AZ 83 is one of the “people’s roads;” the east side public land.  For a decade, I cleaned litter on 2 miles of it, every piece a violation of state law, cigarette butts causing many wildland fires.  When beer cans were thrown at me by passing drivers, that was frank assault.  I was cleaning public land, not running cattle on it, but no “militia” protected MY rights with guns and threats. Why?  Perhaps it was because I’m not an outspoken, charismatic, handsome cattle rancher, miner, or farmer.  I was an old, white, male veteran, Irish to boot, out trying to clean up part of my state.  Throwing litter is illegal; if you don’t like a law, change it by electing those who will try.  Non-violent illegal acts are punishable by a fine and time. Force against the State is treason, a word I don’t use lightly, but as a veteran, I know damn well what it means.

I was deeply disturbed by the recent fiasco in Nevada, where many said “Give the land back to the people,” and a supporting Congressman, who represents the “hated” government people wanted to fight, used a graph to show how much land in the American West is owned by the government.

Let me be clear:  if land is owned by the government, it is owned by you, me, and ALL of  US, for we ARE the government.  I’m not a great fan of the BLM, but if a guy is grazing cattle where he shouldn’t, not paying for it, he is trespassing on MY LAND.  I’m  vegetarian, and I don’t want cows ON MY LAND.

That is the fundamental reason we need government and laws:  we have to adjudicate differences among people with different viewpoints.  We ARE the government, and we govern by laws.  I am willing to allow those to graze cattle on public land if they pay for the privilege and follow all laws.  Those who choose to violate laws must be prepared to take the consequences.  It happened to war protestors during the Vietnam era.  It did NOT happen to the southern whites who willfully violated federal desegregation laws, called those who came to their states “outside agitators,” and said “the laws are wrong.” I didn’t hear “outside agitators” used during the Nevada crisis.  Nor did I hear “law and order,” which George Wallace spoke, except when he found a law he didn’t like.

I think some laws are dead wrong.  But I write letters, blog, and work to get people elected to change those laws, not take a gun and threaten enforcers, be they local or federal.  I have to wonder how many of the treasonous “militia” ever served in the military.  Only 7% of us have.  Words matter; these people were NOT a militia.  They were rabble rousers, outside agitators, troublemakers, and terrorists with no uniforms, spoiling for a fight and martyrdom (preferably somebody else).

Interestingly, the Congressman didn’t show how many people lived in states with the most public land. Let’s look at facts:  starting from the most densely populated state to the least, California is the highest ranking state west of the Mississippi, 11th.  One has to go to 25th to find the next state–Washington.  Of 15 at the bottom of the list, only one–Maine–is east of the Mississippi.

Why does this matter?  Eighty per cent of all national parks–our crown jewels–are in the sparsely populated West.  Few live there, but they don’t own the land any more than a guy in New Jersey.  If the “people” take over this land, three times as much should go to New Jersey residents than to Nevada ones.  Do I get equal say?  Will we protect the parks, forests, places with beauty that has no price tag, or allow them to be used for mining, timber, and grazing that do have a dollar value?  Who gets a say?  The corporations?  ORV people?  Hunters?  Cattlemen?  Farmers?  Mineral extractors?  Who pays for the upkeep of these lands?  People in the East.  When many of our parks were formed, those who lived in the West had practically sole access to land that was paid for and often never seen by those whose taxes paid for it.

I think I have the right to go into wilderness without seeing mines, cattle, cowpies, off road vehicles, loud noises from drilling, beer drinking yahoos who shoot off guns, guns in general, and test myself–without leaving trace of my passage–and my skills in the outdoors.  Where am I going to do this, if the “people” own the land?

It is ironic is that the “people’s land” sounds a lot like the rallying cry of my generation protesting Vietnam.  I remember my brother’s saying the land should be given to the people.  My late mother replied, “Who gets Wyoming?”, when Wyoming was known only for two national parks and an awful lot of tumbleweed.

Public land?  Who gets the Mexican border?  Who gets the Great Basin, with water shortages, exacerbated by Las Vegas’ tapping into the aquifer?  Who gets the Sandhills in Nebraska, the Badlands in South Dakota, pretty to be sure, but difficult to reach and to eke out a living?  Who gets the land near I-40 in San Bernardino County? Who gets the land near US 95 in California, south of Needles?  I’ve seen these places. I don’t want to live there.  If it were easy to, people would.

More importantly, how do we decide?  Do we take to guns and anarchy to deal with the issue?  Is this the new America?  We get ours, and we will fight anybody to the death over it?  Who gives anybody the right to graze cattle on MY public land (it is as much mine as it is theirs) for a pittance?  WE DO, also allowing mineral extraction, polluting the water, an outdated mining law that helped kill thousands of birds in Montana (but they are only birds), poisoning the groundwater near Barstow with defense-industry perchlorate use.  By the way, the “people’s defense” means that everybody has to serve.  Who organizes the “people’s militia”?  Is anybody honestly thinking about this?

I am calling out everybody who is against and wants to fight “the government.”  We ARE the government.  We are a government OF the PEOPLE, BY the PEOPLE, and FOR the PEOPLE.  The problem is not government; it is the people who vote in people whose decisions are ruining the environment and the country.  I won’t delve into the incipient destruction of public education, vaccination, infrastructure and safety nets.  “People” like me don’t matter.  Have I written “people” too many times? Yes. That is the fundamental problem:  we have too many people with too many opinions, unwilling to yield on anything.  We need fewer people in this country, meaning easily accessible family planning and no tax breaks for large families.  Sadly, the “people” apparently don’t want this, because if they did, we wouldn’t be so overpopulated, acting like animals when their populations reach critical mass.

Is this land made for you and me?


(Woody Guthrie)

This land is your land. This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.





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  1. Dennis Says:

    Pete Seeger, educated in activism at Woody’s knee, said, “Sing *all* the verses.” At the 2009 Obama inauguration he did sing all the verses.

    Woody wrote *This Land* as a response to Irving Berlin’s rather treacly *God Bless America*”. The original last line of each verse was, “God blessed America for me.”

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