Last week’s town hall meeting, put on by Sheriff Brian Wolfe, was notable for its strong turnout – 400 folks would be a good crowd in a much larger community.
But the event was as notable for its respectful tone, which allowed the straightforward sharing of views and questions in an open forum. Respect – among friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even political foes – is an important ingredient in any functional community.
Respect was the missing element in the Bundy-led occupation at the wildlife refuge in Harney County. How often did we hear local reactions along these lines: We appreciate the spotlight they put on the Hammond sentencing and federal land management issues, but we don’t like the way they did it. That was a recurring theme heard in Harney County, here in Malheur County, and in other rural communities.
Whether by cutting down fencing a local rancher needed, putting pit privies on sacred Paiute ground, shutting workers out of their jobs, or prompting a fear-driven school closure, the protest and its response had repercussions that were deeply felt by local residents.
In the end, the Bundy occupation should be an object lesson for us all: In pursuing their agenda, the occupiers ran roughshod over the sentiments of stakeholders in the local community. While the occupiers voiced a defense of ranching and the rural life, their actions turned a community – and it should be noted, not their own community – into an armed camp. The aftermath leaves that community fractured, grappling to heal distrust sown among longtime friends and neighbors.
The debate over the occupation, and the law enforcement response to it, is likely to intensify in the coming weeks. Tuesday’s release of the investigation into the shooting of LaVoy Finicum, and revelations about the actions of FBI agents on scene and afterward, is bound to perpetuate the controversy.
Amid the continuing turmoil, it is important that we learn from the Harney experience. Our neighbors there are struggling to regain trust, something that isn’t easily recaptured once lost. That underscores the message from last week’s town hall in Vale. We need to respect each other’s views, even when we disagree, and focus on positive steps that will create a better future.
The challenges facing our area are significant: the minimum wage hike, changing water and environmental laws, economic shifts, and especially the proposed Owyhee Canyonlands national monument.
We cannot hope to answer these challenges if our energies are devoted to self-destructive actions. We cannot build a future if we are too busy tearing our neighbors down. And we should not buy into the victim mentality that says our only course is to criticize and complain. Let’s learn from the troubles of Harney County and move forward as a community striving for solutions – in an atmosphere of respect. – SC