Progressivism Always Prevails. Reasons for Optimism in the Aftermath of 17 Preventable Deaths

Above: The future. Below: I wrote the following letter to my daughter, Maia, and share it here. Have faith. Our side always wins in the long-run. Always.

Dear Maia,

I spent a good bit of the latter part of this past week looking at the images and listening to the voices out of Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It is incomprehensible to me that a teenager who can’t legally purchase a beer, or drive a car without a license, is able to legally purchase an assault weapon with the capacity to fire dozens of deadly rounds in a single minute. In fact, it’s incomprehensible that any civilian is able to legally own such a weapon.

Incomprehensible, that is, until one considers that the single most powerful political lobby in Washington is the NRA and that they own nearly every single Republican politician – politicians who, apparently, value NRA campaign contributions (and promises of post-retirement speaking fees) more than they value the safety of American citizens including our children and young people. The top 10 recipients of NRA money in both the U. S. Senate and the U. S. Congress are all Republicans. (Rather than provide a link to verify this, I encourage readers to do their own research in order to get a real sense of just how deeply the NRA has its claws into our Republican politicians. )

And so it should be no surprise that in his role as House Speaker, Congressman Paul Ryan, (Republican, Wisconsin) will permit neither meaningful floor debate nor a meaningful vote on anything that would curb the lucrative sale of guns in this country. Or that in the aftermath of one mass shooting after another, the only pleas he makes are pleas for non-action.

In the past election, Donald Trump received over $30 million in direct and indirect campaign money from the NRA. And so, again, it should come as no surprise that Trump has promised the NRA he will never sign legislation undermining gun sales. “You have a true friend in the White House,” Trump told the NRA.

Who, in Parkland, Florida, among the 14 dead young people and the three teachers and coaches who loved these kids and laid down their lives to protect them, and their families, and their friends , have a “true friend” anywhere in the Republican Party? Or the next 17 dead? Or the next 17? Or the 17 after that?

Even the majority of gun owners do not want these current lax laws to exist. (Anything you suspect I’m making, up, you should research.) It’s an NRA thing. It’s a Republican thing. It’s a $32 billion dollar a year gun industry thing.

Money over lives in the GOP party of coal, tax breaks for the rich, opposition to national health care, hostility toward education, unending wars on our environment and indifference toward the DACA young people who came to the United States with their parents. Build a wall, like they did 2,000 years ago in China. Have a military parade, like they do in North Korea. And keep taking NRA money.

With fellow Americans voting for Republican majorities in the House, the Senate and (by a minority vote only possible in America) giving the presidency to Trump, how can I be optimistic?

Maia, remember what I told you about ISIL? That this terror-war waged by a minority of Muslims was the predictable outcome of a variety of international policies and that over time it would subside? You can Google maps of ISIL’s gains and losses; they began steadily losing ground a few years ago. This is one of the few areas where Trump has kept Obama-era policies in place, and ISIL’s demise is continuing.

At the same time, countries inviting people from war-torn nations to enter their borders and to experience life in free, Democratic societies – to benefit from higher education, to make friends, to see the world through a more progressive lens, to reduce fears and misunderstandings on all sides – are doing more to defeat terror than all the bullets and bombs combined. The people of Sweden, Germany, France and other countries accepting émigrés have taken risks in opening their borders. They are heroic for doing so.

And they are on the right side of history.

Over the long haul of history, progressivism always win. Always. As a species, we periodically subject ourselves to bloody crusades, anti-science/anti-legal-system dark ages, tribal holocausts, authoritarian reigns of terror and the predictable aftermath of colonialism/neocolonialism and slavery. But along the longer arc, we slough off these primitive instincts, allow our better angels to guide us…

…and we keep moving forward.

And now we are here – at a day and age when, despite pockets of evil, on a scale never before even imagined in human history more people than ever are enjoying freedom, prosperity, access to education, health care, self-expression and art. If we can begin to address population growth, it will only get better.

Out of every darkness, there has come a time when a new generation has wrested leadership from their elders and demanded a new course. The overwhelming majority among the current generation now coming of age are rejecting the Republican Party’s backward push to coal, bigotry, misogyny, unsustainable growth, and Feudal era solutions to 21st century challenges (the wall).

And senseless access to guns that serve no purpose other than to kill fellow human beings.

I’ve been listening to the voices out of Douglas High… Emma Gonzalez’s being one of the strongest (do Google her)… And my heart is full. I’m optimistic that change is coming. Maybe not tomorrow… but it’s coming.

Because over the long haul, we always move forward. Progressivism prevails. And in the pursuit of optimism, patience is a virtue.

Love, Dad

JD, Chignik Lake, Alaska

November Light: Old Tikigaq and Project Chariot – 160 Hiroshimas in the Arctic

umiak sunrise n

November 29, 12:46 p.m.: Framed below a seal skin umiak whaling boat, the sun edged itself above the southern horizon and lingered for just two hours and 24 minutes. On December 7, the sun will stay below the horizon and remain there for 28 days.

In 1958, under the direction of Edward Teller, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) devised a plan to detonate a series of nuclear devices 160 times the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. These bombs were to be exploded just 30 miles southwest of the Inupiat village of Point Hope, Alaska. Teller’s plan – if an action so dangerous and misguided can even be called such – was to blast out a harbor in this far north coastline. The United States government didn’t bother to tell the local residents of this scheme. Nor did they take into consideration that the land in question dId not belong to the United States government; it was and still is sovereign Inupiat territory.

old tikigaq bones nov light n

Whale bones mark a sod igloo buried in snow in the ghost town of Old Tikigaq, which was abandoned in the mid 1970’s. Although the sun is only in the sky briefly in November, it is a glorious time of year. This is the November light we have been waiting for.

A caribou hunting party stumbled across AEC engineers and para-military personnel encamped at the mouth of Ogoturuk Creek, near Cape Thompson. That’s when the questions and the lies began.

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Grass silhouetted against the southern sky just before dawn, the frozen sea stretching to the horizon near Point Hope, Alaska.

In the end, Teller’s heartless plan was stopped. The bombs were never detonated. The experiment to determine how much radiation local flora, fauna and humans could survive was never carried out.

This is a story of heroes. There was Howard Rock, the co-founder of the Tundra Times, a highly educated, literate Inupiat leader who wrote the first, insistent letters to the United States government demanding that this plan be immediately halted. There were the white scientists from the University of Fairbanks, Pruitt and Viereck, who raised their voices against the project, and in standing up for the Inupiat people and standing against the government were fired by University President, William Wood, who played a less noble role in this story. There were the millions of citizens in the United States and all over the world who were in the streets, protesting nuclear tests of this kind. And there are the people of Point Hope who stood up to the government then and who are still fighting to force the United States government to tell the whole story of Project Chariot.

Because this story is not over.

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Over time, as erosion steadily ate away the finger of land jutting into the Chukchi Sea, the old town had to be abandoned. This fall, the entire area was inundated with water when high winds and hurricane force gusts pushed sea water over the rock sea wall protecting the north side of the point.

Although Teller lost his bid to detonate the world’s most destructive arms, in what feels like a tit-for-tat payback, under his direction, in secret, another group of engineers and military personnel were dispatched to the Project Chariot site. This time, they spread radioactive waste on the ground and in the stream. And they buried something there. Something in large, sealed drums.

To this day, the United States government has refused to divulge what was buried.

Since that time, the incidence of cancer has been higher than the national norm among the people of Point Hope. Higher than it should be, even taking into consideration other factors. These are some of the best people we’ve ever had the honor to be associated with. Kind, generous, resourceful, resilient, tough. Their government owes them answers.

whale jaw arches dawn n

Tell-tale tracks leave evidence that an Arctic fox was patrolling Old Tikigaq just before we hiked out. These whale bone jaws located near the airstrip a mile and a half from town welcome visitors to Point Hope. The area around Point Hope is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the Americas – maybe the oldest. While many Inupiat (Eskimo) cultures were nomadic, here the animals came to the people. The point of Point Hope formerly extended far to the west out into the Chukchi sea, bringing the land in close proximity to migratory paths of seals, whales, walruses, char, salmon and other fish. Two impressive capes, Thompson to the south, Lisburne to the north, are home to tens of thousands of sea birds. To the east, Point Hope is situated near the migratory route of thousands of caribou. The sea and the land are the garden that has sustained people here for thousands of years.

For more about Project Chariot, see the book The Firecracker Boys by Dan O’Neill. And although it is difficult to obtain a copy, there is an excellent, 73-minute documentary film titled Project Chariot, copyrighted 2013 NSBSD & Naninaaq Productions: UNCIVILIZED FILMS.