Chicago, The Great Fire, and The American Way

Earlier today we were cruising by Wrigley field while the crowd was building for a Cubs game.  A man in the street, looking at the red, white, and blue Obama sticker on our flag-painted car waved, and with wry smile yelled, “God Bless America!”  Chicago gets it.  The flag is everywhere in this town, but nobody lets it touch the dirt of a defeatist view towards civic duty.  Surrounded by towers of stone their forefathers built from the ashes of the Great Fire, they have a very visceral recognition of their responsibility to build up, not tear down–to make things better for the next generation, not shrink from former greatness.

Maybe it’s the businessman in them, maybe it’s their immigrant roots, but it just makes sense.  Wanting to make things better for your country and for the next generations is what built America, and the people who came before us weren’t afraid to step-up like adults and pay the bill.  The public libraries, parks, monuments (like Mount Rushmore), and infrastructure are a testament to Americans whose taxes built our civilization.

Our first day in Chicago, we toured Obama Campaign Headquarters.  Watching the rows and rows of bright-eyed young adults working away at their computers, I could see that they got it too.  The new posters the Design Team had hung all around were filled with the vintage sentiment and old-timey fonts of Americana–with messages like: “We are AMERICANS, we don’t give-up: we see challenges and we make solutions.”  The whole scene was right up our alley.  Americans have had enough defeatism.  We want to roll-up our sleeves, get over this Tea Party nonsense about cutting our contributions to society, and get back to the work of making our country better.

Driving through Indiana now, we are surrounded by what seems like the million pulsating ruby lights of a massive wind farm–the real hard evidence of Obama’s Stimulus Package.  We’ve seen scores of these new wind farms on our journey.  Obama’s wind mills are paying down-homes farmers cold hard cash to make power for America.  From these spires of America’s spirit, to the thousands of miles of fresh freeway, to countless rebuilt bridges, the Stimulus that saved America from a deeper depression is everywhere.  Anybody who says it did nothing to help is full of horse crap.  If they don’t want to keep America’s tradition of progress, they can get out.


A Quick Word: Wyoming v. South Dakota

Wyoming gave us chapped lips, black lungs, and a stern disbelief that the state will ever recover from the ravenous oil and gravel interests that have descended upon it like vultures on weeks-old roadkill. Remember that this is a state that has elected Dick Cheney innumerable times—the man never got kicked out of office, just eventually promoted (dubiously ‘elected’) to the position of Vice President of the country in the dreaded 2000 elections.

Wyomingans didn’t like us. As soon as we crossed the state line it seems that smiles turned upside down, the air thickened and became visible, and the land became more desolate and hateful than the desert that the Jews wandered around for near a half-century. The gas station folks I saw didn’t smirk at our car; they were too busy bickering with one another about whether they were going to visit McDonald’s, Burger King, or just buy the gas station pizza, cadaverous and stagnant under the convenience store heat lamps. There were cracks and holes in their roads and their faces. I understand now why this place is referred to as “The Badlands,” (because they are bad).

Rapid City, South Dakota is, by contrast, a land fit enough for any god—a beautiful land once you leave the buffer zone of its border with Wyoming. When we reached Rapid City last night, we had to “wash off Wyoming” before we felt comfortable touching the beds in our hotel room.

SHARE THE ROAD (and the cost)

As I write this, we’re closing in on the Dalles Dam, about 3,000 miles from Charlotte and traveling at the speed of freedom. (We hope to do our first interview tomorrow, so stay tuned.) About sixty miles east of Portland and we’ve hit one of those ‘socialist’ roads that the government pays to pave. The highway construction workers have somehow become the enemies of the Republicans who want to put them out of work.

Tea Party ideas are definitely out there, but I live here on Earth, and in the United States. It’s a country where folks have historically built it up together, the way we accomplished this with Ike Eisenhower is a good one: everybody chips in to maintain roads so that all of us can have a little bit less rocky ride.


Other Public Works projects whip by us from the movie-screen window, like the Bonneville Dam, reminders tougher times, times where the the government pushed up its sleeves, asked the elite to pay its fair share, and put millions of Americans to task and back to work building great things, big things, things for the U.S.

Driving a car with no shocks to speak of, I appreciate these “Obama-Roads.” When we do the adult thing, when we spend the money to fix or improve the things we have, it makes for a much less bumpy ride…for all of us.

The Wright Brothers invented their flying machine while encouraged by the prospect of government prize money and the promise of subsidies for anyone who could do it. Bill Gates couldn’t have capitalized on the internet without hundreds of thousands of miles of telephone lines that we, the public, built. Our government has been a great innovator and historically been a supporter of innovation.

Those with the most, who have never dirtied their palms with a hard day’s work, just seem to care about taking more and more of our hard-earned money, no matter the cost to our country. They want it all and more of it, hiding it in foreign bank accounts. In an effort to make infinity-and-a-half dollars, millionaires like Mitt Romney cross their arms like children, shut down shop, and send our jobs overseas. It makes sense why they do it. They make a killing sending American jobs to countries like China, where they can pay slave wages, where people do not have the freedoms and opportunities we have to organize, to vote, to demand better for ourselves and our compatriots. They don’t want to pay Americans what we’re worth. Instead, they make slaves of citizens in other countries while starving their fellow Americans.

Most Americans, like those I see with the steam-rollers and jackhammers out here on the highway, are hardworking who want work and to have the dignity of a decent wage. I do agree with Republicans that there is a problem with unemployment. There are people who take advantage of and suck off the system. We know there are people out there who simply refuse to work, who live off the rest of society—they’re called billionaires. Let’s get real: there is a very real difference between making money and earning it. The banksters and billionaires may make money—us hard-working Americans are the ones who earn it.

–Steve Coatsworth, Andrew Becker, and Celine Swenson-Harris, Signing Off

Not in My America

The question Americans are asking themselves more and more is, “What IS patriotism?” The politicians yapping about the Tea Party claim to know what it is, but I reckon not. Whenever I read about the Tea Party, the big-wig names I hear are the same old cronies, Republican politicians, and back-room donors who’ve been around D.C. for years, selling snake oil under a new brand-name. When you get right down to brass tax, underneath their little slogans and sound bites, seems like the policies their bankrollers want to push on us are the opposite of everything that Americans were proud to do.

We fought for the rights of America’s workers, women, and minorities—the same inalienable rights that everybody deserves on account of being created equal. We created social security, unemployment, healthcare, and education programs so that we might live-up to being that “city upon a hill.” We took America’s great wilderness and protected it so that hunters, fishers, campers, hikers, and our kids and great-grandkids will be able to enjoy America tomorrow. We also made damned sure that the people who got the most out of living in our country gave back to it too, so that we could build the best roads, highways, railways, schools, hospitals, police and fire stations, public parks, libraries, universities, flood-control dams, sewage treatment plants, docks, airports, spaceports, laboratories, and companies in the world—because, as any Boy Scout will tell you, it’s your responsibility to leave a place better than you found it.

As J.F.K. said, we did this not because it was easy, but because it was hard…and it paid off, making America the most prosperous country on Earth. Nowadays, you show me some politician who wants to take all these things Americans did that made us great and do the opposite, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t know the first thing about being patriotic. Patriotism is about doing better—about doing your civic duty and having the decency to give a damn about your fellow countrymen, not about throwing a temper-tantrum when it’s time to do your chores. In my house, I’d have got the belt if I did what they talk about and didn’t chip-in, but these crooked Republican politicians keep trying to tell people that they don’t have to—and they think that just waving a flag will disguise the fact that what they are talking about is completely Un-American.

That’s why right now is the time to put our foot down to these spoiled brats, and show them what real patriotism is. If they want to live under our roof and enjoy everything Americans have built, they’ve got to do what others before them did to make this country great. My grandpa always told me that you have to stack the woodpile higher for the next guy. Well, when a Republican politician tells you all you have to do is think about yourself and not chip-in, you’ll know they’re a crooked coward. Instead of cutting and running from our achievements and responsibilities, like these Republican politicians want, being even better than the generation before us is how we will Keep America.

– Andrew S. Becker

Riverside Chat


I saw a man fishing along the Coastal fork of the Willamette near his “river home,” a small tent camped twenty feet up the bank between a huddle of trees. He offered me a mug of Cabernet and we chatted as the sun blushed and sank into the mattress mountains.

“Good day, idnit?” he said.

“Absolutely,” I said.

“I’ve traveled the country a dozen times and nothin’ beats this.” His noble manner, his candor, and his friendliness made the outdoors seem truly his. His nature turned the tent into something as kingly as the mansions littered along the McKenzie out on OR-126, or moreso.

After a few glasses, the fizzy feeling bubbled up, I asked him about his life. “What’s your story, Mr. John?”

“Hmm?” he said. “What’s that?” He spoke dreamily, elbow on knee, his temple lying on his fist like a pillow.

I brushed on a British accent and asked him: “From Whence do you hail and to where are you going?”

He told me that he was born in one of those “drive-by towns where folks are killed much less from gunshots than from nothing-to-do.” I squeezed one eye and squinted at him in the orange light, a mythical figure.

He came from a “rotting-carcass town,” he said, and told me how his community nesting there was picked clean by the Northwest Forest Plan. Neither men nor mice intended to wreak havoc on this human ecosystem, but the fact remains: families and small businesses live and die by the stroke of D.C. pens and Timbco keys that turn the growling engines of their prosperity to a choking silence.

“Logging wasn’t the kick starter or the engine of our economy—hell, it was our economy, our whole economy, pure and simple. It was our bread-on-table, our house-over-head, beer-on-stomach, clothes-on-back,” he said. He meant it and his factual account was only lightly touched with anger.

He is no reactionary. He head-nodded slightly at the end of the story before dousing the memory in wine.The pressure welled a bit behind my eyes when he said he missed the engine-roar and mountain air.

He didn’t want sympathy, just an acknowledgment.

John told me he was glad that I spoke with him like he was a person, conceded that there are some inhumane consequences of ecological policy that neglects to protect the communities it negatively impacts. We are obligated as a community to offset these effects with job-training and subsidies to help the Timberjack Harvesters and the others now sitting around foodless kitchens, ramming their heads into the walls. We put out the forest fire and throw some communities to the incinerator.

Timber sales have hit rock bottom internationally, and Oregon stands to lay its trees down like discount escorts. A plan that cuts 2.5 million acres of our 3.2 million acres of BLM land may look attractive to hungry people in a ravenous economy. The thing is a damned one-night stand that will leave our state broke, our land naked, and our rivers disease-ridden. The fearless strides we take to kitchen faucets, the confidence we have as we gulp down glasses of water on hot summer days are at risk.

The liquidation of our forests creates few jobs, and we cut them down faster than we can grow them. It will be no time at all, it seems, before we have to sit around in barren fields and wait again for growth. The guns, walking sticks, and fishing poles may some day be archaic instruments in ancient garages or curious museums. It could happen, would happen, can happen, and will happen if we aren’t quick to act—remembering those we’ve hurt and helping them through the rumbling dark must also be top priority.

THE SHORT OF IT: If in creating and implementing our environmental policy we remain bat-sh*t blind to the pain we inflict on rural Oregonians and their communities–which are also our communities–we are ethically out-of-order and politically unwise. Bolstering our environment does not necessitate ripping our communities apart and to let that happen is morally reprehensible.

–Steve Coatsworth (union-loving, community-oriented environmentalist,) signing off.

On the Horizon…

I remember watching a video of a 1963 March on Washington for racial equality—it was Peter, Paul and Mary singing “If I had a Hammer.” The song was playing as I was driving around Eugene today buying car parts for the U.S.S. Liberty (pictured above). I’d always heard the fourth verse as “I’ve got a banner…it’s a banner of justice, a banner of freedom.” Despite the malapropism, this is why we are reclaiming the flag for true patriots. As we shoot across the country like a red, white and blue bullet, we want to remind people not only of the U.S. Flag, we want to transform its ideal symbol—a banner of freedom, a banner of collective grit, a banner of prosperity for all Americans, not just a few. Like I’ve said elsewhere:

From where we sit, the Democratic Party has traditionally been—and continues to be—the party that sticks up for the freedom and opportunity guaranteed to every American Jane and Joe, Johnson and Rodriguez, Wong and O’Malley. We believe it’s time Democrats reclaim and redeploy that starry, striped symbol that has been so poorly used by multinational corporations, the Far Right and neocons who abuse our military and its might. We will toe our way up every step, knock on every door and have conversations with every person in Oregon if that’s what it takes.

Ten days till takeoff and the car is not in the greatest shape, but I am confident that if the American flagmobile has issues, America shall come to its rescue. Or rather, some of the good-hearted Americans we meet will give us pointers about how to save our Liberty (the car).

Let’s get ready to plunge into the doughy center of America’s bread basket.

–Steve Coatsworth, signing off.