[Editor's Note: This is the first of a multi-part series of articles on the Grant County Commission special meeting addressing the proposal to expand training airspace over the county. This portion gives a brief overview of the pre-session rally outside the venue.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
At a pre-meeting rally, which drew about 200 people to the parking lot in front of the Grant County Administration Center on Nov. 14, 2017, speakers, including Commissioner Harry Browne and Commissioner Alicia Edwards, expressed opposition to the proposal by Holloman Air Force Base to expand its pilot training exercises over the Gila National Forest and Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness areas.
Signs held by those at the rally showed the attendees' displeasure with the proposal.
Browne thanked Nathan Newcomer, Gila grassroots organizer of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance for organizing the rally.
"I imagine we will hear many times tonight from people who support the need for a strong military in general or expanded fighter-pilot training areas in specific, but who think it is inappropriate to send up to 10,000 flights per year over a place established by Congress to provide solitude, to enable humans to find deep connections with nature, and to stand as a cherished remnant of how our world once existed," Browne read from prepared remarks.
"Of course, I don’t disagree with just how inappropriate this proposal is, how damaging it could be to our quality of life and our economy, and how inconsistent it is with declared national priorities," he continued. "But my opposition to this proposal runs deeper than just wanting these increased training flights to happen elsewhere, not here. I oppose this proposal because it reflects a national misunderstanding of what constitutes national security and how we achieve it."
He said he sees a country out of balance, having borrowed from the future to finance wars of the past, present and future. "If we focus on actual national defense instead of projecting power to protect corporate interest and to dominate natural resources, we will have great security at a fraction of the expense. I say No to the Air Forces Alternative 2, which would disrupt our lives and those of the critters with which we share this corner of Earth. And I say NO to Alternative 1, as well." He quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he warned Americans of the emerging threat of the military-industrial complex that would divert increasing funding from the national budget to its narrow purposes.
Edwards read a letter from Sen. Howie Morales, a version of which can be seen at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/editorial/40361-f-16-expansion-plans-will-have-big-impact-on-silver-city-needs-resident-input
She thanked the Lead Air Space Analyst Alan Shafer and his team for coming to Silver City. "Technically, they don't have to be here, but they are."
She continued to talk about the big picture, rather than the flyovers, which had already been discussed. She called for proactive action against "racism, misogyny, violence and poverty in all their forms."
"One march or one rally is not going to be enough," she said. "In fact, we may need to march or rally every week for months or even years to move the needle on this work and to do that, each and every one of us has to step outside our comfort zone and be present in a way we never have been before. And I do mean physically present. Letters can go in the trash and emails deleted. It’s much harder to ignore the crowd of people on your doorstep.
"So what might that movement building look like here in Grant County?" Edwards asked and answered. "We can start by dropping the words them and those from our vocabulary and recognize that we have more in common than not while remembering that divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book. We can have potlucks and invite people we don’t know. We can go places we’ve never been with an open mind and whole heart. We can recognize that we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for immigrants, slaves and genocide. We can remember that more people are afraid of dark corners than not. We can listen with the intent to understand, not reply. We can recognize the value of partnerships between old people with time, money and wisdom and young people with creative, innovative ideas that scare the heck out of us. We can commit to never stop building, educating, organizing, and mobilizing."
She then invited each person to take the neighbor's hand and sing "This Land is Your Land" together.
When it came time for the 6 p.m. session to begin, some people had already chosen to secure seats. Those outside now had to vie for chairs and standing room or sitting on the floor.
The posted capacity of the room is 155, but that number was quickly surpassed. More chairs were brought in, but after the meeting had begun, Silver City Fire Chief Milo Lambert arrived and said he would not chase people out, but that all exits had to be cleared for safety's sake. Those inside complied.
The next article will cover the presentation by Shafer.