ORGANIZER 2:

 

[And there's a whole new next page: Organizer 3

 

POLICE AND MOVEMENT ISSUES   HG    10/16/01

 

Quantitative -- And Other Measures -- In Gauging Organizing Success    [The Algonquins at Bennett's Camp]  HG 10/14/01  

LECTURING THE LEFT:   WHO NEEDS THAT? HG  10/10/01

WILD COUNTRY [CALL OF THE  FAR AWAY HILLS]  HG   9/29/01

 

 

POLICE AND MOVEMENT ISSUES  HG   10/16/01

 

This is my personal perspective on cops et al. and some of the basic,
attendant issues in Movement work. Others on the List may certainly wish to
add or comment on all of this.

This morning's newspaper, Idaho State Journal, carries a  general, national
story "Police now on front lines: thin blue line has become first terror
defense."

I certainly don't find that at all reassuring.  [And I see, as I have
consistently seen since my Teen years, the entire FBI as nothing more than a
classic totalitarian secret police operation and a pure mockery of
democracy.]

Although I've certainly known some very good and committed police officers,
there really haven't been very many in my experience. Most cops from my
perspective fall into the negative camp -- or the group that, when pressured
a little,  easily slides into frequently bad stuff with the outright
negatives.

Locally,  here at Pocatello, the police [local and state] are among the
worst I've seen outside of the Old South -- and we've had over four years of
continual, hostile thrusts from that direction.  In addition to sensibly
combating them on a number of issues, I've been recently involved [as most
members of the List are aware from reading a couple of  my posts] in trying
via long-distance [about 1300 miles] to restore better police practices at
the small city of Grand Forks, ND where we had once secured high level
police performance and very solid police/community relationships -- and
where things have recently slipped badly in the context  [among other
negative things] of three recent and as yet unsolved murders of Native
American men.

Social justice/social change activists will always be well advised to be
very wary of police.  The general police mentality [ probably anywhere in
the world  and certainly very much in the United States ] tends toward
authoritarianism [if not outright totalitarianism in many cases]  focused on
preservation of the status quo -- and can often be downright paranoid.

Always be cool.  One of the three Black lawyers in the early '60s who took
civil rights cases [out of only a total of four  Black attorneys in the
whole State of Mississippi], Jess Brown, had this advice to Northern
students coming down to assist in the freedom fight.  "Don't argue your
Constitutional rights with a Mississippi highway patrolman at 2 a.m. on a
dark road."

That basic point is well worth remembering through the ages. But we must
always know our rights -- and know them well.

Don't needlessly -- I repeat, needlessly -- give police the arrest/attack
"justification" for which they're so frequently searching.  Personally, I'm
a strong advocate of tactical nonviolence in demonstrations.

As an effective activist, one has to keep moving forward.  This can mean
arrest and jail.  And sometimes -- before and during and after arrest -- it
can mean physical attacks by cops.

No one  likes jail.  Sometimes it's important to get out as fast as
possible -- say, via bail bond -- in order to resume effective Movement
activities in the field.  And, sometimes it's more important to the Movement
to stay in for awhile: to illuminate and draw critical public focus
vis-a-vis the issues.  Always avoid the temptation to build up an impressive
arrest record for appearances alone.  If you're doing Movement work, believe
me, arrests will  certainly come along in due course!

No one likes to be beaten and no one likes pain.  But beatings can happen
and pain will  occur.  Remember, in almost  all cases, people are much
tougher than they think.  Pain passes and people heal.

And you have to keep moving ahead -- always.

And remember: arrest and jailings and physical attacks should be extremely
important Movement issues in their own right -- worthy of non-violent
protest demonstrations and creative lawsuits.

Good lawyers are crucial.  But basic change, in  the final and fundamental
sense, is always made by careful and thorough and effective grassroots
organizing -- and, frequently, it's made in the streets.

Move ahead with deliberate speed -- steady on and  full and hard ahead. Keep
fighting -- with sensible militancy.  And, always, with Eyes on the Prize.

Fraternally/In Solidarity - Hunter


Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org (social justice)

Left Discussion Group
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Redbadbear

 

Quantitative -- And Other Measures -- In Gauging Organizing Success    [The Algonquins at Bennett's Camp]  [HG]    


This is a  very substantially expanded version of something I posted several
weeks ago on a list where a dispute over success-measured-by-stats flared
briefly.  This can be a significant -- and volatile -- issue for organizers.
It's certainly worth some comment.

Every single "people's struggle" is significant, important -- to the "people
of the fewest alternatives" who are involved and affected and to the Great
Cause.  Numbers are very meaningful, certainly, but there are other
dimensions that transcend a purely quantitative measure   -- among them,
seeds sown and ripples of constructive influence that can travel far beyond
the momentary ken of the organizers and their constituency.  I've been
privileged by History to play a role in a good many grassroots organizing
campaigns.  One was the historic Jackson Movement  -- thousands and
thousands and thousands, massive, internationally known, cracked Jackson
wide-open and sent  deep cracks across the rest of Mississippi and into
other parts of the Deep South.

But another  was cracking the closed, heavily guarded and extremely
exploitative feudal  mink ranch of Lester Bennett in Ontario County, New
York.

During this period, I was director of the Office of Human Development -- the
social justice arm -- of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York:
12 up-state  counties.  During my stormy -- embattled -- tenure as OHD
director, we accomplished many solid and genuinely activist community
organizing things.  Eventually, I was fired by the Bishop for
"insubordination" -- stemming from our vigorously pushing socialization of
the people-gouging Rochester Gas and Electric whose board chairman was the
largest single contributor to the Diocese.  Things relating to all of this
are on our large website.  http://www.hunterbear.org/rochester.htm

But back to Bennett and his feudal set-up which exploited a primarily Native
migrant work force from Canada [western Quebec and eastern Ontario -- from
such poverty-stricken reserves as Maniwaki and Grand Isle Victoria.] This
brutal arrangement had gone on for 35 years without protest from any
direction.  The almost completely non-English speaking Algonquins were
brought down each season and virtually held hostage in Bennett's camp.
Taken occasionally to a small town to buy groceries [at a store owned by
Bennett], they were always accompanied  by armed guards.  Their pay was low,
they were flagrantly cheated -- and health and safety conditions were
hideous.


Among other things, well before the fur season got underway and the bulk of
the migrant Indians arrived, I sketched Bennett's massive layout from a
wooded
ridge far above his plantation -- and, with binoculars, studied all of  its
basic details.

I saw the several lines of extraordinarily flimsy cabin-shacks used by the
Indians. We knew there had been lethal fires at some -- and frequent
pneumonia stemming from the icy winds of the Lake Ontario winters.

I carefully developed The Plan.  The Trap.

So then, in due course, as the mink season of 1977 got underway,  I pursued
some extremely creative techniques. One of these included,  using very early
on, a friendly cooperative migrant program [to which our OHD office
channeled money] to place a key operative of ours-- an old Winnebago friend
of mine fresh from Iowa -- into Bennett's set-up as an "alcohol counselor"
at no cost to Bennett. This was a first -- since no outsiders had ever been
permitted therein. But alcohol was making its way surreptitiously into the
massive compound -- probably via some of Bennett's regular employees -- and
the old man was worried about his mink skinners' "steady hands on Monday
morning."

Our inside man immediately feigned a love affair with Bennett's "control
person" -- an opportunistic [and totally Machiavellian] Algonquin woman, a
classic Apple, who was very well paid by Bennett to help manage the captive
work force.  She fell for my friend's charm and wiles -- and he
subsequently gathered invaluable information which we received each evening.
[My Winnebago buddy and his  wife, a Sisseton Sioux, were staying at our
home at Rochester during their relocation period from Iowa -- so we met
literally at our dinner table.]

Now, with a growing list of potential Algonquin leaders and with maps to
their respective cabin/shacks, I crept onto the plantation  via thick woods
and  under heavily barbed wire at night, again and again --  successfully
avoiding  the armed guards and dogs.  They never even sensed me.  A young
Algonquin who knew English regularly  met and assisted me in translation.

Much happened.

In due course,  very ably assisted by one of our most activist young
staffers and by our  very cunning inside agent, we organized the slightly
more than 100 non-English speaking Algonquin Indian workers plus their
families into a highly successful short strike -- and, subsequently,
substantial related actions involving formal health and labor complaints and
court action.  And those were also quite successful.

Bennett et al. were taken completely by surprise! The "control woman" was
crushed. And, in the middle of this, Bennett's daughter, Rowena, 65, who had
long wanted a red convertible car, absconded to Florida with some of his
considerable money.

The speed with which this long repressed work force of Canadian migrant
Native people developed extremely effective and courageous local
leadership -- much of this including their very strong wives --  speaks
volumes about the great capabilities of the human grassroots in every
setting and in every time.

This cracked and  completely opened Bennett's plantation system: one of the
three largest mink ranches in the U.S. [more than 60,000 mink.] We then
formally met with the other mink ranchers in the region -- who used migrants
of various ethnic backgrounds, including some Indians -- and who immediately
met our demands.

Back in Canada, following that unexpectedly turbulent season, a number of the
Algonquins from the Bennett struggle became very effective labor and Native
rights activists in western Quebec and eastern Ontario. Many are still at it
today.

The courageous Algonquin struggle at Bennett's had a very signifcantly inspiring impact on Native people throughout upstate New York.

[In an interesting postscript, I later gave a long social justice
presentation to a large class of incipient priests at St. Bernard's Seminary
at Rochester.  The class, social theology, was taught by my good friend,
Professor Joe Torma [now at Walsh University, Ohio.] The gathering was
fascinated by the Bennett account -- but some were disturbed at  our
deception vis-a-vis the Algonquin control woman.  At the end of my
presentation, Joe polled the class.  About two-thirds felt we were justified
under the circumstances.]

For a discussion of the Bennett  struggle saga, see our website at
http://www.hunterbear.org/great_algonquin_freedom_campaign.htm

The famous  Mine-Mill "Salt of the Earth Strike" -- October, 1950 to
January, 1952, Hanover, New Mexico, Empire Zinc -- involved 128 workers.
Its impact on New Mexico was tremendous and, through the extraordinarily
fine film, it affected people all over the world [and still has a
significant impact today.] BTW, if you haven't yet seen the excellent and
enduring "Salt of the Earth", do so!  It was officially blacklisted for
years but widely shown outside of movie houses. Now available on video
cassette, it was recently chosen by the Library of Congress as one of the
100 most important films ever made in the United States.

Every social justice fight -- "big" or "small" -- is well worth it from many
rich and enduring perspectives.  Not the least of these is what the
organizers themselves learn for the battles ahead and beyond.

Fraternally -

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org (social justice)

Left Discussion Group
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Redbadbear


LECTURING THE LEFT:  WHO NEEDS THAT?

The sometime recurring throb on ASDnet via direct posts and forwards --
encouraging the Left to look hard and critically at itself and any areas of
sinfulness -- turns me off totally.  I don't care whether it comes from
narrow and shallow right-wing social democrats concerned about "Leninism" or
"liberal" people [and I don't mean genuinely committed and tested pacifists]
worried about the effects of violence or violent verbiage on the
respectability of their respective public images.  Not a pacifist, my own
personal commitment to tactical nonviolence has been very well demonstrated
under challenging circumstances-- although I do, of course, support  [and
have practiced] principled and sensible personal self-defense in certain
rare situations.  I certainly have no truck with Bill Ayers and his
contemporary, self-serving book marketing rhetoric.

But I did know a number of parents of Weathermen and I knew some of the
offspring involved.  [Leonard Boudin, BTW, represented me in several legal
matters over a considerable time span.]  The Weatherman situation -- and
things like it -- were certainly the logical outgrowth of a decade
[decades!] marked by governmental violence at home and abroad, the ruthless
exploitation by capitalism of everything and anything  into which it could
sink its claws, consistent betrayals by many liberals -- and the most
multi-faceted and intricately hypocritical rationalizations any system could
rain down, 24 hours a day, upon its people.

I'm only surprised there weren't more Weathermen.  And for my money,  Jamil
Al-Amin [Rap Brown]  [who I knew slightly] was very much a victim then --
and, with respect to his current legal difficulties in Atlanta --  is one
right now.  Mumia and Peltier are certainly classic frameup victims.  And,
apropos of Peltier, the Oglalas who, in 1975, defended themselves against
the FBI were not only practicing individual self-defense -- but, in an
international context, were defending their sovereign Native nation against
United States aggression.

A vignette from the  end of the 1960s:  Teaching sociology for an academic
year at a small, high quality private liberal arts college, [ and very soon
to move into Chicago organizing]. I was awakened at my home at 2 am by
concerned students -- and we rushed several blocks to the college
administration building where a small group of kids were attempting to
assemble a bomb. [I know a great deal about demolition -- was  trained in
it.]  They knew nothing about any of that -- and it's a great wonder they
hadn't already sent themselves into eternity.] I dismantled their crude
contraption, quietly gave them a hell of a strong lecture, and they promised
never to do that again.  We all pledged each other to absolute silence [ a
pledge which was kept by all] -- and I threw the bomb makings into a nearby
river.  That ended that.  But I remember those kids who had been so very
much shaped by the insanity -- the obviously recurring insanity -- flowing
from, and rationalized by, the highest and most "respectable" levels of this
country.

I don't like lectures on sin from reactionaries, so-called liberals, and
social democrats.[I don't like any lectures on sin.] The bona fide Left has
always been pretty well  able to prevent and handle most of these situations
"within the family."  And, when there are slippages into tragedy from our
side, let us still be aware, and in the context of solidarity,  where the
real headwaters of the madness lie.

Fraternally -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org





WILD COUNTRY:  [CALL OF THE FAR AWAY HILLS]

 

This is being posted on our new -- congenial, and
no-rival-to-any-other-list -- discussion group: Come Over Red Rover.   I'm
also posting  this on ASDnet [DSA], full of good people, but contentious as pure
hell.  And I might just do another list or two.  It's a change of pace, you
might say, but it all goes over the Mountains Yonder and toward the Sun --
from the Left.

We live 'way 'way up high -- literally on the far edge of Pocatello, Idaho:
right on the "frontier". The really steep, rough stuff begins practically in
our back yard -- and, damn fast, it gets steeper and rougher and tougher.  I
frequently hike many miles away up and far, far back. 

At home, with my trusty computer,  such things as discussion list
e-mail fencing  and shoot-out duels get old fast as far as I'm concerned.
[ I concede that I can occasionally be a bit less than perfect, myself. ] I'm referring
especially to snide comments,  public threats to "turn off" one's e-mail
vis-a-vis any particular person, the cunning swipe, the sly wickedness of
"faculty meetings."  I even heard yesterday or so [not directed toward me ]
the extremely archaic term, "guttersnipe," aimed quite undeservedly toward a
very good person.  Of course, most of the people on that particular List
were born long after World War II and wouldn't even know what that
extremely unpleasant term means.  I do, only because I read widely in a
grandparent's personal library which had some very old-timey things from his
native Canada.

Sometimes I need refreshment -- and not that drawn from the far below us
Idaho Bar.  So I head into the Back Country -- hearing the Call of the
Far-Away Hills [theme from the great 1952 flick, Shane.]  All I have to do
is go out my back door.

Early this morning, my oldest daughter, Maria, and I [and the family Shelty,
also named Hunter] headed up and away.  I've got the boots for it -- Size 15
Vasque; and I have an excellent hat -- top-of-the-line -- Akubra --
Australian Cattleman's wide-brimmed, high crown, with a kangaroo hide
neck-strap.  The boots keep one from plunging  to disaster -- and the hat
handles intense sun, super-strong wind, torrential rain, and sheeting snow
very nicely indeed.  It's cooler now, there's been more rain.  Game -- mule
deer, elk, moose -- are moving down from the high country where, in the
draws, the relatively few wide-leafed trees in this predominately cedar,
juniper, and pine setting began to do their seasonal change several weeks
ago.  The coyotes are coming down, too, and we now hear them only a couple
of hundred yards away at night -- and so are  the mountain lions who are
leaving their long, wide scratch sign in the cedar and pine needles not far
at all above our house.

When you get 'way up there -- on the high, high ridges, where the wind
sometimes blows 70 miles an hour [though not today], you do get a fresh,
renewal perspective: all of the contours of the hills and the mountains and
the ridges and the draws and the canyons blend  together in natural unity
under the deep blue sky and the great high clouds and the blazing sun.
Human beings, trees, mountain lions, circling hawks and flapping wild sage
chickens and jumping deer, the  brush and the rocks  -- are all Creator's
kin.  In this kind of setting, you could see your human enemies and you'd
all get along just fine.  Unless, of course, they were  the Bosses! -- and
the Bosses would dearly love to privatize this BLM [Bureau of Land
Management] vasty turf and use their alchemy in deadly and wrecking fashion
to turn  all of this into green paper and corporate power. But we're not
going to ever let them do that.

It's right up here -- in this very area -- where my great/great/great
grandparents, John Gray [Ignace Hatchiorauquasha] and Mary Ann [Marienne
Neketichon ], Mohawk [Iroquois] Indians, maintained their winter camp.  He,
an accomplished knife fighter and trapper, was from the St Regis reservation
in up-state New York and she from the Caughnawaga reserve near Montreal. He,
the culture hero of our family, was the leader of the Iroquois fur hunters
in the Far West during a big piece of the first part of the 19th century --
and led  the first labor strikes in the Rocky Mountains:  against the fur
bosses of Hudson's Bay Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.  The
British called my great ancestor "a turbulent blackguard, a damned rascal."
For his part, [quoting from the written record of fur boss Peter Skene
Ogden's assistant], John Gray could readily launch into a denunciation of
the policies of HBC in general and the men of the Columbia Department in
particular:  ". . .the greatest Villains in the World & if they were here
this day I would shoot them."  His oldest son, my great/great grandfather,
Peter Gray, was born in this immediate setting at their winter camp. This,
along with the peculiarly and tremendously challenging social justice issues
of Idaho, is why we came to this particular place.

Up there in the rough/tough country, all of the layers of petty things --
the venial sins, so to speak -- are swept away by the cleansing elements.
You see the Great Commonalities, the Blending, and you see the Realities --
and the Realities call for Solidarity.  Not a Solidarity static or
stagnant -- but a Solidarity straight ahead and hard for sheer survival
and, far more basically, against the Real Enemies .

That's what you learn again and realize afresh and bring back down with you.
It's what you try to keep.

It's what we have to keep -- a Fighting Solidarity -- and use to the hilt
and beyond.

And, sometimes quite unexpectedly, you make very strange new friends.  This
is a piece I wrote a year ago, which was published in the January/February
2001 issue of the excellent socialist journal, Against the Current [which
has published other things of mine.] It's carried from the ATC website
format onto my website and reprinted herewith:

=====================================================================

Unfriendly Forces, Mountain Lions and Our Rattlesnake Friend

Reflections on Idaho

by Hunter Gray

WE MOVED TO Pocatello, Idaho three years ago.  And there are certainly some
mighty friendly people hereabouts.  But from the very moment we first
arrived, we've been subjected to bizarre harassment-coming obviously from
Federal, state, local "lawmen" and vigilante types, and just as obviously
stemming from my traditionally Left Native rights/civil rights/labor
affiliations and beliefs and history and contemporary activities.

Surveillance, blatant interference with our mail, very weird telephone
experiences-including hate calls, people taking photos of our house,
intricate garbage searches, mounting indications of sub-rosa
vilification-and much, much more have been a consistent part of our scenery.

We are, of course, fighting back and will keep right on keeping on doing so.
To quote the old Mississippi saying: "Our enemies can go straight down to
Hell and wait there for us to change our minds."

My boyhood Western catechism from old and very old-time members of the
Industrial Workers of the World and, later, many rich and positive
experiences from in and around the old Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers-and a
myriad of other activist organizing feathers of mine as I've grown through
the decades: All of this adds up, among other things, to "It's better to be
called Red than be called Yellow," and all of this flies high and boldly in
my full consciousness.

But this is a social commentary that is really, in many ways, about a
rattlesnake-a rattlesnake friend.

I grew up in the wild and rugged mountains and canyons around the then
quasi-frontier Northern Arizona town of Flagstaff.  Early on, I was an avid
hunter-had my first rifle at age seven-and soon enough distinguished myself
as a trapper.

Most of Arizona is rattlesnake country.  I killed my share of them before I
hit my mid-teens.  Somehow, more or less consciously, I believed it was my
duty to do so.  Most people-but not I any longer-still feel that way.

My very first invasion of the news media involved a rattlesnake situation.
This, from the Arizona Daily Sun [Flagstaff/Coconino County], late June,
1948:

SONGWRITER'S SON IS VERY LUCKY
"John Wood, 13 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Wood, residing south of
Flagstaff, got introduced to an Arizona rattlesnake Wednesday of this week
while exploring Grass Canyon, near Schnebley Hill, but suffered no ill
effects because of the quick thinking of John Salter, Jr., his companion,
age 14.

"The snake was coiled within striking distance when the Salter boy killed it
with an accurately aimed .22 rifle bullet.  Wood must have felt he was
carrying with him one of the four leaf clovers his famous song-writing
father composed, "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover'..."

In that situation, I had to do what I did-and I have no apologies.

I didn't kill every rattlesnake I encountered.  When our wide-ranging high
school hiking club plunged into the Grand Canyon (half a day down to the
bottom) and trudged up (two days), we'd frequently pass rattlesnakes camped
by the trail in the shade of a rock or a bush.  We were far too preoccupied
and trail-focused to take them on.

Then came a very abrupt shift in my generally violent anti-rattlesnake
attitude.  I was 18, my 45/70 Winchester in hand-taking an obscure game
trail down into the vast Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area, southwest of
Flagstaff.  Suddenly I saw a tiny rattler-very tiny, only a few inches in
length, a minute rattle at his tail tip-coiled by a rock, right in the
middle of the trail.  It was so absolutely small that, if it rattled, I
couldn't even hear it.

The still-coiled, near-baby snake looked feistily up-right at me.  His
message was, however telepathically conveyed, sharp and crystal clear.

And I began to laugh.  With my big-bore 45/70 I could have, in a split
instant, eliminated every physical vestige of my brave-hell,
admirable-little adversary.  But how could I have ever done that?

For a long moment more, we looked at each other.  And then the tiny
entity-his point made very well-uncoiled in leisurely fashion and moved
slowly away.  For my part, in a gesture of respect and deference I, too,
stepped away.

And from that point on, I never killed another rattler.  When I encountered
one, I simply gave him his space.  But I never felt the warmth of friendly
empathy with one-until very recently indeed.

We live on the far far up western "frontier" of Pocatello-right on the very
edge, only a few other houses around us, and with almost all of the town
well below.  From our door we can walk a few feet and be in open country:
high steep hills shooting up almost out of our back yard.  We often walk up
into the rugged hills and ridges-way up and far into the back country.  Wild
"critters" of all kinds abound and we frequently see mountain lion (cougar)
tracks in certain special settings that we've located.

Even many of our very nice neighbors are worried about the lions.  We are
not worried.  Northern Arizona is certainly lion country and they've never
bothered any humans of whom I've heard.  Lions are curious, and skittery
humans often mistake that quality for predatory, stalking hostility.

I remember, always with real pleasure, a very large lion (by its size,
obviously male), that followed my father and myself for a long time in the
rough Rim country, south of Flagstaff.  We were hunting but it never crossed
our Native minds to kill such a magnificent manifestation of the Creator's
Wilderness.

The lion stayed about twenty-five yards behind us and, when we stopped and
looked back at him, he too stopped.  Then we all continued until, finally,
my father and I dropped below a ridge.  For the longest time, the lion,
profiled on the very top, gazed down at us until we faded into the pines and
scrub oak.

Now, when we see the large, rounded paw prints in the high-up hills west of
our far-up house-always hoping to see a lion in the flesh-we feel kinship.
For we, too, are having our problems with some of the humans hereabouts.

But a rattlesnake?

Not very long ago at all, my oldest daughter, Maria, and I-accompanied by
our Sheltie, Hunter-once again wended our way up into the ever higher
brush-covered hills, following a bare trace of a trail.  I went first and
Maria was some distance behind.  Suddenly, she yelled, "A snake!"

I turned and walked a few feet down toward her.  She pointed to a bush
slightly below me and to my left.

"It's in there." She then explained quickly that, when I walked up past the
bush, no snake was visible; but, just before she got to it, a snake started
to emerge, then withdrew.  I went cautiously to the bush.

And it was indeed a snake-and a rattler at that! A young desert-type, light
gray with interesting designs and about three rattles, was moving slowly
back, edging away from us, deeper under the bush and into tall grass.  We
stared at him and his graceful movement, fascinated.

Hunter arrived and, from deep in the bush and grass, came a perfunctory
rattle.

We moved on, then, further up and away-checking our special places, studying
the new lion tracks.  But the rattlesnake was much on my mind.  I realized
that, unlike every prior rattlesnake sighting of mine, I had felt not an
iota of aversion or revulsion.

For Maria-ever the faithful friend of all creatures-this was not unusual.
But for me this was, frankly, extraordinary.  And then, away up on a super
high ridge, looking down and to far off Pocatello, I suddenly realized that,
in some completely inexplicable fashion, the snake and I had bonded.

"Let's go back the same way," I told Maria.  "Maybe we'll see him again."

Now, going down slowly, I in the lead, we came to the Land of the Snake:
high brush, the trail now extremely faint and narrow-and then the Bush!

The rattler was not visible therein.  I felt a sharp cut of genuine
disappointment.  "Not here," I said to Maria-and we moved slowly on down.

And then! Then suddenly-there he was in all his splendor, lying literally in
the trail immediately ahead of me: dusty gray, designed, graceful.  And even
as I stopped, abruptly, with a warning note to Maria, he coiled in a split
instant and faced me, head held high.

He didn't rattle because he didn't have to: Our eyes were locked together!
"Take it easy, amigo," I thought to him.  "We're buddies."

In a twinkling, he uncoiled and moved away into the brush and grass-in the
same leisurely fashion as my long-ago feisty baby-snake at Sycamore.  We
watched him for a moment; then, in deference again, we moved to the other
side of the trail and continued onward.

As we tell no one beyond the family and a couple of close friends the
whereabouts of the lion tracks, Maria and I pledged never to reveal the
rattler and his home area.

But residing in the full consciousness of my mind the rest of that day and
into the late evening, was the question: "Why in hell have I bonded with a
snake-and a rattler at that?" I went to bed.

And, as it always does, my mind worked things through as I slept.  Arising
at 4:30 a.m.  and sipping my first cup of strong black coffee, I had my
answer:

"Call me Ishmael," Melville wrote, a long time ago.  And while we have many
friends in this Pocatello and general Idaho setting-and certainly many
indeed across the country and into Canada and Mexico-it has been a tough
experience for us these past several years in this southeastern Idaho town.

But, of course, I've followed the trail of the radical organizer ever since
I was a teen-listening to the drum of History, and with others helping make
a little-and it's always been this way.  Hard not to see ourselves as
Ishmaelites of some sort, perceived by all kinds of so-called "lawmen" and
many "respectables" as outcasts on the edges.

But there are many of us, many indeed-and there will be many many more.

It takes an Ishmaelite to recognize an Ishmaelite-even one to whom the
Creator gave another shape: my good friend, my doughty buddy under the bush
against whom virtually every human hand would hurl rocks and bullets, even
though all he wishes is to be left in peace to pursue his Vision to the Sun.

That's what I realized at 4:30 that morning and I know it now and forever:
He was ready to fight.  We fight on.


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HUNTER GRAY [John R. Salter, Jr.], "Hunterbear," a half-blood Micmac/St.
Francis Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk, grew up at Flagstaff, Arizona.  Since the
mid-1950s, he has been deeply and consistently involved in grassroots
organizing: Native rights, radical labor, civil rights, anti-poverty , urban
multi-issue.

His trail has extended from the Southwest to the Deep South, Pacific
North-west, Chicago, up-state New York, Navajo Nation, Northern Plains, and
Rocky Mountains.  Trained as a sociologist, he has occasionally taught-while
organizing still-at such places as Tougaloo College, Goddard College,
University of Iowa, Navajo Community College [now Dine' College] and
University of North Dakota.

His written work has appeared over the decades in numerous journals and
books.  He is the author of Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of
Struggle and Schism [Krieger, 1987.]  He presently lives at Pocatello,
Idaho, with coyotes, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes among his friendly
neighbors and is, as always, a committed organizer and socialist.


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In Solidarity -

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org                       

 

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