Missoula In the day to day ebb and flow of work, issues, campaigns, and people, the events of the country and world seem urgent and immediate, and of course they are, even though invisible to most. Preparing to move from our Airstream fishing camp in the Saffire Mountains along Rock Creek is always a helpful reminder how invisible these same concerns are to many, maybe even most, people around the country.
I’ve spent most of my life organizing in the cities, where people are enmeshed in the struggles of daily life just to survive. Bad jobs, bad housing, pathetic education, and sorry healthcare all mean something to people in a collective sense because in some ways we’re all chockablock right in it together.
Breaking camp in the post-dawn quiet over the last eleven days we have often felt we were the only ones in the world. It’s an exhilarating feeling even if you still dream about work at night. It’s easier to believe in the myth of the rugged individual in Montana when you’re all by your lonesome, because you really don’t have a heckuva a lot of choice but to glue the world together by yourself sometimes.
I say myth, because neighbors matter here as well. The Forest Service shows up to fight the fires. The county or service grades the road. Fisheries sets the limit here at three brown trout per day and rainbows and all others back in the creek, so we can enjoy, thanks to my comrade and friend Secky Fascione and the government, one of the best blue ribbon streams in the country. Wildlife authorities set the bans and the season so that we have seen bald eagles, a moose, bighorn sheep, and scores of deer as part of our normal day just as we could see a bus go by on a city street in New Orleans.
The challenge of the silence here is remembering that the noise is also crucial. Where almost everyone seems so white and such a premium is put on community and sharing in the West as the twin values of individualism and self-reliance, how do we communicate the need for diversity and the issues that have to be addressed everywhere to meet the needs of everyone? In the silence listening to the stream we wonder if anyone is even trying to make the sell anymore.
In our last quiet day I was reading two books. I finished The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham and am a couple of hundred pages into The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein. The Joyce book is excellent and should remind us all of the fight for free expression everywhere, as well as the priorities of artists and art to find their way in our culture, because much of it is about the struggle for Ulysses to be published in the USA and United Kingdom. The evolution of a definition of obscenity based on community standards and a more holistic sense of the whole work, rather than a narrow bias that led to book burning even 80 years ago just for the mention of a couple of words found in almost current rap song, should remind us how different our communities are and the need to share unifying principles for our collective good. Unfortunately, reading about Nixon and Reagan is a series of case studies in how it is in the interest of some to divide and separate us.
Closing down the trailer, finishing the last mopping, turning off the propane, disconnecting the batteries and solar, breaking down the rods and winding the reels, we keep thinking that everyone should have this experience.
Last year we had a crowd come by and celebrate my 45 years of organizing. To mark the turnoff to the camp, we had tied an ACORN flag at the bridge. As they say in the west, we ride for the brand.
All I can say is, we’re doing our part.