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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Making the U.S. work takes all of us

Betty Firth
Posted 3/16/23

The northern Minnesota political drama in recent weeks has been compelling. The Ely City Council presented yet another resolution (their 8th or 9th?) in favor of copper sulfide mining. A town hall …

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Making the U.S. work takes all of us


The northern Minnesota political drama in recent weeks has been compelling. The Ely City Council presented yet another resolution (their 8th or 9th?) in favor of copper sulfide mining. A town hall meeting hosted by our District 3A Rep. Roger Skraba and cohosted by Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, of Little Falls was held at the senior center. And on Saturday, March 11, a Zoom call was held with District 3 Sen. Grant Hauschild and over 20 interested citizens. All are fine examples of democracy in action, giving citizens an opportunity to interact with elected officials. Close to 200 people turned out to do just that.
Every single one of us probably had ten other things we could have chosen to do, but for varied reasons, we chose to show up with our questions, concerns, appreciations, requests, and ideas. The city council meeting offered small town theater with locked-in attitudes standing up to each other. A councilor with 29 years of service under his belt lost his cool in an emotional tirade against “all you people who keep showing up every time we have a resolution on mining,” also implying that we had imported outsiders from the Twin Cities, which was just a figment of his indignant imagination. My mental reaction was, “I can guarantee you that if you quit proposing resolutions about copper sulfide mining, over which you have no authority nor jurisdiction, we’ll quit showing up to protest them.” I also have felt that the none of the city councilors in the last 15 years have bothered to learn the real facts about copper sulfide mining, so we continue to provide them with that education. We have invited them repeatedly over the years to visit the well-researched exhibits of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Water, and I think it’s safe to say that most of them never set foot in the building.
Concerned people from the townships around Ely were once again castigated for daring to show up and speak up. On some issues, it feels like we all know our lines and we show up to deliver them. Those of us who have worked for years on the copper mining issue are not surprised with the unanimous votes by the council. This time we were in for a pleasant surprise when the newest and youngest councilor, Adam Bisbee, voted “no” to represent those of us in Ely who were opposed. He did not feel that a prearranged unanimity serves the good of the community.
I imagine the councilors were also surprised by the numbers of young citizens who showed up with a willingness to not just appear, but also to speak their truth about the unwelcome attitude they were encountering and the lack of transparency in council meetings and committee agendas. All of us like to snuggle down into our positions where we are comfortable, sometimes longing for at least some things to stay the same, but Ely continues to change, as it always has. Currently, there is an influx of younger people who are paying attention, who want to make a difference in the world, who have fresh energy and good ideas, who are willing to get involved, and who will outlive us all. So, get used to it and rejoice, for they are the ones who will keep Ely vibrant.
The town hall meeting was another bit of dramatic democracy. The meeting was advertised with a focus on gun sanctuaries, aka Second Amendment sanctuaries, which refers to localities, counties, or states that have adopted resolutions or laws to prohibit enforcement of certain gun control measures perceived as violating the Second Amendment. These include universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The attacks on state gun safety laws across the country are being coordinated by the gun lobby and gun rights extremists. Sen. Wesenberg caused offense when he dominated the meeting initially with his pro-gun agenda, employing blatant lies and name-calling, rudely talking over Rep. Skraba and others attempting to speak, until he was convinced to leave the “stage.” I personally also find offensive the use of the term “sanctuary” in reference to law-breaking for guns. Everyone else was generally passionate but civil, and people listened respectfully, with lots of head-nodding, to a retired civics teacher who explained aspects of the constitution along with the need for more education about civics and the constitution in the schools and the legislature.
What mystifies me is why gun proponents can believe the lie that “they’re gonna’ get your guns” when no one has ever threatened the use of appropriate guns for hunting or protection. It is, of course, fear-mongering to get people riled up. Can anyone really argue that they think it’s reasonable for individuals to have weapons of war that can kill 40 people in a less than a minute? I think everyone in that room has a heart that breaks when they hear more children have been killed in a mass shooting. In the first 60 days of 2023, there were 100 mass shootings, defined as leaving four or more people dead. I had once read that in countries with strict gun laws and much lower crime rates, when a child is killed, the whole country knows that child’s name, mourns them, and does not quickly forget. I asked the crowd if anyone could name one child killed in the last school shooting. No one could, including me. We have to stop normalizing violence.
In his Zoom call, Sen. Hauschild said his experience in his first Senate session has been mind-blowing. It has been described as unlike any other session in the history of the legislature. He sees senators who were prepared and ready to get things done, who probably had been frustrated when Republicans were obstinately blocking any progress for so long. Now with a Democratic trifecta, House, Senate, and Governor, they are accomplishing a lot. Reproductive rights have been codified into statute, drivers’ licenses for all, including immigrants, was passed, opposed by Republicans even though it always had bipartisan support in the past. Also passed were voting rights (with some restrictions) for felons, which reduces recidivism, and the 100 percent energy bill with the goal of carbon neutrality by 2040. Keep your ears open for much more coming up. The Zoom call gave us an opportunity to celebrate the Democrats’ creation and passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, the American Rescue Plan, and the Infrastructure Plan, which bring many benefits to our country and local communities.
Participants brought information and concerns about mental health for kids, continued work on Hwy. 169, nursing homes, support for small farmers, and the gun safety laws. One participant mentioned that the United States has 26 times the mass shootings as other countries, urging the Senator to support the gun regulations.
The word sanctuary means a place of refuge or safety for those that need it, often provided by churches and in private homes for those being persecuted, such as immigrants fleeing dictatorships and war-torn countries. Communities have named their towns sanctuaries for those needing a welcoming haven. We may provide sanctuary for friends or relatives who need a safe place to rest and recover from collisions with the world. Nature sanctuaries provide safety for birds, plants, and animals that otherwise would be endangered. This is not a word that should be used for guns and people who want to ignore and break the gun safety laws.
An excerpt from Carrie Newcomer’s song “Sanctuary” expresses the essence: “Will you be my refuge, my haven in the storm? Will you keep the embers warm when my fire’s all but gone? Be my sanctuary till I can carry on?”