What “Local Control” Really Means


“In December 1890, on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota, tribal police arrested and killed Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull in similar circumstances to the earlier death of his fellow Custer battle comrade, Crazy Horse. Two weeks later, jittery Army soldiers opened fire on some 300 unarmed members of the Sioux tribe. Their bodies, mostly very small, very wrinkled, or with breasts, froze solid on the Dakota tundra. Ten months later Chief Charlo, leader of the last band of Salish in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, led his people on a tearful, forced march to a new reservation across the river bridge nearest the future site of Hellgate High School, where I would sit a century later and listen to a pair of neo-Nazis hold forth on misunderstood swastikas, miscegenation and what could be done with public lands were it not for federal conservation laws.”

—Nate Schweber, “A Racist Runs Through It

Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

3 thoughts on “What “Local Control” Really Means”

  1. This is a very LONG article–about the pros and cons of public lands being controlled by the feds vs. the state or local governments. The writer brings in a lot of stuff about “racism” but fails to show how that applies to the basic question. The fact that his high school teachers invited some neo-nazis to talk to the class seems irrelevant, except that he then tries to make the recent Bundy stand-off on public lands guilty by association with their allegedly racist views. The question remains: Should arm chair bureaucrats in New York and Washington office buildings, who know nothing about farming or ranching, set the rules for the people who do?

    Why should the activist environmentalists, mostly people who have never climbed the mountains, ridden the range, or planted the fields, force their extreme rules on the people who actually live on the land and create valuable products from the land that we all need? It is really a question of states rights and how the continual sprawl of the federal government over everyone’s lives is actually doing more harm than good? I love the outdoors and value the open spaces, but this writer shows no balance. Like most extremists, he labels opponents as racist and compares them to Nazis. He dredges up old history about everything from Joe McCarthy to the America First movement (that sought to keep us out of WWII) just to spatter his opponents with supposed mud. The management of public lands, which make up a huge part of continental America, certainly calls for a more balanced and rational analysis.

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    1. Hi, Bill! So pleased to see you are still reading and happy to hear your thoughts about this one.

      I’m not going to defend the article’s ins-and-outs, since I didn’t write it, but I will say that I found it informative in terms of outlining some history around squabbles about public land that made me think about current situations. I can see what you mean about it lacking balance. While you may not be convinced that this author made a case that racism connects to local control fights, this thesis does make quite a bit of sense to me when I consider how “local control” is raised when issues such as changing school zones are brought to the table (happening here in NYC on the Upper West Side and in Brooklyn’s Park Slope). There is most definitely an undercurrent of racism and/or classism happening in such debates that I think needs to be recognized and brought into the light. The more I’ve learned about public education in this country, the more skeptical I’ve become about local control advocates — though I want to be clear that I do sympathize very much with a desire for autonomy and disdain for bureaucracy.

      You raise a reasonable question, though it’s framed in biased way: “Should arm chair bureaucrats in New York and Washington office buildings, who know nothing about farming or ranching, set the rules for the people who do?” I’d change that framing, of course, but to get to your intent of it, I’d say that I do think we need federal regulation as well as federally controlled parks and wilderness areas in order to protect public land and public interests. I don’t think this is an extreme view to take. It seems to me that if we leave land to state or “local” interests, we’ll suddenly see a lot of land turned over to private organizations that have little interest in the greater public good. I’m not saying this to suggest that federal management is optimal nor even desirable in many cases, but simply that I do see federal management as a necessary evil, if you will.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your critique. It’s always nice to hear your perspective.

      1. M, It is true that the proper use of our land is a complex question but the author of this article does not approach the subject in a rational manner. Instead he labels opponents as racist and compares them to Nazis. He dredges up old history about everything from Joe McCarthy to the America First movement. Thus, as is typical of most of today’s discourse, he falls back on personal attacks– as we are seeing in the candidates to be our next president. It is virtually impossible to develop common sense solutions to problems when the arguments become so emotional, illogical, and irrational.

        For example, my mother was an “American Firster” in 1939-41 because she didn’t see why we had to send our men and women overseas to die fighting in the European squabbles that had persisted for centuries. I sympathized with Mc Carthy, because after all, the Soviets were stealing our nuclear technology, which could have led to our destruction. In the case of ranch land, there is a case to be made that our government controls too much land, and interferes with its management in a harmful way. It really comes down to common sense management and ranting about Nazis and the antics of free ranging cowpokes won’t solve the problem.

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