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Tree Spiker: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Life of a Radical Environmental Activist

One of the most controversial figures in the conservationist movement shares personal stories of (often hilarious) radical activism.

From Tree Spiker by Mike Roselle. Copyright © 2009 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Greenpeace Confronts the Mahogany Pirates

With a snow-white beard and hair, Marco Kaltofen looks older than his thirty-eight years. Energetic, almost manic, this morning Marco is in no real hurry. He is driving in the rental truck in front of me as we careen down Pico Boulevard in sunny downtown Santa Monica. It's 1986. We are going to a birthday party. We are each joined by two other people in the cabs of our vehicles. We are all wearing haz-mat suits, complete with respirators. Both of the flatbed trucks are filled with black fifty-five-gallon drums containing toxic waste we had daringly raided from the famous Stringfellow Acid Pits the night before. Each drum has a white skull and crossbones stenciled on it. When we arrive, the Occidental Oil party is well under way.

We approach the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and just as we had suspected, the security guards and police are out in force. Marco had introduced himself to Occidental security the morning before, and I had given him my card with the title Greenpeace Chief of Security, in case he needed to reach us for any reason. Marco informed them that we would be delivering a birthday present for Armand Hammer, the CEO of Occidental, for this occasion, which coincided with Oxy's annual stockholders meeting. Not knowing what else to say, the cops just warned us, "We will be waiting for you."

And they were. We spotted them just as we turned left at the corner of Main Street. At the entrance to the parking lot, there were several cops, security guards, and Oxy company men, all wearing suits and uniforms, holding radios, and waiting. They saw us and started talking on their radios. More cops rushed toward the steel gate of the large parking lot in front of the auditorium, which was closed. Still more cops were gathered at the entrance to the building. They watched as we approached.

The parking lot is separated from the main building by a large lawn, which continues to the street and runs alongside the main concert hall. Besides a few palm trees, a few park benches, and a utility pole, there is nothing between us and the entrance. Up ahead on the right is the driveway with the gate and the cops, but Marco veers sharply right, jumps the curb between the palm tree and a park bench, and proceeds to crush a KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign. I have no choice but to follow.

The cops knew they'd been had. Environmentalists didn't drive on the grass. Yet here we were, barreling across the lawn, closing in on the bank of glass doors that formed the only entrance to the auditorium.

Rallying, they rushed toward Marco's truck and managed to get in front. Marco didn't stop. He dropped the transmission into neutral and gunned the engine. As Marco's truck pushed forward, the cops moved, walking backwards. Yelling and gesturing with their hands, they continued in this fruitless effort until we had driven under the chevron-shaped front canopy and parked the trucks a few feet from a long bank of glass doors. Soon we were surrounded.

Quickly, without paying the cops any attention, we dismounted from the cabs of the trucks. Our job now was to unload the drums and set up police tape around the scene. This would prove impossible and unnecessary. A cop gently touched Marco and he fell to the ground. We all quickly joined him and sat together in front of the lead truck. We were all duly arrested. Action over!

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