Thursday, September 11, 2014

The pony express rides again


Among other things, rural areas are primarily defined by their size, space and location. Rural towns are small, remote, and often surrounded by wilderness. Another characteristic of rural areas is its relationship (or lack thereof) with the law. Rural communities have a different relationship with the law and how it functions in their communities because of their defining characteristics. As Lisa Pruitt has written in The Rural Lawscape, "Law cannot be everywhere at once because state and local legal actors cannot be everywhere at once."

Later this month, a group of concerned citizens from a rural Nevada county will send a message to Washington D.C. the old-fashioned way: via horseback. The ride is organized by Elko County Commissioner, Grant Gerber. The group has a website. The website features profiles of the riders, their mission, and a link where donations can be made to support the ride. They also have a Facebook page which has garnered 559 likes.

On September 26, the cowboy express riders will embark on their journey from Pt. Reyes, CA and ride some 2800 miles to the nation’s capital carrying petitions from their community. The journey should take about 20 days. Gerber says “we’ll be riding from 13 to 24 hours (a day) depending on the moon and such.”

What are the cowboy express riders concerned about? They are concerned that the federal government is too far away and does not know what is best for the local area. Their motto is “regulation without representation is tyranny.” The petitions are pleas about endangered species, water, wildfire, wetlands, wilderness, and other perceiver management failures of the federal government. This rural community is reaching out to the agents of the law that affect them directly. The community of Elko may be small and isolated, but it does not wish to remain silent on how their land is managed. Their cause is reminiscent, but unrelated to another Nevada rancher’s struggle with the Bureau of Land Management.

What I find most interesting about the riders and their mission is that it is really a battle between local and federal government actors. Included among the petitions to be delivered is one written by the Elko County Board of Commissioners. In particular, the Board of Commissioners has a problem with decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to close grazing areas in and around Elko County. Their petition also includes grievances with the BLM’s handling of wildlife pursuant to the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

The grass march cowboy riders are sending their message in two ways: the manner in which it is delivered and its contents. Whether or not the petitions have their intended effect on the BLM, the message has been sent.

3 comments:

Desi Fairly said...

Riding on a horse back Nevada to D.C. is certainly a dramatic method to make grievances known. However, I feel like the move plays too much on rural stereotypes and delegitimizes the important issues that Elko county brings. I assume that the county's ultimate hope is to have a place at the decision making table and to yield some degree of clout in the agencies with which they take issue. The endeavor is a professional one, but the execution (riding on horseback across the country) seems like an extravagant show. I wonder if that is part of Elko's tactic: to create a show and draw media attention to their cause. If so, it makes a lot of sense- a marginalized population has to resort to drastic measures to make its voice heard.

Desi Fairly said...

Riding on a horse from Nevada to D.C. is certainly a dramatic method to make grievances known. However, I feel like the move plays too much on rural stereotypes and delegitimizes the important issues that Elko county brings. I assume that the county's ultimate hope is to have a place at the decision making table and to yield some degree of clout in the agencies with which they take issue. The endeavor is a professional one, but the execution (riding on horseback across the country) seems like an extravagant show. I wonder if that is part of Elko's tactic: to create a show and draw media attention to their cause. If so, it makes a lot of sense- a marginalized population has to resort to drastic measures to make its voice heard.

Charlie said...

This is very interesting! As we discussed in class, this rural protest on horseback reminds us of Mr. Cliven Bundy's standoff with federal officers earlier this April. This makes me wonder, is it the quintessentially American thing to oppose the federal government? Or perhaps rebelling against higher authority, regardless of whether it's the federal government? Small government is always praised, but big government isn't.

But maybe it's because America has always been a rural country from the beginning, with huge expanse of land largely untouched by mankind. And consequently, the absence of law and government actors have also been largely missing from the picture. Nevertheless, I was excited to read news about Mr. Bundy's standoff, since it seemed like a modern-day, real-life reenactment of the wild west.