View from the fray

Left and right unite to fight fed’s bull

So here’s the scene—a circle of protesters with signs and bullhorns and kids and flags in the parking lot of the Bureau of Land Management’s Reno office. I see an odd mix of people—some of the hippie folks given to environmental activism and anti-war protests and some of the ultra-right folks given to marching in pro-life parades and balking at the wilderness designation of land. I see one of Nevada’s more vocal gay rights advocates next to Nevada’s best-known member of the right-wing Eagle Forum.

What’s weird is that today, as cattle belonging to two Western Shoshone grandmothers are being auctioned inside the BLM, these folks from Nevada’s left and right have joined hands to make known their shared views on one issue—big, pushy government.

There’s some shouting, chanting and even singing.

“Hey, cow thieves, go home!” yells David Schumann of Minden. He’s the vice chairman of the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, a group that’s loosely affiliated with the Eagle Forum and the Independent American Party. The bullhorn squeals out a high-pitched feedback whine. The crowd laughs.

Inside the BLM office, about 230 cattle are being auctioned off, netting the feds something like $60,000. A month ago, the cattle wandered the range under the care of Carrie and Mary Dann, who’ve fought for 30 years to graze their cattle on land that their people have used for centuries. The feds say the two women owe them $3 million in grazing fees. The women say that the feds owe the Western Shoshone people much more than the 15 cents an acre offered (but not yet accepted) for most of the land in Nevada. You get the idea.

Here’s Carrie Dann. She wears an indigo sweatshirt with lightly bleached patches. Her hands are calloused, nails broken. She wears her gray peppered hair cut short and close to her square face.

“Don’t strip me of my dignity and honor, whatever you do,” Carrie says. “That’s what they want to do, strip me of my dignity and my livelihood. I’m a businesswoman. I’ve made my own way in life. I never asked my government for anything. Now they want to turn me into an indigent. You all will have to pay for my care with your tax dollars.”

When word arrives that TV cameras are on the way, environmental activist Lee Dazey begins singing a song about the earth. Janine Hansen, Eagle Forum diva and Independent American Party candidate for Congress (Dist. 2), begins shouting along with Jackie Holmgren, IAP’s candidate for state Assembly (Dist. 36). “Carrie Dann has supporters!” the women shout. IAP gubernatorial candidate David Holmgren, sporting a long bushy Western mustache and well-worn cowboy hat, stands nearby with a Nevada flag. On the opposite side of the group is Green Party gubernatorial candidate Charles Laws, looking like he just left a gathering of Beat poets.

Standing next to Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada is Christopher Sewall of the Western Shoshone Defense Project. Some folks have asked Sewall how it is that the right and left have come together on this issue.

"If you’re drowning," explains Sewall, "and a person offers a hand to rescue you, you don’t say, ‘I don’t like your politics.' You take their hand and say, ‘We’ll talk later.' "