Sundance Bookstore on Friday hosted a salon style discussion about protests in Nevada, focused particularly around the conflicts regarding land rights issues. Three panelists were joined by moderator Emily Hobson, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) specializing in radicalism, sexuality, and race in the 20th century United States.
The panel included: Aria Overli, organizer with ACTIONN and specializing in economic justice; Autumn Harry, a recent UNR graduate and Native American who has been a constant voice in Reno’s environmental politics; and John L. Smith, a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist who has worked extensively on the issues between the federal government and the Bundy cattle ranching family.
Overli spoke on issues regarding income and protest explaining how the people who need to be able to protest the most are often the least able to do so. This was best illustrated through a story in which a resident of a weekly motel spoke in front of city council regarding the living conditions of the motel. When the resident retuned to the motel later that day they were threatened with eviction by the motel owner who had watched to city council meeting via livestream. This kind of threat, knowing that they could very well lose what little they have, Overli explained, stops people from being activists.
Harry spoke about the Dann sisters, two Shoshone women who battled with the BLM over grazing cattle and other animals. The conflict was over grazing fees where the BLM claimed that the Dann sisters had failed to pay. The Dann sisters cited the Treaty of Ruby Valley which established, among many other things, that the Shoshone had never surrendered the land to the US government and therefore they did not need to pay fees for using their own land.
Smith spoke in detail about the Bundys and the combination of their Mormonism and the US Constitution which they felt proved they did not need to pay grazing fees. Smith also spoke about the change social media has brought, allowing the Bundys to activate an armed militia from across the country.
One talking point was about the use of weapons in these conflicts. Harry pointed out that the protesters of the Dakota Pipeline remained unarmed but had chemical agents, rubber bullets, and physical force used against them. The Bundys on the other hand equipped themselves with arms to the point where they appeared as a military. While the BLM responded to this by equally arming themselves, they remained at a distance and avoided most conflicts. Smith expressed his great concern over the militarization of both the government agencies and the civilian population.
The three panelists then talked tactics, citing the ups and downs of social media. Smith told the audience a story of an older Montana man who came to Nevada to see the Bundy fight for himself and would live stream twice a day from his phone giving his take, with a likely pro Bundy bias. By the time Smith met the man he said he had accumulated more than 20,000 followers and over 50,000 viewers. Good or bad, Smith explained, getting your voice out has never been easier.
The panel took questions from the audience after the main discussion. One question that inspired discussion was if there was some hypocrisy in people like the Bundys protesting the federal government when in reality they rely on the federal government. Smith answered that in many ways, Dann sisters aside, this was correct. He explained that grazing fees added up to about $1.50 per head of cattle per month and that if the land was privately owned rather than federally they very well could have not been allowed to graze at all.
Many people wanted to talk about the Women’s March, which at the time of the panel would be the next morning. This was not really the subject of the evening but Overli took the questions, explaining that while the march is important it’s also important to note that the women’s marches are often organized by wealthy women who don’t really stand to lose much. She continued that attention needs to be payed to those who really needed to make changes, often by protest, and do stand to lose quite a lot. She continued that creating support groups, including possible legal representation, for these individuals is something the can help change the Reno area.