By Tommy Hough
It's been quite a year, and we have huge challenges facing us in 2017. They will not be easy, and they will test the bonds of the social contracts, long-standing institutions and the very Constitution that has guided our country and helped the United States resist tyranny for 240 years. Given the rise of Trumpism, the explosion of broad daylight racism and xenophobia, and the nation's ugly political climate, we have our work cut out for us. These will be difficult years.
Despite the turn of events nationally, we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. We enjoyed broad success with our local and state elections, especially with the renewal and implementation of the state's 2014 plastic bag ban and the defeat of local Measures A, B and C. In the city of San Diego we elected our first female city attorney by a wide margin, and Georgette Gómez and Barbara Bry are joining city council. Environmentalist and activist Cori Schumacher has been elected as the first Democrat on the Carlsbad City Council, and fellow environmentalist Mark West has won a city council seat in Imperial Beach. Esther Sanchez and Alejandra Sotelo-Solis were re-elected to their respective city council seats in Oceanside and National City, and both our endorsed candidates in Encinitas won – including incumbent councilmember Tony Kranz.
Personally, I'm thankful we can relax, eat, laugh and spend time with friends and family during these special holidays, but as drought and uncertainty increase, never forget we are only one or two tough seasons away from significant food insecurity – whether by nature or, if things really take a turn for the worse in this country, by blockade. It's worth remembering too that many of our fellow citizens already face food insecurity every day.
I'm thankful for the wisdom that has led to the environmental and conservation successes this nation has had, and which it may continue to pursue if it chooses to do so. The U.S. is a cleaner place today than it was 50 years ago, with more of our public land and natural resources protected than at any other time in our nation's history. We set the conservation template for much of the world. This is in no small part due to diligent legislators and agents of good government, who have opted to heed the words of scientists and citizens and moved to stop increased pollution of our environment, and demonstrated a willingness to prevent the wholesale destruction of ecosystems and species. Our government has not always been perfect – but we have done well. Moving forward we must do everything to keep our air clean, and at last gain control over the runaway fracking that has dissected our nation's habitat and harmed our water.
I'm thankful President Obama remains our president for the next few weeks, and I'm thankful for the years of stability and stable leadership he has given this nation. Because of President Obama, our cars are more fuel efficient, the Roadless Rule in our National Forests remains in place, the administration has followed the markets in bringing the era of Big Coal to an end and committed to a course of no new offshore oil drilling, and has protected 265 million acres of public land – including three new National Monuments in the Mojave Desert and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument near Los Angeles. Add in the additional public lands protections the president has made around the country, and Obama has built a sizable conservation legacy – mostly in his second term.
Despite the intransigence and insanity leveled at our president in the media and from across the aisle, President Obama has stood fast as a guardian of our best institutions, and continues to seek opportunities to build and make the lives of all Americans better. Our nation is a better place for having Obama and his family in the White House for eight years. Even those who have claimed to dislike Obama or his policies or raged with rudderless anger at his attempts to rein in Wall Street, make health care more available, stop polluters and wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will look back with longing at the overall stability of the Obama era – especially given what's to come.
Indeed, when President Obama leaves office, those following him will seek to take a wrecking ball to his successes – as well as our institutions, our ability to govern, and perhaps even our basic rights. We will all have to respond to these challenges in our own way. After Jan. 20, it will be our job to push our Democratic lawmakers to protect what generations of our countrymen have built, and ensure that our agencies and institutions continue to function for all the people of this nation. With that, there can be no rest or let up. This is our charge. President Obama has shouldered great burdens for us for eight years – now that duty falls to us.
But we are not alone. We have elected officials at our disposal, and many are already in our corner. We have the Constitution and the laws of our land behind us. And when it comes to the marketplace of ideas and evidence, Democrats win big in any fair match-up on a level playing field. Never forget that.
Happy Thanksgiving, and keep your chin up. We will lean in, and we will prevail together.
Photos by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
As the last eight years have abundantly demonstrated, we have much to be proud of in our party and our principles. While we've been dealt a terrible blow at the national level -- and it is bad -- we had a strong showing on Election Day in California and San Diego County. We had a number of key wins among our endorsed candidates, especially women, and we helped defeat Measures A, B and C. That's measurable, demonstrable success.
So understand that you and I will not arrive at our next victory on a wave of despair. We have no choice but to get to work now with meaningful action, and prepare to defend a heritage that, while vulnerable, belongs to all Americans -- our public lands. National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, the National Wilderness Preservation System, and the National Park Service.
With the executive branch changing hands in January to a Trump administration, our public lands are literally in the crosshairs. Never before in our lifetimes has the danger been so acute to our wild places. In the words of the great American photographer Ansel Adams, "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment."
Throughout the Obama years we've seen repeated efforts by House Republicans to "give" federal public lands to states, as though those public lands had been forcibly seized from states at some other undefined moment. That is a lie. While much of our nation indeed rests on land stolen in lengthy, often genocidal campaigns against Indigenous peoples of North America, the idea that public land was stolen from states and while landowners is the claim of the Bundys, and those resentful that they must share our public lands with others. It's the claim of those who hate conservation. It's the claim of those who can only abuse the privilege of our nation's bounty of public lands. It's the claim of a greedy few who wish to mine, drill, desecrate, and log our wild places and natural heritage into cruel submission.
While most western states, including California, have not asked for federal public lands to be "given" to them, radicals in some state legislatures and the House of Representatives have. And they're a noisy, ugly bunch.
Of course, there is no way for states like Idaho, Utah, or even California to begin to manage the volume of National Forests and BLM land within their boundaries, but Republicans like Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have been clamoring for a land transfer on a colossal scale nonetheless.
In fact, Trump just won on a national GOP platform that says explicitly, "Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation...requiring the federal government to convey certain federally-controlled public lands to states." No reason or necessity is given. In true Republican fashion, the GOP is inventing a straw man "problem" to advance goals of privatization and exclusion. Republicans know states are not equipped to shoulder the costs or capacity burdens of such massive swaths of public land, so they're setting them up to "fail," or rather, to sell the land to the highest bidder -- enabling the destruction of ecosystems and wilderness in the process. That nightmare scenario will begin to present itself on Jan. 20.
The idea is not about conservation, but about enabling a federal land fire sale even worse than that committed by Interior Secretary James Watt in the early 1980s. This is a wholesale dismemberment of our federal public lands system, with resource extraction the goal as all reasonable, normal environmental regulations are jettisoned by executive order -- from the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska for logging, to Wayne National Forest in Ohio for fracking.
Under Trump, an empty vessel whose only awareness of being in the outdoors is the time he may spend between getting out of a limo and entering one of his many ostentacious high-rises, this could very easily happen. If Sarah Palin (or someone worse or more malignantly incompetent competent) is made Interior Secretary and the feeding trough of K Street resource extractors is opened, this will be low-hanging fruit for the new Congress and administration to pick, plunder, and leave in ruins with lobbyists and climate deniers leading the way.
In Congress, steps must be taken now to protect:
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action is already working to get more attention on these public lands issues ahead of the change in power, but we need your help. Contact your U.S. congressman or U.S. senator and emphasize the urgent need to preserve the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Roadless Rule, the Wilderness Act, and the Antiquities Act. All four of these federal conservation benchmarks ensure clean watersheds, abundant forests and oxygen, and habitat for wildlife.
Our forests, grasslands, open space and public lands are a benefit to our nation's people and character. Those elected officials who stand by while our nation's natural heritage is desecrated for the highest bidder will not be forgotten, and will be as guilty as those anti-conservationists calling for the end to wise, effective public lands policies. Our message to Congress and the Trump administration is clear: If you sell off our nation's public lands, you will set off a firestorm of recrimination you will never escape, or live down.
Join us for our emergency San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action meeting at the La Jolla Village Square community room on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6:30 p.m., and consider joining San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action today -- we need your support now more than ever.
Photos by Tommy Hough
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