Thirty-Five Days

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischTHIRTY-FIVE DAYS

by Ursula K. Le Guin

In answer to a letter about the continuing occupation of the Malheur Refuge headquarters, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wrote me,

“Despite [the recent arrest of several militants], the armed takeover of the wildlife refuge is still ongoing, and it remains extremely taxing and damaging to the local community and to Harney County. Local leaders deserve tremendous credit for their ongoing management of this situation. The sheriff, county commissioner, and others in the community have worked hard to prevent these extremists from spreading their divisive ideology, to coordinate with federal and state officials, and to remind everyone that the community does best when we pursue collaborative solutions rather than conflict.”

What needs to be said, well said!

But it lacks a sense of urgency. Things are bad in Harney County and getting worse. Deeper damage is done every day the occupation continues to be tolerated.

Patience in a situation like this is all-important — the vigilant patience the lawmen showed in waiting for the Bundy brothers to leave the protection afforded them on the Refuge and in Burns. But patience must not become paralysis.

Is the extreme patience being shown to continued open defiance of the law partly a function of the remoteness of the place where it’s happening?

If a federal property in New Jersey was occupied by armed outsiders calling themselves “militiamen,” justifying their occupation by a radical theocratic re-interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and calling for mass resistance to law enforcement, would four of them be allowed to continue the occupation indefinitely?

If important ongoing scientific studies and reclamation programs under federal auspices in a suburb of Chicago or Washington were being paralyzed and trashed by four hooligans carrying guns, how long would they be allowed to continue the irreparable destruction?

As Senator Merkley says, the local people and their officials have shown their determination to resist all provocation to violence and allow all voices to speak, while steadfastly refusing to permit any further attacks on their property and freedom.

The outsiders cut fences, a despicable act in cattle country; the ranchers mended them. The citizens of Harney County aren’t fence cutters, they’re fence menders. They just want to get back to work. They deserve the chance.

How much patience can the rest of us demand of them? How long are four scofflaws wrapped in American flags to hold several thousand American citizens hostage? Another week? another month? How long, O FBI?




Thirty-Five Days — 6 Comments

  1. At this point the holdouts are really just holding themselves hostage. In an NPR interview they whined that others who were in more of a leadership role were allowed to leave without punishment while they stood guard duty and only heard rumors of the clemency offers. Now the offers have been revoked and they face Federal prison or death. One implied in the interview that he would point his gun at the Feds so that they would have to shoot him rather than go to prison but that he would not shoot. Perhaps this is what LaVoy Finicum was thinking when he brandished his gun at the FBI.

    So what do we do with these people? Are you as uncomfortable as I am being on the side of law, order and centralized government? Something has to be done if only to deter copycats. And if they are killed they become martyrs. Perhaps in a fictitious scenario they could be forced to work in restoration and maintenance of the refuge until they truly appreciate the beauty of riparian nature. But that’s not our world. Their choices are killed, wounded or imprisoned in a system that will harden and dehumanize them. Their children will grow up with one less parent and, if we make the families pay the price for the occupation, they will be impoverished as well.

  2. Ursula, you said in Nov. 2014 at the National Book Awards, “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

    Which side is on the side of the capitalists/1%, and how is it going?

    Easy enough to read NYT, New Yorker and NY Post articles last year detailing millions in bribes taken by the Clintons while Hillary was Secretary of State, greasing the way for State Department approval of Russian acquisition of 20% of US uranium deposits — on public lands. Easy enough to Google up story after story of the Govt/BLM seizing ranches from the Dann sisters and other Shoshone, who have never ceded their Great Basin lands to the US, and of BLM selling off lands that Natives consider sacred to large mining corporations.

    And easy enough to observe and research the increasing frequency of massive fires out West, fuelled not only by climate change, but drastically higher loads of fallen needles, branches, trees and unharvested dead trees, as a result of decades of stupid/inflexible fire suppression and rules that have choked off logging, even of trees killed in prior burns, with similar stories in both forests and ranges — fires that burn even topsoil that take decades to recover from and generate floods when rains come.

    And a little more research will show that even when crony capitalists aren’t benefitting directly (as they do from sweet coal, mineral and solar deals), bureaucracies are expanding even as revenues fall far short of management and exploding fire-fighting costs.

    And who is resisting power and trying to change things? Not the bureaucrats, and not the environmentalists (which is what I consider myself to be) — no; it’s people on the ground, whose livelihoods have been eroded by failed management regimes and insecure rights, and now even more so by disastrous fires.

    Angry ranchers, foresters and disaffected, discarded, and unemployed former soldiers are the ones leading the way in the fight against crushing “capitalism” and a ponderous, inflexible and self-serving bureaucracy.

  3. The remaining four occupiers are not a threat to the community. They are far from town or city. They are leaderless and isolated. They are not holding hostages. Officials have made plain that the occupiers will be criminally charged for their actions.

    Now, I don’t doubt that the agents could kill all four without putting law enforcement officers in danger. Or they could storm the facility and attempt to take them alive, which would put the officers at risk. I think you would agree that the best ending in this case will be four shame-faced men in handcuffs and no fallen officers.

    There is a cold calculus at play in your post that weighs the lives of men against ticks of your impatient clock. What constitutes ‘acceptable losses’ in this case? How many lives would you exchange for ending the siege tomorrow? One? Four? Who will go to the families of the dead to explain such relentless arithmetic?

  4. Ms Kroeber-LeGuin, you are getting to the real point with the term “freeloader”.
    These Western welfare kings and queens should not be allowed to get away with presenting themselves as self-reliant and self-supporting people victimized by an overbearing government for their scams!
    And as far as the one genuine grievance they have, the use of oppressive “anti-terrorism” laws against a couple of criminal ranchers, is concerned — I don’t believe any of them have protested against such laws in other cases…

    But as far as wanting the FBI & Co. to intervene is concerned: you have seen what that leads to. It would have been better to cut off the power and supplies, let them run out of junk food, sneak away with their tails between their legs, and then hit them with the bill.

    And the obvious question: what would the response have been if it were an action by Black Lives Matter or the American Indian Movement?

  5. “The sheriff, county commissioner, and others in the community have worked hard to prevent these extremists from spreading their divisive ideology…”

    Sounds like an admission of conspiracy to violate the 1st Amendment rights of these wackos.

  6. All out with no further shots fired and Cliven Bundy also under arrest! I’m sorry it took so long, but very pleased with the outcome.