Editor’s note: Steve Frisch put some thought into this issue, and addressed it here. The issue of debate was our community being a place where “extremist” mindsets exist — not that it was extremist. I suspect we are about a generation away from some significant change on this front — but now, we’re right in the thick of it.
To me this is the heart of it: “What is different about western Nevada County is that certain people have adopted a philosophy of ‘divide and conquer’ and have used divisiveness to hold and maintain political power.” BTW, many people who work in our region — in government, business and the like — make similar observations. Though land use has been the historical battleground, it has now moved to other areas, including fire prevention and our public schools. Here’s Steve’s citations:
Hmmm…this issue of ‘how extreme’ western Nevada County? is an interesting one.
I travel the Sierra Nevada and at times the intermountain west and work in many communities. I would characterize western Nevada County as a place with ‘extremist’ mindsets, but not really extremist. I mean really, in the end we are all Americans, and to us ‘extreme’ is unpleasantness; compared to most of the world where extreme means death.
I actually think this mindset is more a refection of Nevada County’s unique history.
From gold rush to beat rush to white flight Nevada County has attracted a certain type of person. From rugged individualists who committed genocide against native populations, to the post-beat generation tired of summers of love looking for a place to settle and live the life they profess, to refugees from urban environments who saw a changing America and choose not to deal with it on their Orange County or Simi Valley turf, we attracted those who leave other places for perceived greener pastures. And in doing so Nevada County became a microcosm of a changing America that many people are simply very uncomfortable with.
I am not alone in this analysis; one has only to look to the great book by Nevada County native Tim Duane, Shaping the Sierra, or the work of Patrick Hurley and Peter Walker, Whose Vision? Conspiracy Theory and Land Use Planning in Nevada County California, to see that sociologists and social geographers would tend to agree.
What is different about western Nevada County is that certain people have adopted a philosophy of ‘divide and conquer’ and have used divisiveness to hold and maintain political power.
This strategy gained traction during the General Plan debate of the early 1990s and has turned western Nevada County politics into a bruising, winner take all, ideological battle, that retards community development and discourages cooperation.
Consider this quote from Tim Duane’s book re the 1995 General Plan:
“The Cold War may be over between the United States and the now defunct Soviet Union, but the battle for freedom and democracy continues for Juvinall in the Sierra Nevada foothills. “The eco-socialists are part of a larger movement,” he says, “which includes the environmental movement, that has attempted to destroy the principle of individual rights. The policies enacted by these earth worshipers are enmeshed in every aspect of our lives. Over time it becomes easier to control citizens through higher taxes, fees, assessments and other exactions.” He then quotes from an article in Ecosocialist Review that calls for people to “identify themselves as planetary citizens,” adding that when you identify yourself as a planetary citizen, you must give up your national identity along with the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.” Juvinall then puts a conspiratorial spin on the relationship between local land use planning, the planetary “socialist agenda” and the complete loss of individual rights. “These attempts at planetizing us are being accomplished through the land use process. They know that local government is the easiest place to accomplish their agenda. Using ‘greedy developer’ large landowners, and the desire for open space and wildlife as their springboard they hope to convince us to become planetary citizens. Local general plans, bio-regional plans, regional governance (with attendant regional planning) become justified mechanisms to them because they are not concerned about individuals. ”
Later in Tim Duane’s book he describes a repartee between Peter Van Zant, Dale Creighton and Todd Juvinall during the debate over approval of the General Plan:
“This is not an ideological battleground,” said Peter Van Zant. “What I urge you to do is turn out a good plan.”
Dale Creighton disagreed, “I have to disagree with Mr. Van Zant that this is not an ideological battle,” said Creighton, “It has always been an ideological battleground.”
To which Mr. Juvinall replied, “This is an ideological battleground, it has been since the beginning.”
Now how could one argue with that? You are either a patriotic American or you are a socialist pariah.
I can personally attest to the fact that as far as politics is concerned Nevada County is really not any more extreme in the modern political sense than most of our region is. The same political threads exist in counties like Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Inyo, Plumas, Sierra, and other Sierran counties, where the same conspiracy theory canards come out in debates about social issues, the role of government, and public lands management.
I think the same ideas proliferate in rural America in general, and it represents a divide in our country being stoked for political gain. Like ‘the southern strategy’ was intentionally adopted by Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon to maintain political advantage, there is a ‘rural strategy’ (coupled with an urban dis-enfranchisement strategy) being advanced to maintain power in the face of America’s changing demographic. How conscious is questionable, since there is no smoking gun to point to, like the interview regarding the ‘southern strategy’ that Nixon aide Kevin Phillips provided to the New York Times in 1970:
“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
This is how fear is harnessed to hold political power. In the supermarket, on the ball field, in crises, we are all friends. The difference about western Nevada County is that on public policy issues it becomes an intensely personal battle to the death, the debate gets framed by some people as a battle for the very soul of America, and people get characterized as either “good’ or “evil”, then are made to pay a price for their beliefs. We perpetuate a politics of fear. And when we play into it by fearing or hating our ‘opponents’ we empower them to wield fear as a weapon.
Make no mistake about it, that attitude is a choice.
The politics of fear is a tricky thing. It works for a while but it is, as Dennis pointed out, a poison, and like poison it either kills you or you reject it. It seems to me that satisfaction comes from rejecting the poison and doing ones best to do good for the short time you are here. For the handlers of poison eventually it builds up in the system and clouds your vision of the world, blocking out all of the beauty we are blessed with.