Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Proactive Pinon Canyon Vision

Some people live their lives reactively. They are essentially passive, waiting for circumstances to over-take them and then doing what they have to do to get by.

Other people live their live proactively. Deciding what kind of a life they want to have and then making conscious decisions which increase the odds that their chosen life will be realized.

Communities also tend to be either reactive or proactive. Colorado Springs is an example of a pro-active community. That city has decided that it wants its identity and economy to be defined primarily by the military-industrial complex and conservative religious organizations. As a result that city attracts many residents who find work in these sectors of the economy. Colorado Springs doesn’t just sit and wait for their military bases and their religious organizations to grow. They proactively work to make it happen. Just last month 70 representatives from their community traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with the Colorado Congressional Delegation and Department of Defense officials to lobby for the interests of their city. And they are currently in the process of hiring a DC firm at the cost of $100,000 a year to lobby in their behalf on a year-round basis.

Trinidad needs to decide if it wants to be a reactive, or a pro-active community. We have several unique economic opportunities before us if we decide to pro-actively pursue them. Las Animas County was recently identified by the State as the largest Renewable Resource Generation Development Area for both wind and solar energy in Colorado. This represents great promise for the economic future of our city and region. The promise of a growing alternative energy industry in Southeastern Colorado may well be one of the major reasons why Fort Carson has been trying to hard to take advantage of what they've called, "a window of opportunity" to acquire land in the region before wind farms and solar arrays are established.

Many of us who live here take the abundance of natural beauty that surrounds us for granted. But “there’s gold in them there hills!” Not only do we have beautiful mountain country in our area, but also spectacular red rock canyons and prairies. Las Animas County is an incredibly diverse outdoorsman’s paradise unlike any other locale in Colorado. Some of these natural assets are public lands. Others are on private property. But with the right kind of pro-active economic development all of these amazing resources could be developed.

Another promising area is the development of heritage tourism. The region of the Purgatoire River watershed is the cradle of Colorado history, with pre-historic people such as the Folsom Culture and historic tribes like the Jicarilla Apaches, the Ute and the Cheyenne, and the 19th century international trade and cultural exchange that occurred along the Santa Fe Trail and the birth of the cattle industry by such luminaries as Goodnight and Thatcher and Bloom. There are literally thousands of archaeological and historical sites all over our region. And there are also many thousands of curious people who’d pay good money to see them. While many of the attractions are outside of town, Trinidad also has a surprising number of museums and cultural venues for a community of its size. All of this is could become more of an attraction, supporting our food and lodging businesses. But we’d need to pro-actively help that to happen.

I have personal witnessed both the interest of outsiders in our region and willingness of private land owners to welcome them onto their property. Over the past three years I have coordinated painting outings into the historic ranch lands and canyon county in our region with over 60 artists from all over the state. Trinidad has also developed an identity as an “arts community.” Attracted by the affordable housing and studio space, the rich history and culture, and the scenic beauty, nationally recognized artists have found their way to Trinidad. We are now the home of many visual, dramatic, musical and literary artists and arts-organizations. We could pro-actively build upon this by offering incentives to artists who can no longer afford to live and create in places like Santa Fe, by subsidizing studio spaces within our stock of under-occupied downtown buildings.

But there is one big obstacle in the way of the future development of any and all of these promising options for our future. We are in competition with the pro-active vision of Colorado Springs for the future use of the land in Las Animas County. Colorado Springs’ vision of the future involves the growth of military training and in their minds, that requires the acquisition of more land. The real estate around Colorado Springs’ military instillations has become very populated and expensive. But they view us down here in Las Animas County as basically passive regarding our current and future economic development as it relates to our land.

Some might say, “why not have it all? Agriculture, alternative energy, heritage tourism, outdoor recreation, the arts AND militarization? But there are intrinsic conflicts between live-fire, military training and any of the other options. It is pretty obvious that you can’t raise cattle or put up solar arrays and wind-mills, or go out bird-watching, or painting or hiking on land that is exploding with weapons and being buzzed by military aircraft. The military is currently engaged in fighting against wind farms in areas where training is conducted because wind generators represent obstructions to low-altitude flight training and produce false, ghost-radar images. According to the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/27/business/energy-environment/27radar.html

So we have two cities whose visions of the future depend upon the lands of Las Animas County. Colorado Springs is proactively working with legislators and Pentagon bureaucrats to try and make their vision happen. The people of Trinidad should also become proactive in working to make our vision a reality. As the old saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” We need to start thinking and behaving pro-actively.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pinon Canyon; Not About Economics

If the Pentagon’s plan to turn Southeastern Colorado into a vast live-fire range were about economics, it would be a bad idea. But for those of us who live in the targeted region it’s not about economics; it’s about patriotism.

Patriotism is the love we feel for our homeland. It’s the willingness to stand together with our neighbors in defense of the heritage and values of our forefathers and mothers. It’s our appreciation of the unique beauty and history of the landscapes that we call our own. In opposing the expansion of Pinon Canyon we are doing our patriotic duty.

If Pinon Canyon expansion were about economics it would be the most unenlightened self-destructive and unsustainable approach to economic development imaginable. The destruction of agriculture, our most consistent economic sector, the depopulation of our land, the spoiling of our environment and the federalization and removal of private property from our tax-base would all work against the long-term health of our economy. Any short-term financial gains by a few would be more than offset by devastating long-term loses by all.

But it’s not about economics for us. We don’t believe that the military should ever be used as a tool of economic development. Nor should the lands and livelihoods of hard working Las Animas and Otero County residents ever be sacrificed for the sake of a few government contracts.

From the perspective of the Pentagon bureaucrats who hatched the plan to turn our region into a big playground to try out new weapon systems, land is just land. They don’t care, and may not even know that the land is the home of multi-generational ranching families. They may not be aware that the Santa Fe Trail passed through this land and that it’s the cradle of Colorado history. They would probably prefer it if the place was not covered with thousands of historic and prehistoric archaeological sites. It doesn’t matter to them that the red rocks canyons are beautiful; ugly would do just fine as far as they’re concerned. All they want is a big hunk of real estate to create a Department of Defense training and testing range so that defense contractors can try out their wares.

But for the patriots of Southeastern Colorado, all of this does matter. We will never allow our homeland to be invaded and destroyed for the sake of providing a testing ground for the likes of Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon and Boeing.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Pinon Canyon Compromise?

We’ve been asked why we are so unwilling to compromise. Over the past four years the people of Southeastern Colorado have been resolutely united in our opposition to the expansion of the Army's Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. We are uncompromisingly against the federalization of 6.9 million acres of productive agricultural land in order to turn it into the world's largest life-fire range. We are unyieldingly standing together to prevent the projected dispossession of 17,000 of our neighbors, (the Army's estimate of how many people would be "relocated.") Our mantra has been, "not one more acre!" And during these years, one politician after another has suggested to us that we should sit down at the table with the military and hammer out a compromise, a win-win solution which would allow the Army expand its Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site without destroying our economy, environment and culture. But we have some pretty good reasons for being unwilling to compromise.Politicians hate taking sides. They want everyone to like them, and more importantly to vote for them. Whenever they come down decisively on one side of an issue they risk losing votes on the other side of the debate. Politicians prefer the middle ground, imagining that they can keep everybody happy and voting for them. In the case of Pinon Canyon there is an obvious electoral and economic imbalance between the two sides. On one side is a motley crew of dusty, dry-land ranchers, crusty conservationists and historians, and musty, left-over 60s peace advocates. Plus, we live in a sparsely populated part of Colorado and are far from being a powerful voting block. On the other side is the most highly funded agency of the federal government; the Department of Defense, and one of the richest and most influential sectors of the Colorado economy; the defense industry. Together they comprise what former President, Dwight Eisenhower called, "the military-industrial complex." Even for politicians who sympathize with us there's not much to be gained in standing with us against the military. Politically, compromise looks like the clever way to go. I generally agree with the idea of people sitting down together to work out their differences, but this situation is different. The problem with us sitting down with the Army is that the Army is not a person. It is a huge Washington D.C. bureaucracy. The people who serve in the military have subjected their individual sentiments and opinions to a higher authority and are obliged to obey directives which come down to them from the over-arching command and control structure of the Department of Defense. Soldiers are certainly human beings with individual feelings and opinions. But they have made the ultimate human compromise; to set aside their own thoughts and emotions in obedience to policies and agendas set for them by military planners in the Pentagon. In order to negotiate any real compromise we'd have to be able to "sit down at the table" with a policy-maker who has the ability to exercise judgment and discretion. That is not the role of a soldier. Ideally the people of the Southeastern Colorado community would sit down together to participate in the formulation of our vision for the future of our region. And this would involve compromise. But "The Army" is not a person, or even a group of people. It is a federal agency without a permanent physical presence in the community or any consistent human expression here. Of course the Army is made up of human beings, but those individual humans represent policies and programs that they have no discretionary power to alter. "Theirs is not to reason why." In the last four years, there have been three different commanding officers at Fort Carson, two different Secretaries of Defense and two different Secretaries of the Army. "The Army" comes into Las Animas County from far away to use the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, maybe twice a year, and then leaves. They have no stake in the community beyond this limited use of a resource which happens to be located here. They have no attachment to, or investment in our community. From their perspective the land here is simply an available commodity. And the expansion is not their plan to defend or forsake; it was formulated, perhaps decades ago within the secretive, inaccessible and unassailable inner sanctums of the Pentagon. The military strategists who first dreamed it up are very likely working as civilian contractors and consultants by now. And the people who are currently under orders to advance the plan have no particular axes to grind. They are simply trying to be good soldiers. They didn't create the plan and they have no authority to alter it. Since they are not personally responsible for the creation of the plan and have no authority regarding the implementation of the plan they have no "standing" when it comes to determining the future of our Southeastern Colorado community. In a sense their role is just like a bomber pilot who releases a bomb at prescribed coordinates. It's nothing personal. Just following orders.There's a big difference between our self-determination with the compromises that we'd have to make to work out our conflicting interests, and a powerful outside interest moving in to try to determine the future of our community. The military personnel who are involved with this issue at Fort Carson have nothing to gain or lose, personally and they have no authority to alter the plan. They are simply following orders. Besides, we've already experienced the results of "compromise." In the early 80s we resisted the establishment of the current Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, but ended up compromising. We made a deal with the Army. In exchange for them taking 240,000 acres of Las Animas County, dispossessing multi-generations ranching families, plundering our historical and natural treasures and losing the tax revenue from the land, the Army promised that they never use live fire and that they'd never seek any future expansion. They've broken both of those promises. So much for compromise.So we are not interested in any more compromises. And we are not very excited by politicians who suggest that we should compromise with the Army. We're looking for politicians who'll do what military men are taught not do; exercise judgment and decide. We're looking for politicians who'll consider, not just the vote-count, but the injustice of a powerful military moving in upon powerless citizens to take their land and their lives. We are looking for politicians who will be uncompromising, willing to stand, shoulder to shoulder with the people that they represent against the power brokers of the military-industrial complex.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Party Elite Are Sabotaging Democracy: Romanoff Shows Independence with Pinon Canyon Stand

The two major political parties are subverting the democratic process in our state. They are, perhaps unwittingly pushing people like me toward the "Independent" column. First it was the Republican elite who got together behind closed doors to anoint Scott McInnis as their candidate for governor, long before the primary process had a chance to work. They even drafted a platform, a document which has traditionally been part of the party caucus process.

Now it's the Democrats who are subverting the primary process. President Obama is on his way to Denver to give his blessing to, and raise mega-bucks for Senate candidate, Michael Bennet. Such an endorsement would be fine if the primary process had been allowed to play itself out and Bennet had emerged as the party's choice. But that's not the case. There's another strong, viable Democratic candidate in the race; former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Andrew Romanoff.

It has become evident that Romanoff is just too courageous in his thoughts and actions for the party elite to embrace him. First, Governor Ritter ignored him and appointed Denver School Superintendent, Michael Bennet to fill the Senate seat vacated by Ken Salazar. Now the Colorado Democratic Party, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committees are conspiring with Bennet's campaign to sabotage democracy, short-circuiting the primary process, by bringing the President into our state to campaign for Bennet, Perhaps Romanoff is just not corporate-friendly enough for the taste of the party elite. After all, he has turned down all campaign contributions for PACs, while Bennet raked in $600,000 from PACs in 2009. Or perhaps he's not urban-centric enough. In taking a strong position against the Army's plan to expand their Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site he has signaled that he will represent the state-wide interests of Colorado, and not automatically do the bidding of the military and defense contractors in Colorado Springs and Denver.

Whatever their reasons, it's just not right for the Republican or Democratic party-elites to impose heavy-handed influence upon the primary process. It causes people like me to consider a third, independent way forward.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I'm Beginning to Look at Haiti

When the first pictures came on TV, I was caught in that excited curiosity that grabs the attention of the public when they see the words, written big and red across the screen, "breaking news." But a day later I didn't want to see it at all. As the scale of it and the rawness of came into focus it became too much for my mind to grasp; too much for my heart to bare. I quickly sent $50 to the Red Cross, and found ways to look away.

But there is a guilt that I've carried now for days. How can I not look hard at this? It is not just Haiti's experience. It is such a naked human tragedy that it is also our experience; my experience; the experience of all of humanity squeezed onto a Caribbean island; all of our secret frailties, prejudices and fears pushed into view.

The nagging that I feel is not just the guilt of looking away. I also feel guilty about looking. What right do I have to look now, after all of these years of knowing. What right to have to look at the indignity of bony grandmothers and plump children and muscular men; bodies arranged in rows along the curb, all mixed in with the rubble and the trash. What right do I have to look at the dirty, broken bodies of people forced out of the privacy of their agony and grief; forced to live out their hell in the streets; in front of the cameras?

It's complicated. I'm having a hard time identifying all of the feelings that are sturing in my emotional stew. I tell myself that it's okay to look without seeing too much and to turn the channel so as not to see too much; not to think too much about it. What's the use? My brain and my heart are too small. I can't imagine that much death. I can't imagine the pain that is being experienced by even one single individual who's beloved has been crushed, who can't put them properly to rest in a proper grave, let alone feel the enormity of that, multiplied by a million.

But that's really no excuse; that it's too big and I'm too small. I don't have a choice. There it is, the worse that can happen to human being, right in front of my human eyes. I can pretend that is doesn't have to do with me. That it's far away in a foreign land. That the Haitians are so different from me; they are experiencing it in a whole different way than I would. But none of that is true. Haiti is not a world away and the people are not so different from me when it comes to the lose of love and life.

I find myself denying the reality of it all. It's kind of like when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. My mind couldn't take it in. I fought against it. It didn't fit into the categories of my prior learning and the capacity of my understanding. Little by little it is sinking in, but I will probably never comprehend the full horror of it. I can only create an abstracted version that I can live with.

In my culture we are insulated from the reality of death. I didn't see a dead human outside of a funeral home until I was forty years old. Americans in 2010 go to great lengths to avoidance death and dying. We pay people that we don't know to take of the bodies of our loved ones. We say, "goodbye" to embalmed, powdered and waxed ecto-forms and we say, "That's not her. She's gone." We transition quickly from death and decay and loss and grief, to vision from our memory. We imagine the departed floating near by, ready to whisper consolations, or living on in heaven, poised to receive us into the kingdom.

When reality is too much for us to mentally comprehend, or to bare emotionally, we are faced with a dilemma. We have to either accept a reality that is too brutal, to harsh, to huge and risk being destroyed by its enormity, or place that reality within a larger mythic context, outside of experience and reason. We place this earth that sustains us, but can also shake us to our core within a larger realm; the earth atop a tortoise or held aloft by Hercules, or cradled in arms of Jesus. When understanding fails us, we look beyond it to faith. I'm not very fussy these days about the exact specifications of the here-after and beyond. But I do need it. I envision it in different ways as the moment requires. I am not willing to accept that redemption and justice exist, or fail to properly exist, only within the limits of human logic. My soul entertains the possibility that the unjust, disproportional tragedies of this world might make some kind of sense in a transcendent cosmology. I recognize that this is partly a way that I avoid the starkness of the reality of Haiti, but I have to, and I honestly believe that their are beyond the mind of man.

Some are tempted to believe that the Haitian people somehow brought this upon themselves. Pat Robertson says they had it coming. Their ancestors made a pact with the devil long ago and Satan is claiming what is rightfully his. I guess he figures that if it's the wrath of God then humans are off the hook. At least the big questions of "why" are taken care of. He applied the same logic to AIDS epidemic, and 911 and New Orleans. I can't imagine how scary it is to believe in the God of Reverend Robertson.

I think there are a lot of people who want to do something now. They have the same confused, guilty feelings as me. We want to believe that we can make it, if not all right, at least better. We send money, we volunteer to go and help clean up or care for the orphans. Maybe we can make Haiti a better place. Maybe I can help.

I think I need to do some art work about Haiti. That's the way for me to process the experience. I can't understand it. I mustn't ignore it. Maybe I can take it and give my experience of it a visible form. It's something that I can do.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Army is trying to spin the fact that their efforts to expand Pinon Canyon have been thwarted, yet again. Fort Carson officials announced on Jan. 19th that they are backing off "for now" and concentrating on using land they already have. So far, so good. But Col. Robert McLaughlin, the garrison commander at Fort Carson, said the Army may still try to expand Pinon Canyon that expansion is not, "off the table."

We've heard this line before; that the Army is not pursuing expansion, "at this time." Or that there is, "currently no plan." They're trying to make it sound like it's their idea to back off, but the reality is that it would be illegal for the Army to try to expand because congress has enacted, for the third year in a row, a ban on spending any funds for that purpose. Thanks to the united efforts of Senators Udall and Bennet, and Representatives Salazar and Markey the Army has no choice but to back off, "for now."

But a careful reading of Col. McLaughlin's words makes it clear that they'll be back if and when they can get out from under the year-to-year bans which prevent them from moving forward on expansion. Meanwhile Southeastern Colorado remains under a dark cloud. What is needed is a permanent legislative ban on expansion. The Army says that it wants to "improve relationships" with landowners around Pinon Canyon. The first step that they need to take in that direction is to reaffirm promises made over the past 30 years that there would be no further expansion of Pinon Canyon and pledge their support for putting that promise into binding legislation. Then, and only then can the Department of the Army hope to win any goodwill in the region.