Honoring Betty & Gary Ball–the 2015 Sempervirens Award Recipients

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Sunday, November 1st, 2015
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Betty and Gary Ball

Betty Ball and her late husband, Gary Ball, will receive the 2015 Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement Award at EPIC’s 38th Annual Fall Celebration on Friday, November 6th. Betty and Gary are the founders of the Mendocino Environmental Center, which became the hub for environmental and political activism in Mendocino and Humboldt County for more then a decade between 1987 and 1997. The issues in those years included abuse of forests on private lands, the Forests Forever ballot initiative, Redwood Summer and the campaign to protect the Headwaters Forest. Betty, the consummate networker and organizer was indispensable to the efforts to protect the environment of northern California.

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Sinkiyone Coast

Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Betty and Gary came to the Sinkyone Coast in 1986 to visit friends and fell in love with region. Upon learning that the timber company, Georgia-Pacific, was in pursuit of logging coastal ancient redwoods in the Sinkyone area, they were spurred into action.

Having long had fantasies about starting an environmental center where people could come together, work and cooperatively share resources, when Betty and Gary relocated to Ukiah in 1987, they were able to open the Mendocino Environmental Center (MEC) with little more than a $20 donation, a store front office and a phone line.

Very quickly the MEC became the central network for activism, with Betty becoming the connector between the local and regional groups. Working with and bringing together activists such as Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, Betty and Gary showed the way to organize the community. It was those connections—that were instrumental in building the movement to protect the natural communities of northern California.

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Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney

Gary Ball and Judi Bari used to collaborate on articles; one about the economic and environmental implications of militarism was called “Ground Beef to Ground War,” which connected military intervention and destroying El Salvadoran forests to the fast food industry. To spread awareness of the issue, activists marched through Ukiah with paper mache animal heads, singing songs and drumming. “The protest was all over the Ukiah Daily Journal,” said Betty. “It was probably the most outlandish thing that Ukiah had ever seen.”

Another early campaign that stands out for Betty was the effort to protect Trout Creek. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) had a logging plan to log Trout Creek in the Potter Valley area outside of Ukiah. “Activists developed a brilliant and highly effective strategy—they created postcards and distributed them liberally to people up and down the coast. Those postcards were sent to PG&E telling them that everyone was going to withhold money from each bill until the company agreed not to log Trout Creek,” said Betty. “PG&E was flooded with postcards and that led the utility company to being amenable to negotiations—and because of those efforts, Trout Creek is standing today.”

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Owl Creek, Headwaters Forest, Humboldt County

By the late 1980s Maxaam’s Pacific Lumber’s efforts to liquidate log one of the largest remaining tracts of old-growth redwood was in full swing in Humboldt County. Activists all across the state were working to bring attention to the issue. Groups such as EPIC were filing lawsuits, there was direct action, and organized protests coming out of the MEC. In 1989 the Mendocino Environmental Center, EPIC and other grassroots organizations decided to explore the California ballot initiative process as a means to protect private forests, specifically Headwaters. To pursue this, activists formed a new organization called Forests Forever and began crafting a ballot initiative of the same name. “Proposition 130, would have been the strictest forestry regulations anywhere. It would have restricted logging along stream beds, mandated canopy cover and no old growth logging at all, said Betty Ball. “The timber companies were going nuts about it. They knew what it would mean in terms of their ability to reap their fortunes—so they upped their harvesting.”

Tensions between environmentalists and loggers were reaching a climax. Betty and Gary Ball organized meetings between loggers, middle management and environmentalists to try to calm down the tensions. “Gary and Betty were incredible Peace-Makers, said Naomi Wagner. “They mediated many stressful situations that helped deescalate conflicts.”

Simultaneously, the organizing for Redwood Summer was underway. Modeled after Mississippi Summer, Redwood Summer was a statewide and nation wide effort to draw attention to Headwaters. Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, with the support of the MEC, traveled to colleges and universities to spread information and get people involved. The MEC helped established “base camps” so that people had places to stay, food to eat and would be able to plug into actions.

On May 24, 1990, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were driving through Oakland, California when a pipe bomb exploded directly under Bari’s driver side seat.

“Darryl was only slightly injured, but Judi was impaled and had to be removed with the Jaws of Life,” said Betty. “I received the call at the MEC, but didn’t believe it because there had been so many other pranks and threats that I didn’t believe the story. I thought, this had to be a hoax, but it wasn’t a hoax. Both Judi and Darryl were arrested for bombing themselves.”

“After the bombing happened it made some of the loggers wonder, said Betty. “We had to convince people that Judi and Darryl weren’t the perpetrators, but instead the victims.”

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Headwaters Rally

“It was horrible not to have Judi present, but Redwood Summer still happened. The tragedy caused the movement to grow bigger. People were so incensed by what happened that it galvanized the movement. People stood in solidarity with Judi and Darryl, said Betty. “The charges were never dropped, but eventually, the FBI and Oakland Police Department was forced to pay $4 million in a civil and constitutional lawsuit. The FBI and Oakland Police Department were found guilty of violating Judi and Darryl’s civil rights, which helped preserve the rights of activists everywhere.”

Meanwhile…“The Timber Industry used the bombing as a media tool to say, ‘This proposition is brought forward by Earth First!’ said Betty. “In November 1990, Proposition 130 narrowly lost after garnering 48.5% of the vote.”

As an organizing hub, the Mendocino Environmental Center used educational outreach, litigation, legislation and direct action to accomplish its goals. It is because of Betty and Gary’s efforts that northern California has a strong culture of activism and protected forests. Because of their lifetime of work, it is the pleasure of the Environmental Protection Information Center to present the 2015 Sempervirens Award to Betty and Gary Ball of the Mendocino Environmental Center.

“Without Betty and Gary we would not have saved Headwaters Forest, thanks to the MEC and its incredible networking,” said Naomi Wagner.