Opinion Piece by Samuel Strait – January 2, 2017 – For most citizens of Del Norte and Curry Counties the recent out cry of opposition to the mining proposed by Red Flat Mining Company in the headwaters of the Smith and Pistol Rivers in November passed largely unnoticed and without much interest. Reporting in the Triplicate, “Hundreds voice support for extending mining ban”, November 19,2016, gave us all the impression that locally the voices were for the most part overwhelmingly in favor of an extended ban for mining in the area. Politicians were quoted, and all sorts of environmental types were quoted saying that our drinking water was in peril, wild life, the fish and every thing in between. While I don’t dispute that all of the “chicken little” dire warnings may have come true should mining have occurred, what was interesting to me was the composition of the protest.
Most people would think from the reporting that the entire population of Southwest Oregon and Northwest California that would be directly effected would be the main composition of the 350 plus attendees of the meeting at Brookings High School. Given the fact that only a few hints were given in the coverage by the Triplicate from a reporter, Jane Stebbins, clearly not a Triplicate reporter either, that at least some of the opposition to the mining was not local. To most people it may seem odd that people who have no real stake in the controversy would be involved in forming its opposition and that the opposition should be left to people who are directly impacted. When it comes to anything remotely environmental, that is with increasing frequency not the case.
Having spoken to several locals who actually attended the event, more out of curiosity than real concern one way or the other, I learned that of the more than 350 people who attended the event and most that spoke, only a very small number were actually from the area that was to potentially be effected by the mining. Most people who attended had been bused in from other areas far and wide. Many were not to be effected at all. It is this kind of organized representation that whether or not you support mining in the area, local sentiment is largely drowned out by people who have no real stake in the controversy. You end up at the local level being dictated to by a small but vocal minority, and have no comprehensive local voice. It has been my experience on countless occasions in various meetings with elected officials that a great many mistakes are made by those same officials when they assume that the voices they hear are the same as that of local population at large. It is because of this manipulation that elected officials assume that what is before them is the feeling of the local citizenry. But is it?
While I am sure that focus on the pros and cons of the issue would also be interesting, in light of the recent outrage over “possible Russia influence” in our most recent Presidential election, it would seem that this activity is not the exclusive domain of activists at the National level. We have the same problem in our own backyard. Money and activism, a moral dilemma?