The Unabomber! The freemen! The militia! Is the Last Best Place disappearing?
Up here on the nation’s backbone, amid the headwaters of the Columbia and Missouri river systems; up here, among seven Indian nations; up here, embraced by 43 mountain ranges and the undulating Great Plains; up here, with the cattle and sheep, the primeval forests, the wheat, gold, copper, coal and oil; up here, Montanans continue struggling for peace and justice.
And you can bet we have our hands full.
Eight million folks come to visit us every year. But in light of the Unabomber, the militia and the freemen, some are calling to inquire: “What kind of people are you, anyhow?”
We are a people unafraid of militias and freemen because we have hard-earned experience in successfully confronting bigotry, ignorance and fascists.
We speak boldly because the Wobblies led the way. We practice peace as heirs of the first woman in Congress, pacifist Jeanette Rankin. We battle for decent working conditions because we learned from the Miners Union. And from the Indians, we learned there is such a quality as sacredness.
But are not the Unabomber, the militia and the freemen responsible for the disappearing act of the Last Best Place?
No, it is the mining, timber and railroad interests that continue to destroy Montana as they have for 13 decades. And every plunder of Montana is a ripoff affecting all of America.
Our governor, Mark Racicot, appeared on network television to counter bad publicity and to tell America, “Montana is what America used to be.”
Ironically, there are some terrible truths in his words.
The Treasure State’s governor did not tell America that our national forests are being devastated. Our rivers - headwaters of the nation - are poisoned with mining wastes. Fish are dying. Railroad traffic is a mortal danger.
Some cities are awash in air pollution. Mining conglomerates have three big new targets. And the Indian nations are struggling to preserve their sacred places.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of Unabomber publicity, flacks for the extractive industries and the alleged “Christian” right are busy with their tar brushes. Their tactics smear environmentalists as extremist crazies.
Montana’s U.S. senators - one hack from each party - are do-nothings who ignore the “green” constitution of the state that sent them to Washington, D.C. Each man lacks the stamina to confront the disastrous consequences of unbridled and lawbreaking greed. They fill their campaign coffers with money from the oligarchs and monopolists of timber, railroads, utilities and mining.
Three giant mining conglomerates are moving ahead in three pristine locations. One adjoins Yellowstone National Park. Another is in the Cabinet Wilderness near the Idaho border. The third sits astride the fabled Blackfoot River. This site - a 10-minute drive from the Unabomber suspect’s cabin - is on state-owned land and on property owned by the family of Montana’s Democratic U.S. senator, Max Baucus.
Phelps Dodge Mining Co. wants to blast out 600 million tons of rock and build an open pit mine a mile long, 3,000 feet wide and 1,200 feet deep.
A cyanide leach operation would be placed next to the fly-fishing river made famous by the late Norman Maclean’s novella, “And a River Runs Through It,” which Robert Redford produced as a movie in 1992.
Phelps Dodge expects to retrieve 0.02 ounce of gold for each ton of earth and rock it excavates.
Baucus actively opposes any increase in mineral royalty payments to the federal government.
When the governor spoke to America, he didn’t say that he signed a law last year lowering Montana’s water-quality standards. It was enacted in spite of the biggest Superfund site in the United States - from Butte to Missoula, 140 miles of poisoned river.
That stretch of the Clark Fork of the Columbia River system is dead because of toxic contamination from the former mining operations of Anaconda Copper. It was acquired by Asarco Inc., that saint of conglomerates, which refuses to take full responsibility and drags us through the courts.
America as it used to be? You bet!
And yet, because we’ve fought the good fight for more than a century, nature’s sacredness still abounds here. Montanans remain glad to share one of Earth’s most astonishing gifts.
But remember that this Last Best Place can disappear if corporate colonizers and their lackeys in Congress have things their way.
Montana belongs to everyone. And all of us must be stewards of these lands.
Come up. See the splendor. Join the struggle.