Taking Your Free Speech Message to the Heart of the Publishing Industry at BookExpo

by Daniel Brindis

June 6, 2017

17 years ago when I worked at San Francisco’s independent bookstore Booksmith, I never would have imagined that book publishers had such an important role to play in protecting both free speech and the forests.

© Michael Nagle / Greenpeace

My love of books runs deep. When I worked at Booksmith, I relished witnessing the impact and inspiration that favorite books and stories had on customers and also enjoyed the book signings that were unique experiences in themselves. I watched in awe as ‘buzz’ about a book traveled over the course of a title’s release. Fast forward to today, now I think a lot about free speech and  where book paper comes from as Resolute Forest Products, one of the world’s largest book paper suppliers, threatens the disappearing intact forests and has moved to try to criminalize environmental organizations and bully individuals like me.

Resolute’s unprecedented radical behavior, including explicitly calling environmental groups “a criminal enterprise,” was the impetus for us to exhibit at BookExpo — the largest book event in the western hemisphere. The BookExpo, and its corollary public event BookCon, is one of the ground spring sources of the book buzz I used to observe on the ground in the bookstore. Our recent report Clearcutting Free Speech has documented that publishers such as Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hachette  face a unique paradox as they are key part of Resolute’s customer base. Resolute  threatens free speech rights that these publishers rely on and its activities contradict pre-existing sustainability commitments. Greenpeace exhibited at BookExpo to discuss these concerns and bring with us the concerns of nearly half a million of our supporters  that took action.

The expo itself, an energy-filled celebration of books, authors, stories, free speech and publishing, was an incredible experience to share with throngs of staff, authors, librarians, book sellers, and avid readers. Greenpeace added to this celebration by partnering with artist Pamela Paulsrud’s immersive, participatory “Treewhispers” art installation. Treewhispers featured a grove of 14 foot tall ‘trees’ made up of hundreds of recycled paper discs. Each one presenting individuals’ stories about how trees have touched them or impacted them. We spoke face to face with attendees about the lawsuits and many were shocked that book paper supplier could use RICO, a law intended to prosecute the mafia,  against storied environmental organizations and individual staff members. Many  were eager to demonstrate solidarity by lending their voice to our voice petition texting “Trees” to 877-877 and hundreds took a moment to participate in the installation to create their own paper disc tree stories.

In was encouraging to see that so many members of the literary community agree that our voices are vital and wanted to support us and resist such radical attempts to silence criticism.

Last week, we announced that BookCon headliner Margaret Atwood and more than 100 authors signed the author’s pledge in support of the speech rights of forest defenders. Throughout the BookExpo and BookCon, we reached over 200 authors who have now signed  their name in support of free speech and forests.

See our presence at the Expo on that we captured on Facebook Live. There are also versions in Spanish and French.

The terrible decision to abandon the Paris Climate Treaty occurred during the expo and it was a reminder for all of us in the room that we need environmental organizations to exist, and attempts to shut down organizations are not welcome. Publishers, as customers, have the ability and responsibility to change what happens on the ground. We know that publishers can urge Resolute to drop the lawsuits and work towards solutions.

Daniel Brindis

By Daniel Brindis

Daniel is a Senior Forests Campaigner based in San Francisco. His portfolio includes the Amazon, the Canadian Boreal, and environmental certification schemes like the Forest Stewardship Council.

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