent Extermination of the Rich." In 1986, he was at the center of the so-called Frankenchrist trial, the first one in which a record was charged with obscenity. For the last 20 years, he has owned and managed the Alternative Tentacles Label, and been a strong spokesman for freedom of expression in arts and everyday life.


Trudell is a Native American activist, poet and songwriter who grew up on the Santee Sioux Reservation in Omaha, Neb. He participated in the All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, which at its end in 1971 transformed into the American Indian Movement (AIM), with Trudell serving as its chairman. After an AIM protest march and flag-burning in Washington, D.C., some years later -- which left Trudell in jail -- a suspicious fire destroyed his home, killing his family. Devastated, Trudell turned to writing poetry and later, in 1986, recorded his first album together with Jesse Ed Davis. Many more albums and engagements have followed since, among them a role as the radio DJ in Sherman Alexie's film, Smoke Signals.


Finally, comedian Andy Dick will join Hill on Tuesday. He will talk about his battles with alcohol and drug dependency and how humor and laughter can help us deal with what he terms "the absurdity of the human condition."


Quite a mouthful in one afternoon.


"As you can see, we cover a wide range of topics," says Haynes. "You'll hear Julia speak about deforestation, and then everyone else picks up on their topics. At other presentations and speaking engagements, you'll just hear one activist who has one topic to talk about, but we have a wide variety of activists speaking at the same engagement, so we can reach out to very different people at the same time."


Local and campus-based activist groups will be setting up tables with informational fliers and contact information as well.


"It gives people a place to go," says Haynes. "Let's say you really want to get involved in one of the topics you hear about on the tour. Well, then the local contact is right there outside the door when you leave. You can go straight to a local group and do something about it."





The Spitfire Tour comes to EWU-Cheney on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 2 pm in the Pence Union Building. Free. Call: 359-6871.

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