Earlier this week I was invited to give a presentation about the Little Shell for one of Missoula's civic organizations. I was happy to do it. It was held in a large banquet room, the crowd was well-spaced and limited, and I felt only mildly uncomfortable being there. I think COVID is going to make everything feel that way for a long time. But the people were friendly and the organization probably does great work for the community though I'm not entirely sure what it is they even do.
Curiously I was set back on my heels right out of the gate. As the leader of the organization called the proceedings to order everyone stood and I stood with them. She then invited all in attendance to join her in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. I was stunned. I didn't realize people do that anymore. I haven't said the pledge in decades, easily, yet as the words started rolling out around the room I realized I still knew every one by heart.
Except I didn't join them. I did turn and face the flag, which was right behind where I was standing, if only because I didn't want to stand in awkward defiance of the entire room, hand nowhere near my heart. I listened closely to the words, probably closer than I ever have before, especially in context to what this country has revealed itself to be, what it has always been, these last few months. I stood, hands at my sides, and thought to myself, “There is no way I am going to pledge allegiance to this flag, and this country, and then take to the podium and describe to these folks how Indigenous people have been getting the shaft for about 400 years.” And I didn’t.
I wasn't acting in protest or calculated defiance. It never crossed my mind to participate in the custom, in the same way it didn't cross my mind to participate in the prayer that immediate followed the pledge. These simply aren't things I am going to do.
I don't view the pledge, or prayers before these kinds of events—actually any event not defined as a spiritual gathering or ceremony—as anything other than expressions of the kind of institutionalized racism that runs rampant in this country. Why force people with plenty reason not to feel particular allegiance to the USA to declare for it? Whose god am I under? Liberty and justice for all? Since when? And why do I want to declare allegiance to a nation that, in their very Declaration of Independence, lists as grievances against the king of England that he "has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured [sic] to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."
I am and will remain a "merciless Indian Savage" just as my ancestors allegedly were. Merciless and savage in standing up for the oppressed, that is. I’ve been radicalized in defense of my people, and that means people who just want to make a living and be happy and live quiet, whole lives without being grifted at every fucking turn. And merciless and savage we must be, because if there is any nation who has practiced a total war of destruction against "all ages, sexes, and conditions," it is the United States of America. Not just against my ancestors either, but everywhere around the world.
It is a difficult time to be American right now. We are showing the world exactly what we are. And I really hate being the, "Yeah, but.... " guy all the time but that is the position I consistently find myself in. I held my nose and voted for the Biden/Harris ticket. There was really no other option. I don't feel any joy in their victory, just a sense of weary relief. It looks like Trump will be sent packing but it hasn't happened yet and, depending on whom you ask, it's not a certainly that he and his fascists won't figure out a way to keep him in power … some kind of power. He and about 70 million dipshit followers are still here and I don't know that anyone knows what we are going to do about them. Trump has thumbed his nose at the legalities of what he can and can't do at every turn since day one and no one has done a damn thing to hold him accountable. Just a lot of gasps and hand waving but ... then what? If we really cared about his depredations we'd have been in the streets demanding his removal when he was impeached, for crissakes. Trump is the manifestation of all the shitty things we have let evolve on our watch.
My other problem as it relates to not buying in to the enthusiasm around Biden/Harris is that there has been plenty of feel good rhetoric but not a damn thing has happened yet. All the things Biden has claimed he will immediately do sound wonderful. But he isn't the first guy to make grand proclamations, so until he does them they are just talk. He's just the next in a long line of aristocrats who say one thing and usually do another. To assume it will be different without US doing something different to hold him accountable just puts us in the role of Charlie Brown while Lucy approaches with a football and a charming smile on her face. I don't trust him or anyone around him. There will be a couple bones thrown to us in his cabinet choices but watch closely who he chooses. I can hear the sound of oligarchs rubbing their manicured little hands all the way out here on the banks of the Clark Fork River, let me tell you.
I'm sorry for the vitriol but this is where I'm at these days. I'm pissed that the richest country in the world hasn't done anything to provide relief to millions of struggling citizens since March. I'm pissed that I can't get together with my family for fear of making anyone sick. I’m pissed that I can’t hug people … AND I DON’T EVEN REALLY LIKE TO HUG PEOPLE!
I have zero faith or respect remaining for the offices and institutions of government in this country. All three branches are rotten to their core and we keep enabling them at every turn. And don't get me started on the budding war within the Democrats between the establishment and the progressives. Seeing all the finger pointing at this powerful collection of women of color in Congress who pretty much handed the election to Biden (Minnesota, Michigan, Georgia, never mind the overwhelming Indigenous vote in Arizona) makes me think that for all the social justice books that flew out of bookstores and into the hands of "progressive" white people after the George Floyd murder, nobody read the fucking things. Because if there is one theme to unify all those pages it is that we need fundamental change in this country, and this is no time to make excuses about it being too soon to consider.
I'm all in for going after big changes. Universal health care. Green New Deal. MAJOR climate action. The list goes on. Visionary stuff, and all of it at the same time. It's on every one of us to turn this whole nightmare around, and you're either working for change, or you're against it. Don't let the rhetoric around how perfect America and its flummoxed Americans are obfuscate your vision. These people won't be on our side unless we make them be. So pick your side. Let’s show these stupid suit-wearing, circle-jerking assholes who really runs the show here.
In other news, I have a piece up at High Desert Journal. HDJ started out as a gorgeous print magazine but moved exclusively online some years ago. I miss the physical format but they are still one of the better journals out there and I'm just pleased they are still around. I'm also very happy to have landed in their pages. Editor Charles Finn's first book, Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters (OSU Press 2012), is one of the key inspirations for my own book, One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World at Large. Anyway, you can read my piece HERE. While you're at it, you may also read my friend Mara's poem HERE as well—she's in this issue too! And you thought we just sell books at Fact & Fiction....
Finally, I’m a card-carrying member. You can be too.