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Political Environmental Activist: A Man who Loves Trees

Updated on March 11, 2015
Sustainable Sue profile image

Triggered by experiences with wildlife as a Peace Corps volunteer, Susette became an earth-friendly activist, while also working full time.

Yesterday I met John Quigley, a political activist who has incorporated activism into the fabric of his life. His "thing" is protection of democracy and the environment, including old growth trees.

John used to climb trees a lot when he was growing up on the east coast. I felt an immediate kinship with him, since I used to climb trees a lot too, growing up on the west coast.

A great tree to read in.
A great tree to read in. | Source

By the time I was seven, trees had already became a haven - black walnut trees, pepper trees, oak trees. I climbed them to hide from younger siblings and have a safe place to be alone. I climbed them to read in privacy and to watch people from above without being seen.

They now help me meditate, calm down, and release toxic feelings. This special relationship with trees let me identify well with John Quigley's passion.

Political Activist Support

I'd heard about John before actually meeting him at an Earth Day Fair. I was helping a friend staff a booth in support of local wildlands, which included a display of many of my photographs of local trees.

John had arranged a press conference at the booth to discuss what had happened when they'd tried to protect an old growth forest in the Arcadia Woodlands nearby. They had been thrown in jail for climbing trees in an attempt to stop the LA County Public Works Department from clearcutting to make room for sediment deposits. The arrest was well publicized and local residents were up in arms.

The day after the Earth Fair the treesitters came to our church to share their experiences with the congregation. We gave them a donation to help with legal fees incurred through their activism.

The Arcadia Woodlands that no longer exist.
The Arcadia Woodlands that no longer exist. | Source

Environmental Activism in Action

This man does not earn a "normal" living, as most would see it. He does not work for a company nor hold a 40 hour a week job. He has created his own living, based on opportunities that come his way that allow him to act out his passion for nature. He always finds them.

The state government gives him a grant to teach kids to appreciate nature. Greenpeace pays him to set up a human sculpture on the beach in Florida or Alaska in support of nature and democracy. A local university pays him to adjunct teach a class or two. He is known worldwide as an aerial artist and locally as John Quigley the Treesitter.

John Quigley forms aerial art to make political statements.
John Quigley forms aerial art to make political statements. | Source

John Quigley's Aerial Art

Aerial art is a form of art created specifically to be viewed from the air. The mysterious crop circles that keep showing up in different parts of the world can be considered aerial art, since they can only be viewed in their entirety from the air. Some universities have designed their name into the landscape with flowers that can be seen at a distance.

John uses human bodies - willing ones - thousands of them - to create works of aerial art that celebrate freedom and support for nature and the other species that inhabit the world with us. This is where his activism has led him so far, to living a life he believes in and thriving in the process.

Old Glory Five Years Later
Old Glory Five Years Later | Source
Public Speaking - Another Activist Art
Public Speaking - Another Activist Art | Source
John Quigley and a fellow Arcadia Woodlands treesitter.
John Quigley and a fellow Arcadia Woodlands treesitter. | Source

Protesting by Tree Sitting

In 2002 John became well known in Southern California for climbing and living for 71 days in "Old Glory" (as nicknamed by local school children) to try to prevent the County of Los Angeles from forcing a developer into razing the 400 year old oak tree near Santa Clarita. It ended up being moved to a location nearby, instead of being destroyed.

This was not the first time John had inhabited trees in order to prevent their destruction. In a personal interview he told me he was initially called to that role by a Native American tribe in Canada, who taught him valuable lessons in non-violent protest. After Old Glory he took part in a 23 day tree-sitting protest on South Central Farm (2006).

John's most recent involvement was the attempt to prevent the destruction of the Arcadia Woodlands southeast of Los Angeles. This time he and three fellow tree-sitters were arrested, but he is undaunted. With public support, which is coming in droves, he intends to challenge the bullying tactics that LA County Public Works has been using for years to get their projects through.

The Role of Personal Conviction

My impression of John is of a man of peace and conviction. I don't sense the anger in him that one often finds in activists who are resisting authority. But I do find determination and the courage of one who supports life and relies on inner guidance to make major decisions.

From the way that circumstances shaped themselves, "called him" to action in the Arcadia situation, it appears that he is being used as a sort of cosmic tool, which is how he portrays it. I can understand that, since I often feel that way about my own political work - being called to do something that draws others into standing up for what they believe in.

I think the ability to tune into this level of being is crucial to the success of our society. If more people were to let their actions be deeply directed in this way, we would not have so much discord to deal with. We could still be people different from each other, each holding a respected place in a society of our own making. Our society would be like a giant work of art that one can see the full beauty of only at a distance.

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