Keep Dancing

by Michael W. Stowell

March 11, 2002

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It's been a rainy week here in Humboldt County; a hard rain has fallen on the status quo and both the Sheriff and the District Attorney have been swept out in a flash flood. Everyone's newspaper got wet, that cumbersome political machine bogged down, the bureaucrats are still scrambling and the rainmakers are still dancing. An ominous and omnipresent thunderclap is still echoing in the hills.

Those who've read my February 10th column, "Dogpaddling In The Cesspool," can take heart in these winds of change; they portend foul weather for the sewer rats in D.C. For ten hours I looked into the public's eyes last Tuesday, from under a rain poncho, from behind a campaign sign that spoke of common sense, and in most of the eyes mine met I saw the flash of political lightning. This storm is far from over.

Synchronicity then brought renowned rainmaker Michael Moore into town that night to talk about his new book, "Stupid White Men." You may have heard that this book was almost 'pulped' by his publisher, Harper Collins; they didn't want to distribute it because they felt it was "inappropriate for the political climate right now." Shortly thereafter Harper Collins started receiving a lot of nasty mail from "random" librarians who were somehow privy to the news (might have been some of my friends with Progressive Librarians Around the World), so they decided to go on with the distribution but warned Mr. Moore that the book would bomb because his message was "out of touch with Americans today." The day after the book went on sale it was number one on the Amazon bestseller list, the following Sunday it was number three on The New York Times list and currently it's number four on The Wall Street Journal list...more ominous thunder.

I had a premonition of Tuesday's storm a week before. On February 26th there was a Planning Commission meeting at Arcata City Hall during which the City's Committee on Democracy and Corporations presented a proposal that would put a cap on the number of 'pattern restaurants' allowed in our fair city. We currently have nine such establishments and our locally-owned restaurants are struggling to compete with the megabuck advertising of international McLogos. Not only that, but every person in possession of an I.Q. higher than a television set is already fed up with that insidious McCulture creep.

I knew the opposition had a mouthpiece in town so I took my two cents in and put it on the table:

I meet many people who are new to Arcata and most often their first question is "How do you do it?" That always takes me back to my own first impressions formed seventeen years ago; I thought Arcata was a cute little college town, but I've since found that it's much more than that. Sure, we have a vocal neo-liberal element here as well as a remnant of ol' boy conservatism, but most of Arcata is more interested in common sense than politics. We're touted as having the first Green Party majority city counsel in the nation, but the council seats are non-partisan and most folks have learned to look past party registration to the merits of candidates and usually elect those who will enhance the function of City government and nurture our community.

All this, I explained, probably stems from the initial crash of Big Timber, which closed Arcata sawmills and put many people out of work some twenty-five years ago. Those folks had to find another way to make a living or move on and this community quickly learned the value of diversifying our local economy. Post-industrial age, post-corporate capitalism, post-modern evolution, call it what you will, we live in a microcosm of what the future holds for much of the 'developed' world. When corporate capitalism collapses and a community faces the reality of survival, faces a certain loss of identity, the status quo is no longer an option.

Last year, our Committee on Democracy and Corporations hosted an enlightening meeting that presented some great ideas for cooperative endeavors to enrich and fortify our locally-owned business community. Joint advertising and other promotional techniques were discussed and are being implemented so a strong, coordinated movement is underway. But that's not enough. We also need a way to discourage profiteers from sucking money out of our local community. It's simply a matter of common sense, I said.

After thirty or more other people voiced their support for the proposal, with much enthusiasm, the Planning Commission voted to move the idea along to the Arcata City Council for adoption. Almost everyone in the room cheered. It was a long time coming. Then it occurred to me, there was virtually no opposition. We were expecting a highly organized and professional fight from the big guys and were ready for it, but nothing above a puny whimper was heard.

I had enough political sense to know that a shift was occurring, that a storm was brewing and that the election was coming up fast. I've enough sense to know that the storm is far from over, that we've seen the first of the lightening and much more is to come; so keep dancing that raindance.



Michael W. Stowell is chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Arcata Library in Arcata, CA. He is the producer/editor/videographer of numerous public access television programs; he is a naturalist, a gardener, a bicyclist and a Swans' columnist.


Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Michael W. Stowell 2002. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Published March 11, 2002
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