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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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    Monday, October 22, 2012

    Parallels of Bison and Occupy Protesters

    Monday, November 14, 2011
    Jim Macdonald
    I wake up this morning to stories around the country of forced removal of occupy protesters from their encampments on public space.  These range from Occupy Portland being forced out of their park, to "tactical team raids" on Occupy Chapel Hill.  Occupy Oakland is bracing for a similar forced removal.  These are either exciting or depressing times depending on your vantage.

    I am going to say something that will make some of you cringe.  What's happening in the field with our friends in the street is essentially the same as what happens every single year to some non-human local inhabitants to our region.  Please hear me out, though.  Wild bison are not allowed to occupy the public spaces in Montana, are forced from one space to another every year (through a vile practice known as hazing), and are often lethally removed (either from the canned hunts or by shipment to slaughter).

    But, are these really the same things?  Can you compare the political struggle of people to the struggle for survival of a species?  Isn't it a tortured metaphor?

    It is not a tortured metaphor in at least one crucial respect.  Bison are persecuted (as well as sometimes the human activists with Buffalo Field Campaign - of which I often volunteer) for the protection of the interests of the wealthiest among us.  Though there are no cattle west of the park except in the summer (and even then at miniscule numbers) and a few dozen north of the park (held by two owners - one of whom is on the record as supporting wild bison; the other, at least thinks that it should be allowed so long as he's taken care of), the interests of Montana's billion dollar livestock industry have maintained the false bogeyman of brucellosis transmission to cattle by bison (something that's never happened in the wild) as a reason for millions of dollars in government spending to keep bison locked into Yellowstone National Park.  When they venture to claim Montana public lands for escaping winter's brutality, for giving birth to calves in the spring, to achieve their own myriad reasons for wanderlust, the government cracks down.  They do so under the guise that it's a health and safety issue.  They sometimes show varying levels of tolerance before inevitably moving in.  They do so with law enforcement agents, helicopters, men and women on horseback, and they drive those bison back - sometimes injuring them, sometimes driving calves from their mothers (or a cow/calf pair from its herd).  They sometimes round them up and test them and fit them with tags and collars.  (They do many worse things besides).

    The point here, though, is simple.  The reason for these removals is to protect the power of capital, even to the point of absurdity.  What are some tents on a public park really going to do to bring down the power of corporations?  They don't do anything in themselves anymore than some bison eating grass on national forest lands do.  Yet, allow these people to stay, allow them to organize, allow them to discover community and means for resisting that power, and the corporations perhaps rightly fear that the next steps won't be so pretty.  If bison were truly allowed to roam, the way humans capitalize on land, the way they capitalize on other animals, might be thrown into doubt if bison were allowed to compete on grass - if wildness was allowed to infect the way civilization reduces land to acres of neat little squares.

    It's ultimately about the grotesque power that the wealthy hold over the commons, over public spaces, over public institutions.  That's what the occupy movement is about; that's what the struggle of bison has always been about (ever since they were driven to the point of extinction in order to force Native Americans onto their reserved parcels of land and off of the vast commons that once existed on the North American continent.)

    So, for those of us in this region, I hope we'll see the connection of what our shaggy friends face every year as they try to occupy habitat in Montana.  No, they are just trying to survive; they are not trying to bring down corporate greed.  Corporate greed, nevertheless, is why they are forced away.

    And, to those of you at occupy encampments facing or digging in against forced removal, my sense of solidarity for you right now couldn't be stronger.  Please be strong; and like the bison, never stop coming back.



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