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  • Writer's pictureNora Koch

My Experience with Activists

My first interaction with activists was around 1987, filmed by a TV crew, participating in a flotilla of canoes protesting mining outside Ladysmith, Wisconsin. We were, floating down the Flambeau River on a Sunday morning when people were in church. Comments from the activists centered around the people of the community not caring about the environment. It seemed to me, if they really wanted to win the community to the fight, they would have found another time, other than Sunday morning to schedule a protest. I loved the people who had led the protest. I was against mining, but told them if they had another protest on a Sunday morning, I would not participate.

Nearly ten years later, I was flattered to be asked to head a community meeting in response to a proposed factory farm about two miles from where I lived. I was opposed to factory farms, having been raised on a small family farm and knowing the intrinsic value of the life we lived, now all but gone from the landscape. At that time there was still a remnant of small family farming still going on, but I digress. . . .

When I showed up at the Town Hall, I soon realized that I had been asked into the role of leader so that I could displace someone much more prepared than I, but perceived as less progressive than I. At one meeting, activists from Madison showed up to help us plot our strategy; they made me nervous. They had nothing invested in our community, it seemed to me they were there primarily because they enjoyed agitating, and they wanted to win, whatever the cause. I remained involved in the group working on the newsletter and attending meetings, but stepped away from leadership. I attended public hearings, during one I read the account of the return to the shire from Lord of the Rings (sadly left out of the movie – it is a very important part of the story), to try to get across what these behemoths did to communities. I did not have scientific facts to contribute, just my life and this passage.

There was debate over the issue on Minnesota Public Radio, ironic, since this was in Wisconsin, but being so far from Madison, we failed to register as a blip on the capital’s radar. During the call-in, a person posing as an innocent local made political points. I knew her, knew she was disingenuous in this pose; she was not a local, but a political transplant. After that I declined to be involved in the fight because it was more political than anything else. I could see how even then back in the 1990s, it was driving a wedge between community members.

In the end, the factory farm did not go in. The activists cheered a resounding victory, but failed to mention that it was not they, but the rock below the proposed site that put an end to it. The official State Geological survey, which would be done for any such proposed large farm was what stopped it from going in. The activists had nothing to do with it, but they did have a lot to do with dividing the community.

My most recent experience with activism was really not my experience, but my sister's; a reluctant activist, who along with others from her community with whom she disagreed politically, was able to put a stop to mining of sand used for fracking, by imposing new regulations in their community. This is the kind of activism I applaud, but which is rare. It was a coming together of like-minded people of diverse ideology over a shared concern for their community.

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