Vacation diary from cowboy and Indian country


I am back on my three favorite lists after an extended trip across the country with my wife, Karen. We visited 16 states, 7 national parks, 4 national monuments, and numerous scenic byways, staying mainly in small towns with cheap motels. We paid from 97 cents to $1.66 a gallon for gas and from $26 to $49 for a motel room. In Pacific Grove, California, a pretty town right on the ocean and next to Monterrey, I had to be on a radio show in Cleveland. The motel room had no telephone so I had to use a pay phone at 4:30 A.M. to do the interview. I could hear the roar of the ocean while I was talking! I segued into the interview by mentioning the nearby Steinbeck museum and my stint as a staffperson for the UFW in 1977.

While traveling, a number of things crossed my mind which may be of interest to list members. I mention them in no particular order:

1. Despite the many years of environmental despoliation, there are many wonderful things to see in the U.S. I t struck me very clearly that what is left must be preserved and that those who are laying their lives on the line to do this deserve our strong support. Of course, it is necessary to combat some of the mainstream environmental groups who cannot see the connection between capital accumulation and environmental degradation and to make this obvious connection whenever we can. At the same time, it is necessary to combat the rather stupid notion that environmentalism is hostile to workers. It is the destruction of our streams and forests and mountains that is antagonistic to the well-being of workers, and, in fact, workers are exploited as the environment is destroyed. We could support every worker displaced by efforts to stop destroying the world with just a part of the money we are now using to destroy Yugoslavia (and degrading its environment for hundreds of years to come).

2. There are many engineering marvels to be seen, from the Hoover Dam to Route 70 in Colorado. We should not denigrate technology in some foolish effort to emulate the supposedly pristine cultures of the past. Instead we should strive to radically alter the social relationships which dictate that technology develop in anti-social ways. Even cars can be much less polluting, although there is no doubt that railroads and public transportation must be much improved and auto and truck traffic curtailed. It filled me with pleasure to see the trains crossing the great deserts of the west, traversing the horseshoe curve in Tahachapi, California, and chugging alongside the mountains next to the Colorado river.

3. Despite increasing commercialism, our national parks an monuments are quite remarkable. They show the necessity of an activist government committed to doing things beneficial to the people. I kept thinking that governments should concern themselves with these things and make sure that everyone gets to see them. Also, the great programs of the 1930s, especially the Civilian Conservation Corps, are everywhere in evidence in the parks and monuments, dams and highways, roadside stops, and post offices. I wish I could take every rightwing anti-government jerk in the country to see the work of the unemployed in the Great Depression and ask them what is wrong with people doing this very socially useful work.

4. It struck me with the greatest clarity during a couple of days in Navaho country that the struggle for autonomy on the part of Indians is an anti-imperialist struggle which we must support. There are a million acres of land at least somewhat removed from direct capitalist exploitation in the Navaho nation, and isn't the removal of the means of production from capitalist control what our struggle is all about? Surely the struggle of Indians to control land is a progressive struggle. Naturally we must not support corrupt and coopted Indians, but where Indians have forged or are trying to forge noncapitalist production and distribution, we must ally ourselves with them. In this connection, I want to urge everyone who can to visit the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "shay") in Northeast Arizona. This is a national monument stewarded by the Navaho and one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. Extremely steep canyon walls surround a valley in which Navaho still live and farm as they have been doing (of course, not exactly the same) for over a thousand years. At some of the overlooks you can see Anasazi ruins, and at one you can see the site where Spaniards slaughtered women, children, and the elderly on a cliff ledge ( I wonder if this would have been noted if it had been a massacre by the U.S. Army?).

5. We noticed the ubiquity of religious and right-wing radio talk shows across the country. (I must say that Utah is a strange state, so beautiful but controlled by religious zealots. We were freaked out in a restaurant when a group of Mormons started talking about laying hands on someone. Plus it is very difficult to buy a drink, not a good thing for me! In a small restaurant in Blanding Utah ( a totally appropriate name!), some German tourist were baffled when the waitress told them that only nonalcoholic beer was served.) If I hear one more time that we must pray after one of these school shootings, I will throw up. On the political shows, hatred of Clinton is palpable as is opposition to the war in Yugoslavia, though not for particularly progressive reasons. I am convinced that Clinton's popularity is really pretty shallow, and he probably agreed to allow a political settlement of the war because the polls shoed his popularity is slipping. At the same time these folks are pretty screwed up and ignorant and it would not be a good idea for leftists to ally themselves with them just because they are opposed to some of the things we are.

In solidarity,

Michael Yates