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The State of Jefferson: a resource struggle centuries in the making

By Willie Stein - Legal Ruralism, March 3, 2017

Nestled among rich forests and steep mountains, the State of Jefferson is a quasi-mythic political dream for many of its residents in Northern California and Southern Oregon. In 1941, residents of the Siskyou mountains, disgruntled at the State of California's persistent neglect of critical road and other infrastructure and its exploitation of the resources of the area, made a theatrical show of 'seceding' from the state. They set up roadblocks to demand documentation of those entering and exiting, and hoisted a flag bearing a distinct "XX" legend to signify their double crossing by the governments of Sacramento and Salem. Today, that XX flag can be seen across vast swaths of Northern California and Southern Oregon to signify a contempt for the remote governments that residents perceive to control resources that rightfully belong to them. Residents are vigorously anti-regulation, and see themselves as the victims of the repression of the state. Jeffersonians rightly perceive that they wield little political clout in California, paying in more than they get back. Are the Jeffersonians the only victims in California's North Country?

The answer to that might start by examining their choice of name- presumably chosen as a nod to the small government, state's rights' oriented Thomas Jefferson. Having lived and travelled in the State of Jefferson, I can't help but think of another resonance, one not intended by the secessionists: That of Thomas Jefferson as one of the initial architects of Indian Removal. The State of Jefferson is laid over a complex patchwork of pre-existing tribal nations that occupied the land. Although the Jeffersonians often claim to be "native Californians", indigenous tribes such as the Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, Wintu, and many others long predate the arrival of Europeans. I can't help but see the State of Jefferson as a continuation of a long history of erasure of indigenous political formations by those of white colonists.

Chapter 21 : You Fucking Commie Hippies!

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

“Fort Bragg has bred a race of people who live in two-week stints, called ‘halves’ which end every other Thursday with a trip to the bowling alley for highballs and to cash the paycheck. The most altruistic among these are church-going, family-and-roses, four-holidays-a-year American workers. At the other end of the line (sometimes in the same body) are people who would kill hippies with a certain fundamental zest; who are still angry about events of twenty years ago and have been patiently tearing up the woods ever since…People want to work the last few years [while the forest lasts], go back into the hard-to-reach places and cut those last trees, the way a tobacco addict wants to smoke all the butts in the house when stranded.”

—Crawdad Nelson, June 28, 1989

“It’s time for loggers—and employees of nuclear power plants, for that matter—to consider the idea that their jobs are no longer honorable occupations. They have no God-given right to devastate the earth to support themselves and their families.”

—Rob Anderson, June 21, 1989

With the arrival of summer, Corporate Timber organized its biggest backlash yet against the efforts by populist resistance to their practices, particularly the possible listing of the Northern Spotted Owl as an endangered species. Masterfully they whipped up gullible loggers and timber dependent communities into a mob frenzy, framing the very complex issue as simply an opportunistic effort by unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs to use the bird to shut down all logging everywhere forever. At the very least, they predicted (lacking any actual scientific studies to prove it) that listing the spotted owl as “endangered” would result in as much as a 33 percent reduction in timber harvesting activity throughout the region. Nothing could be further from the truth in the timber wars, of course, but that didn’t stop the logging industry from bludgeoning the press and public with this myth to the point of overkill.

A sign of the effectiveness of Corporate Timber’s propagandizing was the rapid adoption by timber workers, gyppo operators, and residents in timber dependent communities of yellow ribbons essentially symbolizing solidarity with the employers. [1] This symbol was far simpler than Bailey’s “Coat of Arms”, and such activity was encouraged, albeit subtly, by the corporations themselves, but the timber workers who had already been subjected to a constant barrage of anti-environmentalist propaganda were swayed easily. [2] One industry flyer even went so far as to say, “They do not know you, they have never met you, and the probably never will meet you; but they are your enemies nonetheless.” Yellow ribbons had been used for this purpose for several years already, but never on such a widespread scale. [3] Many of those sporting yellow ribbons, particularly on their car or truck antennae adopted other symbols as well. [4] These included t-shirts, bumper stickers, and signs with slogans such as “save a logger, eat an owl”, “spotted owl: tastes like chicken”, or “I like spotted owls: fried.” [5] Gyppo operators even began organizing “spotted owl barbecues” (with Cornish game hens standing in for the owls). [6]

All of this was anger directed at the environmentalists in a frenzy, which even the biggest enablers of Corporate Timber privately conceded was “knee jerk”. Pacific Lumber president John Campbell did what he could do sow more divisions by denouncing those that sought to preserve the spotted owl as “Citizens Against Virtually Everything” (CAVE). [7] Louisiana Pacific spokesman Shep Tucker declared, “We want to send a message across the country that this is not acceptable, and we can do it by pulling out all of the stops and descending on Redding in force.” [8] As if this weren’t enough, local governments of timber dependent communities, including Redding, Eureka, and Fortuna, got into the act and passed resolutions opposing the listing of the owl as endangered. [9] The climate of fear generated by this effort was so intense that Oregon Earth First!er, Karen Wood, who—with a handful of other local Earth First!ers—had walked picket lines in solidarity with striking Roseburg Forest Products workers;, commented that one could not venture into a single business without seeing pro-Corporate Timber propaganda in her timber dependent community. [10]