Libraries – an American InstitutionBy Bruce Weide
At age ten I expressed interest in a library card. “But they cost $5,” said my mother. End of discussion – access denied. Though I didn’t know it at the time, that exchange marked the beginning of me understanding the importance of libraries. Four decades later, I volunteered to serve as a trustee of the Bitterroot Public Library. I did that for ten years because I’m wildly enthusiastic about libraries. Also, though a library card has always been free at the Bitterroot Public Library, I wanted to ensure that no child, or adult, would ever be denied access due to lack of money.
The free public lending library is an American institution. Like national parks and public lands, it’s an aspect of our nation’s character that invokes pride and patriotism in me. Access to library services is a privilege shared by all Americans. However, enjoying this unique benefit comes with a condition - if you don’t support your local library the privilege goes away.
In the June 2nd primary election you’ll be afforded the opportunity to show your support by voting YES for the library levy. (In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, it appears we’ll being voting by mail). The last time the public voted to increase library funding was 1998. In the 22 years since then, the Bitterroot Public Library’s district (consisting of the Hamilton, Victor, and Corvallis school districts) grew more than 20% which increased demands on services. Every day 225 people (1/3 children) use a 21st century library that operates with 20th century funding.
Many people equate libraries with checking out books, but that’s only one benefit. At our library you can also check out movies, music, e-books, peruse the Montana Shared Catalog that allows you to borrow 400,000 items from 34 libraries, use a computer, access the Internet, attend adult and children’s programs, and much more.
Our historic, century-old Carnegie library needs is a new roof. In order to provide for that and ensure that you can continue to use of all the services offered by our library, we need to vote YES. The levy increase costs only $4.05 per $100,000 valuation on a landowner’s property tax. In other words, by not spending $35 to buy the book you just checked out, you more than covered your share of the levy.
Every time I step into our library, I feel rich. I look around and think “All of this is ours.” I understand the rapid spread of Covid-19 renders us uncertain and frightened. Nevertheless, you can count on me voting YES to support our library. I hope our community can count on you to do the same.
My passion to fight against gun violence has been a steady journey away from the gun-loving culture I grew up in marked by certain watershed moments that I remember with crystal clarity. One such moment was after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando when I observed, as Americans all over the country have countless times, that instead of concern for the victims of gun violence, my friends and family members seemed more fearful they would lose their guns. In that moment, I pledged to support the work to reduce gun violence, and "came out" as an advocate for sensible gun reform. I had no idea where to direct my energy, but thankfully Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America found me.
Moms Demand Action is similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which was started in 1980 by a mom after losing her 13-year-old daughter in a drunk driving accident. Over the years, standards changed: Bartenders could be prosecuted for over-serving, and multiple drunk driving offenders stopped being let out of jail immediately after the offense. Rumble strips were included in road design and breathalyzers were invented. Forty years later, there are half the number of drunk driving-related fatalities.
Today there are about 100 gun violence deaths in the United States per day. Imagine the impact we could make if we cut that number by half!
The truth is the NRA has tried to maintain a possessive death grip on the national narrative of guns, Second Amendment rights, and liberty. But Americans aren't buying it like they used to. As one woman recently wrote in a letter to the editor to the Missoulian, "It makes me angry that everyone has had to address ways to stay alive while gun owners scream about their "Second Amendment right." What about my right to enjoy life without fear of random murder by individuals with guns?"
As my work with Moms Demand Action continued, I learned of a small but dedicated group of volunteers here in the Bitterroot Valley, working every day to slow the alarming rate of gun violence on a local, state, and national level. I also learned that in Montana, the gun violence we see doesn't always look the way we see in national media. For the past few years, Montana has ranked among the states with the highest rates of gun suicide. Children, teens, farmers, and military veterans are among those groups with some of the highest rates of gun suicide, and the suicide rate is rising. This trend has been of particular concern for children and teens, whose firearm suicide rate has increased by 65 percent over the past 10 years; and for veterans, who have a firearm suicide rate 1.5 times higher than non-veteran adults, according to Everytown for Gun Safety in America.
It is an act of tenderness and compassion toward our most vulnerable neighbors and friends to care about gun violence. We can change trends by talking to each other and encouraging logical, nuanced discussions about the impacts of gun violence.
When I go back to my hometown in Texas, I still indulge my family members in the target practice I participated in in my youth. On the most recent trip, I was shooting with my step-dad and he noted that I still have pretty good aim "for someone who is against guns." I reminded him that those volunteers who work in gun violence prevention aren't against guns, but gun violence. Many gun owners, and even some gun manufacturers have begun exploring what more they can do to reduce the proliferation of illegal guns, gun violence, or accidental deaths. The status quo is no longer acceptable. Who knows if I convinced him of anything, but maybe he'll think twice about renewing his NRA membership. I will continue to try to be a bridge builder. Maybe someday he will even write to his congressperson, or vote for a gun sense candidate.
Until then, I'll keep plugging away at it in Montana.
Last night I attended the vigil for Selena Not Afraid, led by Tara Walker Lyons, an abuse survivor, community leader, and TED speaker.
As one who has served as a pharmacist, EMT, and assistant coroner for the Navajo, Makah, Nakoda & A'aninin over a 12 year span through the U.S. Public Health Service, the plight of our First Peoples is close to my heart.
Sixteen year-old Selena was found dead after she apparently succumbed to exposure in Billings, Montana. Tara's leadership of the vigil was truly moving. She made it a point to individually smudge every attendee with sweetgrass, and for at least a moment, we were all one tribe.
Just last Friday, Tara wrote this on her Facebook page:
Trauma has been scientifically proven to travel through our genes. I just want to state that fact, right off the bat.
Today marks 150 years since the U.S. Government brutally massacred a sleeping encampment of innocent Blackfeet women, children, and elderly who were largely suffering from smallpox. The men of the band were away hunting, unaware of what was about to happen to their loved ones. The innocent Blackfeet camp was asleep in the early morning along the Bear River near Shelby, Montana. Their leader, HeavyRunner, realizing that soldiers were surrounding his sleepy encampment, started running towards the soldiers waving papers he had been given from from the Tribal Agent stating that they were an innocent, compliant group and they weren’t to be harmed. As he waved his arms above his head, pleading for their attention, the first shots rang out. He was the first innocent Indigenous life of OVER 200 to be stolen that morning. The soldiers, many of them hungover and drunk, began shooting into the camp as the sun rose.
Over 50 of their victims were Blackfeet children under the age of 12.
Many of them were suffering severe smallpox infections, dying. The soldiers set flame to the occupied teepees as the innocent elderly and sick suffocated and burned alive inside. Women ran away with children in their arms only to be shot in the snow and killed. The attack continued as the soldiers started to burn what meager supplies the encampment had to survive the rest of the winter. When the attack was finished, the soldiers took a large group of survivors as captives until they realized that many of them were sick with contagious smallpox. They were then left to die in the frigid cold with no supplies.
The band’s men, who were away hunting, would return to a scene of absolute horror as their loved ones: parents, wives, children, lie dead. Murdered by the UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
Lieutenant Gus Doane, commander of F Company, described the massacre as “the greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. troops.”
Right here in Montana.
Trauma travels in our genes. It’s a fact. If you know a Blackfeet, be patient with them today. Today is a day of severe hurt and pain for an entire nation of indigenous people. Historical trauma.
If you want to be an ally to indigenous causes, like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Movement, please take some time to learn about the Baker Massacre, aka the Bear River Massacre. In order to understand the crisis, we need to understand historical trauma.
Unlike our current president, Tara made this event all about others - the Missing Indigenous. But even though she kept the focus on others, her courage and poise was clear for all to see. She didn't mention it, but on Friday she spoke to 11 inmates convicted of sexual assault. Makes me think 1) we have a lot of catching up to the example Tara sets, and 2) we're awfully fortunate to have Tara in the Valley.
Bitterroot Climate Action Group formed this past summer and we have been working hard on public education about the impacts of climate change and what we, as a small Montana community can do to mitigate and/or adapt to its effects. We decided that our actions should be twofold- to be beneficial both for climate change and for our community. These are all member-driven, with the members choosing what actions to take and how to implement them.So far, the biggest “actions” have been to present knowledgeable speakers, such as one of the authors of the Montana Climate Assessment and the director/ head professor of the U of M Climate Studies Program.
The group that I am most involved in is food waste. Food waste is responsible for at least 2.6% of all US greenhouse gas emissions, and is one of the most critical actions we can do regarding land use, diet and the food system. It is also one of the most do-able actions. The BCAG food salvaging, redistributing and composting action group is working to salvage food which might otherwise be wasted (40% of the average American family's food is thrown away) and getting it to hungry people. If it is not successfully fed to people, then it could fed to animals or composted. Because solving the problem at the source is always the best choice, we also plan an educational program for in-the-home food waste which totals 43% of all of that wasted food.
Since I was in Chicago on biz the week of December 2, thought I would stay over for the Climate Protest rally hosted by Protest Chicago at Millenium Park. The youth that organized this rally were amazing. And when I say "youth", I'm not kidding. One of the most composed and articulate speakers was an eighth grader (!)
Everything about this protest was spot-on. It was inclusive (time out was taken to honor and hear the indigenous peoples who lands have been stolen and desecrated), well-organized, and effective. Bystanders who couldn't join because of work obligations applauded and cheered. A candidate spoke who swore to take not a dime from fossil fuel companies, and did what I thought was a great job explaining why every vote was needed - she spoke to what 15, 16, and 17 year olds could do right now to effect change. It was a privilege to take part in this.
Greta Thunberg truly deserves the Time Magazine Person of the Year for her contagious, get-involved influence.