Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Illusion That We Live in A Democracy

I was in my 50s by the time I received my first notice of jury duty. Unlike most people I know, I was excited to experience it. When I arrived at the courthouse, I was seated in a room full of people. We watched a video on how wonderful it is to serve on a jury and waited to see who was called. I was amazed as I sat there, looking around at people of all colors and sizes. We were there as Americans about to perform a sacred civic duty - to sit in judgement of our peers. This felt like a heavy responsibility all of a sudden. My vote could send someone to jail, disrupt a family, break the heart of a mother, bring revenge to a father. I was experiencing the sensation of performing my civic duty and I was proud and honored to be a part of the process. I swallowed back a big lump in my throat. I almost broke out into song...."God Bless America...". Don't worry, I didn't. They also didn't select me as a juror.

While I have lived a life full of experiences that most have not gone through, I still retain a level of naivete. I still expect honesty and integrity in people. So when I decided to attend a Senate Committee hearing on an environmental bill, I was quite excited to once again see democracy in action. I took my seat and eagerly anticipated respectful dialogue and debate. I expected the Committee to be sincere in their solicitation of public comment. Did my bubble burst.  The contents of the bill in question were never discussed. Ever. The Senator who introduce it employed a tactic of diversion, bringing up examples of the failings of the Michigan DNR and telling outright lies. I knew they were lies because I am a biologist and work in the programs he was describing. He told lies to his constituents, who believed him and supported his truly harmful and ridiculous bill. He would not discuss the contents of the bill in the hearing. Divert, divert, divert.

I attended the second hearing, hoping what I had observed in the first hearing was a fluke. It was not. This time the entire room was packed with people opposed to his bill. He told the audience he would hear all their testimony, then the Committee would take all the comments and deliberate for a week and then reintroduce the bill with amendments. At the end of the meeting, he promptly called a vote and passed the bill.

This is our Michigan legislature at work.

Today I attended a House of Representatives Natural Resources committee hearing. They were discussing the above mentioned Senator's latest bill, which was created to circumvent the democratic process and eliminate the public's right to vote on game species in Michigan, specifically timed to negate the 250,000 signatures gathered to put the wolf hunt on the ballot.  He gave his bill synopsis to the committee, once again twisting the truth. And then, he tells the Committee that just last night four wolves attacked a family pet in the UP and the viciously killed the dog. He told us he wanted to show us the photos of the dead dog but they were so gruesome he was advised not to.

He diverted in a big way.

The rest of the hearing had nothing to do with his bill and everything to do with irate Representatives wanting the DNR to send armed officers to guard the residents of the UP from the wild wolves that will surely, as this Senator claimed at the end of his presentation, take the children next.

Testimony began. Citizens who spoke in opposition were harassed by several of the Representatives, being demeaned because they did not live in the UP. One Senator would ask each person if they lived in the UP. If they said no, which most did because they called the meeting just the night before, he would say "I have no other questions", as if this grand statement proved something. The Senator had instantly created an atmosphere of antagonism and anger, by aggravating fear in those who already were scared of wolves, and the urgency of the need to protect wolves in those who were there to speak against the bill.

I had spent several hours carefully drafting a statement which I fully planned to read at the hearing. After sitting in the hearing room for over an hour listening to this most uncivilized display by several of our public servants, I decided that if I was asked whether I was from the UP I might answer something like, "I will not dignify that question with a response. I will however answer any questions directly related to this bill or my testimony." Then I would take off my size 11 shoes and throw them directly at the heads of those two Representatives. Not a pretty sight.  So I submitted my comments and went back to my office.

As I walked on the sidewalk around Michigan's Capital, I felt disillusioned. I wondered if all committee hearings are like this, or is it just the environmental bills? What was the point of all the testimony? It was not listened to, in fact the people who were brave enough to speak submitted themselves to disrespect and rudeness by the legislators we the People voted into office. One speaker said taking her right to vote away is not how a democracy is supposed to work. The Representative who was surveying everyone's peninsular affiliation, told her we are not a democracy. We are a republic. Huh.

Frankly, I don't know what the hell we are anymore.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Oldest Friend

It is night. I am little, maybe seven or eight. I am supposed to be in bed, asleep. But I am not asleep. I have my guitar tucked under the covers with me, ear pressed to the curved sides, listening and feeling the vibration as I softly strum the strings. My thumb is sore. It has a blister from strumming so much. But I don't care. I am mesmerized by this instrument. Captivated. I am in love.

I am my guitar. My guitar is me. I have been playing for fifty years. Without a guitar, who am I? My Soul speaks to the world through this instrument in ways my voice cannot. It is the way I express myself. It is how I connect to myself and to Spirit.

In 2010, I had a concert celebrating the release of my CD Turtle Dove. Lots of rehearsals, and it was a great show. Surrounded by my favorite musicians, it was probably the best time I have ever had on stage  After the show I couldn't play guitar without terrible pain.

I have arthritis in my basal thumb joints. It was so bad in my left hand that I had to have reconstructive surgery. It was nearly a year before I could play again. Last year I did two shows.

This past winter I realized that I had to make room in my life for my music and for performing. It is who I am. Barb Barton.  So I started booking gigs. I formed a band. I got excited.

We have been rehearsing for about three months now. I knew it was happening but I couldn't accept it.

Today I played a couple songs on my 1860's parlor guitar. Nothing fancy. Something is wrong. My hands. They aren't working right.

My right  basal joint is now as bad as the left was. I can't get through one song holding a pick because of the pain. I can't fingerpick the way I used to. My left hand is hurting, my left thumb is hurting. I must have the surgery on my right hand in the next year or so. I'll never play guitar the same way again once that happens. I don't know how to take this in. I do know it hurts me in a very deep place. I am not ready for this. I am not ready to leave the stage as a guitarist. But the time is coming. This I can no longer deny.

I remember those nights under the covers, holding my guitar so close to my heart, feeling the vibration of the woods enter the cells of my body and become part of me. My sweet sweet friend.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston - Another Tragedy

This morning I am sipping a hot cup of Peruvian coffee, listen to the Robins and the Cardinals singing their spring songs in the darkness of dawn. I had a great day yesterday. I accomplished an important goal at work which will protect the Water. I accomplished another goal of having an exclusive session on Wild Rice conservation at an important conference. I may get the OK to invite the incredible Winona LaDuke to speak at that conference (I am on the planning committee). I had a great rehearsal with my new band. I saw a crocus. And there were bees flying around my hives. Indeed it was a glorious day.

Then I heard about Boston.

This morning as I sit drinking my hot cup of coffee, my beagle curled up in his bed, three beautiful Spirits have left this world, including an eight year old boy. One hundred and forty people are hurting from injuries received from blasts planted by as yet unknown terrorists. The rest of us are hurting for them.

Sometimes I feel so bewildered by this world we are living in. And deeply saddened.

We are the only animal species on the planet that does this to our own. And we think we are the superior species. Really.

All I can do is pray for healing of the human heart. All I can do is reach out my hand to my fellow human beings and say I love you. I just don't know what is left to do.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why? Because I Care.

Senator Tom Casperson is mad as a hornet because his attempts to allow hunting of Wolves in Michigan is being opposed by many people. Thousands of folks, both Tribal and non-Tribal, went out in the cold weather, sat at tables in bookstores and conventions and coffee shops and pet stores, collecting signatures so that the voters of Michigan would have a say in whether Wolves are hunted here. The Wolf hunt was threatened. So Casperson crafted a bill that would essentially inoculate any listing of game animals from a public referendum, in other words, we would lose our voice. Do you love Sandhill Cranes? Mourning doves? Virginia Rails, a pretty marsh bird that I hear often in the wild rice beds? They may be next on the list of species that people can kill. And you won't be able to do a damn thing about it. The power would lie solely with the Natural Resource Commission, appointed by the Governor.


What Casperson hasn't thought about is what would happen if the Natural Resources Commission might someday be composed exclusively of anti-hunters. What a day that would be! They might say "No, no, no, no hunting season on any animals, and the people of the State of Michigan would not have any way to change that. Sorry, no hunting folks. Don't care about what you think or want. Or what science says. Nope. We have the Powah!

Poetic justice.

I have been hearing from so many people that they are tired and defeated. The Republican take over of Michigan government (and that is on the voters for putting them there) has resulted in a systematic disintegration of the democratic process. Look it up, I am not going to into all the details and examples here (although I could). They have also waged a war on our environment. You can look that up, too. Forget the national and international war on Mother Earth (Keystone Pipeline, oil spills, whaling, climate change, continuous war, etc). Our lawmakers in Michigan are having a hay day. Like teenagers turned loose with platinum credit cards in a mall.

We who live in Michigan are blessed. Where else can you find lakes, rivers, streams, mountains, sand dunes, prairies, bogs, fens, alvars, islands, Oak/Hickory and Beech/Maple forests, marshes, and of course the Great Lakes? Wild rice and maple sugar? Morels and whitefish? Trout and venison? We share a home with Bears, Wolves, Moose, Elk, Deer, Cougars, Raccoons, Otters, Weasels, Skunks, Squirrels, Mice and Voles, Chipmunks, Opossums, hundreds of Birds, and Fish and Insects. Orchids and Pine Trees and Cedar Trees and Maple Trees. All in our backyard! Truly, where else can you have all this beauty and a rich, diverse set of neighbors? Only in Michigan.

So why, then, do we not get angry when lawmakers wage war on all that we hold Sacred about Michigan? Why do we not stand up and form armies to protect all these things that are our home? Why do we not stand up to our government and say NO? Even if we feel that there is nothing we can do, we are wrong. There is always something. Run for an office. Actively participate with groups that work to protect the environment and democracy. Run for an office. Vote. Did I mention run for office?

I love Michigan. I love all the Beings that share this land and air and water with me. I will never stop fighting to protect this place and these friends. I will never stop fighting for your right to have a voice, for our rights of Democracy, for equality and fairness for all, for understanding and compassion, for accountability.

Why? Because I care.

Do you?