Sometimes the best events in life happen through Serendipity. Small, seemingly insignificant happenings can be tiny hinges on which huge opportunities rest.
That’s what the universe had in store for me on a cold, slate grey day in Washington D.C. in December 2011. If I would’ve glanced this way instead of that…or if I had been standing on the other side of the Washington Monument – a mere 55 feet away – I would have missed them.
“They” were a group of eight people huddled under the Idaho flag in a small corner of the vast National Mall which stretches from The Capitol to The Lincoln Memorial.
As I turned the lens onto them a sea of 13,000 people roared and surged and swirled around us. The occasion was the kick off of “Take Back Congress” and thousands of people had come from all across the country – and eight people from Idaho.
A conversation with a representative of the group led to an introduction to the State Director of United Vision for Idaho, Adrienne Evans.
Intrigued by these eight people from a state known only for gun-totin’ crazies in the north and potatoes everywhere else, my curiosity – and ignorance of the state — came out in abundance. Adrienne and the rest took me under their wing and gave me a crash course on the state of social justice in “The Gem State”.
Conversations in the rain, the halls of congress, over dinner in an Irish Pub evolved into emails, exchanging links and information of links and an agreement for me to spend six weeks in Idaho learning more.
Idaho is overlooked by the nation. Idaho is a place that people fly over to get from the east coast to the left coast – and back again.
Idaho has the largest sand dunes in the United States; Craters of the Moon where the astronauts trained on their way to the moon; TV was invented here – Rigby; Evel Kenievel tried and failed to jump the Snake River – Twin Falls; 1/3 of all potatoes consumed in the country are raised on an Indian Reservation – Shoshone-Bannock tribe on Fort Hall Reservation and much more happens in Idaho.
Activism is coming alive also. Several years ago United Vision for Idaho had a couple thousand members; today it’s over thirteen THOUSAND.
Activists in every shape, age, size and color are rising up in the streets and parks of Idaho from Boise in the west to Idaho Falls in the east to Coeur d’Alene in the north. People have been held down, pushed back and marginalized by the state legislators in Boise.
How is this happening? Communities are being built. Not communities of bricks, mortar and asphalt; communities of blood, flesh, tears and sweat. Communities are being built around LGBT rights, the environment, education, healthcare and other issues which face Americans every day.
Idaho is different though.
In many ways Idaho is becoming the “canary in the coal mine”. Idaho is becoming the early warning system for the rest of the country. How can this happen in Idaho of all places.
With a population of 1,567,582 Idaho ranks 14th in size. Only 19 people per square mile, just five states, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and the Dakotas have less.
The pockets of people separated by miles of mountains and high desert are geographically separated. People in the north cannon easily get to Boise to participate in rallies, protests and actions.
People in Boise can’t travel quickly to eastern Idaho in solidarity of causes in Idaho Falls or Pocatello.
Creative use of social networking has overcome this problem and is facilitating the growth of electronic pathways between people. As people become connected through the existence of wired highways they are reaching out beyond their own pet causes to lend support to people across the spectrum of issues.
As the network of activism grows and spreads, people are finding out that their victory won’t come in a vacuum, but rather all groups, all issues, working together find that causes are interconnected.
Healthcare won’t be changed without education; education won’t be changed without economy and economy won’t improve without each of these.
Yes. Idaho is becoming the “canary in the coal mine”. If activism is bubbling to the surface like the lava flow in Craters of the Moon, what does this say for the rest of the country?
The photographs you see in the book are mine. Snippets of stories I wrote while in Idaho are included to give context. The most important component of what you’ll see are the stories.
Stories of people who have been affected by social justice and social injustice in Idaho.
I had the chance to personally meet many of the authors of the stories you’ll read. I’m a better man for having met them.
This introduction would not be complete without a nod to Adrienne Evans, State Director of United Vision for Idaho.
With no budget and a program that had been decimated by poor, prior leadership, she has built UVI into a model of activism which can be replicated throughout the country.
For me, while I was in Idaho, she and her partner Trish opened their hearts and home to me. They went over-the-top in making me feel welcome and wanted as I toured their homestate. The sacrifice they made in time, money and other resources was invaluable in making my stay fruitful and I will forever be grateful to them and will remember them – and Idaho – wherever my travels take me.
To show your appreciation for Adrienne, Trish and the rest of the folks who are working to make Idaho livable again you can spread the word about this book. Tell people what’s going on in Idaho legislator and, most of all, tell YOUR story.
You must remember that even if just person reads this book and begins to light other lights, you will have made a country of darkness turn bright.