A Really Free and Enlightened State

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau. His importance to me as a writer and philosopher can’t be overstated, even though I often get a bit weary and eye-rolly over how frequently he is quoted in certain circles. I’ve visited Walden Pond, and his grave in the town of Concord, MA, several times. I hope to take my mom there some day, as she too is a fan and honorary member of the Thoreau Sauntering Society.

The following is an excerpt from his essay, “Civil Disobedience.” He wrote it after he spent a night in jail in 1849 as a protest against the Mexican War. He deemed American’s violent, imperialistic actions illegal and refused to pay a poll tax, which led to his incarceration. Reading Thoreau, much of what he says is particularly relevant today. Please forgive the male-specific references throughout as a sign of the times.

There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would think it inconsistent with its own repose, if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellowmen. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

The 4th of July. America’s birthday. This is the day we are supposed to get all Pollyannaish about the state of our Republic and wax, “Golly, aren’t we swell?” in spite of everything, right? Grill a wiener? Drink a case of watery beer? Get sunburned and piss in your brother-in-law’s pool and blame it on your niece? Possibly, but I can’t get there, not this year.

Consider our reality. America is the laughing stock of the world. It would be comical how inept our current administration is if it weren’t so damn dangerous. Decades of social and environmental progress is being attacked and rolled back daily … if not hourly. Our government continues to wage war on the poorest people of the globe, only now we’ve upped the ante to include those folks who live here too (overtly, anyway; this class war in America has been going on a long time, it’s just out in the open now). Given the rumblings coming out of the twitter account of our Toddler-in-Chief, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the more violent aspects of that assault become even more lethal at home. I mean the inclusion of poor white people in the carnage, of course, as the smoking guns of law enforcement have been aimed at our black and brown neighbors bloodily and efficiently since all those founding white dudes first broke away from the royal We 241 years ago.

The notion of this holiday being a celebration of independence is particularly laughable. The vast majority of us are more deeply enslaved every year to a system where hard work and responsibility only helps shovel more wealth to the fortunate few and does nothing to protect us from the cruel lottery of unexpected illness or hardship. For all the talk of bootstraps and opportunity, unless you are white, male, and straight, your choices are extremely limited.

And the current dudes doing all this? We put them there. Gave them their power. Turned them lose on us. From my desk I can see a couple a couple neighbors out in the street leaning against their trucks talking to each other. From the stickers I saw on their rigs during the election cycle I’m pretty certain how they voted. I’m supposed to celebrate in common with them? How? What?

Yeah, I’m pissing and moaning. I feel surly. The summer is really starting to swelter these days, and that makes for my least favorite time of year. I’ve always hated the 4th, and it’s only getting worse. The meatheads in and around whatever neighborhood I happen to live in have eternally cranked up their noisy fireworks several days before the 4th and kept at it for a few days after. It makes me seethe. It is a perfect indictment of American intelligence: let’s launch a bunch of cheap, paper missiles showering sparks into our surroundings, where the tall, dry grasses of summer are just aching to chemically transform everything to ash. Fire’s always awesome so long as it’s someone else’s acreage belching smoke, right?

I’m a bitter, hopeless, hateful man these days. But happy 4th anyway. Perhaps somebody’s god will choose to bless this cesspool of a country. None of my small ones are going to.

 

Steve Daines is a Coward

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.

Bigger Than Law

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.

PLEASE CONSIDER ADDING YOUR VOICE

 

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.