Powerful bloc in defense of monuments
The Trump administration is well advised to gauge the political blowback as it contemplates an assault – disguised as a review – on the Antiquities Act, as well as two decades of amplifying diverse and inclusive stories in this country. During its final months, the Obama shrewdly protected a string of cultural landmarks that should form a formidable firewall around those designations, as well as earlier sacred sites from him and his predecessors.
In all, Obama designated 25 culturally significant monuments, memorials, historical parks and preserves, plus dozens of national historical landmarks. The last of these was far from the least.
The Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument added to the thin ranks of national park units dedicated to women. Stonewall Inn was the first dedicated to the LGBTQ community. A second Harriett Tubman National Historical Park, plus Reconstruction Era, Freedom Riders and Birmingham Civil Rights National Monuments cemented the civil-rights base. The previous two years brought Honouliuli, a World War II Japanese imprisonment site in Hawaii, and San Gabriel Mountains, an important recreation area for the majority Latino population in the Los Angeles region.
The biggest target, Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, was the centerpiece of 10 units designated by Obama that are significant to Native Americans. It is to be co-managed by the Bears Ears Tribal Commission, a coalition of five tribes (Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni) that lobbied for the protection. It also attracted significant support from other communities of color, many represented by the Next 100 Coalition, an alliance of civil rights, environmental and community groups that advocate for more inclusive management of public lands.
You are understanding the magnitude of all this if you can hear the choir belting out the end of the Jeffersons theme song: “We finally got a piece of the pie-ee-eee-ee.”
The last of Obama’s public-lands designations were pieces of the American pie carved out for historically marginalized groups – people of color, LGBTQ and women. These are not your father’s tree huggers. They are the emerging wave of green in the U.S., where green isn’t just the color of environmental stewardship but also of permission. For these groups, it is permission to rediscover in the American landscape past selves that have been buried under the rubble of repression disguised as someone else’s destiny.
Connect the nouveau green with old-guard environmentalists (read: white, mostly liberal, mostly male) and you have the makings of a powerful voting bloc, certainly by the 2020 national election. By then, millennials, the most diverse generation in our history, will comprise about 40 percent of eligible voters. More states – Texas among them – are projected to be a majority nonwhite. Already there are more nonwhite babies than white babies being born every day in the U.S., and the mortality rate of whites has steadily risen.
It may go without saying that an alliance of the oppressed (people of color, LGBTQ, women), plus their environmentalist allies, will be politically activated by 2020. As demonstrated by the solidarity around women’s marches on Jan. 21 nationwide, it already has been. The newly protected federal lands either sit directly in or adjacent to urban areas or serve the galvanizing interests of Native Americans. The first line of engagement has been drawn at Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which has been ground zero for the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, the movement to transfer federal public lands to state control.
Those whispering in the ear of Trump about the legality of dashing or shrinking Bears Ears are uttering worse than alternative facts. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents power to create national monuments to protect cultural, historical, and natural heritage for future generations. Only an act of Congress can undo those designations.
It should not, however, require an act of Congress to drill some reality into those wishing to walk back hard-fought and meaningful gains by an impending new power structure already eager to flex its muscles at the ballot box in four years. The new math of the resistance is palpable: Add up all the women’s marches, science marches, #NoDAPL protests, and #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations, and subtract the number who attended President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration.