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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.

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    Tuesday, May 22, 2007

    2007 Yellowstone employee experiences

    I worked in Yellowstone during the beginnings of the internet in mainstream culture, from 1993-1996 and 1998. Of course, during those years, we didn't have any internet access at all. Except for 1998, we did not have any television access (simply a TV in the dorm that played video tapes - we watched the Olympics in Atlanta on tapes, each tape a few days late.) Our only phones were pay phones in the dorms, and we'd walk through a feet of snow just to get to work - that was before global warming melted all of Yellowstone's snow (forgive my sense of humor). In any event, our biggest connection to the outside world was the mail. In most cases, letters from friends and family at home took five or six days to arrive. In 1997, when I began writing a draft of my autobiography of my summers in Yellowstone, internet accounts of worker experiences were relatively rare.

    Today, several Yellowstone employees are regularly blogging their experiences working in the park. The perspective you get from a worker is often quite distinct in many respects from what you get from the casual tourist. It is also quite different from the writings of those of us who pay close attention to issues facing Yellowstone. Some are more reflective than others, but many of them share common traits. They all to some degree speak to their experience working in the park, which is not something you ever see in a nature show on or photograph of Yellowstone. Often, they speak to the differences in their experience to those around them, either co-workers or other people. Many notice things that others would probably not write about. They often have great information about hiking; in some cases, they can even seem reckless.

    All that said, very few people of the thousands who work in Yellowstone actually write publicly about their experiences. In many respects, the uniqueness of the individual Yellowstone worker experience is lost. While technology has made instant communication possible, there isn't a huge amount out there. I look at every blog that mentions "Yellowstone" every single day, and you would be shocked how little there is in original material being produced. While not all of it ends up in the Yellowstone Newspaper because not all of it is newsworthy, there isn't so much that I cannot fairly easily scan it all every day. To do the research adequately, one would probably need access to volumes of personal emails that are currently being sent. Even then, I get the haunting sense that a lot of people are not sharing their stories except perhaps in the most trivial way. I will wonder long and hard about why we seem to be so silent about experience even when that experience is undeniably overwhelming. Perhaps, getting at that riddle will be part of the people's history of Yellowstone National Park project I continue to contemplate.

    In any event, I want to point you to 2007 Yellowstone workers I know about who are blogging about their time in Wonderland. If I have left you out, please comment and post a link to your blog. There are undoubtedly more, especially on Myspace; so please fill me in.

    Wandering Through the Woods by Jacob A. Clere. Jacob works at the Lake Hotel and already has had some harrowing experiences.

    A Little Eccentric ... goes to Yellowstone by Molly Jo. Molly Jo also works at the Lake Hotel. She's from Wyoming and has a very unique and articulate expression of her experience.

    Yellowstone 2007 by Cory St. Esprit. Cory is working at the Old Faithful Lodge and is already sick of Old Faithful's eruptions.

    Fotogal in Yellowstone by Joanne. Joanne is working as a desk clerk in my hometown of Grant Village.

    My Life in Yellowstone by Carrie McClane. Carrie works up in Mammoth Hot Springs. You should read "Gonna be a bear."

    the memoir by zhiying and yordia. These two are from Singapore and working at Old Faithful. The foreign worker experience is becoming more and more the norm, and I hope we see more blogs like this sharing that experience.

    We're On The Road: Two Cheeseheads, an RV, and a Yorkie by Garry and Jenny Summers. Jenny is a registration clerk at the Fishing Bridge RV park, and Garry is working maintenance at Lake.

    Goats and Barley by Michael Morgan. Michael, a student from Georgia, is doing "mission work" this summer; he'll probably have a wage job in the park for Xanterra, Delaware North, or YPSS (if his experience is like others). He shared a series of stories from the previous summer on his blog.

    As a side note, you might consider reading a couple posts by someone traveling through the area who did write about some of the products sold in the area. Laura Moncur wrote this month about huckleberries (you see "Made in Montana" products everywhere, especially huckleberry products) as well as on cowboy hats made in China. What does she think - that they make cowboy hats in Yellowstone? Where's that factory? The authentic Wild West is in large part the consumption of the myth. That consumption calls for workers; nice side effects of which are the stories I am having the pleasure to read.

    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    He's a boy!

    Here's something you aren't used to from me, a purely personal post without any additional commentary. I've already written one essay where I mentioned this news, but this is more out in the open.

    On approximately September 30 of this year, my partner Genevieve will be giving birth to our first child. A week ago we found out that our child will be a boy, and all signs so far point to him being healthy. We are both very excited about this and have been doing everything we can to prepare for this momentous occasion.

    Please keep us in your thoughts. This is quite a time for us!

    I thought you might like to see an ultrasound picture; here he is at 20 weeks. I have another picture on my door where you can see a little hand and a little foot. We like this picture, though, because he looks like he'll have big lips like me!


    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Resistance and the recent BFC arrests outside Yellowstone

    Two members of the grassroots group Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) were arrested last week while monitoring hazing operations being perpetrated against Yellowstone buffalo. When I found out that one of them was injured by a police officer, a man I had met named Dan Brister, I became upset. In part, I was upset over what happened to Dan; in part, I was upset because I was pretty sure that the media and the casual observer would tend to take the police side on the issue. Because of that, I wrote a short essay honoring Dan Brister. I meant in the essay to draw upon my firsthand experience both of Dan and of my firsthand experience with the way police often act in protest situations. Being used to the criticism both from people on the right who trust the institutions of law and order and from liberals, especially in the peace movement, who claim to be followers of nonviolence, I wrote my short piece about Dan in order to challenge the natural assumptions that these camps make.

    Of course, and not to my surprise, a blogger in Montana criticized the BFC arrestees for not following the principles of civil disobedience. The blogger focused on police allegations that Peter Bogusko kicked out the rear window of the police car, of which he is expected to plead not guilty. However, writing about both arrestees, the blogger writes:

    Perhaps Bogusko has some sort of internal moral compass by which he is cosmically not guilty -- but didn't the gentlemen make a clear decision to break the law? No bison were going to be "saved" by their actions and the effort would seem to be at least in part to attract attention, in filming the happenings and perhaps also through being arrested.

    Since the two men intended to break the law - a fact not at all obvious to me - they should accept the punishment afforded to them by pleading guilty. This is classically in line, the blogger asserts, with the theory of civil disobedience practiced by early Christians up through the present. However, since the two are pleading not guilty, the blogger offers this criticism:

    What is a bit incomprehensible is the spectacle of someone making a point of breaking the law, and then claiming that they didn't -- or looking for legal loopholes to get out of punishment. Today, civil disobedience is something most associated with liberal causes, but there are other examples. For instance, there are radical abortion opponents (precious few compared to the hysteria mounted on the left about them -- but they have certainly been there) who have bombed abortion clinics using the moral justification that they are trying to save lives.

    Fine -- well, not really fine, but fine for the sake of argument. But then such an individual should show up at the police station and take credit for the bombing, taking his legal lumps -- acting like a man and accepting the punishment prescribed by law. If someone was killed in the bombing, this means pleading guilty to murder and going to jail for life or accepting the death penalty without appealing it.

    On many levels, this analysis of the situation is mistaken. For one thing, no matter the actual facts of the case (whether the police are right, whether the BFC activists are right, or something else altogether), no one was attempting anything that should be confused with civil disobedience. Secondly, even if the original intent was civil disobedience, there are plenty of situations I can imagine where the appropriate response against injustice does not require martyrdom.

    I will not be commenting on the merits of the case. As I mentioned from my own experience, I have much greater trust in the accounts given by Buffalo Field Campaign than by the police. I am much more interested in this essay in pursuing the way this event has been framed as people make moral judgments. There seem to be several assumptions that need to be challenged. One is that people engaged in resistance are necessarily looking to break the law. So, when a report about an arrest happens, there is an automatic assumption that this had to be the aim of the action. Another assumption is that people engaged in resistance are morally bound to take their lumps when arrested. So, when someone fights a charge, many assume that they are going against the higher ideals of civil resistance.

    So then, let us turn to this analysis.

    First of all, it is impossible to imagine that the BFC activists were engaged in civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is the intentional breaking of a law that one deems to be unjust. The aim of civil disobedience is the soundness of the law itself. Let's contrast that with what the BFC activists were doing. The BFC activists were not aiming to break any law in order to question the soundness of the law; they were engaged in trying to document and thereby use that documentation in the longterm struggle of Yellowstone's bison population. In other words, they are engaged in resistance against the policies of the government in stopping the free movements of the buffalo population. That is, their act was one not of disobedience but of resistance. In the course of resistance, people may actually be following or breaking laws depending on the tactic of resistance, but the resistance itself is the motivation for the act, not the particular law itself that has been alledged to be broken.

    Thus, even if the BFC activists did as police claimed, it would be mistaken to say that their actions were intended to be acts of civil disobedience. They were acts of resistance against policy. Many acts of resistance are perfectly legal. You cannot draw an assumption about the intent of the protest simply because an arrest happened.

    As acts of resistance, however, it would not, of course, follow that any act of resistance is a just act of resistance. And, even if it were a just act of resistance, it would not necessarily amount to the best tactic of resistance. Surely, even if one would not be wrong to break a law does not mean that it would be smart to break the law. If you are in a group with limited resources, and you have to spend a great deal of your time in prison, all your righteousness in the world will not make up to your group the loss of resources you represent. Sometimes, people follow laws they don't believe in because it makes tactical sense for them to do so. I am guessing, for instance, that most anarchists pay taxes (sales taxes and/or income taxes) even though they do not believe in the legitimacy of the government. They do so not because they are hypocritical but because they could not survive long otherwise.

    To the question of resistance particular to BFC, is it right to resist what's happening to the buffalo? I believe that it is; the blogger does not question that in the blog. So, we will leave that question in this essay to the side. We will also leave to the side the question of whether breaking the law is sometimes just since by affirming civil disobedience, the blogger affirms that it might be possible to break a law in order to obey a higher law. That would certainly apply to resistance as well. The only question of relevance, then, is whether someone who has been arrested for breaking a law should ever plead not guilty.

    Of course, there are two cases now that we need to keep in mind. There is one case where someone did not actually break a law and was arrested for doing so, and there is another where someone did actually break the law. We are assuming that the cause of resistance is just and that it is sometimes just to break the law.

    In either case, whether one actually did break the law, there are different circumstances that would dictate whether it makes tactical sense to plead guilty or not guilty. Let us consider for instance one theory of resistance. In Gandhi's theory of satyagraha, the resister is using the force of one's suffering in order to bring a change of heart. In this case, the person resisting breaks the will of the perpetrator by in some sense showing the incompatibility of the perpetrator's force with his stated benevolvent intentions. The point is in some sense to speak with one's enemy in a unique way. In Gandhi's thinking, this act is meant to be forceful and active. In his time, one way to express that act was to fill up the prisons and do so cheerfully, never giving in to the supposed force of the punishment. This is exactly what the early Christians cited in the blog intended to do through their faith.

    However, is this the only way to express resistance justly? Today, people fast just as Gandhi did, they rot away in prison for years just like Gandhi did, some march off to jail just like Gandhi did, and the world no longer notices. They do not notice because the act of resistance no longer speaks. It has become a caricature of itself. People go through the mechanics of a "march to the sea" without any sense that what they are doing is intended to be an act of active resistance first and foremost. Their means no longer match their ends, and they waste away hungry for no purpose, languish in jail for no purpose, and pretend to be strong when in fact their imitation of a method of resistance has become weak. It is not resistance; hell, it's not even satyagraha. It is simply passive; people know the results, they know how the game is played. They, then pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

    What happens to BFC if all their volunteers plead guilty to crimes whether they have committed them or whether they have not? In what way is their cause advanced? What happens to the people in the field who are watching out for the bison? Will anyone notice or care, especially after each arrest, one is bound to read reactionary responses like the one offered by the blogger, assuming guilt when there may not have been any? Does pleading guilty do anything but add to their burden? How is resistance served?

    If we believe that BFC's cause is just, then we should support our friends without asking ourselves whether they are guilty. That is not relevant. We should also not expect them to lay down and accept their punishment as though that is the "nonviolent" and only ethical thing for them to do. They speak loudly enough through their witness and their action in support of the bison. There is nothing unjust about pleading not guilty if it helps to serve their resistance, and it's not a means inconsistent with the ends. If breaking the law can be consistent, so too can pleading not guilty (or pleading guilty as the case may be). If the higher law rests somewhere else, then it's to that law that people must conform.

    We can talk about the merits of Buffalo Field Campaign, of resistance in general, but if we are going to chastise people whose resistance we do not question for choosing not to suffer needlessly and passively, forgotten in jail, in the name of a caricature idea of civil disobedience, then we don't understand a thing.

    Those of us who accept that what is happening to Yellowstone bison is an act of oppression should stand in solidarity with our friends. I know I do.

    ****
    For all the stories on this, see the Yellowstone Newspaper.

    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    A few words on a beautiful soul injured and arrested documenting Yellowstone bison struggle

    In April 2002, I wrote about Dan Brister of Buffalo Field Campaign:

    Dan was a beautiful soul. I doubt I have ever met a more pleasant person, and I have met many pleasant people in my life. I just felt helpless, though, trying to convey how much I loved Yellowstone, and I felt small because in my heart I knew he must love it more.

    On May 9, 2007, Dan Brister--who is the man on the left holding the banner during the April 2002 march--was injured and arrested while videotaping hazing operations perpetrated against Yellowstone's bison like he has for so many years.

    I lost touch with Dan as priorities changed and life imploded around me, but I have never forgotten him. It makes me sad that he has gone through this and yet happy that he remains defiant and vigilant working on behalf of those who are victims of politics and economics based on a misplaced sense of entitlement.

    I have witnessed and encountered many similar situations with law enforcement over the years. My firsthand encounters are so palpably similar to what has been described by Buffalo Field Campaign in their press releases that I must admit that I cannot imagine another side to this story, not after having met Dan, not after having seen police in action in situation after situation. I suspect that some of you reading this will be quick to jump to a different opinion, though you have not seen firsthand the kind of things police routinely do to anyone who has the nerve to stand up against their crimes. There are several accounts on this blog alone that tell you what we deal with here, in public, with a police force trained to deal with activists.

    I'm sickened, even though I have grown to expect it to happen. It hits a raw nerve in me. The least I can do is raise up Dan Brister and point people to what's going on not only in the case of he and his friends but with the bison of Yellowstone.

    Please check out Buffalo Field Campaign, and for more information on this story, also check out:
    and further updates as they appear in the Yellowstone Newspaper.