Oregon Occupied

I consider myself a reasonable person. I am generally moderate in most discussions, with an ability to see both sides of an issue. I am also a teacher and a parent, with no tolerance for temper tantrums and standoffs. If you have a case to make, make it. I will listen. I will think about it and perhaps research your points to see if they make sense. I will make a decision based on reason, rather than emotion. If you threaten, stomp feet, slam doors, or stage an armed takeover a government facility, you muddy your cause, and I no longer want to hear about it.

This is why the Oregon Standoff, as it has been called, is particularly problematic to me.

There are justifiable concerns here. The Oregon ranchers, the Hammonds, were sentenced under a mandatory sentencing law that required them to serve 5 years each for arson. You can debate the hows and whys of that case, but a decision was made. A judge chose not to impose the mandatory sentence, the decision was appealed, and the mandatory sentence stood. I contend that there is a case for repealing mandatory minimum sentences and allowing context back into the sentencing conversation. This involves calling your representatives. Find some lawyers, set up a GoFundMe account, and fix it the laws the right way. It’s a slower process than taking over a building with a bunch of guns, but it’s our democratic way. Take it to the highest court in the land.

Another concern is the management of land. The communities of Central Oregon and other rural communities like it are frustrated at the restrictions placed on them by the government. They claim that setting aside land has cost them jobs and their livelihood. I see the frustration, but in an ever-shrinking world it’s more important than ever to balance resource management with conservation. Opening land that is being held in the public trust for the enrichment of a few is a bad idea. The people of Burns, Oregon are going to profit from the land at a fraction of what large investors and corporations stand to gain from it, and if you think the government (which is us) doesn’t care about you, wait until you see the attitude of big business.

Then there is the whole militia movement. I’m sorry, but you can quote the Constitution and parade the flag like you own it, but you will never speak for me on the necessity to rise up against a government (which is us) that is still able to manage a peaceful transfer of power. When the guy in charge reaches the end of his term, he vacates the premises. He doesn’t hang on any longer than he (or she) is due. The next qualified, elected candidate steps up to the task for the next four years. Does this aspect of our government have its flaws? Of course it does. But it still works.

 

As with any argument, you can get mired in rhetoric. Militants claim to be upholding the Constitution and Oathkeepers hold fast to the oath to “protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Which parts of the Constitution are they defending? Article 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the following responsibilities:

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress; 

The militia that we have seen recently in the Oregon occupation was not, to my knowledge, formed under the supervision of the Congress of the United States. Congress has not, to my knowledge, called them forth to repel invasions or suppress insurrections. On the contrary, they seem to be at the brink being the ones to stage the insurrection. Who has organized, armed and disciplined its members?  If they are self-styled and not regulated by Congress, doesn’t that put them in opposition to the Constitution they swore to uphold?

There is a lot of back and forth about the staging and response to this situation. This zealous group of self-proclaimed patriots are challenging the authority of the American government (which is us) and have said that they will use deadly force if necessary to promote their agenda, which at this stage sounds like taking back the land from we-the-people. (Is this stealing?) I ask you, who are the insurrectionists? Where is the reasoned debate? Are you willing to set the precedent of negotiating with terrorists?

If you are a conservative reading this, ask yourself if you would be okay with the opposing viewpoint taking this stand based on their agenda.


 

To my loyal readers, I promise to get off my soapbox. I just feel the need to speak out against this occupation. This is my state and I am offended by outsiders hijacking it. I also love my country and am unwilling to let it be torn apart from the inside without raising my own voice in protest. Thanks for your patience.

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Homeland

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.

 

A Nation Stymied

12079571_10208207514931300_2807447558671260670_nRecently my state was rocked by the news of another school shooting. Yes, another. The first that I can remember happened in 1998 when the town of Springfield, Oregon was ripped apart by the news of a young student who entered his high school cafeteria and gunned down his classmates, killing two, leaving 25 with bodily injuries and countless more with psychological trauma. He survived, though his parents didn’t. They were his first victims before he left for school that morning. He currently resides in the Oregon penal system. He had two legal guns and some that were acquired illegally. He appears to have had mental illness issues. He will remain nameless here.

The recent shooting took place at Umpqua Community College in the small town of Roseburg on the I-5 corridor in the southern Willamette Valley. It’s one of those close-knit communities that are sprinkled throughout Oregon, bound together by a common factor, in this case logging. I’ll spare you the details. I’m sure you’ve heard the news. Heavily armed man walks into a classroom, shoots teacher, begins mowing down innocent students of all ages, students with lives and families and dreams. Then the media arrives and further victimizes the victims with penetrating questions and invaded personal spaces because we, the people, need to know.

I am reminded of my middle school journalism class and the five questions we were taught to ask.

Who, what, where, when, and why?

The who is unimportant. The list of people looking to claim their place on the list of the infamous is ever increasing. The county sheriff refused to give the name of the shooter. I agree. Let’s just start calling them cowards and give them a number.

The what is inconceivable. A heavily armed person dressed in body armor entered an area of peace, education and edification, an area where nobody expects violence. He gunned down innocent people – fact. We should be able to count on going to school and being safe. And let’s call it what it was, mass murder. School shooting sounds sanitized to me. We have shooting ranges and we shoot pictures. Murder can’t be confused with anything else. By definition it is the senseless, premeditated killing of another human being.

The where was Oregon, a peaceful place, a blue state. We are a tolerant state. We are clean and green. We have abundant wildlife and plenty of hunters, gun owners who are responsible, keep their guns put away, don’t sensationalize them, and use them as the tools they are. The where is Roseburg, a beautiful, scenic area of Oregon, according to KGW newscasters reporting on the story as they gazed at the scenic backdrop. As in how could this take place in such a scenic place? As if it would be more understandable, better somehow, for a mass murder such as this to take place in the city, amid the drab, gray concrete walls, or in a darkened theater in a suburb, or in a mall on the transit line. But in this beautiful area?

The when was during a time of learning. Unarmed people, because we shouldn’t have to walk around our daily lives ready to defend ourselves, sat in a classroom improving their writing. The pen is mightier than the sword…or gun. But in this case it wasn’t.

The why doesn’t really matter anymore.

I understand the perpetrator of this mass murder may have wanted a little attention. So what? He has ripped apart the lives of everyone in that school, and many in that community in his pursuit of whatever it was he needed to make his life matter, to make his name count. But his name doesn’t count. His name should be forgotten, and those of the victims remembered. I’m sure they didn’t have perfect lives, that there were times they felt hurt or victimized or made someone mad or became mad themselves. Such is the nature of life. We all go through things. Most of us at some point are the victims of unfairness, yet we don’t respond with violence toward innocents. We rant to our friends. We cry. We take up yoga or boxing or running. We turn to church or one another. We write.

As a country, this issue has us stymied, as the now infamous Onion article points out. This latest incident brings to the surface yet another debate between the unwavering sides of the gun issue, and nothing will be done. We don’t know what to do. Gun owners wave their guns in one hand and their flag in the other, claiming their second amendment rights. Gun opponents claim this tragedy for themselves as another reason for restrictions. I’ve been more on the side of restrictions before, but when I heard this news, something changed. I don’t know that it matters. These guys are coming to their mass murder events padded with bulletproof armor. Will you, gun owner, be able to take down a shooter who is wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet? Were you trained for this? Maybe we ourselves need to wear bulletproof vests around in our daily lives as protection. Is that the answer?

Concealed-carry proponents claim they are a line of defense between us and potential killers. There may be instances where that is true. I still think I would feel better if we as a society reduced the ability of these madmen to execute their twisted fantasies in the first place. And I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable with the thought of the person sitting next to me in the theater or Starbucks or the library toting a weapon. How do I know that you, with your concealed-carry permit, are not the next school shooter? How do I know that you are balanced and nonviolent, that you only carry your gun for protection, and that you are willing and able to take another human life if need be? For all I know, you may be hot-headed, equally likely to brandish your weapon over texting in the theater or being cut off in traffic. So yes, I am uncomfortable with your right to carry a gun as it impinges on my right to be safe.

We live in a society where increasingly it seems that people claim their rights to independence and freedom without regard to their fellow citizens. Ranting radio hosts create hatred and bigotry, boxing people in with labels that don’t include human being. Isn’t this bullying on a large scale? Political groups hold in high regard a straight talker without recognizing him for the boor he is. We as a nation regularly consume a diet of reality TV that is nothing like the reality we live in – dining on high drama, fattening the bank accounts of media execs while leaving our own hearts and minds bereft of nourishment. Peace and tranquility don’t sell. Pursuit of happiness without turmoil doesn’t gain viewers.

I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that the conversation requires listening as well as talking, and if you are staunchly defending your position, this can’t happen. Maybe a start would be an attempt at civil discourse in this country.

About anything.

In the meantime, thoughts and prayers go out to all affected.

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