The war isn’t over, but winning the battle feels good

The past two days have been some big ones here out West River. I suppose, when you’re involved in David-and-Goliath fights like we (constantly) are, pretty much every day is a big one. It can be rough, when you’re in the heat of the struggle, and Goliath seems so big he could win despite all your work and all your heart and all the logic and reasons he shouldn’t. But then something happens, and Goliath stumbles; and in that moment there is a glimpse of the better world that will come after. The days you get that glimpse – those are really, really big days.

Monday night the Rapid City Common Council passed a resolution 9-1 expressing their “grave concern” about the proposed in situ uranium mine down in the southern Black Hills (you can see an earlier version here; the only change is that rather than oppose it, they expressed their grave concern about it). It was, for me, one of the most rewarding experiences I have had since we got involved in the uranium issue. I know that is also true for many of the people who were there that night, people who have been fighting to protect these hills for a very, very long time.

Our gratitude to the city council is immense. They did something no other governmental body in South Dakota has yet done in this process: genuinely looked at the facts, not simply taken lobbyists and hired men for their word, and acted to protect people, water, industry, and land. Our state legislature failed greatly when they took our state monitoring ability away a couple years ago, and they did so at the admitted bidding of Powertech. They didn’t ask questions then, and a majority are still declining to do so – though that tide is also beginning to turn. Because, you see, you can only tell lies for so long when there are people on the other side shouting the truth from the rooftops. Or from the grassroots, as it is in this case. The Rapid City Common Council is closest to the people, and has been the first to listen to those people. They will not be the last.

On top of that, yesterday the Legislative Rules Review Committee declined to approve extremely poorly written raw milk rules. It was one of the most tense and stressful hearings I’ve been in for quite some time, and it was not clear the rules would be sent back to the Department of Agriculture until the very end of a very long conversation. And it was extraordinarily frustrating to have to sit and listen to half-truths being told as if that were good enough (I’ll have a great deal more to say about this tomorrow). In the end there was enough confusion about what was new and what wasn’t, and the lack of information presented by the Department about the impact on small businesses (the only businesses providing raw milk in this state), and the committee sent the rules back.

This is definitely a win of the battle, not the war. But we have some time. And our hope is we can stop battling with the Department of Agriculture and actually start talking with them, something the nature of a rules writing process just doesn’t allow. Our farmers are weary and tired of going to hearings. There is a long-term solution to these issues, but as long as the rules on the table keep being pushed, we aren’t going to be able to get to that solution.

At both the city council meeting and the rules review committee, all it took was a look around the room to give me hope that we will continue winning. I find wherever I go in my work here at Dakota Rural Action I am surrounded by, in my opinion, some of the best people on this planet. They say you know the quality of a person by looking at their friends, and I think you know the quality of an issue by looking at the people who support it. There are people of immeasurable quality working on these issues. My hat is off to all of you. And though I know the road will be rough and long, I look forward to walking it with all of you.


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