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HOME RANGE: Notes on Literature, Nature, Working Dogs, History, Martial Arts, Other Obsessions and Sundry Annoyances by Henry Chappell

Wendell Berry on Displacement

As I wrote "Texas Water War," this passage from Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America stayed on my mind:

"They have always said that what they destroyed was outdated, provincial, and contemptible. And with alarming frequency, they have been believed and trusted by their victims, especially when their victims were other white people.

"If there is any law that has been consistently operative in American history, it is that members of any established people or group or community sooner or later become 'redskins' - that is, they become the designated victims of an utterly ruthless, officially sanctioned and subsidized exploitation. The colonists who drove off the Indians came to be intolerably exploited by their imperial governments. And that alien imperialism was thrown off only to be succeeded by a domestic version of the same thing; the class of independent small farmers who fought the war of independence has been exploited by and recruited into, the industrial society until by now it is almost extinct. Today, the most numerous heirs of the farmers of Lexington and Concord are the little groups scattered all over the country whose names begin with "Save": Save Our Land, Save the Valley, Save Our Mountains, Save Our Streams, Save Our Farmland. As so often before, these are designated victims - people without official sanction, often without official friends, who are struggling to preserve their places, their values, and their lives as they know them and prefer to live them against the agencies of their own government which are using their own tax moneys against them"

Wendell Berry's "little groups" bring to mind Edmund Burke's beloved "little platoons."

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We're not fixin' to quit

Shirley Shumake and her brother Max Shumake are sixth generation Sulphur River basin landowners. Since about 2003, they've fought alongside family and neighbors against Dallas-Fort Worth business interests and water developers planning to build a giant reservoir that would inundate their farms and timberland. In the previous post, I linked to an article in which I describe the fight and the stakes involved. In the video segment below, Shirley talks about how she and her neighbors discovered that powerful outsiders planned to push the reservoir project through the permitting process and condemn the land before locals could organize effective opposition. To the surprise and vexation of certain urban interests, the reservoir planners ran into a hornet nest. The video is part of Enduring Women, an oral history project recently exhibited at the Bullock Museum in Austin, Texas. Shirley is speaking extemporaneously to a student historian, so much of the context is missing. But the photos show some of what could be lost, and what reservoir boosters are up against. My money is on Shirley and Max and the people of the Sulphur River basin.




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