Ron Strom is commentary editor of WND, a post he took after serving as a news editor since 2000. Prior to coming on board with WND, Strom worked in politics in California. Married and the father of two homeschool graduates, he has served in leadership positions in his church, local nonprofit boards and in county government.More ↓Less ↑
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Thousands of people gathered here yesterday to vent their anger with the federal government and to welcome three out-of-state convoys that rolled into town to show solidarity with the community.
Over 1,400 farm families in the area have struggled to stay afloat this summer after court-ordered directives to ban the release of water from Upper Klamath Lake prevented farmers from irrigating their fields. The rulings were made to benefit three species of fish the federal government has listed as endangered.
The giant bucket is lifted into place in Klamath Falls, Ore.
Dubbed “Freedom Day,” the festivities surrounding the arrival of the convoys drew over 4,000 people from several western states to the downtown Klamath County Government Center. The event, which was put together in only three weeks, followed similar events earlier this year that drew attention to the community’s plight – the Bucket Brigade in May and a symbolic opening of the head gates that control the release of water from the lake on July 4.
Providing security for yesterday’s event was law-enforcement personnel from the Klamath Falls Police Department, the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police. Although some media recently reported that death threats had been made against leaders on both sides of the irrigation dispute, according to Sheriff Tim Evinger, 60 officers were on-duty, just “like for any event, to make sure everyone’s safe.” No disruptions or unlawful conduct seemed to mar the demonstration.
Waiting for the parade of convoys to appear downtown, farmer Joe Watkins expressed his dismay with the water woes of 2001.
“My property values have plummeted to absolutely nothing,” Watkins told WorldNetDaily, “and my quality of life pretty much stinks right now. Without water, we have nothing.”
Local grange activist Mattie Green agreed.
“We’re afraid if we lose [the water] this year, we’ll never get it back,” she said. “We hope the [Endangered Species Act] is amended so we can live with it.”
The Endangered Species Act, or ESA, is a sensitive issue for the farmers involved. Some activists hope the federal government will amend the law to lessen its Draconian effects, while others call for its outright repeal. One of the convoy vehicles sported a sign declaring that ESA stands for “Enfringed Sovereignty Act.” While the sign maker’s spelling is shaky, the message is more than clear.
Scores of horses led the convoy parade. Photo by Sarah Foster.
“The ESA is destroying lives all over the country. It’s got to stop,” stated Steve Washam of Walla Walla, Wash., who had traveled with the convoy from Montana. Washam recently set up a website to provide information about Freedom Day and the convoys.
“I realized how important this is,” he told WND.
Washam echoed the sentiments of many in discussing how unaware many city dwellers are of the connection between farmers’ productivity and the food the urbanites eat every day.
Said Washam, “Folks in the city don’t have a clue.”
Messages on trucks, signs and even clothes demonstrated the strong feelings of the participants. Don Harkins of the Idaho Observer collected several positive comments about his T-shirt. Emblazoned on the back was: “Tyranny Response Team.”
Commented Harkins, “It’s good to see that there are some real Americans left.”
Many of the participants stressed that the situation in the Klamath Basin is but the latest in a string of incidents where citizens have gone head to head with government. In fact, each of the points of origin of the three convoys – Elko, Nev., Kalispell, Mont., and Malibu, Calif. – have had their own run-ins with government over issues of regulatory interference and property rights.
“This is government run amok,” said Lori Eads, who had traveled from Portland, Ore., to show her support for the farmers. “People need to take back their government before we lose all our freedoms.”
Dave Kent expresses his opinion at Freedom Day event.
Industries and businesses other than agriculture have also been hard hit by the lack of water in Klamath Falls. Dave Kent makes his living repairing irrigation pumps.
“There goes my business,” Kent said. His traffic has been done 70 percent since the crisis began.
Digging in for the long haul
The main attraction in the parade was the arrival of a giant 12-foot bucket that had been made in Salt Lake City, Utah, and brought to Klamath Falls by the convoy from Elko. The bucket, which includes an American flag flying from its handle, was lifted from a trailer to the cement at the front of the county building by a large crane. According to event organizer Bill Ransom, the bucket will remain in front of the government edifice until “the battle is won.”
As the bucket was moved into place, the enthusiastic crowd loudly chanted, “Water! Water!”
Activist Bill Oetting rejoices in giant bucket. Photo by Sarah Foster.
“We vow we will keep this battle up until we win it!” Ransom said from a podium in front of the bucket. “Thank you for helping us to say ‘enough is enough.’”
It appears the county has no problem with a steel pail standing guard on government property. All three county commissioners spoke in support of the Freedom Day activities.
Commissioner Steve West was especially hard on the federal government.
“The federal government is being seduced by its own bureaucratic power,” he stated, adding that it was time for the feds to be “part of the solution.”
An American flag flies atop the Klamath bucket.
The pail was transported alongside dozens of shovels left over from the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade in Nevada. Also in the Nevada convoy was the giant shovel that had been a symbol of Jarbidge’s struggle with the government last year.
As one speaker revved up the demonstrators, as if by design, eight large, white pelicans flew in perfect formation over the government center – a natural flyby that elicited approving cheers from the crowd.
The convoys, which ranged in size from five to 10 vehicles at different points on their routes, included semi trucks, pickups and SUVs. Nearly all the vehicles had messages of protest or encouragement painted in their windows.
Generosity from afar
According to event organizer Bill Oetting, the convoys brought a variety of supplies to share with this beleaguered community, including clothes, toys, canned food, melons, fresh corn and bottled water. In addition, convoy participants brought items that were auctioned later in the day, with the proceeds benefiting the farmers.
Oetting, through the Klamath Relief Fund, is in charge of distributing the goods to farm families. Since many “farmers are pretty proud people,” Oetting says his crew will deliver perishables farm by farm, rather than require people to come to a location to pick up the food. Volunteers will then take notice of what each family needs and bring that information to the organization to address at a later date.
A convoy truck delivers a load of hay for Klamath farmers.
“We need to help ourselves out of this,” Oetting said.
In addition to the gifts trucked to Klamath Falls, each convoy collected monetary donations along the way. According to radio talk-show host Roger Fredinburg, some children literally emptied their piggy banks to help the cause.
Said attorney Grant Gerber, organizer of the Shovel Brigade, “It’s shocking how many people want to help.”
At a rally at the Klamath County Fairgrounds in the afternoon, 2,000 participants enjoyed music and more speeches in support of the Klamath community. Vendors sold T-shirts stating, “Let Freedom Ring; Let the Water Flow.” Also available were commemorative buckets and shovels for $20 each.
A common theme of the rally speakers was perseverance, as they vowed to press on with their cause to victory.
Fredinburg quoted from the film “Galaxy Quest,” as he exhorted those assembled to “never give up; never surrender.”
Convoy participants from Idaho. Photo by Sarah Foster.
Even former President Teddy Roosevelt reiterated the theme as an impersonator of the chief executive said, “Never give in; never surrender to tyranny.”
The Roosevelt character also reviewed the history of the 1902 Reclamation Act, which his namesake signed into law. The act gave water rights to the farmers in the Klamath Basin for agricultural homesteading and irrigation. One of the arguments of Klamath farmers is that the federal Bureau of Reclamation violated the Reclamation Act by reallocating water resources for wildlife.
Since the Klamath Falls crisis has become a flashpoint for citizens who feel the federal government is unjustly limiting personal freedom and property rights, to the Freedom Day activists, victory in Klamath would represent a victory for all Americans.
“We are determined that in Klamath, we win!” stated Gerber, whose “we” represented more than just the southern Oregon farmers.
Gerber is determined to raise $20 million for Klamath County. That amount, ironically, is the same figure being talked about in the Bush administration as a relief package for the farmers.
15-year-old Zachary Gerber, son of organizer Grant Gerber. Photo by Sarah Foster.
The show of solidarity was further reinforced as representatives from each convoy addressed the audience at the fairgrounds.
Paul Crosby of the Montana convoy believes the government has an ulterior motive when enforcing environmental regulations.
“[The bureaucrats] don’t care about the sucker fish. … They want your land!” he proclaimed. “We stand with you forever.”
Author and event organizer Holly Swanson agreed.
“It’s about taking control of the land base,” she said. With environmentalism, there is a ‘subversive, socialist agenda” at work, Swanson claimed.
Swanson was pleased with the outpouring of support demonstrated on Freedom Day.
“This is an outstanding show of unity in the community,” she told WorldNetDaily.
The most well-known speaker to address the rally was former Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho. In discussing the event, Chenoweth-Hage drew comparisons with the movie “The Patriot.”
“Freedom was the issue in ‘The Patriot,’” she said, “and freedom is the issue now.”
“America is waking up and saying ‘no,’” Chenoweth-Hage stated.
The former congresswoman quoted the Wall Street Journal in calling the government’s action against the farmers “rural cleansing.”
Coincidentally, Freedom Day occurred in the same week the federal government is planning to shut off the flow of water it authorized to be released last month – 75,000 acre feet of water that provided little help so late in the growing season.
According to Oetting, the battle will continue until next April, when the head gates at Upper Klamath Lake are normally opened for irrigation. The community will be working to achieve a victory by that time.
“If we don’t follow through, we will have let down the nation,” concluded Oetting.
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