John Picone grew up in Northridge when it was still ranchland. “I used to spend a lot of time lying in the grass, watching the snakes, hawks and bunny rabbits and climbing oak trees.” When he was in fifth grade, his sacred place became slated for tract homes: A revolutionary was born. Picone and his outraged friends “pulled surveyor stakes, and once the bulldozers showed up, poured sugar in their gas tanks, ” he recalls with a smile.
Today, he is a direct-action activist who has worked internationally with environmental and human-rights groups such as the Ruckus Society, Greenpeace and the Burma Humanitarian Mission. “We spotlight a situation where greedy corporations negatively impact the environment and erode individual freedoms, to raise awareness and physically stop it from happening.”
Picone has helped prevent the selection of nuclear-weapon prototypes by sealing off El Toro Marine Base, blocked the construction of incinerators in California Native American communities, acted as a human shield to stop logging companies from ravaging pristine British Columbia wilderness, and climbed a dozen bridges, tankers and office buildings around the U.S. to hang banners highlighting oil companies’ anti-environmental conduct. A proud proponent of Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil-disobedience tradition, he’s been arrested 10 times. He also trains young activists how to resist nonviolently.
After five confrontational years on the road, Picone lives in Venice and manages a subsidized activist house where social-change advocates gather, live and work together a block from the beach. Asked about upcoming campaigns, he says wryly, “Evicting Bush from the White House would be a great start.”