The land of Dixie?!?!
Hello all. And again, it’s been a while since I updated you on my Civil Conversations activities. When I first envisioned this series I anticipated a story every 6 or 8 weeks and now it’s been May since we last published a story. This ‘investigative story-telling’ is a much longer process than I ever envisioned. Partly my learning curve. Partly my ignorance of the process.
You may recall I spent several months going back and forth to Denver. I did talk to quite a few people, but the main character is undergoing cancer treatment that leaves her feeling sick and awful. So that project is on hold until at least January when her treatments will have ended and we can talk.
You may also recall that in September and October I headed out on a major road trip that took me to Wyoming (who buys Confederate flags?), Montana (What was a monument to the Confederacy doing so far from Dixie and who gets to craft who gets to live in a place anyway?), and the Bay area (The Port Chicago Naval ShipYard explosion, environmental injustice, and a school district's strange name) for about five weeks and covered almost 4,500 miles. The more stories that I chase and the more people that I talk to, the more stories come my way. So I honestly have no idea when this all may end. At some point High Country News will say, “Enough”. But it is doubtful that I’ll feel we’ve done ‘enough’ at the same time that HCN does. So we’ll see where all this goes when we reach that point. I definitely miss being fully retired with an occasional wildland fire to give me a little play money. But we’re at a dangerous crossroads here in this country that can’t just be ignored in the hope that the turmoil and the hate will simply go away. The popular social platform Reddit has ‘subreddit’ hate groups with names like ‘coontown’, ‘beating women’, and my personal favorite…‘watchniggersdie’. Reddit’s largest hate mongering group is named simply ‘The_Donald’ and of some 1.2 million Reddit subgroups, ‘The_Donald” is ranked the 153rd most popular group. I can’t wrap my head around what that says about this country.
The Southern Poverty Law Center counts 984 active hate groups, up from 784 as the 2016 election was heating up, and up from 602 in 2000. The SPLC also estimates that each year some quarter of a million people suffer a hate crime with 9 out of 10 incidences being violent. And the on-going attempts to restrict voting from minority communities across the country is stunning, blatant, and wildly disturbing. So yeah…there’s work that needs to be done.
At any rate, of the two stories that I’ve published so far, the primary feedback that I have received is that they were interesting, but too short. People wanted to know more about not only the places and the backstory, but the people involved. It has always been my intention to elaborate on these stories in book form and to that end I have been talking with the University of Washington Press. But Before we can negotiate in earnest, I owe them a couple of full-length chapters. I have hopes that the long version of my next stories – i.e. the versions that I initially submit to HCN and that Paul, my HCN editor cuts way back (you reading this, Paul?), will come close to sufficing as chapters.
I have completed another story that Paul suggested - why we got into this project and how it has affected me/what I have learned so far. But we’re going to wait to publish it until we have another more traditional story in print.
My recent road trip exposed me to a lot of potential stories. The one that I am currently focusing on involves the Dixie School District in northern Marin County. Yeah…Dixie…Marin…Don’t ask! There has been a dialogue going on there for more than three decades over changing the name to something that does not conjure up images of slavery and the old south.
Where the name came from a hundred and fifty-five years ago is in hot dispute. Some say that the name was intended to reflect the area’s pro-confederacy stance. Other say that the name honored Mary Dixie, a Miwok Indian with a given white name, who lived 140 miles away and who no one seems to know why she was honored or who she even was. The issue seems to be coming to a head and the conversation is decidedly not civil. For me, the story is why is there such opposition to something that seems like it would be an easy no-brainer for the community to get behind.
Anyway, this a complex story and I am hopeful that it will lead to both an awakening and to a much more civil dialogue in Northern Marin County. It should be in the magazine in late January.