Tuesday, November 14, 2023

#318 / Pawns

My friend Trudy Wischemann hails from Lindsay, California. She writes a weekly newspaper column that she calls "Notes From Home." Wischemann's columns appear, regularly, in the Sun-Gazette and the Mid Valley Times. Both of these newspapers serve communities in Tulare County, which is located south of Fresno and north of Bakersfield, deep in California's Central Valley. One of Wischemann's recent columns was titled, "Pawns," and clicking that link should let you read it. At the end of her column, Wischemann identifies herself as a "natural-born populist who now hates chess."

I became acquainted with Wischemann because she is intersted in the possible reform of California water law, currently oriented to benefit and serve the interests of large corporate landowners. In many cases, water districts in the Central Valley - public agencies, whose policies and decisions affect communities that tens of thousands of Californians call "home" - are structured in a way that allows only landowners to vote for those who run these vital public agencies, thus disenfranchising non-landowner citizens who reside in the districts. This means, as a practical matter, that the elected officials so selected will then be making decisions that radically affect the lives of everyone who lives in the community served by the water district - but who don't get to vote for those making these decisions.* 

We have a history of "self-government" in this country. It's often called, "democracy." The water districts to which Wischemann has turned her attention are on the polar opposite side of democratic self-government. It is fair to say that the consequences of these undemocratic voting provisions are not good for all the non-landowners who don't get to vote.

Wischemann's column on "Pawns" is not, specifically, about the unfairness and anti-democratic nature of the voting procedures that let only landowners vote for water agency directors when the decisions of those landowner directors will affect everyone. Her column is more general in its statements. Wischemann doesn't want to be a "Pawn" in any way:

We are not pawns, none of us. We are members of communities and the human race, members of the vast universe we sometimes refer to as Creation. When we remember that and maintain our belief in it, even go to bat for it, the game will be over.

Wischemann is certainly right. We are NOT pawns. None of us! But not all of us have realized that fact. We had better figure that out, too. 

While I don't profess to be any kind of an expert in chess, I think it is correct to say that "Pawns" are often the pieces that either win the game, or lose it, for one side or another. There is nothing "insignificant" about the power of those "Pawns." A Pawn can take out a Queen, or a Knight, or a Bishop, or a Castle, and a Pawn can put a King in checkmate.

If we don't want to be treated like Pawns, if we don't want to be "played" as Pawns, and knocked out one by one, then we must, quite simply, refuse to let ourselves be the "Pawns" in someone else's game. Bob Dylan discusses the phenomenon in one of his most powerful, early songs. You can watch him sing it, by clicking the link below, and you can get the lyrics right here.

One by one, it is pretty easy to take us out. Our power comes from organized, cooperative effort. When the "Pawns" get together they're not "Pawns" anymore. Getting together is the key. 

Some of us call that "politics." 

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*After this blog post was published, Ms. Wischemann let me know that her primary interest in water law reform is not the “property qualification” for voters, but the “property-weighted” voting provision under the California Water District Act of 1913. Under this provision even agricultural landowners are disenfranchised, as well as non-farm residents, landowners and tenants alike. She will be explaining her concerns in an upcoming column, “Two Cracks,” which will be online sometime soon at www.thesungazette.com/articles/opinion.

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