Saturday a small, armed group took over a federal building in the unassuming state of Oregon. It’s a small building, probably closed for the season, but that’s irrelevant. They are trespassing. With guns.
Their recent migration to the small town of Burns, Oregon was to “peacefully protest” (their words) the extension of a sentence of a rancher who burned federal lands, possibly as a cover-up for poaching, and was convicted of arson. The community of Burns was justifiably worried by the intrusion. They didn’t ask these people to come. Eastern Oregonians have issues with land rights and many other rural issues that don’t get much air time, but not to the point of waving guns around and decrying the government. But this group, led by Ammon Bundy, took it upon themselves to appropriate this state and this case to promote an agenda. You can discuss the merits of the arson case until the cows come home (pun intended), but that’s beside the point. What is more troublesome is the lack of faith in our current system of government and the apparent willingness of some people to take up arms.
I recently read an article citing “The Trump Effect.” You may have read something similar at some point, but the gist of it was that straight-talking Donald has brought these people out of their hiding places and given them the courage to push civility aside and say whatever they please, no matter who suffers for it. The drunk uncle has been unleashed upon the public, and the result is division. The result is also people thinking that marching with guns through a small town and taking over a bird refuge are a justifiable response to a court decision.
There are many tangential threads of response to this occupation. There are attempts to compare the situation to the killing of a black child wielding an air-soft gun or to the rioting in Ferguson. When we question the lawlessness of Bundy’s group’s actions, we get a redirect to a different issue. The race card has been played, citing the lack of law enforcement reaction to the fact that the men are white. I’m sure law enforcement doesn’t relish the thought of trying to pry these guys, who have already stated that they are willing to die for their position, from their perch. Why, these gentlemen are merely getting some rest in a building owned by we-the-people. They aren’t really doing anything wrong, right? Unless you believe in the rule of law. Unless you want to live in a civil society, where these things are decided by the courts, and not by we-the-people wielding guns. Bundy and his crew ally themselves to the Forefathers who also fought the big, bad government of the time. I mean, they’re just looking out for our interests, right? They have hung the American flag over the Malhuer Refuge sign, a flag symbolizing our unity under the federal government. Perhaps the irony is lost on them.
None of these tangents should detract from the real question of whether or not our system of government is working, and if not, what do we do about it?
I’ve heard disturbing talk from both extremes citing the R word – revolution. I have to ask what we are revolting from? These anti-government guys may want to revolt from the government, who in their eyes is taking more power and more land. The other end of the spectrum is revolting from the corporate powers-that-be who own and manage most the wealth of the country. People clamor for the good-old-days, though I’m not sure if they are talking the days of Jim Crow or the robber barons. (We may be headed toward the latter.) Everything seems to be fueled by fear.
Is the country trending toward incivility, as it seems to be? When civility breaks down, what does that say about civilization itself? We have to agree to let the mostly peaceful system work, kinks and all. We have an agreed upon set of laws, and it’s in our best interest as a country to follow them where they stand and to work within the system to change them if they are not working. When you pick up guns and hole up in a federal building, when you detonate a truck-bomb outside of a federal building, you are not working within the system, and folks, for the most part, the system works.
We will never be 100% in agreement with decisions made in Salem, Oregon or Washington, D.C. We can’t be. We are a diverse nation, and the needs of the many outweigh the needs (or wants) of the few. We must accept that the other guy might win an election, but that he will do his best to promote the welfare of our country. We must recognize our responsibility to educate ourselves as to the issues of the day and to vote according to what is in the best interest of the nation. To cry foul and march down the street with gun in hand, to take over a federal building, no matter the size, contributes to the breakdown of society. The right to protest is built into our Constitution. The right to intimidation is not.
Some important issues have been resolved through peaceful protest. To my knowledge none of them involved a gun.