These were my comments for the Steamboat Pilot, in response to interview questions.
I'm a retired factory worker, and a union activist. The union i belong to,
the Industrial Workers of the World, is very different from mainstream unions.
We're more working class than middle class, and we always champion the poor,
the needy, the unemployed. They call us "Wobblies," we have more
than a century of history fighting for economic justice throughout the world,
and we're as much a social movement as a union.
My own passion for activism grew out of childhood access to photographs from the death camps in Germany-- my father was in the U.S. armored division that helped to liberate Dachau. Much of my activism is centered upon the question of obtaining justice for the little guy, frequently against an impervious bureaucracy that only claims to cherish real human values. I've always been for the underdog, for the down and outer, because that's the American way. Or rather, it used to be.
I've never met Giles or David, but i have lots of young friends who are probably a lot like them-- brash, well-educated, politically aware, and more concerned about our collective footprint on the planet than about pursuing the materialistic, upwardly mobile lifestyle that society demands of them.
I've been to Steamboat Springs a few times. It is a beautiful city, with wonderful people. The residents of Steamboat Springs have, and must be allowed, the opportunity to demonstrate that this case is an abberation; indeed, many of them are already speaking out.
The people of Steamboat Springs
will decide for themselves how to react, and that's as it should be. Good
people of a community are fully capable of sorting
out their feelings, and doing what is right. I see our role-- those of us
who use email, blogs, newsgroups and listservs to discuss and publicize
the issue-- as simply facilitating communication, helping the citizens of
Steamboat Springs to discover how the rest of the country feels about six
months in jail for dumpster diving.
If i was to generalize, i'd suggest that we don't care what they were charged with, technically. Most of us can guess at the background-- we've read about the friction between the Rainbow Family and some local authorities. Such circumstances serve to raise suspicions about ulterior motives. And we find these suspicions echoed by Steamboat Springs residents in feedback to the local paper.
As we speak, most folks who will take up this cause haven't yet returned from holiday vacation. It is my expectation that this story "has legs" that are capable of climbing right over the continental divide and kicking some doors in. There are already a few calls for a boycott of Steamboat Springs, but i feel that's premature, and the wrong approach at this time. Life is a learning experience, and we must allow each other the freedom to explore and re-evaluate our decisions-- including who we put in office, and who our leaders will be.
I have written some words about my own views, but the real question must be,
what do people want? There is a petition, and even folks who agree the young
men committed a crime are signing it, pointing out the gross disproportionality
of the sentence. Some of these signers are Steamboat Springs locals.
What the chamber of commerce, the business owners and investors in Steamboat Springs must ask themselves is this: if Giles and David serve out their term, and the furor over their unjust incarceration doesn't die down, what will the damage have been? Even absent an organized boycott, Steamboat Springs is in danger of a serious black eye.
I'm not religious, but remember what Jesus said: how you treat the least among you, is how you treat me. In my union we have a similar expression-- "an injury to one is an injury to all." Giles and David have been injured, but all of us who care about humanity are feeling the pain.
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