Dave Obey to graduates regarding politics: “Only you can change that.”

Former U.S. Congressman Dave Obey at UWSP's May 2015 commencement. Click picture for full address (begins at 47:47 on UWSP's YouTube channel).

Former U.S. Congressman Dave Obey fires up the morning commencement crowd at UWSP’s May 2015 ceremony as Chancellor Bernie Patterson listens. Click on the picture for his full address, which begins at the 39:15 mark (video posted on UWSP’s YouTube channel).

There’s little doubt among supporters of education, and probably most honest supporters of democracy, that we’re in the midst of a very dark period in Wisconsin’s history. The answers to getting out of the dark were laid out to UW-Stevens Point graduates by former Congressman Dave Obey of Wausau at the university’s May 16 commencement.

I’ll have another post addressing Obey’s commencement thoughts tomorrow. His three primary pieces of advice follow below.

“The fact is that money in politics and what has happened with redistricting is making government far more unaccountable than it ought to be in a democracy,” Obey said, citing examples of the 40:1 spending advantage that corporations have leveraged in their Washington lobbying efforts as opposed to unions.  He faulted both Republicans and Democrats on the redistricting issue.

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“About the greatest song ever written about America”

Greatest guitar slogan ever. Click to hear a version lacking the verse on hunger.

When most of our everyday words — lectures, readings, the stuff on meeting agendas — fail to move us, it may be song lyrics that bring us most quickly back to understanding the magical power words possess.  There’s probably no better song to sum up what “Words Are Roads: Yellowstone” is all about than Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

It may be, as the Boss himself has said, “about the greatest song ever written about America.”  Springsteen, in this moving 1985 tribute to the song, knew the simple and elegant lyrics transport us to the plains and seashores and mountains, but also that they address some of the contradictions that keep us from enjoying what should belong, by all rights, to everybody.

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Ed Abbey and his Facebook Voice in the Wilderness

Click the photo to hear a short outtake on democracy from an Abbey talk.  From Eric Temple's Facebook page (see post).

Click the photo to hear a short outtake on democracy from an Abbey talk. From Eric Temple’s Facebook page (see post).

There’s no telling what Ed Abbey would think of a Facebook page in his name, but I was surprised and pleased tonight to run across a wonderful site in his honor, put together by filmmaker Eric Temple, creator of the documentary “Edward Abbey: Voice in the Wilderness.”

(Bonus coincidence: Temple’s web site has a highway sign in its masthead, so how could I not post a link to it?)

When we’re traveling down the Yellowstone Trail in 2016, it’s going to be a real pleasure to discuss Abbey’s “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks,” a rant about roads in national parks, among other things.  It will also, of course, do the thing that good reading often does: provoke squeamishishness about the very actions we’re participating in.

To the extent that we are merely employees and dependents, we are helots or slaves ruled by an oligarchy of techno-military-industrial administrators. Never before in history have slaves been so well fed, well medicated and lavishly entertained, but we are slaves nevertheless. Our popular culture — television, rock music, home video, processed food, mechanical recreation, plastic architecture — is a culture of slaves.   Edward Abbey (link on picture)

Abbey was a caustic critic of exploitation of the natural world, but his polemic also recognized the difficulties and contradictions inherent in simply getting to and trying to enjoy that world.  We will, after all, need to burn fossil fuels to get where we’re going and back in two weeks, which is just the start of all the actions we should probably examine more critically.

The industrial tourism piece, in the classic memoir Desert Solitaire, will be a great way to remind students of the Words Are Roads Party of our big class question: how do we reconcile our desire to protect and enjoy nature with our need for economic development?

In the meantime, I have linked above and included a few words from a recorded address Abbey gave on democracy. I don’t agree with all of his ideas, as many people won’t, but there’s lots worth considering.  His thoughts seem particularly relevant at this time, when many on our home campus are considering our roles in a political economy that seems bent on controlling education in terribly destructive ways. If we could just find ol’ Cactus Ed’s grave, we might see him rolling over in it.