For decades, voting for the lesser evil has been normal. Northeastern Minnesota’s DFL, however, was and has always appeared the last bastion for ordinary people’s needs. In many ways, that remains true, but in others is now so utterly destructive that to vote for them is to destroy the very place we live.
The peculiar history of Northeastern Minnesota and the Range in particular has, after five generations, made destroying the communities and the natural world the norm. While southern Minnesota was first to be destroyed, settlement was dominated by agriculture and by its very essence, was very different than the ecocide of the north. The north was not settled at first; after the conquest, native lands were legally stolen and turned over to land speculators and railroad men. The first exploitative assault was to denude the forests of its most ecologically and financially valuable timber; the forests were not “cleared”, but instead demolished. Hapless American and European peasants were shipped in, railroads built, the finest timber removed, and the land covered with the remaining debris. Genocide and the catastrophic Hinckley and Cloquet fires were the first children of the rape; the second were the mineral prospectors. In the brute exploitation of both human and nature that was 19th-century capitalism, gold wasn’t found, but iron ore was. I will not glorify the destructive history of earlier times, for the history sits all around us in a demolished landscape, tainted water and desperate communities.
This history, however, is glorified and built into banal monuments honoring destruction; these show how the extreme becomes the normal and the thinking of the exploiter becomes the thinking of the exploited. And this is where I need to break with those I used to support.
Recently, Range Dfler’s joined the state’s Republicans in rewriting the state’s environmental review rules. The complaints justifying the need all spoke of timeliness and jobs, but none dealt with the actual results. They added their own special privilege: Any Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) project is exempt from the environmental review process.. In short, the public is now forced to hand over land, cash and profits to private investors, many of them foreign, in hopes that several hundred desperate people might hopefully be employed for 20 years. The chant is always “jobs” and “community” while two concepts are never mentioned; the mysterious word “profits” and the always-ignored fact that any community built solely for exploiting a finite resource is doomed from the very beginning. That the Range DFLer’s don’t recognize this shows they are now as much of the problem as the former land barons and “iron men” now honored in ridiculous murals and statues. Now, as part of the local elite, they assist the destroyers with endless subsidies: the DNR’s mineral research, infrastructure funding, education, and finally, handing over our land, water and the very resources we sit on.
The Range’s problems are complex yet simply defined: The communities, despite any booster’s glorifications, are graveyards next to wastelands. The communities and employees are trapped in the hapless modern equivalent of the company town. Their incomes and lives are bound to the corporations; that they are comparatively well paid only leads to more co-option. The endless supply of over-size trucks, ATV’s and bound mortgages colors the thinking of everyone. It is buried so deep within the mindset it is never mentioned; it is as if saying “the sky is blue”. The desperation that is the modern United States surrounds us; we work for corporate investors so we can pay debts to corporate investors so we can buy plastic toys from corporate investors who use slave labor to build them overseas. This, of course, is called the zenith of civilization.
In a rational world, albeit imaginary, we might ask of ourselves “We have this resource, perhaps of wealth, perhaps of trouble, but what do we do with it and how will it benefit us?” What do we charge the corporation for exploiting our land? What do we get in return? What will be left? How do we assure our grandchildren will still want to or be able to live here?
This is, here and now, not the case.
The mining laws of Minnesota, like most dealing with “Natural Resources,” set the state's role as promoter of exploitation, or more truly, the mother of destruction. We pay for research, we pay for infrastructure, we pay for what little of reclamation occurs and then we finally pay for destroyed communities and dysfunctional lives left over when the profit takers “downsize” or walk away. No matter what, it's a temporary fix and a devil's bargain.
The two communities most affected by the Polymet project have problems deriving from their very origins: They were both built specifically for mining only. Standing at road’s end, miles from anything, surrounded by a destroyed landscape or forest, they are mere outposts. The project’s proponents want to resolve this by destroying more public forest for private profit, supported by countless subsidies, in exchange that a few will get paid for 20 years. Their aim, of course, is to start more projects on the same ore bodies, to destroy more land, to destroy more water, all at public expense for private profit.
When I think of where I'm from, I think of the earliest labor organizers, some of whom I met and knew. Despite their so-called ignorance, they knew one fundamental fact: The owners were exploiters, and nothing more. They were not our friends, and not to be trusted. They would sacrifice anything , including their worker's lives for a few dollars more profit. Fortunately, and unfortunately, the labor fights and unions brought us better conditions and a share of the profits., but they also co-opted us. Now, many are slaves bought and paid for, their lives a collection of mortgages, four-wheel drive trucks and other toys. Like Orwell's well trained dog, they roll over without the masters watching. Anyone who questions the constant cycle of destruction and subsidy is labeled treehugger.
To end, there is one question that needs to be answered by those arguing for any extraction project: What will be left when it's done? Until the Range DFL answers that question, they are nothing more than puppets who want to sweep the crumbs off the table to the public's mouths.
Considering the results we see now, with emptying communities, rampant social problems and addiction, aging infrastructure we can't afford and environmental destruction all around us, the experiment's results are obvious; we simply need a better way.