This Water is Your Water, This Water is My Water

In researching the battle for stream access in Utah, I kept hearing a tune in my head. Usually the noises in my head are only so distracting, but I finally started audibly humming it until it came to me: Woody Guthrie.

One of the more memorable political moments in our lifetime, was the image of Pete Seeger pushing 90 years old playing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the 2008 Presidential inauguration. A guy who had fought through cops and anti-union goons in the 30s and 40s, and later stood down the McCarthyism that destroyed so many other musicians, actors and artists of the era — was playing the grandest stage in the country. And not coincindetally, he chose the Woody Guthrie classic (written as an answer to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”) “This Land is Your Land”, performing it with Bruce Springsteen. In a later interview with Pete, he mentioned that the only way he would play, is if he could play this song: “with all the verses, even the ones they tried to censor.”

Guthrie’s lyrics which he is referencing begin in the fourth stanza to “This Land is Your Land”, which are often notably omitted from school songbooks.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

I have pretty strong feelings regarding private property and fishing access. My family owns private tidelands in the Puget Sound, one of the few places in the country this is still possible. This land has been in my family since the 1930’s and although we have the right to post it and keep others off, we never have. Why? It’s a beach, it’s connected to the water, and it is the commons of the community. Simple as that.

Given this, I have an especially hard time with access laws in Colorado, Utah and elsewhere that prohibit fisherman from getting to the river, and worse yet, not allowing the fundamental right to enjoy a flowing waterway — whether afoot or in a craft. And although I have heard the genteel arguments of the conservation groups regarding the need to abide by the laws while fighting them in court, I think there comes a time for direct action. With barbed wire cutters.

If there is anything we have learned in the last couple of weeks from the example of Egyptian citizens who have had enough, it is that true power emenates from the people. Just ask Hosni Mubarak tomorrow morning.

I appreciate and support the tacit wisdoms of working the legal channels, but I also personally refuse to abidicate my commonwealth rights as an American citizen, to those who mistakenly think these can be purchased. That mega-ranch owned by Ronald Grump strung with miles of barbed wire retentions for his “agricultural” tax haven? Fish it like it’s hot.

Don’t look back, don’t get caught. But don’t let the richest 1% of landowners in this country take away your rights.

It’s your water, it’s my water.


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