Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Becoming American heroes

Well, we made it through January. Now it's February, Black History Month. Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. Whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow in Pennsylvania, here in Minnesota I'm predicting at least six more weeks of Winter. That will probably keep me indoors a lot which will provide time to read some James BaldwinNikki Giovanni and, of course, Langston Hughes, right after I finish reading Claudia Rankine's Citizen.

cover of "Citizen" by Claudia Rankine

I once lived and worked at a time and in a city where neighbors were afraid any home for sale would lead to "block-busting;" when South Boston's Irish Roman Catholics, I'm ashamed to say, fiercely opposed school desegregation.

Until last year's election, I thought / hoped we had made some real progress realizing that we're Americans first and anything else second. That's an "identity politics" I hoped we could all support. It seems I may have been uncharacteristically, and unduly, optimistic. And yet, and yet, if we look really hard, we can find stories of solutions being crafted by those most of us would consider as antagonistic as James Baldwin and David Duke, or me and Steve Bannon, sitting down with others and talking (and talking) to find common, mutually acceptable solutions to problems we share.

cover of "Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman" by Miriam Horn

Several examples of such efforts are written up by Miriam Horn in Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman. I encountered a similar model, The Blackfoot Challenge, last night while skimming through the current issue of Orion magazine. As the article notes:
The Blackfoot Challenge began in the early 1970s, when ranchers and river lovers acknowledged a lack of fish in the beleaguered Blackfoot River in western Montana (the legendary trout waters at the heart of Norman Maclean’s epic novella, A River Runs Through It). But the group had no data to back their claim, so in the 1980s they started a chapter of Trout Unlimited and helped launch some of the first biological studies on the river. This effort wasn’t spearheaded by the USFWS, the Bureau of Land Management, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, or any other agency that had long drawn local ire; the locals themselves did it, and had to face what they found: all tributaries that made up the watershed were affected by problems resulting from timber cutting, grazing and farming, the legacy of mining, interactions among seven different communities, hunting and fishing issues, and public access to waters—the list went on and on. So a series of community meetings began that, in 1993, were formalized as the Blackfoot Challenge. 
“The Blackfoot Challenge is not about imposing solutions,” said the organization’s chairman, Jim Stone, a third-generation rancher and owner of a cow-calf operation in Ovando, Montana, called Rolling Stone Ranch. “We’re that communication bridge that allows the communities to form their own opinions and help build working plans with our partners. We just sat down, put our egos aside, and went to work.”
All too often, politicians and industry have "talked" as a way to avoid really responding to issues. They didn't actually have what developers sometimes refer to as "skin in the game." That has frequently ended up with crude, top down, imposed solutions, because letting real problems fester wasn't, and isn't, acceptable either, since there is no "Planet B" and we are all in and on this together. I find it exceptionally ironic that a (poorly crafted) "Muslim Ban Executive Order" was signed by a president who won only a minority of the popular vote just days before the start of Black History Month.

I've found that self-inflicted wounds are often the most painful. Perhaps as part of our recovery from our own recent wounds, we should explore what makes efforts like The Blackfoot Challenge and those in Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman work. I'm not sure, but I think Governor Dayton has something like these examples in mind when he talks about Minnesota's Water Ethic.

Whether the issues revolve around race or conservation or environmental justice, it seems to me that if we can create enough of our own successes solving our own problems, we might even be able to get by with fewer politicians. That's a goal we all could probably support, right?


BLK History Month


By Nikki Giovanni


If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too


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