I have no personal stake in the situation and live in Seattle. Because I used to be an activist living in Oregon I am a follower of the Oregon Rural Organizing Project (ROP) on Facebook. For a few weeks I’ve followed news about the situation and also I’ve been talking about the standoff with people in person and on Facebook. Some of this was discussion/debate with friends. Some of it was through the ROP facebook page, which has included posts from local people directly involved.
I’ve found it personally captivating because I immediately saw it as an opportunity for the left (in this case it would have to be the ROP as the local left, the only people equipped to have a real impact because of their personal stake and personal relationships.) My thinking was not fully formed but I had a sense that this was an opening; national as well as state-level media were focusing intently on the situation. I imagined myself in the shoes of the ROP and felt that this was the moment to shine. A do or die moment to really make a difference for the local people. To draw attention to neglected rural communities and bring their concerns to prominence.
Certainly overdramatic. And yet I think more than a grain of truth. So I reached out to the ROP on facebook and tried to make my case. I felt that focusing on the harassment and intimidation tactics used by the militia was a mistake. This was the focus of the media, representing the government’s interest in maligning the militia and directing attention away from legitimate criticisms of federal land use policy– as well as legitimate criticism of the punitive treatment of local rancher Dwight Hammond and his son. The ROP response was that they were following the lead of their constituents, the people of Hammond County who were in a panic, terrorized by the militia and just wanting them to leave.
It appears that this state of paralysis continued until the government raid, greeted with cheers and relief from the people of Burns. What I wish the ROP had done is talked to the militia. Tried to find some way to build an alliance, however tenuous and fragile. Because at best all that happens now is a return to square one. At worst it’s actually a strengthening of federal power which it will continue to use locally to pursue it’s existing agenda of neglecting and abandoning large sections of the rural population, descendants of loggers, miners, ranchers who are no longer of use now that the west has already been won.
I guess if I can say anything hopeful, it’s this: Every failure is part of the learning process. In my experience eventually I hit rock bottom and decide I’ve had enough failure, now I’m going to do things the right way. I think this is how learning works– it’s not really a choice to do better but rather there is a point of maximum humiliation that simply breaks one’s will to screw up any longer.
I’m not sure that really qualifies as a hopeful thought. It’s what I’ve got to offer right now.
And I know it’s easy for me to throw my stones from a distance, aimed generally south, hoping I hit someone in harney county, if I”m lucky. I just don’t think these militia members are particularly evil or weird or stubborn or whatever. From what I’ve read they are sincere people, making personal sacrifice and travelling a long way from home to be part of something they think might make a difference in a world that we can all agree is going to hell very rapidly. Yeah, if they were walking around my town with guns and telling me what to think and refusing to listen to me I’d probably feel relieved when the FBI arrested their arrogant leader. And I’d be happy to see his smug smile at least fade a bit into something more of a scowl. And I probably would kind of feel some regret that one of his henchman had to die but I would accept it as a necessary sacrifice. But I wouldn’t be proud of this behavior. Instead I would recognize it as simply what I had to do to survive a situation that was beyond my control. And I’d try to do better next time.