Ignore your rights, reads one popular bumper sticker, and they will go away. These days, the basic constitutional guarantees that we hold dear are less likely to be hacked away by blunt trauma than gradually eroded like a steady trickle of water that cleaves the hardest rock. Each Fourth of July, the Missoula Independent celebrates those Montanans who lay their reputations, their careers, their money, their freedom —and occasionally their bodies—on the line for their beliefs. Some of them you may know, others probably not. In fact, some of the most effective freedom fighters are just ordinary folks doing extraordinary things. Whether you sympathize with their causes or not, these are the people who are going to the mat for what really matters.
“Mo:” Salving the wounds of civil unrest
Her “action name” is Mo. Don’t ask her for her last name.
“Everybody has an action name when they go to these things,” she says. “These things” are protests against global trade, which , she says, is undermining democracy and exploiting the global environment and child laborers around the world. (Withholding real names is a tactic used to tie up the court system if and when they get arrested, so these activists must have action names.)
Although Mo has been active in the anti-global trade movement for only 18 months, she’s been a registered nurse for 22 years, and that’s her primary contribution to the cause.
On that front, she’s been in the mainstream trenches, having worked in emergency rooms at San Francisco General Hospital, in Santa Fe, N.M. and at Johns Hopkins.
It began in November 1999 when Mo went to Seattle as an interested citizen and protester to the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit. “I saw a lot of the work the (street) medics were doing and was very inspired. So when my (personal) life fell apart here I decided to investigate.”
In no time, her valuable nursing skills were seized upon and she was carried away on a wave of global trade protests that took her to Philadelphia last summer for the Republican National Convention; to Cincinnati for the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue in November; to Washington D.C., for the presidential inauguration in January; and eventually, to the grandmother of all global trade protests, the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement in Quebec last Spring.
At each summit, Mo volunteers her RN and emergency medicine skills. “We actually form a medical collective when we get there to set up advanced first aid stations and wellness centers for activists coming into town.” She works with the local communities to organize the logistics for setting up emergency street medicine first aid stations. She helps collect donations to buy medical supplies and treats activists who are beaten or tear-gassed by police. She evacuates patients when first-aid station windows are broken. And she bears witness to the power of the police and the harm they can inflict with their batons, tear gas canisters and ill-named “rubber bullets” on citizen activists –and those trying to assist them. To wit: At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, summer 2000:
“We saw street medics being targeted by police,” recalls Mo, The police threw medics on the ground, dumped the contents of their first aid bags into the street and kicked their supplies away. The days were hot, humidity was high, and water was crucial. The police took the medics’ water bottles and emptied them into the street. At the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, Cincinnati, November 2000:
Mo saw displays of what she calls “Midwest police brutality… Again, it was tear gas and pepper spray and a lot of blunt trauma from police batons.” She saw one volunteer medic in the street bending over a patient to treat the injured. A policeman sprayed the medic three times in the face with mace. At the presidential inaugural in Washington, D.C.:
“We passed out chemical hand warmers, even to the Republicans. They were very happy and even donated to the cause. We saw a very well-trained police force who knocked a few heads and used pepper spray. The biggest thing we treated in Washington D.C. was hypothermia. We actually saw hundreds with hypothermia.” At the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement in Quebec last spring:
“The Canadians decided they needed to out-do the Americans as far as suppression goes,” says Mo. “The police shot 5,000 tear gas canisters in 48 hours. They poisoned the City of Quebec.”
Rubber bullets are a misnomer, she says. They’re actually plastic dowels measuring five inches long by an inch in diameter. They can break bones. She saw plenty of broken bones at the first aid stations she helped erect in Quebec. Fractures were set and patients were sent to local hospitals via ambulance. “Ambulances were running all day.”
At one point police clashed with activists, and the ensuing riot wound up in the doorway of the first aid station. A clinic window was broken and tear gas began to seep inside. “We had to evacuate the (patients) because there was tear gas pouring through the windows.”
Patients were taken to a nearby safe place set up by the Independent Media Center. Through it all, Mo was alternately calm and terrified. You couldn’t see very far up the street for the tear gas, she says.
Weeks later, when the FTAA Summit was over and the activists had all gone home, Mo stayed in Quebec, cleaning up and choking on the tear gas fumes that had settled in the dust and was being churned up by the tires of city buses.
These days she’s back in Hamilton working in a nursing home, wiser to the ways of global capitalism and lighter in the wallet for her efforts. “I’ve spent my last dollar three times this year,” she says, laughing. “But it’s good work. It’s interesting and it’s a way to participate.” She says she’ll volunteer her services again. She just doesn’t know when or where.
Barry Adams: The Rainbow warrior
Does the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion require a formal house of worship? What about a designated leader or membership list? When individuals decide on their own volition to peaceably assemble on public land, can the Government require them to incorporate and obtain a permit? Can it tax them—or their neighbors—to recoup the cost of exercising their beliefs?
Those are just a few of the perennial questions that arise each Spring when the Rainbow Family of Living Light begins its annual pilgrimage to the National Rainbow Gathering. Every year since 1972, tens of thousands of people head to some remote corner of public lands throughout the United States, where they set up camps, communal kitchens, first aid booths and day care centers and run potable water systems from streams or springs, dig pit toilets and when it’s all over, they re-seed, re-vegetate and do their best to restore the land to an undisturbed state.
The culmination of each Rainbow Gathering falls on the Fourth of July, when some 25,000 people join hands to offer their petitions and prayers for peace and harmony on Earth, healing with nature, and the positive evolution of mankind.
Unfortunately for the “Rainbows,” the federal government isn’t always wowed by their vibe of peace, love and understanding. In the last 29 years the Rainbow Family—which has no formal organization, hierarchy, membership, or legal spokesperson—have had numerous clashes with the Forest Service and other law enforcement agencies, who classify any event on public lands with more than 75 people without a permit “an illegal gathering.”
Putting parameters—both physically and metaphorically—around the Rainbow Family has proved a nettlesome task for the federal agencies charged with managing those lands. While many of the Rainbow Family customs derive from Native American practices, these annual assemblies are best described as “tribal anarchy.”
Perhaps no “Rainbow” has found himself more in the thick of legal battles with the Feds than Barry Adams. Adams, 56 and a Montana native, has been attending Rainbow Gatherings for nearly 30 years. Over the years, Adams has occasionally lent a hand with the site selection in late Spring. As payback for his efforts, he has accumulated nearly a half-dozen citations and been in and out of courtrooms to defend the Rainbows’ right to peaceably assemble and worship without harassment.
Following last year’s gathering in the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge Forest outside of Wisdom, Adams was one of two individuals singled out by the Forest Service as an “organizer.” Although the Rainbows eschew the notion of entering into a formal contract with the government on anyone else’s behalf, Adams submitted a permit application for himself, hoping to act as a go-between for the Rainbows and the Forest Service. For this, he was charged and convicted for “unauthorized use of National Forests systems land without authorization when such authorization is required.”
“It’s basically the same position that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have toward not saluting the flag,” explains Adams, who has appealed his sentence of a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. “I believe that the Forest Service targeted me specifically because of my beliefs, because I don’t believe you need a hierarchy in order to use National forest land.”
Adams’ involvement in communal gatherings dates back to his rural upbringing outside of Helena. Attending his family’s annual hoedowns, barn-raisings, calf weanings and other rural rites of the Spring instilled in him a sense of the physical and spiritual power that derives from communal efforts.
Beginning at age 4 or 5, says Adams, he began having “a reoccurring dream or vision” which he says finally came to fruition in 1972 with the first National Rainbow Gathering in Colorado. Between 1963-66 Adams served in the U.S. Navy from 1963-66—“What happened to me in the military kind of messed my head up, so I was a little out there”— and after his discharge he headed straight for Haight-Ashbury. For a while Adams lived in a tree in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and hung out on the Haight, “trying to figure out which way the world was going.”
Through the years, Adams has faced repeated harassment for his outside-the-mainstream beliefs and lifestyle, and not just at the hands of the police or the Fed. In 1976, following his appearance on a radio show in Kalispell, a group of men blew up his mailbox, fired shots at his son, and threatened to lynch his landlord, a disabled deputy sheriff confined to a wheelchair. Adams immediately packed up his family and moved away. (These days, he says only that he lives in the Garnet Mountains.)
Since 1980, Adams says the Forest Service has been trying more aggressively to dictate where the Gatherings are held, and is using a variety of legal and law enforcement tactics—citations, fines, roadblocks, bureaucratic red tape, even physical harassment—to force the Rainbows into designating a legal spokesperson to represent them.
But within the confines of the Rainbow Gatherings, where decisions are made by informal consensus by anyone who chooses to participate, the notion of a legally designated representative is anathema.
“If you can get peace in the Middle East, you might have a chance to get someone to be designated the ‘paper chief’ of the Gathering,” says Adams. “But I doubt it.”
Last year, the federal government and the State of Montana directed Beaverhead County to impose a levy on upon its residents to recoup the costs of last year’s gathering. Adams calls that an unconstitutional tax on his religion, and has set up a bank account in Dillon to collect donations to pay back that county’s residents. Although there’s only about $20 in there so far, Adams vows that they will pay back every cent, “even if it takes me 15 years.”
Joey Jayne: Battling status quo politics
Rep. Joey Jayne, one of six American Indian members of the Montana Legislature, says it’s a mixed bag being an attorney and a lawmaker at the same time.
“It’s definitely a blessing to be able to evaluate the law and try to explain that to others,” the freshman Democrat from Arlee says. “My knowledge of the laws has doubled. But it’s a blessing and a curse at the same time because you’re going to have some bills go into the [Montana] code that shouldn’t be there.”
Jayne, a member of the Navajo Nation, holds a law degree from The University of Montana and worked in the Salish and Kootenai tribal court system before moving into private practice. She also earned an undergraduate degree in agricultural industry and a Master’s degree in watershed management, making her one of the most educated legislators in the state. But being a woman, a Democrat, a newcomer and an Indian left Jayne struggling to make a mark in the 2001 Legislature, where conservative Republicans ruled the roost in both houses.
Despite these disadvantages, Jayne was the only Native American to land a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, an assignment she says was both enlightening and maddening. The biggest challenge, she says, was learning to accept that politics drive the legislative process, especially on budget issues.
“A bill is going to pass whether it’s bad or not based on a party-line vote,” she says flatly. “The scary part about appropriations is that I believe a lot of decisions are made in some conference room somewhere, rather than out in the open. [GOP leaders] knew what the decisions were going to be before they were made in committee.”
Another revelation Jayne gained during her first foray into state politics was that the Legislature largely operates in a status-quo environment, where new ideas and innovations are more often shunned than embraced.
“You can argue all you want, but people have their minds made,” she laments. “People have their minds closed and don’t want to see things in a different manner. There are too many bills passed that are punitive, and that makes it harder for people to succeed, especially in the area of criminal justice. There’s not enough legislation designed to be preventative.”
Political observers didn’t give Jayne much of a chance last year when she took on three-term incumbent Rick Jore, an ultra-right Republican best known for attacking tribal sovereignty efforts and siding with the most radical elements of the Flathead Reservation’s non-Indian community. But Jore lost support among crucial moderates when he abruptly left the GOP to join the even more radical Constitution Party. To the surprise of many, Jayne upset Jore by a paper-thin margin.
Jayne, 43, says she earned her seat by canvassing her district door-to-door, listening intensely, and convincing citizens she was not merely a “tribal” candidate. But serving her wildly diverse constituency proved to be a time-intensive endeavor, and Jayne says she fretted about many of her votes because so many issues cut so many ways.
For example, Jayne came out against a bill to give state workers a wage increase, but only because legislators were included in the measure. She says she didn’t think a legislative raise was fair when so many Montana families are struggling. Jayne says she used one common principle—determining whether a bill infringed on anyone’s rights—before deciding how to vote.
Indian issues fared particularly poorly in the 2001 session, she says, primarily because of tight funding and a continuing chasm of misunderstanding about Native American people and issues.
“I think it’s attributable to a lack of information about tribal government systems,” she explains. “I think it’s a fear that the system is going to take away some non-Indian rights. But people aren’t going to come out and say why they vote against Indian bills. I think it’s generally fear of another system.”
Of the eight bills Jayne carried during the session, four passed. The most controversial proposals directed the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to more accurately report below-cost timber sales and do a better job of replanting cut acreage. Both were quickly buried.On the positive side, her proposal to provide funding for indigent victims of domestic violence was included in House Bill 2, the state’s main budget measure, and helped secure a pay increase for contract workers who provide care for developmentally disabled clients. Jayne also voiced strong support for more state funding to tribal colleges and encouraging state welfare managers to better serve the needs of Indians.
“She’s a real independent thinker and she represents a new wave of legislators who make decisions based on the facts,” says House Minority Leader Kim Gillan (D-Billings). “She’s concerned with making public policy without political expediency. She won’t let the special interests run over her. Her style of representation seems very much in sync with her constituency.”
“I would do it again, and I would be more effective,” Jayne says confidently of her plans to run for re-election.
Those interested in transcending the brave new world of democracy increasingly inhabited by pundits, political spin, expert witnesses, and staccato sound bytes may find a refreshing perspective in our community, where a few bucks donation go for necessities like food, utilities and rent. Among the economically-driven despair, dysfunctional families and attendant social workers is a citizen like Mary Borchard. The word “activist” seems unnecessary to Borchard. To her, the term “citizen” implies all the duties many communities defer to professional activists. As a health care worker who earns less than the $9.90 per hour living wage in Montana, Borchard has fought relentlessly throughout her career against corporate control of labor markets, most recently though Montana People’s Action, (MPA) a group dedicated to the notion that ordinary citizens ought to be wielding the tools to advocate for their own causes.
According to MPA’s Briana Kerstein, Borchard exemplifies the type of citizen involvement MPA hopes to foster. “She’s a wage-earner who’s been teaching and speaking about our basic principles for a number of years,” says Kerstein. “She’s worked with the Legislature, lobbied individual representatives, worked with the public health department, and she’s an active board member with us.”
As a one-time single parent faced with the task of paying more than half a month’s wages for a one-bedroom apartment, Borchard has spent much of the past decade advocating for housing alternatives, including fighting the “trailer trash” stigma often attached to affordable mobile home developments like the one where she lives.
Borchard has also advocated for low-income access to health care, working recently with St. Patrick’s Hospital to jump-start a program called charity-care.
As a life-long Democrat who took part in the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, Borchard is idealistic enough to participate locally in efforts like the New Party, which, in her view, may be better equipped to deal locally with issues like deregulation and living wage initiatives.
But pragmatism is also a part of the working political vocabulary of Borchard, who generally wouldn’t cast a vote in a national election for anyone other than a Democrat. “I couldn’t stand voting for Nader,” recalls Borchard. “To me, a vote for him was a vote for George Bush, and he’s such an awful man that I couldn’t do it.”
To Borchard, the election process is secondary to what she views as the common enemy of the average citizen: the giant corporation. “Look at what they’ve cost us since I was a girl in the early ‘60s,” recalls Borchard. “My father worked for the railroad, and with the wages he earned, 40 hours a week bought a house, a car, clothes and food for his family and a vacation every year. You can’t find a working family anywhere today who’s able to do the same thing. We’re so busy working we can’t even stop to think about what we’ve lost since then. The whole world has come under the influence of these corporations, and they’ve cost us dearly.”
To fight back, Borchard has made a life-long commitment to fulfilling the demands not only of her profession and family but of her duties as a citizen. “We’ve got to learn to stick together as citizens,” says Borchard, “which is something I think we’ve done better in the past. My father was an active union member and Democrat, so from a young age, I’ve been active in political causes.”
To Borchard, active means attending meetings, learning about issues, and getting to know the politicians who make tough decisions. “I actually have learned to have quite a bit of sympathy for those whose job it is to make tough choices for us,” says Borchard.
Not that she’s about to let them do so without hearing from her. Through MPA, Borchard has testified before the Legislature on more than one occasion, not her favorite thing to do. “Right now, especially, I don’t like doing that,” says Borchard. “We have a really cynical, mean Legislature right now, one that isn’t really interested in listening to ordinary citizens. So there are other ways I like to be involved. I really like working with Montana People’s Action. I feel like we have moved mountains.”