Montana has a long tradition of listening to and respecting — revering — its writers and the state’s literary tradition. In an unprecedented show of unity, more than forty of Montana’s best writers have gathered, in rapid response fashion, to write original essays and testimonials advocating for the protection of our public lands, and endorsing Democratic House of Representatives candidate Rob Quist’s position on this (literally) most common ground of issues. Please vote on May 25.
I'll Take My Stand
Introduction by Rick Bass
If ever there was a nation at a juncture it is ours. We have lost our standing and respect in the world, earned by over two hundred forty years of blood and guts and, yes, diplomacy. It is only with humility and pride — the latter not to be confused with arrogance — that we can regain that standing and respect, that position of leadership in the world, as well as on our own soil.
Whichever side of this most dangerously divided of nations, these dangerously dis-united states, our special election in Montana falls upon, what I hope to capture here, on the eve of this terrifying moment, is how terribly frightened we are by what is happening with the foxes in the henhouse, in Washington D.C. We stand either to regain some of the foundations of our democracy or to cede the future, as if by sleeping proxy, to a tiny cluster of bombardiers, oil barons, polluters. Liars. Rich liars.
We have been watching as much of that which we hold sacred is dismantled as if by barbarians: Our educational system, the dignity of decent and affordable healthcare, our clean air and water, our wilderness — as American an icon as anything — and the financial security of our children’s generation. And, in some ways most painful of all, our respect among the nations.
Our election on May 25th will come down not to judicial bullying or Russian election tampering. I think it will — and should — come down to the condition and capacity of the human heart — and to courage: The courage to demand something better, the courage to rekindle the senses — our sense of home, sense of place, sense of duty — the courage to awaken.
Are we as a nation ready to cede our power completely, with neither check nor balance, to misleading zealots who crave Montana’s public lands, who seek to empower further — after we bailed them out once — the banks of Wall Street?
Forty years from now, young people will be calling upon us to tell them what it was like, in this crucible-forged time when democracy was attacked not just from abroad, but from within. What was it really like, they will ask. They will want to know how close and intense these elections were, state by state, vote by vote, with these issues in the balance, and how we achieved our victory, their victory.
We sharpened our knives, we will tell them. We were frightened, and we were fearless. We chose courage rather than silence. We turned our backs forever on the myth of pure self, on the myth of utter independence and disconnectedness. That myth, we will tell them, was no longer compatible with the genius of democracy.
We were frightened — terrified — of the seeds, the sprouts, of dictatorship arising in our own homeland, we will tell them, but we cut it down, just barely in time, by throwing everything we had at it — body and soul, intellect and intuition, everything. We rose above our fears, we will tell them, and, in Montana, we chose action.
It was terrifying, we will tell them. It was glorious
The Land is too Important
Whether U.S. Forest Service lands in Kootenai country, up in the Yaak, in the far northwestern corner of the state, or Bureau of Land Management lands at the farthestmost southeastern corner, down in the lovely Tongue River country — it is the shape of the land that gives Montana the contours of its character. Fire and flood are, to say the least, not unknown to us. But this May, we face a risk of the unnatural variety, one that can take away our Montana land not for a season or any other finite period of time, but forever. The choice in our May 25th special election is between empowering one of our own, who would keep public lands in public hands, or yet another member of the current party-in-power, which has for decades sought to liquidate public lands, and as recently as this year offered up yet another bill to do this, “disposing” of over 3 million acres of public land in the West.
Regardless of how one voted in November, or what one thinks of the current stinkfest in D.C., here in Montana, it’s time to close ranks and defend. It’s time to get your friends to the polls.
I trust Rob Quist on this issue, a thousand times more than I trust the party-in-power, and its chosen candidate in this special decision-point moment in time.
Montana, and our public lands, are too valuable to take the word of a stranger, or to take away our voice on this matter and cede it further to the party that is trying to take these lands. We need a check on what is being attempted, we need a balance against the terrifying imbalance.
These are hard times. One of the elephants in the room is of course that what people like myself call “our” land was taken, a scant 125 or so years ago, from other people. It’s an elephant in the room, in these discussions, and an elephant has come into the state, seeking to take again. But most of us were around five or six years old when we were taught that two wrongs do not make a right.
The land: it’s too important to us as Montanans to take risks. Defend it. Defend it this May, defend it always. We’ll sort out our differences in the coming seasons. Defend it. Keep it.
Rick Bass is a writer and board member of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, and Writer-in-Residence at Montana State University.