Like a good liberal, I care – often about things I don’t know I care about until I’m told I care, or should care. That’s one of the birthmarks of contemporary liberalism, isn’t it? – the capacity to care about people, places and things that, seemingly, have little direct connection to my personal sphere.
For instance, I’m not gay but support the rights of gays to marry. I’m not a woman, but I support a woman’s right to choose. People from other countries who want to live and work in the United States should have legal channels to do so. That sorta thing. All for it. Sign me up.
On second thought, don’t sign me up – apparently, I’m already signed up.
Maybe it was giving to public radio, campaigning for Howard Dean or answering my door to that cutie from the Sierra Club. All I know is I’m on the list – every list – Emily’s, Angie’s, Craig’s, maybe Schindler’s. Not a day goes by without email or snail mail from AlterNet, MoveOn, CommonDreams, Common Cause, Democracy Now!, Air America, Working Assets, Wellstone Action, Activate, the Human Rights Campaign, name your arts group and every politician and candidate for office with a (D) at the end of his name. I get alerts about the latest atrocity to come out of Guantanamo Bay, the genocide in Darfur, voting machine scandals in Ohio, some Republican asshole who made some asshole comment to some asshole on TV whose audience is comprised, chiefly, of assholes.
That’s cool. I’m down, in spirit, for the cause. It is, as they say in the parlance of today’s youth, all good.
The subject line, in today’s dispatch from AlterNet, reads: “Tell Bush: Stop the Slaughter of Our Wolves.” Unless I unwittingly registered while at that peace rally to adopt a wolf, I’m unaware of any belonging to me, let alone to us. Our wolf. Nonetheless, I get it – there are wolves out there, so they must be ours, in that purist liberal dictum declaring every body in nature as connected to every other body in nature. OK, so for the sake of argument, let’s assume there are wolves that are ours.
Apparently, also unknown to me until this email, these wolves – our wolves – are being slaughtered. And here’s the rub – Bush can do something about it. Wolves. Slaughter. Bush. The trifecta. Compelled to see what the fuss is about, I click.
The email opens with a note from Don Hazen, AlterNet’s editor:
“Did you know that Alaskan gray wolves are being gunned down from airplanes carrying state-licensed marksmen?”
Well, naturally, as part of my everyday, waking life, I’d actively considered the plight of wolves. Someone had to be gunning them down somewhere, right? But never in my most cynical thoughts did I imagine the victims were wolves of the Alaskan gray variety. (You know – the white, furry, majestic wolves with the black stripes running over their noses. Not the nappy, scrungy, dust-colored wolves nobody cares about). Certainly not by the hand of state-licensed marksmen. And from airplanes? Another trifecta. I press onward:
“Over the past three years, aerial gunners have killed more than 550 wolves. Today we’re passing along a message from Defenders of Wildlife with information on how you can help put an end to this brutal and unnecessary practice.”
Three years, 550 wolves. That’s about 180 every year. My first thought – there are probably more deer hunted out of the forests of Minnesota during every month of hunting season. Not from airplanes, of course. I’m not certain whether the airplane vantage adds or detracts from the challenge. But I digress …
In a letter titled “Save America’s Wolves” – topped with an oval logo featuring a wolf in silhouette against the backdrop of a torch-red sky – Defenders of Wildlife is asking me to sign on online petition urging the Bush administration to enforce something called the Federal Airborne Hunting Act:
“Despite the fact that wolves help keep moose and caribou populations healthy and are an important part of Alaska’s billion-dollar tourism industry, the state continues to allow aerial gunning. In fact, the Board of Game's new proposals would expand the kill zones where aerial gunning is permitted and allow gunners on snow machines to harass and kill wolves.”
Never mind how wolves keep the moose and caribou populations “healthy,” I certainly can’t abide aerial gunners harassing wolves. Killing, perhaps, but I draw the line at harassment.
I imagine the fateful Alaska Board of Game hearing went something like this:
State-licensed hunter: Esteemed gentlemen of the Game Board, I wish to thank you for your continued observance of our God-given right to kill from the air. We’re asking that you allow our snowbound brethren, confined to motorized skis, to also experience the unbridled joy of gunning down wolves, particularly of the Alaskan gray species. Don’t ask us why – let’s just say we have a score to settle. While we’re at it, we’d like to harass the wolves. Also for our enjoyment. And vengeance. Whaddya say?
Game Board: Permission granted.
I wonder – if the victims weren’t Alaskan gray wolves but, instead, let’s say, rattlesnakes, would Defenders of Wildlife come to the rescue? I Google “snake” “preservation” and “save.” Guess what? Nobody’s trying to save rattlesnakes. But it turns out there was a recent effort in California to save the Alameda whipsnake:
In 1998, someone identifying himself as Dr. Michael J. Vandeman wrote: “Probably most residents of Berkeley have never heard of it, nor do they know that its habitat is continually being destroyed by development … (East Bay Regional Parks) has done little to protect the snake, even though several have been killed there by mountain bikers. Let's designate the Berkeley kangaroo rat and Alameda whipsnake as Berkeley mascots, and investigate what needs to be done to save the snake and restore the kangaroo rat.”
OK, so it’s Berkeley. But go ahead – pick a mammal. A cute one. Google it. Your time, money or attention is needed now, somewhere, to save it.
I’m not denigrating the concern. We, as proud liberals, simply need to pick our battles.
We’ve got soldiers to bring home, a genocide to end, lots of elections to win this November. We need voting machines that work, a press that reports truth and public schools – right in our neighborhoods – that need money. There are state constitutions to protect from bigoted, hypocritical Bible thumpers. There are homeless to pull off the streets. There are jobs to gain and wages to raise. We need to sweep corrupt power out of its towers and clean the streets. OUR streets.
It’s hard not to grow numb to it all, to shake the cynicism of the perpetual fight along the never-ending carousel of crises. So for a while, I ignore, I rationalize. I turn away from Kristof and Rich, delete my unread emails, toss the unopened envelopes.
There are so many things Bush needs to do, or at least should do but won’t, and the last thing – and by last thing, I do mean the absolutely LAST thing – on that list is coming to the rescue of the Alaskan gray wolf.
So I say no, wolf. I’m not calling, emailing, snail-mailing, faxing, wiring or sending a carrier pigeon to the White House on your behalf. I’m not signing a petition, sending money or, if I believed in the power of such a thing, praying.
But I’m a good liberal – I care. So let’s make a deal, wolf. You lend your image to the ending of war, poverty, pollution, hunger, homelessness, racism, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, drug abuse, political corruption, corporate corruption, homophobia, patriarchy and FOX News. Then we’ll do something about those awful men in airplanes.
Matt Peiken is a staff writer at the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. Browse his portfolio at mattpeiken.com or email him at email@example.com.