(or other places to find my writings from the mundane to the supermundane)
The Magic of Yellowstone
A sample of Jim's writings
Buffalo Allies of Bozeman
- Name: Jim Macdonald
- Location: Bozeman, MT, United States
Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.
View my complete profile
by Jim Macdonald
What is the nature of nature? The phrasing of that question is fit for comedians and philosophers alone, and yet given all the talk about how great nature is, the question is as practically pertinent as anything is. It may not be natural to our way of speaking and thinking to ask what the nature of nature is, but perhaps we are better off occasionally doing the unnatural thing in the appropriate circumstance.
On my travels to Yellowstone, I have arrived by car, by bicycle, and approaching the gates sometimes by airplane. I've hiked through the forests wearing Gore-Tex rain jackets, sleeping under tents of nylon, covering myself with bug spray containing God knows what. I've used telephones and watched satellite television. I've eaten food of all kinds, originating in most cases from places I couldn't tell you. Propane tanks, electric lights, power lines, automobiles and RVs, cameras and film, asphalt and silly looking people in tan and green uniforms have all been part of my experience. I wore blue-and-white checkers, myself, covered myself in rubber, though I never dared touch the obsidian that had been mined for centuries.
In life, though I have a taste for meat, I no longer do so having seen the way that the meat industry abuses animals, takes up large swaths of land to feed those animals, and creates the energy conditions upon which the massive wars of the past couple centuries since industrialization have been fought. Yet, even though I eat only vegetables, the story of those vegetables is rarely one that is somehow pristine and pure. I can't - and won't - drink a Coca-Cola without thinking of labor abuses in Colombia or water infringements in India; I can't eat fruit without wondering about workers in the fields. I don't grow the food myself; and even if I did, gardening often involves a war with the plants that would otherwise have grown instead of one's crops.
Most stunningly of all, I find myself overwhelmed by the prospects that I am going to be a father for the first time come the end of September. Inside of me, there is a feeling of joy and anticipation that overwhelms me; many would say that this is a natural feeling. Yet, when I stop and think about a world with so many people consuming so much of the planet, my feelings become tempered. The natural feeling of joy has been replaced in small part by the sense that where nature has led me is inconsistent with the needs of the world I find myself.
I share all these feelings on a computer, typing away at a machine and over a network that will allow these thoughts to be shared potentially with billions of people. Since the printing press, we've been allowed to make statements about nature in what seems to be the most unnatural of ways.
Of course, if you look carefully at my prose you will note distinctively different notions of nature arising up. One notion of "nature" is the distinction of "natural" from "artificial." That is, under this idea of nature, we consider something natural if and only if it comes to be without human construction. Noting the artificial contraptions in Yellowstone, the artificiality of agriculture would be consistent with that view of nature. The other view of nature that I casually used was a bit more subtle. In this case, "nature" refers to the tendency of motion. In a vacuum, if I find myself about to become a father, it is natural to be thrilled by the prospect. Everything else being equal, if I find myself with a scrumptuous dinner in front of me, I am naturally going to be overjoyed by the delicious prospects. However, when something else gets in the way, obstructs my e-motions (which might mean something else in a "virtual" reality), I am forced out of a natural state and into a different one. This notion of "nature" is much closer to the one that asks what the nature of nature is. What is nature originally before it changed into the puzzle that it has become? What gave birth to the reality of nature? After all, etymologically speaking, "nature" suggests birth.
My sense is that the defintion of nature relating to the "course of things" or the "tendency of motion" (something akin to the meaning of physics, or the Greek φύσις - physis) has been foisted on the same word "nature" as in "what does not originate by human artifice" because there is a belief that human artifice as it has been used in history has been inconsistent with the "course of things." And, so now, when humans engage in anything, even if it is consistent with one's own nature, like giving birth and eating, it can often have the feeling that it's still somehow against nature. It can also lead to paradoxes that using lightweight, synthetic material on a trail that lessens the human footprint on a land, no matter how artificial, is somehow more natural than going through the forests and mountains of Yellowstone trapping and hunting deer, elk, bison, and bighorn sheep as had been done for thousands of years before the founding of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. The two senses of nature each become twisted up into all sorts of paradoxes, though I strongly suspect the meaning of the one actually has derived from the other.
Thus, in the original - dare we say natural - sense of the word "nature", the world moves in a way that is not contradictory to itself. Those who speak of the demise of nature must first mean that something has moved it in a way that it has not and could not on its own. It has become something else altogether due to something else altogether different. To say that one's nature has changed is to say that something about it has been destroyed.
The question looms, then, whether the nature of Earth has been destroyed. Such a question is vague because Earth remains a planet, and nothing has changed that. When people ask whether the nature of Earth has been destroyed they have a particular value judgment in mind of what they think Earth should be. Those who think that the Earth is outside of its nature believe it's been destroyed whether by original sin, by civilization, by industrialization, or what have you. All of that is premised on certain value judgments about what is most important that are rarely articulated in an explicit way. Those who believe that the Earth is still natural have a different set of value judgments.
For me, I have trouble coming to terms with the idea of nature without thinking that something is wrong. I have trouble understanding how my own natural instincts to enjoy food, to share in the love of my soon-to-be newborn child, to play in the sunshine can be seemingly so out of whack with an earth that produces those things on the capitalization of animals, the mass consumption of land, and global warming. Those things which drive me to enjoy are the same things that seem to be casting ruin on the conditions necessary for their enjoyment. That is a contradiction, and that suggests a posteriori that something in the nature of the Earth is off kilter.
It isn't unnatural to hunt for food, to use one's hands to build shelter or to grow gardens, to have sex and produce children. Nothing could be more natural to the nature of most of us. It's not unnatural to want to be comfortable and therefore travel through the woods as lightly as possible and to do things with the earth that would provide that comfort. All of this is consistent with our general tendency of motion. When I think of how natural instincts can produce an unnatural sense about the entire Earth, perhaps the only thing that I can think of that produces the unnatural from the natural is the self-contradictory sense that we have something in addition to our natural tendencies. What I am getting at is the belief that we have a right to those things which we long for naturally. I have written about this at some length on my essays on John Locke and property rights, and I will not rehash that (the most pertinent section relevant to this discussion is here), but I think that is worth mentioning.
So, if we find that there is a conflict between our nature and the nature of our planet, whatever the genesis of this conflict, is the resurrection of the union of our nature with Earth's nature possible? I don't have a good answer for that except that I have equal trouble seeing why it should not be possible. However, since we are in some sense cursed into unnatural acts, whether they be unnatural to the well-being of Earth (whatever that is) or unnatural to our own well-being or perhaps both at the same time, what are the best acts in a world that has fundamentally changed from what it should be? When should one put technology to the side, when should one use it, when should one have babies, when should one refrain? When should one eat meat, when should one not? What are the best kinds of actions that would tend to undo or even improve on what has been done?
I have no idea. I don't believe that anyone has any idea. Yet, that realization I think perhaps is our only hope. Our conflict with our own nature has arisen because people have had ideas which have gone beyond what was evident. That would be okay except those ideas have been intrinsically self-contradictory. It's one thing to guess about the weather; we have to, and maybe we'll be wrong. Who cares? It's something else to build an ethical system based on our guess about the weather; that we never had to do, and now all of us should care because we are all stuck in this mess. It seems to me, then, that actions which tend toward stripping us from building absolutes from our guesses about reality are the only ones absolutely worth paying attention to. It's not whether someone eats meat, goes to war, minimizes their use of technology, and produces babies that's the issue so much as why one has gone down that path. In a great many cases, that why may have to be resisted.
Having said that, I can't say that I am having a child for the right reasons. I wouldn't know what those are. I am torn up inside over the prospect of bringing a child into this world (and that's assuming that the choice were actually mine, and it's not). It's not a blessing necessarily, and yet at this point, I can see no other choice but to pour my heart into my child and hope for the best. Perhaps, it's an opportunity for me not to try and control the outcome or the child and to live by example, one that is in some ways fundamentally unnatural. Yet, though everything may be fundamentally unnatural in this world, I hope it's one that is most self-consistent and therefore most likely to restore that balance. We won't be more natural simply by eliminating the symptoms; we can only hope that removing all the contradiction that can cause the paradoxes of our lives will resurrect a natural condition. That's a verbose way of speaking about love; in love alone is the hope of resurrection. Yet, where it goes and how it leads us, that is not for me to say. It's a wild fire, as wild as the child when she or he is born.
So, to my future child, I already love you with all of my heart. That love is our only hope.
I'm not sure what else can be said. If people have answers, then I hope they will share them over this unnatural medium. The nature of nature via the unnatural; that's no small topic, perhaps one fit for a savior if any are out there.
It's World Bank weekend, and I find myself with an ear infection, unable to participate in a protest at the home of World Bank director Paul Wolfowitz
. I didn't know I was going to be up to join my friend John for a journey to Southern Maryland to join the Piscataway Indians for the Awakening of Mother Earth Ceremony
. John hadn't sent me any details, the outdoor part of the ceremony looked to be canceled due to weather, and as I have mentioned, I didn't feel well.
At about 1 PM, I get a call from John on my girlfriend Genevieve's phone. He says he can have me picked up from the Springfield Metro at 4PM, joining John and day laborers from Woodbridge in a school bus headed to the social. The pain in my ear, finally relenting, I agree to go.
It's now 4:15, and I'm waiting outside the Springfield Metro in Virginia; a yellow bus that says "PAZ" on the front of it rolls up. John is there along with Rick, whom I had never met before, driving the bus. No one else is on the bus. John is apologetic and says that though he had flyered, though the weather was worse the past fall when at least 15 workers made the trip, that none had come. Upon hearing this, I felt sad for John, who figured that perhaps no one came because he was not able to have anyone help him communicate in Spanish.
We drive through the rain into parts of Maryland I had never been, heading down Indian Head Road toward southern Prince George's County. According to John, the road got its name because of a $20 bounty on the head of any Maryland Indian during the colony's attempt to eradicate Indians from Maryland. When bounty hunters claimed bringing heads was too hard for them, they asked if they might only bring the scalp. Since authorities wanted to make sure that the scalps came from Maryland Indians and not those further away, they allowed scalps on the condition that the blood was still fresh, that is, still red. John says that this is how the term "redskin" came to be known. Whether this is true, I couldn't say - this Web site claims otherwise
. And, whatever the actual etymology of the word "redskin", it is quite true that there was a bounty on Indian heads and Indian scalps throughout the English colonies. As we're driving down Indian Head Road, looking at new development after new development, one cannot be too hung up on etymological fine points when the consequences of genocide are all around you.
Sitting in the bus with John is quite the learning experience, hearing not only about the Tayacs, the names taken by the Piscataway chiefs, but stories echo in my head related to the ceremony that was canceled. John explains about Chief Turkey Tayac and the controversy over the land that is now Piscataway National Park
. A search online can find quite the debate, including this paper purporting to debunk the Tayac's genealogical heritage
, claiming that they are frauds not only pretending to be genetic leaders of the Piscataway but also for claiming that they had some part in the land deeds that created Piscataway National Park. I'm not terribly interested in the merits of the dispute, not really interested in identifying the racial and genetic purity of the Indian, as though that's the definitional point of identity. What I understand from John is a longstanding dispute between the Tayacs, the National Park Service, and the Ferguson family, whom John identifies with others he calls environmentalist racists. In short, there has been a lot of drama over the site, especially as it relates to the burial of the Tayacs, drama that isn't with us on this day and this evening, as we prepare for a social at the Henry Ferguson Elementary.
John also talks about the plight of Nelson Esquino, whom I would soon meet. Nelson had just spent two months in Brownsville, Texas, detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in part over a traffic ticket and in part over an alleged felony several years back. Nelson has a green card, is considered a "legal" immigrant, and yet was still detained following a traffic violation for two months. John is very concerned about Nelson's fate and how to raise money for his costs.
We arrive at the school just as it's opening. I see a small group of people mostly setting up a pot luck supper inside the elementary school cafeteria. I don't know who anyone is. I see some speaking Spanish, others who were elderly caucasian, some speaking English who looked like they were indigenous, and some African Americans. In this room of racial diversity, I could see quickly that race was not the characteristic of belonging; no one there talks about who is Piscataway and who is not. Some, like the Esquino family, identify themselves as Salvadoran and indigenous. Margarito Esquino, whose mother has recently died, I recognized from his presence at the Columbus Day event
that I had organized last October. That evening, Margarito, who is with Associacion Nacional Indigena Salvadorena (ANIS)
, spoke at some length about his experience in El Salvador. He created some controversy by speaking against the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), and another Salvadoran, Marco, contradicted him. In any event, Margarito had been a guest at the Columbus Day event of Gabrielle Tayac, the niece of Chief Billy Tayac, who spoke about Piscataway history in the DC area. His relationship with the Tayacs goes way back, and there was a clear friendship between the indigenous people related to Margarito and the Piscataways of the Tayac family. In this room of about 25 people, it would defy stereotypes.
Soon, I briefly met Chief Billy, who struck me instantly as a warm and kind man with a great sense of humor, a man who was less chief than he was one among many. I met his wife Shirley and his son Mark, who spent much of the evening busily working on his art. Some of Mark's art is in the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.
We begin with prayer; we would join in 3 prayer circles that evening. Though that may sound formal, most of the evening was informal. We heard Chief Billy, we heard from the Esquino's, there was a fundraising raffle to cover the costs of renting the cafeteria, and there was a fair amount of socializing and reminiscing.
As I sit there, I mostly listen. The act of listening is on my mind a lot, especially since my ear has been hurting so much, the left ear clogged entirely. Just before leaving, I had felt the first pop in several days allowing sound back into my ear. Even so, it was still clogged, and so going to listen wasn't simply an act of mental concentration, it was an act that was a bit of a physical challenge. To the left of me, conversation drifted from Spanish to English and sometimes in both languages at once. I was hearing about the change of migration patterns in Puerto Rico, from several steps to one of people moving instantly from the countryside to the big city and then into the mainland United States. They talked about the farm economy collapsing due to the lack of people anymore who knew how to do the work. On the other side of me was Mark Tayac talking about his craftwork and how long it was taking him to sew the design he was working on - so far 200 hours of work. I talked for awhile with Rick, in part about the experience and how much I was learning. We talked a little about John, who has worked tirelessly on many issues related to nuclearization, indigenous issues, immigration issues, and issues related to economic justice. He has been in the movement a long time and is inspired heavily by the Zapatistas. He has told me that he considers me to be in the spirit of the Zapatistas, and I find myself flattered that that's how he describes me to people like Billy Tayac. Of course, in my heart, I wonder if I'm not really living up to any label, no matter how flattering, that people apply to me.
Some of the things that happened defy my powers of description or defy my will to describe them. There was one intimate ceremony where we called for the health of a child that was about to be born. Another thing was shared that was quite private; however, I mention that to the extent that it was something that touched me and related to the pains and sorrows of my own life.
At 8 PM, we finally left back for home. I was again in the bus with Rick and John, asking questions and trying to understand the Tayacs and the Piscataway more, trying to put pieces of what I read with the controversies I was just now hearing about. I knew that the Piscataways were the original inhabitants of what is now Washington, D.C., having used the area around the Anacostia River as a trading area. I knew that they had mostly been wiped out by disease and by genocide. I also knew that they had not been recognized federally as a tribe, and I knew that there had been other bands of Piscataway that operated separately. John talked more about the controversy with the Fergusons and Chief Turkey Tayak, the involvement of Maryland politicians, the struggle to get the burial grounds inside Piscataway National Park recognized. Even now, writing this, I find myself learning, putting into perspective the research I am doing with my own sense of these sweet and wonderful people that I met this evening.
John confesses that one of the problems that the Tayacs face is that they are political radicals; they oppose casinos, they work on broader political issues, and have most obviously formed alliances with indigenous groups in other parts of the hemisphere. They have worked on prison issues and on nuclearization. As I hear this, I take comfort in it. I am curious about their relationship with the Smithsonian, though, an organization that has never been particularly friendly to indigenous concerns. Gabrielle used to work for the Smithsonian, and Mark's art is there in a permanent exhibition on Chesapeake Bay Indians. Little nuances like this interest me. I find the relationship between day laborers, immigrants, whether indigenous or otherwise, and the Piscataways to be especially interesting. While I was disappointed that some of the Woodbridge day laborers did not come, I did take heart that a relationship does exist.
The gathering was supposed to be a celebration of the awakening of Mother Earth; that was hard to get at entirely indoors. Even so, I felt the awakening, a sense that here was a place I was supposed to be at this time and this place - thankful that the pain in my ear subsided long enough for this to happen. Here, so many things I find myself caring about recently seemed to be coinciding, interest in indigenous issues, a critical stance toward the national parks (see for instance among many, this one I wrote not long ago on the "grizzly" truth of Yellowstone
), and a keen sense of issues related to immigration, race, and class. I was thankful for a chance to meet and listen directly to indigenous people celebrating and preserving and expanding upon their heritage. I was thankful that John wanted me to meet Chief Billy and had spoken to him of me.
In June, I may have a chance to visit Leonard Peltier in prison. I am now giving that a lot of thought; I'm not sure it would have been a good idea until I had the kind of simple experience I had tonight. My own life has been one of searching for home and rarely finding it. In Washington, D.C., I feel like and probably am an outsider though I've lived here 7 years. In only rare places like Yellowstone has home seemed to be an applicable possibility, and yet I have not quite landed there. Here in the presence of the Piscataway, I also had the sense of home. I feel now that that should be part of me if I'm going to bring words of welcome to Leonard.
In any event, it's now 12:30 AM, and I've been given a lot to think and wonder about. And, that kind of awakening is always worth celebrating.
On April 10, 2007, Buffalo Field Campaign reported
that the hazing of hundreds of bison by the Montana Department of Livestock ignored the Adaptive Change Agreement transcribed below. For your information, here is a text version of the memorandum by the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) Partner Agencies. Click here to read the original IBMP Environmental Impact Statement
I have a permanent link up to the memo along with Buffalo Field Campaign's link to the pdf scan also here.
November 20, 2006
To: Administrative Record
From: Interagency Bison Management Plan Partner Agencies
Re: Adjustments to 2006-2007 Interagency Bison Management Plan
Pursuant to the Federal and Montana Records of Decision of December
2000, the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) is to be put into
operation with expected adjustments based on feedback from
implementation of a suite of risk management actions. Based upon
collective evaluation of prevailing management activities and consideration
of the IBMP objectives, the partner agencies have agreed to incorporate the
following into the 2006-2007 IBMP Operating Procedures:
1. Strategic Hazing - Bison outside the park between November 1 and
May 15 that are subject to hazing under the IBMP could be hazed away
from higher risk areas towards area(s) of lower risk outside the park.
The Montana State Veterinarian will retain jurisdiction and discretion to
implement strategic hazing outside the park.
2. Tolerance of Bull Bison - In recognition of guidelines to implement the
Montana bison hunt, bull bison (single to small groups) outside the park
between November 1 and May 15 that are otherwise subject to hazing or
removal under the IBMP, could be tolerated if deemed of low risk to
disease transmission, and public or property safety. The Montana State
Veterinarian will retain jurisdiction and discretion to implement such
tolerance of bull bison outside the park.
3. Bison Population Guideline - As referenced in the Federal and Montana
Records of Decision, a population size of 3,000 bison is defined as a
population indicator to guide implementation of risk management
activities, and is not a target for deliberate population adjustment.
Becki Heath, Forest Supervisor, USFS, Gallatin National Forest - 11-20-06
Jerry Diemer, Associate Regional Director, USDA, Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services - 11-20-06
Pat Flowers, Regional Supervisor, Montana Fish, wildlife and Parks - 11/20/06
Tom Linfield, State Veterinarian, Montana Department of Livestock - 20-Nov-06
Suzanne Lewis, Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park - 11-20-06
Cascade Canyon (among the Tetons)
Pine air overpowers me
So rare that
what others might
take for granted
waking a nose
and every marmot
wows my eyes.
I fumble and stumble
in a granite wonderland.
is not too harsh--
steep then flat.
To the right,
To the left,
more than Grand.
How I will
the Hidden roar
of cascading falls
Love reigns in
the erotic veins
of this valley
more than any
act of Congress
or so called
Myth can be
wiser than history,
but the sweet scents
in these mountains
are stronger still;
here we will talk
of these living dreams.
by Jim Macdonald
When most of us think of the National Park Service, we think of the great national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, or Glacier. Perhaps, we think of the national monuments and historical parks as well. However, for those of us who live in the District of Columbia, we also think of the National Park Service as the organization that manages our city parks no matter how big or small. Here in the District, we don't think of Park Service employees as rangers; we usually think of them as Park Police. There is little mystique, and the experience is entirely different.
And yet, the same National Park Service that manages my beloved Yellowstone is the same National Park Service that manages tiny circular and square parks scattered across Washington, D.C. I don't think that's a thought that should be lost on people. The National Park Service is a government bureaucracy, nothing more and nothing less. It is not special and is capable of the same abuses that we see in government everywhere.
Let me share something that I noticed this morning on the way to work.
Every morning, I bike to work from my home in the Columbia Heights neighborhood downtown. On the end of my ride, most days I pass through Farragut Square, a short two blocks from the White House. Farragut Square is a small lawn dissected by diagonal sidewalks that meet together in the center where they encircle a statue of Admiral David Farragut, of Civil War "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" fame. The entire square is unremarkable, a small city block square, with typically short 11- and 12-story office buildings surrounding it- two of which have entrances to the Metro. It is a common crossing ground for tourists going to the White House who have taken the red line trains, though most of the people who pass through work downtown.
Farragut Square typically has had large numbers of bike couriers who have gathered there due to its central location; they have a cultural identity all of their own. Also scattered in the small park have always been a fair number of homeless people, some regularly in the same spots most days. While many of the homeless downtown tend to hang a few blocks down around the larger Franklin Square adjacent to the Franklin Shelter, there have always been some in Farragut Square. One morning, I was with a group that was regularly trying to serve the homeless population, and we talked to a homeless man in Farragut Square. He had told us that during the day the Park Service told them to leave because they didn't want them to upset the tourists who pass through on their way to the White House. However, he said that they generally had left them alone at night. Large numbers of homeless often slept nearby on K Street in front of the Adams National Bank, but not all prefer to sleep on the hard concrete. In many little triangular and circular parks, you will find large numbers of residents. In many places where there is less foot traffic, you will find some who stay there all day sleeping on the grass.
Today, I was biking through Farragut Square, and I saw a sign that upset me that I had not noticed before. I am not always a very observant person when it comes to small details, and so this sign may have been there longer for all I know, but I suspect that it hasn't. The sign says: "Help Us Keep Your Park Clean: Alcohol Prohibited, Camping Prohibited, Cleanup After Pets, Pets Must Be Leashed, No Pets Allowed in Statue Area." I cannot comment much on the pets issue since it is very uncommon to see pets in the Farragut Square area. I also don't have much to say about the alcohol prohibition, though outlawing alcohol in this tiny park smacks of something more pernicious. From my point of view, the real aim of the signs is the "camping" prohibition.
Now, this prohibition existed long before the sign; some of us know about it because there has been a history of repressing political dissent based on the camping regulations in parks like nearby Lafayette Park right in front of the White House. In that case, protesters have had to work through a maze of bewildering rules, arbitrarily applied, in order to be able to maintain their political dissent. All night protests have been squashed at times because of the prohibitions against unpermitted camping. When, how, and why those regulations are sometimes enforced and sometimes not, and the various rules governing what consitutes "camping" would truly be an essay in itself. Those who have kept the Peace Park vigil for more than 25 years created a very telling documentary about the application of these rules during the First Gulf War when protesters banged drums for 40 days and 40 nights. In my case, I have had the opposite experience, joining solidarity vigils in Lafayette Park where no one even said a word to me for sleeping on the grass without a permit. My point is simply that the no camping regulations in the parks is arbitrary; when they are enforced, there is some other purpose in mind than protecting the grass or the benches.
The sign I saw, seemingly new, in the case of Farragut Square, is meant to keep the District's homeless population out of Farragut Square and funneled somewhere else. This morning, when I biked through the square, the same homeless residents that I normally see were not there. On many mornings, one homeless man is on a bench near the statue; I often see a Park Service employee at the same time cleaning up litter along the grass. Nobody was bothering anyone; I never even saw so much as panhandling, which in itself isn't a crime. The crime is camping, and here apparently it is a crime to lay on a bench because protecting a statue of David Farragut from everything except the pigeon shit is more important to our national heritage than are the poorest residents of our city who have no roofs over their heads. Protecting grass planted by that same National Park Service is also more important. As you know, I don't take value judgments lightly, and I am not going to assume that human values are more important than "statue values," "heritage values," or "grass values," but I am going to say with plenty of vitriol that the enforcement of those values under the rule of law is dispicable.
Those who manage the parks have been criticized for "playing God" with nature (or not playing God enough); they even play God over the minutiae that is Farragut Square. In Yellowstone, they are roundly and rightly criticized for their wildlife management policies, whether we are talking about hazing bison, culling elk herds, eliminating and then reintroducing wolves, feeding and then not feeding bears. Some of these decisions may have been the right ones, but that we should assume that the National Park Service knows what it's doing because it has created this mythological altruistic self image around its ranger corps is obvously wrong. Some might say that forcing the homeless off of the benches of a traffic circle in Washington, D.C., is simply a management mission run amok, but it's the management system itself that is the problem. You cannot rightfully enforce a value-laden policy with severe and usually unknown consequences. The wonder of Yellowstone these days is that it's still around, and still amazing, in spite of the willful ignorance of policy makers. And, even so, what does the future hold? In Farragut Square, the future seems to hold no sleeping ground for the homeless; it will be interesting to see the effect of the signs in enforcing the arbitrary regulations against camping. One hopes that the Park Police on the ground ignore the regulations like they have so many times in the past. One hopes, but that hope is not promising. In Yellowstone, what will happen when the next set of in vogue ideologies compete for a consensus among policy makers? Maybe, next time, things won't work out so well (and some would argue - though I don't - that things went hopelessly to pot ages ago; I cannot say that because I cannot deny the beauty and wonder of my recent experiences). And, what is "working out so well" anyhow? It's not clear that anyone dares to have an idea, or those ideas are hopelessly in conflict with one another. Perhaps, they will always be hopelessly in conflict, but that makes it even more ridiculous that there's a management arm enforcing one incoherent vision of what the place should be.
I believe that what happens to the homeless in Farragut Square under the National Park Service is not really that dissimilar to what happens in Yellowstone National Park. I could make the obvious point that both seem to be for people of higher rather than lower classes, but that is not even the full extent of it. Whether we are talking about people, animals, or the land, the same arrogance rules. That is the nature of political hierarchy. For so long, those who love the environment and love the parks have called on fully funding the National Park Service. When the other option is the multinational corporate monster, one cannot blame them. Yet, ultimately, the problem is hierarchy of power in all its forms, and it will take us to stop them.
I have not said much of the bike couriers in Farragut Square, who are actually the dominant cultural feature. They usually describe themselves as a close knit community, something of a collective all to themselves. Though they often face repression, their ability to organize as a community has often empowered them to stand up against the same kinds of troubles that many of the homeless on the streets face. Challenging the hierarchies of power requires that we build communities who can organize and resist injustice. The communities of resistance as they currently exist among workers, among anarchists, and among others are not very strong, often focused on the next fight or the next protest or event. Ultimately, those fights will depend on building those communities like we see among the bike couriers here and in other places. That sort of organizing - like the kind we see with Buffalo Field Campaign - has made a difference, however incomplete, for bison in Yellowstone. However, we need far more of it here and there.
Anyhow, that's a side of the Park Service that some of you outside of Washington don't see and perhaps connections that some of you inside of it don't often make. There is a lot more evidence of these connections that I can make from my own experience, but even just this taste of it I think is enough that we should consider it more. I'd like to invite that discussion.