Notes from the Abyss

The musings of geographer, journalist, and author David M. Lawrence

The Election is Over: Where to Go from Here

Save the Tensas!

We collected 28,000 letters to Save the Tensas!

MECHANICSVILLE, Va.—Election Day is over. The better side lost, and many of us are stunned, grieving, angry, confused.

We are like the Steve McQueen character in “The Sand Pebbles.” We were on the verge of success, of getting the power we needed to continue moving this country forward, but now we are bleeding out in some foreign courtyard, saying to ourselves, “I was home … what happened? What the hell happened?”

What happened is that we blew it.

Democracy demands work. There are responsibilities—or, if you need a shorter word, DUTIES—that go along with the rights we so love to flap our lips about.

If we don’t fulfill our duties, we don’t deserve our rights.

I’ve see quite a few on the left—good friends, too—who bitched about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee stealing the nomination from Bernie Sanders. I don’t buy it—especially if you’re relying upon polling data to prove your point. (We saw how well the pollsters performed in the general election.)

When Sanders rose up in the Democratic National Convention to nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton, you knew what you should have done: support the party’s nominee, especially if you claim to care about women’s rights, minority rights, LGBT rights, worker’s rights, the environment, religious freedom, etc., etc., etc.

If you sat on your ass on Election Day out of a sense of brattish pique, or if you cast your vote for someone who had no chance to be elected, you failed the causes you claim to care about.

If you felt it was more important to teach the Democratic Party a lesson than to get someone in power more likely to defend the issues you believe to be important, you failed the causes you claim to care about.

If you’re more offended by my pointing these facts out than you are about the damage your decision is likely to visit upon this country—and the world—you failed the causes you claim to care about.

Now some words for those who said they voted for Trump because they wanted change: if you sent your do-nothing GOP representative or senator back to Washington, quit spreading anymore bullshit about change. You clearly do not want “change.”

For those who say their vote for Trump was for change and not bigotry:

B – U – L – L – S – H – I – T!

Read the GOP platform. It’s one of the worst major party platforms in the 20th or 21st centuries, if not in the entire history of this nation. It calls for the undermining of women’s rights, of minority rights, of protections for the disabled, of protections for the environment, of health care reform that benefits the majority of us (its problems could be fixed if not for the do-nothing GOP Congress you sent back to block the change you claim you seek), for disastrous budget math (unless you believe the Magic Economic Growth Fairy will come and make the ensuing deficit go away), for the imposition of a state religion (mandatory Bible study in our public schools, really?) and more disastrous ideas.

You voted for the platform, so you voted for bigotry.

Change has a direction. In terms of policy, the direction can be positive, or it can be negative. But from what I’ve heard from a lot of Trump voters, they haven’t given much thought to the directions the GOP wants to take the country.

An instructive example is Kansas. Look at what the GOP has done to that once-great state. Gov. Sam Brownback is incapable of learning from his many (and major) mistakes, and many of the things that made Kansas great—such as its educational system—are suffering. (Yet they keep voting the goons in, go figure.) Just imagine what our nation will look like after four or eight years of similar incompetence?

That’s change I can do without.

Here’s a parable. Imagine yourself on a sailboat in the doldrums of the Sargasso Sea: no wind, not much current to move your boat along. You say to yourself, “It’s time for a change!” and you poke a hole in the hull.

Great! You’ve changed the system!

But … you’re not heading toward a better outcome. Instead you’re heading down. The boat is sinking: next stop, the ocean floor thousands of feet below you.

I guess you can be proud you were able to bring about change as you and your shipmates drown, but if I was one of those shipmates, I would be less than appreciative (to put it mildly).

Now here’s reality. The change you voted for will likely harm my family—all of my family—directly. I am less than appreciative (to put it mildly).

So what do we do—especially us liberals—to minimize the mess we have made?

First, quit the goddamn street protests. They are appropriate at times, and maybe they were appropriate Wednesday. I don’t know. They aren’t my style, unless I’m showing up to get in the face of the bigots from a certain bogus church from Wichita, Kansas.

Street protests are usually ineffective. They are often counter-productive, especially when some nitwit anarchists (or agents provocateurs) show up to attack people and property. Street protests give them the stage, and their actions ultimately discredit the cause.

Besides, the fat cats in Washington who are going to make our lives a living hell are so insulated from the lives the rest of us lead they’re not likely to notice, much less care about, the protests and protesters.

Second, quit wasting time with print and online petitions. They are largely

I – N – E – F – F – E – C – T – I – V – E

The problem with petitions, both print and online, is that anyone can sign them—and anyone often does. Now, if the Trump White House maintains Obama’s petition policies on the site, you might force a response, but if you’re petitioning for something Trump doesn’t want to do, his people will merely dismiss it and forget you existed.

Anyone else getting a petition knows that petitions require little effort on the part of the signers, so petitions are easily disregarded. Little effort in yields little attention out.

Now, if signing petitions makes you feel good, OK, sign the damned things—but if you want to change the course of government, you will have to put some elbow grease in the mix.

Now it’s time for a story.

In the 1980s, I joined the Tensas Conservancy Coalition. The Coalition arose to force the federal government to go ahead with a commitment to purchase 50,000 acres of endangered bottomland hardwood forests and establish a national wildlife refuge on the property. If the feds went ahead with the acquisition, the state would follow up with buying either the land or the conservation easements on much of the remainder of the 100,000 acres of forest land that was on the verge of disappearing.

Why did we care about the land? For one, it was the largest unprotected expanse of what had once been 25 million acres of bottomland forest in the Mississippi River Valley. Most of it had been cut—in Louisiana, most of it had been converted to soybean and cotton fields.

But not the Tensas. While it had been subject to selective logging (for its hardwoods) it still largely resembled the landscape that existed at the time that the Poverty Point culture built its impressive mounds nearby. It was the place where the presumably now-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker was seen. It had spectacular swamps, full of bald cypresses and Spanish moss and black bears and bobcats and all sorts of snakes.

The Carter Administration committed to purchasing the property. The Reagan Administration, in the guise of budget balancing, wanted to avoid spending the money. The Coalition wanted to make the Reagan Administration live up to the government’s commitment.

So, under the guidance of our guru, Markham A. “Skipper” Dickson Jr., we built a wide-ranging group of like-minded—with respect to the Tensas—people.

We certainly weren’t like-minded. We had National Rifle Association supporters working with folks from the Catholic peace organization Pax Christi. We had members of the Sierra Club working with members of Ducks Unlimited. We had Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, vegetarians, hunters, college professors and auto mechanics all working together for the cause we agreed on: Save the Tensas!

We did not just talk and have some drinks together. We did something called “WORK.”

While we did use petitions, our secret weapon was something many of us younger than a certain age may not have heard of:

L – E – T – T – E – R – S

You read that right: letters.

We wrote letters, you know, those weird bits of verbiage that used to be put to paper, stuffed in an envelope and mailed—through something called the U.S. Postal Service—to someone, in our case, to the White House.

We sent a lot of letters to the White House: 28,000 of them.

Twenty-Eight Thousand letters to Save the Tensas!

And we did it. We saved the Tensas. It is now the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge.

Why did I tell you this story?

Because, if you want to save the causes you care about, whether it be to force the government to save the Environmental Protection Agency, or continue to take action to fight climate change, or to stop any roll-back of women’s, minority, and LGBT rights, this is what you will have to do. And you will have to do it in large numbers: write letters.

Write letters to President Trump. Write letters to you representatives and senators in Congress. Write letters to the committee chairmen. Write letters to the blowhards—whether they represent you or not—who stand in the schoolhouse door (literally or figuratively). Write letters to the ones that just might switch their vote to your side (they need to know they’ll have some support).

Keep the letters SHORT and CLEAR. No voice-clearing preambles, no windbag digressions. Just get to the goddamn point—maybe explain a little why the issue is important to you, or how a particular vote will either help or harm you, in a sentence or two—and get out.

And write them by hand. Handwritten letters and notes take more effort, hence they carry more weight in persuading a president or congress member to join your cause.

If enough of you put forth this level of effort, you’ll either get them to move in your direction, or at least you’ll scare the hell out of them when they see how many people they are pissing off—and maybe they won’t be so extreme next time.

If you won’t put forth this kind of effort, with what’s at stake now, don’t complain when everything you say you care about is lost.


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