I sat down next to him, not sure what would come next. He couldn't hide the smirk. It appeared on his face like the head on a freshly poured beer - it was not negotiable. He clearly thought this would be fun, and his cronies would eat me alive. He'd always appeared the type that liked feasting on dead carcas, I thought to myself.
Jon Marvel intimidated me. But he challenged me too. I enjoyed his company in social settings. Mostly because he was quick, and sarcastic. He'd jab me for wanting to create peace and solutions. He had only a few goals, concrete ones. They were easy to point to, like getting cows off public land. The very real outcomes of this goal, like destroying open space, local economies, and generations of tradition were just incidentals. They were simply the unfortunate consequences of achieving a larger, and much loftier, goal. Mine were obscure and vague, but worthy.
I wanted answers to come from the hearts of people and the knowledge we gathered together. Ending grazing on public land was not the issue, not really. It was the seemingly violent way in which they were doing it. Plus, what if cows on public land was actually a good thing? What if cows weren't the problem, and people were?
After I sat down, I noticed the man sitting across from me was eyeing Marvel and I, yet didn't seem interested in conversation. My nature is to engage people in dialogue, particularly at this spiritual restreat in which the intention was to come together in community, with our diverse worldviews set aside. I asked him what his role was here, and where his passion for the environment was focused. His answer was brief and honest. "I sue the government for a living," he said.
I was speechless, dumbfounded actually. Not exactly sure what to say to this almost hostile answer - only because he sounded so arrogantly proud of himself - I asked, "Why would you feel so good about that? Is it rewarding?"
"I don't know," he replied. "It's a living and someone has to do it. I get a kick out of actually. It's rather fun."
It was clear these people were so angry at those who managed land, particularly public land, and believed this was only effective way they could make a difference. I was seated with environmental warriors, not activists. They were different than the guy from the Sierra Club that used to come my door when I lived in Greenwich Village or on Capitol Hill in the nation's Capitol. Those guys felt like they were doing something benevolent. Something that would help us all. These guys were the environmental military, clear that revenge and slaughter was the answer. I wondered if they were on the other side if they'd bomb abortion clinics.
He made me nervous. Not because I felt in danger, but because this particular form of activism came from a place I didn't recognize. It was so vengeful and hateful that I wasn't sure they were even worth talking to. But I rambled on anyway.
It wasn't until years later that I recognized this same energy in another human cluster. It was in people of the Christian right. They had the same spirit about them, especially when they talked politics or discussed other issues they deemed opposed to God or the Bible. I was often baffled how they arrived at that conclusion. More often than not, their 'issues' weren't anything I'd read about in any Bible during the time I studied it. Homosexuality, abortion, helping the poor, universal health care. None of these issues were discussed as actions that opposed God. Certainly abortion raises a red flag because it is ending life, which would fit into the Thou Shalt Not Kill category, and I could dismiss that one. But the others made little sense to me - simply because each one seemed subjective as it relates to culture, time, community, and circumstances.
Where was the spirit of good in all this? Where was the desire or intent to find what works, and make it work for everyone? This didn't feel like democracy in the way that I'd interpreted it. It felt more like a power struggle. A power struggle and a desire to find solutions are worlds apart in intent. One is looking for the best possible outcome for all people, while the other is only attached to being right, committed to keeping the ego alive and kicking.