Judi Bari was a principal organizer of Earth First! She spent her entire life as an organizer and speaker on behalf of environmental causes, particularly the need to protect old-growth forests. She was also an advocate for social justice, a feminist, an anti-racist, and a voice for labor.
Bari was born in 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was the daughter of acclaimed mathematician Ruth Aaronson Bari. Bari attended the University of Maryland, where she spent much of her time protesting the Vietnam War. She dropped out of college in her fifth year and began working in blue-collar jobs, quickly becoming involved in labor organizing.
Bari and her husband moved to California in 1979. They had two daughters before amicably divorcing.
In the mid-80s, while working in carpentry, Bari became interested in wood, particularly redwoods. When she found out the age of the trees the boards she was using came from, she was outraged and began her involvement in old growth protection activism.
In the course of her activism, Bari used music as an essential organizing tool. She played the fiddle and was apt to bring it out at any march or rally. The Earth First! songbook Up Rise Singing includes several of her songs.
Another thing that set Bari's organizing apart from that of some other environmentalists was her argument that environmental activists could and should build alliances with timber industry workers, and that those workers were a prime target for labor organization. In 1989, Bari wrote an article for the Industrial Worker newspaper exhorting the IWW to focus on the labor concerns of timber industry workers.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Bari, her family, and her fellow organizers were targets of intimidation and violence, allegedly by timber companies. In 1989, she and her daughters were rear-ended by a log truck in their car, and Bari used photographs to prove the truck was the same one that had been stopped by an Earth First! barricade only 24 hours earlier. In 1990, a bomb exploded under the floor board of Bari's car while she and a fellow organizer were in it, injuring Bari severely. Police stated that Bari and her fellow organizer were the only suspects in the crime, as they were carrying a bomb in the car for use in eco-terrorist activities. However, no charges were ever filed.
In 1991, Bari and her fellow organizer filed federal civil rights charges against the FBI and Oakland PD, as well as individual agents of both organizations, for false arrest in the bombing case. In 2002, the activists won their lawsuit with a $4.4 million ruling against the FBI and police defendants.
Bari, however, did not live to see this victory. She died of breast cancer in 1997.