How Small Communities Can Rally to Protect Themselves

LaPorte, Colo., is a good example for communities that face adverse impacts to their public safety, health, and heritage.

By Janet Duvall

All across America, small communities with distinctive heritages often face a similar problem: Encroachment by industry and others whose intentions may easily disrupt the treasured lifestyle of residents.

Janet Duvall is a writer who lives in LaPorte, Colo. Learn more about her…

For some communities, people must face frequent struggles and battles to ward off interlopers with designs for changes that would adversely impact such peaceful corners of our busy world.

With these thoughts in mind, I want to tell you the story of the small community where I live—what’s happened there in the recent past, what’s happening today, and solutions we are considering.

It’s a story that residents of other such hamlets might find useful for preserving their ways of life.

LaPorte is a small, unincorporated area of about 2,600 residents located in northern Larimer County, Colorado. It’s an important historic area first settled in the 1820s by hardy mountain men and French-Canadian fur-tappers. It became the regional mountain headquarters and stage stop for the famed Overland Trail Stage Company. Today, LaPorte is a quaint and quiet community and, as its name suggests—LaPorte is French for “the door”—it is the scenic doorway into the beautiful northern Colorado Rockies.

LaPorte is not a city. It has no identified boundary and is not able to control its own destiny. LaPorte residents must rely on three Larimer County Commissioners to make decisions about the future of the community. The commissioners are elected county-wide to a 4-year term and often live far from LaPorte.

A typical view from LaPorte. Photo by Homes For The Colorado Lifestyle.

A busy highway—U.S. 287—originally bisected LaPorte and funneled ever-increasing numbers of cars and trucks through town during the 1970s and 1980s. With both an elementary school and middle school located in LaPorte, parents were seriously concerned about children walking and riding bicycles along and across the highway. In the early 1970s, LaPorte citizens requested the county commissioners to push the federal highway department for a bypass to get trucks out of the community.

Please take a few moments and complete the short poll at the end of this article.

Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for the commissioners to push hard enough. In 1977, a seven-year-old boy riding his bicycle along the highway was killed by a semi-truck barreling through LaPorte. It took 12 more years of red tape and haggling, but in 1989 U.S. 287 was rerouted to a bypass. The old U.S. 287 through town was designated as County Road 54G. Truck traffic was finally out of LaPorte.

The main street of LaPorte, Colo., where residents fought for years to remove heavy truck traffic. Photo by Wikipedia.

But will that victory stand? LaPorte remains vulnerable to any company or industry that wants to set up shop, and LaPorte’s people will be affected by the related traffic, air pollution and other negative impacts of that operation.

In the early 1990s, Holnam Cement—part of the worldwide company, Holcim— operated a cement plant located north and upwind of LaPorte. Holman proposed burning hazardous waste as fuel in its cement-making process. A large number of residents living in LaPorte and a nearby city, Fort Collins, Colo., formed the Clean Air Coalition. An atmospheric science professor at Colorado State University provided instruments to monitor air quality in the middle of LaPorte. Residents kept careful records, and the resulting scientific data revealed high levels of particulate matter in LaPorte’s air, likely due to already established mining and gravel operations in the area, along with the large number of unpaved dusty roads around LaPorte.

Members of the Clean Air Coalition—worried about children, the elderly, and others prone to asthma and other respiratory illnesses—expressed outrage at every public meeting held by Holnam and county officials. The board of county commissioners showed little concern, but Holnam leaders withdrew their application before a county decision was made. Holnam listened to the community.

Several years later, another company located north and upwind of LaPorte—Colorado Lien, one of the multi-state quarry operations of Pete Lien & Sons—proposed to crush quartz to create silica: a glass-making component, a proven carcinogen and causative agent in the deadly lung disease silicosis. Once again, LaPorte citizens rallied against the proposal. They were joined by residents living close to the quartz-mining operation near Buckeye, Colo. Colorado Lien pressed forward despite opposition and the decision whether to approve an operation that would put silica dust into the air upwind of LaPorte came to a new board of county commissioners. The proposal was denied.

Today, LaPorte faces another threat. Loveland Ready Mix (LRM) wants to establish a gravel-mining, rock-crushing and batch plant (a concrete plant) operation adjacent to residential homes on the east side of LaPorte.

Colorado Mining Law requires that gravel and other mineral resources must be extracted where they occur, but it does not require rock crushing and concrete-making on the site of extraction. The law does require decision-makers to reduce the impact on the environment and quality of life for citizens living in nearby communities and to develop a master plan for all gravel mining in the area. Larimer County has developed a “master plan,” but it is only a map showing the locations of the multiple existing and proposed mining sites; it does not address the cumulative impacts of such mining.

LaPorte, Colo.: Surrounded by mining operations, the small community wants to maintain its public safety, health, and history.

LRM has been pushing its agenda through the county review system in spite of thousands of people who wrote letters, spoke out at public hearings, and signed petitions (more than 3,000 signatures) circulated by the nonprofit No LaPorte Gravel grassroots organization. Although the LaPorte Area Planning Advisory Committee—a group of LaPorte citizens appointed by the county to advise the county commissioners—voted to deny the LRM proposal, the Larimer County Planning Commission voted to approve with a number of modifications to the original plan.

Regardless of appeals for help from the people of LaPorte, the LRM mining operation was approved by the county commissioners in a 2-to-1 vote. LRM has promised to mitigate some negative impacts, but the company has no way to mitigate the estimated 316 truck trips per day connected to their operation. The dissenting commissioner, Steve Johnson, proposed LRM access be limited to the bypass (the new U.S. Highway 287 route). His suggestion was voted down, and LRM truck traffic will be dumped directly onto County Road 54G (the old, embattled U.S. Highway 287), creating more traffic on the primary route into LaPorte. Although these trucks are prohibited from traveling west into the community unless local deliveries are required, LRM has designs for gravel mining on other sites in the LaPorte area. More proposals will be coming.

A view of what some unincorporated communities face as surface mining companies move in to gather resources. This is a site in Kansas. LaPorte, Colo., is looking at a similar scenario. Photo by Kansas Department of Agriculture.

This brings us full-circle back to where this article began. If your community faces challenges, what can you do to protect your way of life?  Consider the following types of actions — outlined here for LaPorte residents to protect their community – and adapt them to your own situation:

  1. Support and work through No LaPorte Gravel, a non-profit organization working to hire an environmental lawyer to delay the LRM gravel mining, rock crushing, and batch plant operation until the impact to the community has been scientifically determined. One can contribute funds to support this work at the NLG website.
  2. Take action and urge Larimer County Commissioners to develop and adopt an area master plan that would study the cumulative impacts on air quality, water quality, traffic, noise and other impacts created by current and future gravel mining near LaPorte.
  3. Seek a favorable candidate, living in the LaPorte area, to run for Larimer County Commissioner in 2020. The three commissioners are elected county-wide, but one commissioner lives in each of three geographic districts. LaPorte is located in District 2, currently represented by Commissioner Steve Johnson.  Steve Johnson was elected as commissioner for District 2 in 2008, and although he supports the people of LaPorte, he cannot run for re-election in 2020 due to term limits.
  4. Organize a community meeting and consider becoming incorporated, thus giving LaPorte the ability to create boundaries, elect local decision makers and take control of its own destiny.

Here are websites that you can use to organize in your community:

People Power from the Grassroots. This site talks about fundamental strategies available to communities that want to organize to address problems.

Community Toolbox. This site largely focuses on social action, but it offers a good framework that can help with community activists in any issue.

No LaPorte Gravel. This is the website for grassroots opposition in LaPorte. It’s a good template and resource for seeing how a community approaches and tries to solve a problem.

Read more about the LaPorte mining issue:

Janet Duvall’s previous articles for Writers With No Borders:

Growing up with “benign violence”

By George N. Wallace

We went to high school and college with shotguns or rifles in the gun rack because we might go hunting after class. We carried pocket knives and tobacco. There were occasional fights in the bathroom or out behind the school surrounded by other students.

George N. Wallace is a farmer and rancher, and emeritus college professor who lives in Colorado. Learn more about him...

If you were caught, they took you to the gym, gave you boxing gloves and a place to punch each other until you couldn’t lift your arms and the desire to fight was gone. Then you shook hands and were almost friends afterward.

We laughed about it as a rite of passage at reunions years later. Lacking a better term, there was what might be described as a low level of “benign violence” mixed in with growing up in the West. We had lots of ways to deal with our demons.

We were free to roam amid public lands that were big and open, and farms and ranches that were accessible if you first asked, closed gates and left a few fish at the house, we were free to roam. Guns were always available but seen as tools. Rifles and shotguns were for defending your chickens, for putting meat on the table and for a bit of target shooting. Long guns held from three to five shots, and handguns were around but not as common or concealed.

There were no assault rifles, high capacity magazines or bump stocks. The National Rifle Association (NRA) seemed more like a first cousin to the Boy Scouts. Their publications featured “gun literacy” with pictures of 11-year-old kids learning to shoot a .22 rifle safely with their dads.

Still part of the ecosystem, we spent a good deal of time hunting and fishing from a young age but were constantly reminded by adults and older peers that guns should be handled safely and to “treat all guns as if they were loaded.” You passed your gun to a companion when you crossed a fence, and you didn’t point a muzzle in the direction of anyone without sharp reprimand. You stayed in line when hunting pheasants together and you were not to target practice without a backstop. We learned how far different projectiles traveled and were made very aware that a gun could harm another person—and how that would be tragic.

Please take the short poll at the end of this article.

Hunting being a higher level of violence than fighting at school, you were taught to make a careful shot and not wound an animal. My grandfather gave me three shells to hunt with. One went in your pocket and if you didn’t make a clean kill then you followed the tracks and blood trail until you ended the animal’s suffering.

If you had a trapline, you checked it daily for the same reasons. I remember a mix of elation, respect, and remorse for the animals we harvested, and elders saw to it that we carefully processed and used the meat. We had all reached into warm body cavities feeling liver, heart and marveling at the wonder of a living body while also witnessing the damage a bullet could do. Could it be that the “limited violence”—and calculated risk-taking that came with a mix of wrestling, tackling, 80-mph fastballs, throwing cherry bombs, rough-housing, hunting, and fishing—left us unable to even fathom a world where school shootings would take place let alone become frequent?

More than any other artist, Normal Rockwell interpreted the simpler times of America. This piece of his artwork, titled Adventures Between Adventures, was painted for one of his annual Four Seasons calendars. It shows a time when youths grew up in a much slower, less complicated world. Learn more…

There were a few messed-up kids from broken or abusive homes, those who had been in trouble with the law or who had been suspended. Some were bullies or bullied, but friends usually stepped in. I particularly remember kids who had too much money and few restrictions.

Some low-key gang activity existed, but the Anglo, Italian and Hispanic gang members also played sports with and against one another. Together and alone, students dealt with problems without social media to amplify them and make them omnipresent.

It helped to have numerous outlets for controlled aggression that provided a moderating effect. If things were bad at school, you disappeared into the wildlands for a while, got an apprenticeship or job, hitch-hiked to Mexico, or enlisted in the military. It was easier to move past a troubled youth and spend more time with adults who had made their way. No one, however great their problems, ever thought about killing a bunch of other students as a way out.

In 2018, at my freshman grandson’s high school, students can’t carry pocket knives, they are no longer allowed to do contact sports in PE classes, and even dodgeball is off limits! There are fewer intramural teams or pick-up games. Youth groups like 4H and FFA struggle to survive and sports are highly organized, exclusive, very competitive, expensive, waivered, and always supervised. Fights and threats often end in expulsion.

Schools are fortified, have armed guards, active shooter drills and lockdowns. Our president wants more teachers to carry handguns—to thwart assault rifles! Parents and friends no longer walk freely into schools and classrooms to bring their kids lunch, watch them present a paper, or pick them up for a doctor’s appointment. Recently, a janitor had to unlock a door so I could pick my grandson up from an indoor baseball practice.

How is it too that in much of the “New West” there are fewer hunters, firecrackers are illegal, you can’t buy cigarettes or a beer unless you are 21—yet there are more gun stores with Glock-packing salesmen ready to sell assault rifles and “tactical” gear to 18-year-olds. Our police now respond to disputes looking like special ops soldiers and the NRA would have us believe that there are so many “bad guys” that all of us “good guys” must carry guns that shoot many rounds quickly—everywhere we go.

While this kind of comparative reflecting may not be relevant to someone from inner-city Chicago, I am perplexed and saddened at having lost the freedoms, sensibilities, and opportunities once common to a Western upbringing and which may have helped immunize us from unthinkable pathological violence.

We can’t return to a 1950s West, but, as we work towards sensible gun control and school security, can we not also reclaim some of the things that might re-route or prevent a troubled young person away from ever wanting to kill as many unarmed peers or others as they can?

 

Lesson for Paul Manafort and all of us: Honesty can lead to financial freedom

By Bear Gebhardt

I experience more financial freedom than Paul Manafort, even before he went to jail.

My more financial freedom than pre-jail Manafort came as somewhat of a surprise since Mr. Manafort recently earned over $60 million dollars in a single five-year period.

Bear Gebhardt is a Colorado writer. Learn more about him…

By “financial freedom” I mean free from excessive worry when it comes to money, free from hurry, free of looming cash deadlines that I can not meet. Free from having to think about money too much.

Here’s one lifestyle difference where Paul and I diverge: My mom bought me a suit several decades ago. It hangs in the closet for funerals and the as-yet-to-be received invitation from Stockholm to come and accept the Nobel—Peace, Literature, whatever. The suit used to be a little too big around the waist. No longer. Still, one suit is enough. (I live in cowboy country.)

I’m on Medicare (we all should be on Medicare!) and my payment for supplemental insurance for my wife and I is automatically deducted each month from our bank account. I pay my household and auto insurance once a year, on August 1. It’s a big chunk—in the low four figures. Two or three weeks ahead of that yearly payment I sell some of my losing stock investments to cover the premium. (If one invests in the stock market—what I have simplified down to “buying a little income”—one will with great certainty have at least a few losing investments. )

Curiously, this is a win, win, win deal. 1.) My insurance is paid up for the year and I don’t have to think about it again; 2.) I get to take a loss on my income tax for the stock I sold; 3.) I get a somewhat significant reduced rate on the cost of my insurance for paying it all at once, a year ahead. Such are the small victories in middle-class money management.

Paul Manafort’s secretary once sent several e-mails reminding him that his insurance payment was overdue and was going to be canceled soon if he didn’t send a check pronto. A check or a wire transfer from Cyprus. I’ve been in that circumstance (except for the Cyprus option.) Haven’t we all? It’s gut-twisting and a potential sleep depriver.

What do you think? Please take the short poll at the end of this article.

I’ve been happily married for close to a hundred years. We’ve been in our modest home for almost forty. Long enough to pay off the mortgage, be mortgage free. I planted all the shade-bearing trees that are now taller than the house.  I put up the fence, planted the grass, decades and decades ago. For us, our home is now a little slice of heaven.

Paul Manafort is worried his house—where he and his wife live—might go into foreclosure. Actually, he worries about several houses that might go into foreclosure. Maybe he could take out a loan…

Decades ago, I knew how he felt. Haven’t we all been squeezed, a time or two or three? But I’ve matured since then. Most of us mature. By the time most of us are Paul’s age, we’ve learned what’s important, what’s not.

House going into foreclosure: another sleep depriver.

As I said, I was surprised to discover—owing to a somewhat obsessive following of the Manafort trials—that in my current season I accidentally feel more financially secure, financially free, than Mr. Manafort did, with his sixty million.

So, other than suits, do Mr. Manafort and I have extremely different lifestyles?

On the one hand, yes: I don’t wear an ankle bracelet, telling my jailers where I am, moment by moment.

On the other hand, no: In the bathroom, we each take our pants off one leg at a time, and do our business, standing up or sitting down, for as long as it takes to do our business.

At night, when he is in his bedroom, and I in mine, and we each lie on our beds, close our eyes, fall asleep—the cost of the curtains is immaterial. The trust of our bed partner—and her easy sleep, and thus our own easy sleep—figures significantly.

Following the Manafort trials, I’ve come to see that financial freedom does not come from a number in the bank but rather from the relationships I cultivate with those around me—both people and institutions.

Honesty, transparency, forthrightness are all obviously necessary for financial freedom. Hard work over many decades, paying the monthly bills, also adds up to a certain freedom. But financial freedom is impossible if that hard work over many decades is not accompanied by open and honest dealings with co-workers, and the institutions that support that work. And it’s probably easier to do if the daily work is grounded in true service to a worthy cause.

Paul Manafort, lobbyist, political consultant, lawyer, and convicted felon for tax fraud, bank fraud and failure to report foreign bank accounts. Learn more…

Perhaps some small minority of people get born into a certain narrow type of “financial freedom”—where they hardly ever worry about money just because there’s so damned much of it. But this is rare, and not really relevant to most of us in our search for financial solvency.

The financial freedom most of us yearn for is freedom from excess worry—not worrying about bouncing checks, making monthly mortgage payments, regularly paying off the credit card,  making the insurance premiums. It comes down to not worrying when shopping at the grocery store about being able to pay for what we want to eat this week.

Financial freedom means we can pay the cable bill and watch the Yankees game on television—without needing Paul Manafort’s $250,000 season tickets, a charge still showing up on his American Express bill long after the season has ended.

If he had the time—and the freedom—I’d like to take Paul Manafort to coffee and explain to him the “common man’s”  metrics for financial freedom, and the relatively simple things we need to do to attain such freedom. (Be open, be honest, work hard, pay your bills, hang in there.) Again, learning what’s important, what’s not.

And oh yeah, financial freedom is also much easier if you live the type of life that you seldom find yourself in the position where you must hire a bevy of expensive criminal lawyers. (I wonder if Mr. Manafort’s lawyers ever worry about his paying of their fees.  Or did they ask to get paid up front?)

I think I’ll go check to see how my small portfolio of stocks is doing.  And then watch a Yankee’s game on cable.

From Harriet Tubman to John Carlos and Colin Kaepernick: Are Things Better?

By Pete Simon

On October 16, 1968—50 years ago—I entered the gates of the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, an hour’s train ride north of Chicago. It would become a gut-wrenching time with endless belittlement, tedious routines, and unreachable deadlines.

Pete Simon is a writer living in Colorado. Learn more about Pete…

Outside of this military asylum, our cities were burning. Back in August, Chicago police had gone on a rampage against protesters in Lincoln Park and adjacent streets during the Democratic National Convention, as many of us questioned the Vietnam War. National Guard troops still patrolled the streets of some cities, including my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the same day, I started basic training, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in defiance on the medal stand at the Olympics in Mexico City; a daring action which had them banned from the games.

When I watched what they did as I sat in front of a TV in a base lounge, I was shocked, but not surprised.  I understood why they did it; the evidence of injustice was everywhere. Now, looking back this last half-century, I realize what those two men did that day lives on through the actions of people like Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem to protest injustice.  From day one, I have supported such displays of protest, even while being in the belly of the beast at a military training base.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos: Injustice everywhere.

Scared to death: As soon as recruits around me saw the footage of Smith and Carlos with their fists raised to the heavens, the screaming for their heads commenced. I have never attended a lynch mob, but the unbridled racist profanity and screaming at a fever pitch was one you could associate with a lynching. I was scared to death because I stood-out in silence. I was worried that Smith and Carlos would be lynched by the likes of people surrounding me, who earlier in the day swore to defend the constitution of the United States. And I also worried about the backlash the action by Smith and Carlos would cause; a backlash that included the election of Richard Nixon three weeks later.

I had no idea that John Carlos would go on to earn a doctorate degree and continue to speak out against injustice. A lot of what he was protesting against were things I would later witness aboard ship: racism and homophobia displayed by too many, directed toward people in the U.S. and ports that I visited across Africa, India, Pakistan, and the Arabian Peninsula.

Please take the short poll at the end of this article.

October 16, 1968, the day I first put on the uniform, was the day I became very conflicted, a feeling that only became more intense after boot camp. What John Carlos and Tommie Smith did for me on October 16 was provide a healthy dose of inspiration to cope in a lion’s den of ignorance and cruelty. My sense of self-worth, clarity, and justice was never stronger.

The U.S.S. Forrest D. Royal DD872, the ship where the author’s worldview changed.

A year later, as the Amazing Mets somehow defeated the unstoppable Orioles, winning the World Series, the ship on which I was stationed, the U.S.S. Forrest D. Royal DD872, prepared to set sail for Africa and the Indian Ocean theater on what was deemed a “goodwill cruise.” Those six months from November until mid-May would change the way I view world politics (from East versus West, to Northern Hemisphere versus Southern), and the role played by our government in “hot spots” of the cold war in Africa. Such places escaped the headlines back home and (most tragically) were ignored by our anti-war movement.

On our ship’s second stop, Luanda, Angola, it became clear to me that we were not there to pay a social call. We were sharing combat surveillance information with top brass of the Portuguese military who came aboard our ship less than an hour after we docked for an extended briefing with our captain and senior officers. Our ship was equipped with sophisticated radio listening equipment that could receive radio transmissions across the interior of countries, including Angola where liberation groups were based.

The docking of our ship included an ominous display of the Portuguese military presence on the pier, with red-bereted commandos standing at parade rest in front of their machine gun-mounted jeeps. The city was surrounded with barbed wire to keep out MPLA freedom fighters. For the great majority of our crew, it was a wake-up call to what was going on between us and a NATO ally at a time when all British and French colonies in Africa had been granted independence.

{Learn more about the times of strife in Portugal and Angola’s history together.}

The other shock to my system from this particular “goodwill cruise” was the barbaric racist behavior displayed by several of my shipmates toward people of color in the ports of call. They would get rip-roaring drunk on liberty, then seek-out a victim or two and return to the ship with their inebriated stories of conquest–certainly the antithesis of goodwill. Thankfully, most of the crew did not partake in this behavior.  When they went on liberty they handled their alcohol like adults, then went on scenic walks, museums, local marketplaces, etc. My immediate petty officer supervisor, whom I will call Wayne, referred to such people as “faggots” because they didn’t wind up in a back room at a bar with a prostitute.

A bad quip: When we stopped in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, there were Arab men standing on the dock holding hands (an Arabic custom unrelated to sexual preference). Wayne’s first comment was predictable. Pointing to the men on the dock, he declared, “Some of the guys on ship should have a good time here,” a quip that brought a few laughs. For this kind of juvenile talk to come from a “leader of men” was not surprising, but it was sad, along with his description of a part of our onboard living space where African-American sailors resided, that Wayne called “The Congo.”

Has anything changed over the last 50 years? Maybe things are getting better? The NFL players challenged me on that question. Some players have taken to riding with police officers on patrol and become involved in police-community work in African-American communities. At least dialogue has started in some places.

Has anything changed over the last half-century? Are things better? I’m optimistic, especially when I view such thoughts as the following. On Oct. 15, the day before the 50th anniversary of John Carlos and the others raising their fists in Mexico City, The Nation published an extensive interview with Carlos. He said:

John Carlos today: “I know God is there and he used me as a vessel to try and wake people up.”

“I just did a talk in Topeka, Kansas. That’s a red state. I had 2,000 people rush to be in the audience to hear me speak. Out of the 2,000, I would say 700 or 800 of them must’ve been high-school students, the majority white. I was impressed that those parents in the red state allowed their kids to hear my speech. So it makes me realize that what I’ve been saying over the years has started to resonate with people, regardless of what their ethnic background is.”

Maybe we still have time. The November 2018 election results from Kansas produced several pleasant surprises for many of us.  Was John Carlos tapping into some of that positive energy? Maybe all of the hatred I witnessed by my fellow recruits and shipmates fifty years ago is being rectified by a younger generation.  Maybe enough of them will continue to vote so we can have leaders who don’t urge whipped-into-a-frenzy people at political rallies to do bodily harm on someone for being a reporter, or for just exercising their (free speech) rights as an American. Maybe.  Just maybe we can sail through calm waters again, or at least more productive ones.  On this, the year of the 50th anniversary of my October 16, I think it’s about time.  You?

The Creator: In the same article in The Nation, John Carlos noted that he was being used by “The Creator” as a vessel for good. He went on: “I thought that was amazing in the sense that whoever the creator of this planet is put me in that situation. I don’t know what God’s name is, but I know God is there and he used me as a vessel to try and wake people up. And I felt extraordinarily proud and pleased. I know we put the shock treatment on people and shocked them enough that they will start to spin their wheels and have some sort of reckoning in their minds. They’ll have to start to think about, ‘Why would this individual step up and do what he’s doing in life?’”

As someone who attended Methodist Sunday school and church in the city of Wilmington while growing-up, sang Methodist hymns and old spirituals in the youth choir, and has listened to jazz, blues and spirituals all of my life, John Carlos’ words about “The Creator” ring true.  I find them refreshing in this day when most people associate any reference to a higher power for inspiration as coming only from the right side of the political spectrum. It has been this way since the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination when the uptick in TV evangelists started.

Harriet Tubman didn’t let injustice stop her.

Are the words of John Carlos here a call, an indication that the world is about to receive a new, more universal kind of calling, all over again? Is it the same type of calling that kept Harriet Tubman going back more than one hundred times to slave territory to bring more and more enslaved people to Pennsylvania?

In Wilmington—one of the last stops going northward on the Underground Railroad—there is a statue of Harriet in Tubman-Garrett Park. The statue and Tubman’s story remind me that with all that I have been through in this life, all that I have witnessed overseas and experienced everywhere, my life is only one tiny piece of the human experience through time.

Colin Kaepernick exercising his rights as an American.

If I had to pick just one day in my life, a day when so much hit me squarely between the eyes, when so much challenged me with all the yelling and screaming of orders around me, and when I saw so much courage displayed by two African-American men who by raising their fists could have lost everything for something they believed in so strongly, all of this was wrapped into just one day: October 16, 1968; a day that will stay with me forever.

 

 

 

How Do You Define Greatness?

By Pete Simon

Recently, someone asked me: How is it that some places in this world are filled with affluence, modernity and relative comfort, while in other places people still live in grass huts without electricity and short life spans?  Are we supposed to feel guilty about that?

My answer was no, but we must be aware of history, understand why certain things are arranged so disproportionately, and respond in the best way that we can.

While serving in the Navy on a trip to Africa, India, Pakistan, and the Persian Gulf, I saw many ways to measure the greatness and many ways to compare this country’s “blessings” to other places less fortunate. It is in the eye of the beholder that makes the most difference in how life in one place is compared to another.

What the six months overseas did for me was ask a basic question: Why does extreme poverty still exist in developing places around this crazy world, when continually poor people stand on their own soil and rock containing unspeakable wealth?

It is natural wealth that someone from afar is cashing in on; not them. It is wealth mined or gathered to make OUR cell phones, OUR machine engines, OUR jet airplanes.  Do I need to go on?  And Hollywood gives us a feel-good moment with a blockbuster film about a fictitious African nation controlling a natural resource the world covets. It is the ultimate cruel joke, supposedly providing inspiration.

All of this goes on as our leader uses words like “shithole countries” to describe places where we LUST after the resources. Lust is lust. God makes no distinction between this form of lust and others.

This is the question we should be asking: Does the GREATNESS we want in our hearts represent our better angels and ideals, as taught to us early-on (in my case) in Sunday School? Or is it tarnished by anti-Christian traits like greed, corruption, racism, and sexism? There are many metrics one can use to measure greatness. It depends on who makes up the audience judging whether or not greatness has been reached. Often, it depends on who controls the public’s airwaves to forge public opinion or acceptability on whether we have gotten to “great.”

Please take a few moments to take the short poll at the end of this article.

But any leader who uses the term “greatness” subjectively in an effort to return to the “bad old days” is not a leader of all men and women. Instead, such a leader is beholden to something darker for entire groups of citizens. It is a world where many who are not “privileged” would never recognize it as great and one they’d rather forget.

Through human history, there are countless stories of the rise and fall of greatness. Centuries ago, Africa had great civilizations, as did other places in our world now considered struggling or developing. All empires we have studied expired at some point.

The actual game changer for today’s world wasn’t what happened on the ground, but on the high seas. The mastery of sea-going vessels by European and Islamic peoples had much to do with them establishing dominance over everyone they visited around the world. That and European development of modern warfare tools. Every place you look where people have been exploited, enslaved, killed, maimed, relocated, it all comes down to one group being conquered by another with superior (great) warfare technology.

Since Hollywood has broken the ice with the movie Black Panther, I would love to see another science fiction movie set in the 1500s in which Africans had the European technology at their disposal so Africans could defend themselves when white people started arriving (imagine the same idea for a movie with Sitting Bull or Geronimo on equal footing with our invading armies).

“…any leader who uses the term ‘greatness’ subjectively in an effort to return to the “bad old days” is not a leader of all men and women.”

In reality, once Europeans established dominance over Africans with superior war toys, they did anything they wanted. It was easy for them to justify it with their embedded racism. The proof is seen in rulers like King Leopold, who treated his Congolese “subjects” like cattle.  Ten million of them died during his reign of enslavement, rape, and torture for copper, gold, and other minerals. In today’s world, he would have been convicted of mass genocide, comparable to the Nuremberg trials.

Africans have their own problems with genocide, exacerbated by tribal/ethnic problems which are a by-product of how European nations drew lines on a map of Africa (at the Berlin Conference in 1885, to create colonial boundaries). At the conference African tribal boundaries, watersheds, and geographical features were usually ignored, thus creating staging areas for future conflicts across the continent (Nigeria and Sudan, to name just two).  Slowly (too slow for all of us witnessing tribal violence and killing in South Sudan) this problem will go away, as economies improve.

The first key development has already started in many countries with remote village electrification. For the first time, people there are not only able to run refrigerators to store medicine and perishable food, but they also operate water purification systems and provide power for local commerce. All of this is possible with solar, wind or geothermal technologies; geothermal resources being most applicable in the East African Rift Valley running through central Kenya.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Remember: Colonialism has never really ended.  English and French banks, and mining companies still hold a lot of sway in their former colonies. African nations, in regular need of cash to build infrastructure or a new industry, often borrow money from their former colonizers and the interest rates charged are back-breaking. That is part of the reason things never seem to get better, or they improve at a snail’s pace.

Black Panther: “Hollywood gives us a feel-good moment with a blockbuster film about a fictitious African nation controlling a natural resource the world covets. It is the ultimate cruel joke, supposedly providing inspiration.”

China is the one place in the world where a nation successfully stood up to the colonial power.  Once partly colonized, the Chinese people overcame and have become a premier driving force in the world. It is why I like the movie “The Sand Pebbles” so much. It gives a brief but powerful picture of our country’s misadventure in China 90 years ago. But China has started a second wave of colonialism, in Africa.

Compared to China, Africans are still taking baby steps, and that is a frightening comparison now as China’s involvement in Africa is huge.  If more African leaders had the temperament of the late Nelson Mandela, who knew when it was time for him to personally give up power gracefully, African countries would be closer to building something very powerful and secure.  In too many countries life-long rulers or tyrants run things into the ground (see Zimbabwe and The Congo). Same-old-same-old leaders breed the kind of corruption that people, representing overseas interests, crave when making deals for coveted resources.

So far, no African leader or the African Union has spoken of a specific plan to stop the one-sided trade deals favoring China in Africa, or the propensity of China to ship in Chinese laborers for Chinese-funded infrastructure construction or other projects, leaving African workers idle. This has infuriated African laborers in Angola and other countries and may provide the spark needed to get African leaders to grow a spine when dealing with China.

Even though overseas interests have tied-up unspoken amounts of Africa’s natural resources, there is still an enormous amount of them underground, unclaimed. The future of the African people is tied to those resources. Will African leaders unite and craft a plan to stop the second colonial wave which is decimating African people?

As it stands now, billions of dollars of precious metals and minerals are leaving for Chinese ports because African leaders crave the Chinese cash being offered in return; they say to develop infrastructure and other projects for the people.

One can only hope the people will find an effective way to account for that money and a better way to make deals (with all colonial powers) in the future. That will be the only way African people will attain a true state of greatness, and level a worldwide playing field that has been uneven and cratered for centuries.

Learn more:

A Poem for Our Times, Thanks to Ken Burns

Editor’s note: The dramatic documentary, The Vietnam War, captured the attention and minds of audiences as it told the story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history. The subject of this documentary makes pale the current news of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the Game of Thrones, Powerball, NFL, Google, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, Russian hacking, and the countless other events, people, quirks, and shenanigans that comprise the cultural and political dictionary and thesaurus of today’s world. The documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is the mapquest that historians and educators will use to define and explain America’s journey.

Even now, a year after it was released by PBS, with reruns often aired on public TV stations since then,  the 10-part, 18-hour documentary still evokes deep emotions, intense discussions and, for some viewers, painful memories and the pondering of challenges faced by all of us.

With those thoughts in mind, we encourage you to read and think long and hard about the following insightful poem by Michael C. Dolan, a retired lawyer in Oakland, Calif. After reading the poem, please take the short survey at the end of this posting.

 

Watching Ken Burns’ Film on Viet Nam

It made me weep

For all the living and the dead

All the wars of man

Endless and forever

I felt it shouldn’t

This mere truth

But I was trapped

In my own organic nature

 

I am of the earth

And from the earth

All earthly things

Inescapable

Are me and mine

I must weep

As I must breathe

 

I am not different from the others

I do not float over them

Eternal and free

Even though I foresee

My own death

Such foresight does not save me

From the pain of dying

Nor from the darkness after death

 

With all my knowledge

I feel hunger

I feel sorrow

I feel the rage of war within me

Along with all the children’s joy

I even feel empathy

For the other man’s pain

 

It is not just me

Living through these times

This now

Of foolishness and rage

 

It is not just me

Blundering through this miasma

This now

Of change and celebration

 

It is not just me

Holding on to nothing

In this now

That madly carries us along

 

It is not just me

Ever changing

Yet all the same

You see

It’s just us

–by Michael C. Dolan

The Deplorable Who Once Sat Next to Me

By David Adamson

Early most days I go to a nearby Starbucks. It’s a big store, with lots of seating. The choice seating if you’re alone is at one of the eight small tables arranged in a row along a faux-leather, padded bench.

Right after opening the crowd is sparse, but there’s always a cadre of regulars, mainly grey hairs who seek that padded bench. Through the years, I’ve formed what you might call a “coffee shop” friendship with some of them – we know enough about each other to ask a personal question like “How was your trip to the coast?” or “How’s that new knee working?”

David Adamson worked in high technology and health care. He’s the author of Walking the High Tech High Wire and The Wellness Club. He’s written hundreds of blogs on politics and fitness. Learn more about David…

One regular I got to know was named Joe. He routinely came in about 15 minutes after me. He would search for a table with nobody next to him, then carefully unfold the local newspaper he brought clamped under his arm, and read it front to back as he sipped his coffee. Sometimes he would read silently at the table next to me if that was the only one left.

One day he sat down next to me, but instead of unfolding his newspaper, commented, “Manning could have used some blocking last night,” nodding towards my Bronco hat. After that, many conversations followed because he would sit next to me even if other tables were vacant. I learned he was a Pittsburgh Steeler fan because that’s where he was raised. Served in the Army. Got a degree in electronics on the GI Bill. Spent his career with AT&T traveling all over the world setting up transcontinental communications for big projects like ABC’s Wide World of Sports. In retirement, he kept busy wiring houses for Habitat for Humanity. Every few months he had to get shots in his eyes to slow the onset of glaucoma.

Our chats, though brief, were far-ranging – poisonous snakes, growing bluegrass in a desert, acrobatics, space travel, how to prevent ice dams. We never broached politics. The only hint I had ever heard of his political views was when he commented “those people in D.C. don’t have a clue what life is like out here in the West” in reference to Oregon needing more federal funding to fight fires.

The Wednesday morning after Trump won the election, I was in an ornery mood. From the morning of his pompous descent on the Trump Hotel escalator to announce his candidacy, I dreaded the possibility he could win. I was rattled that so many Americans could be fooled by such an obvious flimflam man.

As soon as Joe sat down, I bypassed our usual weather/sports pleasantries, and felt compelled to ask, “Joe, who’d you vote for?”

He smiled. “Trump. How about you?”

When I responded “Hillary Clinton,” he pulled his head back like he got whiff of feces. I continued, “Tell me it ain’t so. Why did you vote for him? Wow!”

“Honestly, I didn’t think much of either of them,” he confided. “But I couldn’t vote for Clinton. She belongs in prison.”

“Prison? For what?” Here it comes, I thought: Benghazi, classified documents on her private server, or fat bribes from Wall Street when she was a senator.

He hesitated, then answered, “Murder.”

I was stunned. “Murder? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Speaking in a low voice, as if this Starbucks was bugged, Joe explained the Clintons had been running a crime syndicate for decades. Politics was just an easy smokescreen. During the past 20 years, 42 people connected to the Clintons had died under very suspicious circumstances, like plane crashes and shootings. “Does the name Vince Foster ring a bell?” he asked.

“Yes, he killed himself.” I remembered the gist of the story from back in the 90s. Foster was a Clinton lawyer and family friend.

Joe shook his head. “Dave, that was no suicide. The media tried to sell that, and almost pulled it off, but no. There were two entry wounds. One in the mouth, one in the back of the head. Tell me how do you kill yourself with two shots to the head when you only need one?”

I couldn’t tell him how, so I asked why the Clintons wanted him dead. “Lots of reasons. He knew all the dirt, starting back in Arkansas with Whitewater. They say he had been messin’ around with Hillary. They found blonde hair on the body…”

“Joe, I find that hard to believe,” I interrupted. “Besides, it’s ancient history.”

“Believe it or not, it’s the truth. Listen to this. Right now, this very minute, they are involved in child sex trafficking. In New Jersey, they own a pizza business selling young girls to…”

I raised my hand, signaling him to stop. “I’ve heard enough. That’s ridiculous. Where do you get this crap?” I was so annoyed that I was looking at him as if he were an alien from outer space.

Judging by the look on his face, the feeling was mutual. His upper lip trembling slightly, he muttered, “It’s right there on the internet. Go look for yourself.” He turned away, unfolded his newspaper, and started reading.

Without another word, I got up and left. As soon as I got home, I Googled “Vince Foster.” Sure enough, multiple forensic investigations concluded Foster died from a single, self-inflicted wound. I intended to tell Joe that the next time I saw him.

But after that day, Joe never sat next to me again. It seems what happened between us almost two years ago is a national phenomenon.

I went on a reading binge in an attempt to understand this extreme polarization. My list included books such as Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Anderson, and Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg. However, none of these books, full of brilliant analysis, offered ideas on how to enlighten, convert or rescue Joe.

A month before the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton caused a firestorm with this comment: “To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

She stopped before describing the other half. My guess it is all those Joe’s out there — those affable, well-intentioned, law-abiding folks who have lost their rational political minds and continue to support Trump. Having abandoned logic and empirical evidence, they cannot distinguish between the truth and manipulative, preposterous, exaggerated, fictitious, deceptive or fear-mongering lies.

Consequently, they are easily influenced by Russian trolls and extreme right wingers propagandizing from the Dark Web and major social media platforms. Upon reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s first indictment, I got the chills realizing these destructive internet subversives, thousands of miles away, understood Joe better than I did.

No wonder our nation is in such a deplorable situation, and the table next to me in Starbucks is empty.