Reality check. The citizens of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area have just withstood a harrowing, three-week siege from sniper attacks. Eleven people died. Fear permeated the State of Maryland and the East Coast, not to mention the nation.
Now, the constitutionalist group, We the People Congress, based in Queensbury, N.Y., plans to march on Washington, D.C., with a list of grievances against the federal government.
Some members of this group do not recognize the authority of federal agencies. Many members want the federal government and law enforcement agencies in particular to be restructured and hollowed out according to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Some members even refuse to pay federal income taxes - at a time when the nation, in the wake of Sept. 11, has suffered a $286 billion turnaround and now labors under a $159 billion deficit. Meanwhile, our nation is trying to wage a War on Terrorism, and urban residents in particular fear daily for attacks from terrorists.
In view of all of these considerations, our only comment to the We the People Congress is: Lots of luck winning any support in Washington, D.C.
Urban America often is targeted for criticism for being too narrowly focused on its own issues. Well, we hate to say it, but the same reality applies to rural residents who want to deny the influence of the federal government in their lives. Sorry, folks, but if you want to pursue a local-control agenda without weighing the nation's mood as a whole, you're on the wrong end of the debate.
Don't get us wrong. We support the idea of championing a smaller, more efficient federal government. We adamantly oppose the kinds of bureaucratic regulations that hamstring our economies and put our forests at risk of burning to the ground. We like the idea of states' rights over federal intrusion in our lives.
However, let's take a look at the bigger picture. While Grant County is advocating ballot measures that seek local control of federal forestlands, citizens in metro areas - including Portland - are floating ballot measures to fund intervention programs to help keep their kids out of prison and out of their morgues. If we consider how Grant County issues are perceived in the urban areas, it's useful to remember that high crime, high stress and often poor quality of life plague many of our urban cousins. What can we say about our quality of life by comparison?
Let's get real. We can and should advocate for our issues, but we need to bear in mind that urban residents will laugh, shake their heads and eventually tune us out if they continue to hear about us refusing entry to the United Nations, or commanding authority over this country's national forests, or voting to create forestry commissions with presumed power to make policy. Urban residents have their hands full with a full menu of problems. Many of these urban problems (as we saw in Washington, D.C.) affect life and limb.
We cope with our own legitimate problems, such as cougars in our back yards and high fuel loads in our forests. Again, it's useful to keep these issues in the public eye. However, it's not so useful to overreach and become strident and distanced from the rest of America. Worse yet, if we cry wolf like the boy in the parable, we lose credibility in the eyes of the larger public. That larger public, like it or not, helps frame the laws by which we must live.
If we lose allies by entrenching ourselves in small, narrowly focused enclaves, we lose any leverage in the circles that matter most - legislatures, the White House, the U.S. Congress and, most importantly, in the court of public opinion.
It's easy to recognize the temptation and appeal to march on Washington, just as the We the People Congress intends to do next month. However, we do not recommend marches and protests and ballot votes to the point that our urban neighbors grow fatigued and uninterested in our issues. They have their problems; we have ours. Sometimes, the problems intersect. The best political leaders, like John Day's Sen. Ted Ferrioli, try to address both. But the job of our political leaders is made so much harder when the citizens they represent appear hostile or obtuse to the woes facing our urban counterparts. Let's bear that in mind as we form policy in Grant County.