With the news that members of the “Oregon Militia” have been arrested and one killed I wanted to write some thoughts about these folks. There’s been a lot of chatter about these people: how the government should handle them, how they’re being portrayed in the media, if they had a darker skin color would they have been treated differently, etc.
I agree that they would have been treated very, very differently if they had a darker skin tone…but I’m not here to write about that. I want to explore something different that I haven’t really seen in the news:
1. What gives them any sort of power to have taken over that wildlife refuge in the first place?
2. Who was/is taking care of the cattle while they overtook a wildlife refuge?
Let’s dig in to these questions a bit.
What gives them any sort of power?
Let’s start with the very basic information we should all know and recognize: these folks are ranchers, cattle ranchers to be precise. The government, or specifically BLM, controls the land their cattle graze on. They are supposed to pay a tax, albeit a much lower tax, for using this land. Back when Bundy had his original standoff it was because he owed taxes and didn’t want to pay them. It seems this latest event was just a furthering of that sentiment: “We don’t want to pay taxes and we think we should be able to graze on ALL the land. Get outta here gubment!”
That’s the gist of it anyway, there are specifics but that’s the basics as I understand them. Central to all of this are the cows. Why are these cows grazing this land? That should be a rhetorical question as the answer is obviously cow meat consumption.
To answer our first question we have to look at the cows and cow meat consumption. The truth is,
“While part of our vision of grazing on rangeland in the American West involves idyllic pastures with happy cows spending their lives eating grass until they are killed, that is not the reality. Cows that end up in factory farms are the same cows that graze on public lands.” Cows, Congress, and Climate Change: Authority and Responsibility For Federal Agencies To End Grazing on Public Lands (page 5, paragraph 3) [link]
It’s imperative that we make this connection between ranchers, cows, and recent events. If we want to complain about what these folks are doing I believe it’s important we understand any power they have, at its root, is garnered from the exploitation of animals used for food. If we continue to eat meat we continue to support these people.
Who was/is taking care of the cattle during all of this?
It shouldn’t be any secret that the animal agriculture industry thrives on a large migrant workforce. Just as in Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’ from the 1900s we still see immigrants being exploited to make these industry heads increasingly wealthy.
So, who do you think is/was taking care of the cattle? Someone has to follow these cows around as they graze because eventually they’ll need to be rounded up, sent to a feedlot, and slaughtered. In addition the cows are exposed to many dangerous elements while grazing. Wild coyotes, big cats, bad weather, etc. Should we believe these ranchers are the ones following the cows around? In my experience that’s not true. It’s very likely that immigrants from Central/South America are the ones taking on this arduous task.
I don’t know the time frames specifically but it’s safe to say that someone has to follow these cows for months at a time acting as a shepherd of sorts. Likely sleeping in an old, small, weird little caravan type structure. Maybe they have a truck or ATV to pull the structure, maybe it’s by horse. I believe it is important to note these immigrants are not offered the same sort of accommodations as a natural born US citizen. They’re probably offered a small, shoddy place to live on the main ranch, access to vehicles (for work use), food, work clothing, and a little money. It’s exploitation that’s been happening for well over a century.
A lot of us are justifiably angry at this group of folks. I’m with you, they suck, they should go home, but we must consider the root of their power lies in industrialized animal agriculture. If we support that industry then we’re supporting these ranchers in their endeavors and the exploitation of humans.