As I write this, armed men (I will call them the Bundy clan) have taken over a federal facility in rural Oregon. According to news reports, they are going to continue their armed occupation until the “the Hammonds are freed and the federal government gives up control of the Malheur National Forest.”
The Hammonds they refer to are the farmers sentenced to jail for fires that spread to federal land nearby. The Malheur National Forest is a bird sanctuary; now it’s also the site of an embarrassing episode for rural and small town America.
It’s bad enough that rural and small town America is regularly thought of and depicted as dismal, shrinking, and overly problematic. The mainstream media regularly refers to those of us who choose to live in rural and small towns as hicks, rednecks, or worse.
Now this. Many of us out here work hard to ensure that the rest of America understands that like most Americans, we are complicated, diverse, hardworking, patriotic, and hoping for a future that has plenty of opportunity for our unique smallville lifestyles. Why is that important? Because all of us depend on support from our more densely populated neighbors, just like they depend on us.
But embarrassments like this don’t help. The Bundy clan disapproves mightily of government, but is evidently happy to cash its checks. Agriculture and ranching have been diminishing sources of employment in rural America for several decades now. The free market has spoken (which I would assume the Bundy clan would support) and large agribusiness has vastly increased output while decreasing ranching and farming workforces nationwide. These large agribusinesses as well as small ranchers and farmers avail themselves of below-market grazing fees and other governmentally supported mechanisms to ensure continued profitability. Us non-ranchers and farmers depend on federally supported mechanisms for firefighting, broadband, healthcare, and a slew of other subsidies that no single state could likely support alone. I don’t have a problem with that. But the Bundy clan evidently doesn’t understand that it’s hard to have it both ways. Particularly when you’re on the front page of the Washington Post.
Also, an armed takeover of a federal facility is, well, against the law. Sure, no one’s been hurt and it’s a ways out of town, but that doesn’t make it legal or effective. If the Bundy clan wants to protest the government’s actions in the Hammond matter, fine. March in the streets, make a viral video, start a Facebook campaign. But don’t brandish your weapons, take over a bird refuge, send out calls for food and clothing, and expect to look like anything other than heavily armed losers.
Most rural and small town Americans that I know want a federal government that works fairly and efficiently. The Bundy clan is an impediment to that objective. Maybe that’s why Harney County Sheriff David Ward got a standing ovation when he said, “Go home, work your differences with whoever through proper channels.” Hopefully that will have happened by the time you read this. But if not, listen to the sheriff. And stop embarrassing us.
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