Yesterday I attended a rally in Helena, the Montana state capital, to protest the failures of our junior senator, Steve Daines, to adequately represent the people of Montana. The shutting down of Elizabeth Warren is probably his most infamous recent example. He also supported Betsy DeVos (of course he did — she contributed $46,800.00 to his campaign) for Unites States Secretary of Education. Ugh, I want to hurl for having just written that. Haines has voted in favor of everything Trump has done. Essentially, he’s the worst.
Daines was scheduled to address the Montana legislature yesterday, but he pushed it back to today because he didn’t want to face the protests. From what I hear the good people of Helena and surrounding areas will be waiting for him today as well. I have mixed feelings about these rallies, but still, I wish I could join them. Here are some shots from the afternoon.
Sharing this from bit from Patagonia because they lay it out way better than I ever could, and I’m with them 100%:
Today, President Donald Trump took executive action to reverse decisions that halted Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Trump’s order invites TransCanada Corp. to resubmit an application for its Keystone XL project and has directed federal agencies to expedite the approval of the Dakota Access pipeline.
We firmly stand behind the belief that the Keystone XL pipeline is not in the country’s interest, and the Dakota Access Pipeline poses significant threats to the Standing Rock Sioux. We are asking you to join us in asking the President to not put Big Oil first and prioritize the well-being of our people and planet.
The following is a link to an online petition from the Sierra Club. I’m not sure to what degree online activism helps or not, but these days I suppose it can’t hurt.
The best article about Standing Rock is in the current issue of Montana Quarterly, my favorite regional magazine. The lead feature is written by my good friend Sterling. The entire piece is available online. I urge you to read it HERE. An excerpt:
On the afternoon of September 9, 2016, an injunction sought by the Standing Rock Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline was denied by Federal District Judge James Boasberg. Within a few hours the Obama administration, the Department of Justice, and the Army had issued a joint statement requesting that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline just north of the Standing Rock Reservation be halted until further assessment could take place. I was at a rally in Bismarck with hundreds of others when the government’s request went public, standing in the rain on the long, manicured lawn leading up to the North Dakota capitol building, listening to several Lakota girls give speeches on a bullhorn. I had never heard young people speak so eloquently and passionately, and as I listened I began to feel something beautiful and dangerous to the idea of America was happening. Their words were so powerful, in fact, I nearly cried. Luckily for me I’m an Indian man, and we only cry in ceremony.
I feel honored to know Sterling after having read that piece. He’s a good man. And he bought me breakfast when this photo was taken (or maybe I bought him breakfast — that seems far, FAR more likely) back in April at Paul’s Pancake House in Missoula. We all know how big of a deal breakfast is.
I’m also pleased to have a story (and the photographs that accompany it) in the same issue of Montana Quarterly. Mine is about the Dixon Bar. It was a fun piece to write, and I was/am thrilled because MQ was one of the publications I set high importance on placing some work in, because they are the best around here. Now, considering the current cultural climate in this country, it seems a little superfluous to me. But it’s a start. I have another piece with photos coming out in the next issue. I’m excited about that. It’s fun.
And now my final point. I’ve never been one to shy away from my political leanings, though I don’t talk much about politics in these parts. That is going to change. The stakes are too high. Donald Trump is a loathsome human being with zero redeeming qualities. I’ve felt this way long before he bought his way into politics. He represents everything I despise about our culture. Crass, arrogant, and willfully ignorant. A liar. A gigantic con man. It’s one thing in a reality television host. It’s something else in someone who is in position to shit all over everything I hold precious and seems likely to do so. I’m going to do whatever I can to oppose him.
This following image is a little meme someone put together featuring the words of Charles Bowden, a writer from the Southwest I much admired. His words have resonated with me for years; more now since about November 8th. It’s going on the bulletin board by my desk, lest I forget the importance of every moment left to me.
Science fiction writer John Scalzi wrote a great piece today called “Status Check, Re: USA” as his tribute to the 4th of July. Here is a short excerpt, where he is asking himself if he is proud to be an American:
I am. The United States, like so many things, is better as an idealized concept than it is as an actual entity, on account that the nation is made up of people, and while most people mean well, in a day-to-day sense they struggle with their ideals, which are often so inconvenient to their desires. And so, like a married family-values politician with a Craigslist personal ad, or a vegan Febreezing the apartment so no one will catch the smell of bacon, America often finds itself failing its own expectations for itself and others.
I’m a fan of Scalzi, and his piece is well worth reading. He makes mention of what is good about the USA, as well as nodding to the areas where the country stumbles. It reminded me of an interview I read with the late, great Utah Phillips several years ago in The Progressive magazine. Phillips, a lifelong peace activist and socialist/anarchist, is a man who could easily be forgiven for being pessimistic of the state of this nation, particularly given the time of the interview (September 2003) and the administration in power at the time. Not Utah Phillips, though, as revealed in this quote from the interview:
“You know, every city, every town I go to, for the past forty years, big or little, I have found cooperative child day care, an organic food store, alternative medicine services, all of the interventions, none of which existed when I was in high school. Anywhere. Now they are everywhere I go. Taken together, that is a massive amount of energy. A tremendous amount of energy! That is why I am so optimistic. There are too many people doing too many good things for me to afford the luxury of being pessimistic. I’m like Desmond Tutu says, I am a prisoner of optimism. I cannot betray that kind of optimism.”
At the time I felt better for having read the interview. And in a small way, I was glad I read Scalzi’s post first thing this morning.
I still don’t get the notion of being “proud” to be American, though. I’m not. I live here because the cosmos saw fit to deliver me in North America as opposed to, say, the Sudan. I have very little, if anything, to do with what this country is or is not. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been born in this country. I’m lucky to have a great family and live in a beautiful state with luxury at my fingertips that most people of the world can only dream about. There is more love in my life than I feel I deserve sometimes, and for that I am most fortunate. If ever a man were blessed, it is me, and sitting here basking in the glow of a full belly and skin warmed by a day spent in the company of loved ones I am more aware of it than ever.
I can’t help feeling a little sad, though, as I listen to the crackle of fireworks, the whistles of rockets and the low thuds of explosions reverberating throughout the city. I’m thinking of the destruction this country is visiting on people who didn’t have the good fortune to be born here, in places all over the world, for . . . what? I’m not one of those people who are convinced that bombs and troop deployments are deterrents for whatever threats our country faces. Meanwhile there is a new sheriff in town in Afghanistan, where over 1100 American soldiers have been killed. That grim number is over 4300 in Iraq. How many Americans out lighting sparklers and shooting off bottle rockets are even aware of that? How many people are even directly affected by these wars? How many people go through their day to day lives without even thinking about them? The upper echelons of our government and the Pentagon and the hold all those in power have over our media do an excellent job of keeping as much of that awareness out of the public eye as possible, to grim effect. We are kept blissfully ignorant, and that bothers me.
Perhaps my gloom is tied directly to the book I read this weekend, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It is a book of short stories on Vietnam, and it is heartbreaking. It reminded me that we have been sending young men to die for dubious reasons for decades. It reminded me of the men and women — Marines — I saw when I was consulting on a project at Camp Lejeune, NC, a few years ago, and how amazingly, terribly young they looked. It reminded me of the horrible things these kids endure, and how so many are returned to society unprepared to deal with them, their lives irrevocably changed. No amount of jingoistic slogans on the bumpers of minivans and SUVs will help either. Just what exactly does “I support our troops!” mean anyway? Support them being sent off blindly to die?
Here is an excerpt from the story “In the Field” from The Things They Carried:
When a man died, there had to be blame. Jimmy Cross understood this. You could blame the war. You could blame the idiots who made the war. You could blame Kiowa for going to it. You could blame the rain. You could blame the river. You could blame the field, the mud, the climate. You could blame the enemy. You could blame the mortar rounds. You could blame people who were too lazy to read a newspaper, who were bored by the daily body counts, who switched channels at the mention of politics. You could blame whole nations. You could blame God. You could blame munitions makers or Karl Marx or a trick of fate or an old man in Omaha who forgot to vote.
In the field, though, the causes were immediate. A moment of carelessness or bad judgment or plain stupidity carried consequences that lasted forever.
Who among us isn’t carrying blame for the thousands and thousands of innocents who have died as a result of our previous leader’s military fantasies, which our current leader has been all too willing to continue? It depresses me, and there are those who would scoff and say it’s unpatriotic to feel this way, or that “can’t we just celebrate the good the USA does in the world on this of all days?!” I don’t know. Maybe I’d feel better if I thought we ever did collectively look in the mirror as a nation and see the ugly stuff too. Until we do, I think too much that is painful and counter-productive to making the world a better place will continue to happen, while the majority of us spend our days blissfully, willfully, unaware.
Late as it is now, the booming fireworks display from the mall a couple miles away that is rattling my house and sending my dogs into a tizzy must be just about over. I’m sure the band has packed up their instruments and their Sousa charts, ready to go home as soon as the mayhem has completed. Tomorrow there will be stories in the paper of fireworks-caused injuries, maybe some reports of fires in the area, and all the usual post-4th of July stuff. By Tuesday we’ll be back to scandals over which celebrity has scandalously fucked whichever other celebrity, not to mention more wild speculation on where basketball superstar Lebron James will be playing next year.
As for the day-to-day minutia of roadside bombs and heartbroken refugees? You may be able to find information on it, if you dig for it. That’s a state of affairs not particularly worth celebrating, if you ask me.