Buying America and embattled local control

Walking composition

“That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.”
—Willa Cather

I had a sketched-out draft of an essay on religious faith for this week, but then decided I wanted to write about math education instead, and then got to neither mostly because life and partly because I’m finding Buying America from the Indians really riveting, if slow for me. It’ll probably take me 2-3 months to finish it, but every page seems to have something noteworthy enough for a Post-It.

One thing I’m learning so far is that ideas about land ownership among European settler-colonizers weren’t consistent. In the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s there were a lot of conflicting arguments about the whole Doctrine of Discovery idea and some influential Europeans who claimed that it was beyond obvious that the only people who had the right to sell North American land were the people who already lived there. The book hasn’t gotten into Native people’s perspectives on ownership and sale themselves—I’m hoping it will because who has the right to sale and purchase is a weird question to focus on when one party has no concept of land title as private property—but it’s an important spanner in the works of the standard ownership worldview that plenty of high-profile European people didn’t think they or their monarchs had automatic right to the land simply because they had “discovered” or “improved” it. The idea that all colonizers thought the same about land is yet another story most of us have been told to accept as true.

Apologies for the extremely tangled nature of the penultimate sentence in the previous paragraph. I think you could diagram it, though, if you learned diagramming in school and had a large enough sheet of paper.

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A couple of Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced a bill to make municipal broadband illegal. I think it was during the original battle over net neutrality that a mini-documentary came out (or maybe it was on Jon Oliver’s comedy news show) looking at Republican-controlled state legislatures that had made municipal broadband illegal even in places where companies like Charter refused to provide connections and service.

The bill has zero chance of making headway in the current Congress, but there is a strong likelihood that gerrymandering will give Republicans an opportunity to take back the House in 2022. What then?

Meanwhile, Montana’s state legislature, which has the support of a Republican governor for the first time in 16 years, is going all-out on gutting municipal independence, from making inclusionary zoning illegal (which will be disastrous for towns like mine with a high percentage of wealthy vacation homeowners) to nixing cities’ abilities to enforce things like local mask mandates.

Legislatures stripping away local control away has been a problem for a long time in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, and Colorado before it became more liberal. I’ve been having a lot of conversations recently about issues adjacent to these, and all I keep thinking is that we have about two generations of people who truly believe, like it’s a religion, that the free market and privatization will provide the most good to the most people, with an overlay of people who don’t believe that but do believe they’ll profit from the process. Evidence to the contrary will have no more effect on the true believers than scientific evidence of climate change has on a denier.

What to do about it is a question I’m uncertain of, except to keep working for things that actually do good and hope that real-life effects start to sway people more than their identities as belonging to a certain political party do. After all, Arkansas’s legislature just passed legislation allowing municipal broadband because they see the need and that the private market isn’t filling it; and the chair of the Utah Young Republicans has publicly come out asking their party to start showing leadership on climate change.

And yet I keep thinking about Sarah Kendzior’s line about how those in power have no interest in governing America, only interest in breaking it down and selling it for parts.

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But something about the religious fervor with which Republicans in power attack everything from reproductive freedom to local broadband networks struck me differently last week. There’s the arrogance and obvious contempt with which our legislators are barely tolerating dissenting public comment, but where does that come from?

There’s something about connection and connectivity here. Something about how the connections that bind those ideologies and power plays together are absolutes that the people employing them can rely on. They’re strong connective foundations because they’re old and have been there for millennia (religion, patriarchy, white supremacy, etc.).

I don’t know how to weaken those connections. But do we necessarily need to? Or do those with progressive viewpoints and desires start looking at our own connections differently and learning how to strengthen them? I think strengthening community is a big part of the answer to this question. I believe in the power of walking and walkable communities, of course, but there is so much else that spins out from the physically interconnected communities that I would love to see shape our futures.

I don’t know what that looks like but am curious to watch it unfold.

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Some stuff to read or listen to:

  • Some of you probably already subscribe to Anne Helen Peterson’s Culture Study newsletter, but if not you might have missed this wonderful interview that guest writer Chris La Tray did with Montana’s senator Jon Tester. Both Jon and Chris have given me hope and gumption when I needed it most over the last few years. This interview was no exception: “I’m always thankful for folks who think about things. That actually think about stuff and think about what’s going on in the world and how to move it forward.”

  • I just finished Hilary Mantel’s novel Beyond Black. The local book clerk had recommended it with a note that it’s “weird.” It was indeed weird. I don’t think it’s the kind of book I’d usually read. There are themes in it I find incredibly depressing and usually avoid; it was so well written that I kept going anyway and found myself both downcast and full of wonder by the end of it.

  • This episode of Team Human with Vicki Robin was an uplift I absolutely needed this week. I loved how she talked about the “song” of ideas and movements. I think I know what she means: “We don’t know where we’re going, we’re lost in a sea of time, and we can only be moral beings in that. That’s the only tiller we have, is our ethics, our integrity.”

  • I haven’t finished the latest episode of Your Undivided Attention with Kate Raworth about her economic theory Doughnut Economics, but I’ve been following her work for a while now and so far the interview is just as satisfying as reading about her research on how to build an economy that serves human needs within ecological limits.

  • This piece by Alex May on how the legal system can start serving humans and life by pursuing Interconnected Law was refreshing and thought-provoking. I sent it to an environmental lawyer friend who said, “Yes! It needs to be about tort!” I have no idea what that means but I bet there’s a reader who does.