This is not the greatest time for me to run for political office; I have young children, a teenage daughter that need my attention. I am midway through the goal of proceeding to law school. I have lived a life of delays, disappointments, and dreams deferred. I come from a background of sheer poverty; I lived on Hill 57, a mostly Ojibwe camp for 20 years. My teens were spent in a two room house during the height of Reaganomics; a member of a class of forgotten Americans--urban, non-reservation Native Americans. My own parents were disabled. My father suffered from a heart weakened by a childhood bout of rheumatic fever, my mother was an insulin-dependent diabetic.
As a young woman, my sisters and I spent hours, and days in our traditional craft and vocation; moccasin-making, to help put food on the table. Our living was a daily struggle. In the years before disabilities overtook my parents lives; they worked the potato farm fields around Great Falls, Montana. I recall my mother's backbreaking work of harvesting, near Fairfield, MT. My father was a subject of school segregation, he was sent to the "Indian room" for one day; he was kicked out for wearing the traditional braids of our tribe. My mother was a product of the boarding school era; attending one in Browning, Montana. Neither graduated, my dad went to vocational school for auto mechanics. It was very hard to keep up in school from Hill 57; living in a two room house without heat, indoor plumbing and modern conveniences was difficult. I dropped out, I went back in the year I would have graduated--and worked to gain an equivalency. At the time, I was told by the Adult Ed. Administrator that I had to wait to get it; that it was unfair for me to gain this equivalency certificate before my class had graduated. I waited two weeks.
I was poorly prepared for college and still living on Hill 57 -- I was admitted to the College of Great Falls; and entered the paralegal program. It was a difficult time for us on Hill 57; we struggled to preserve tribal cultural knowledge in danger of being lost. To make a very long story short; the cultural needs of the greater whole won out; I left school in the same academic year as I had started. I look back at this as a time where I was very young and with my sisters. We assumed cultural roles normally reserved for women much older than us -- among our kin, most if not all of our older cousins, had abandoned the cause of tribal-hood. It was hard to sacrifice youthhood, a sacrifice I will take to my grave.
I do not regret this. I regret the position this nation put native people in. This is one of the most regrettable and shameful aspects of our nation's history. It would be twenty years before I went back to school. We lived a life on a thread of existence: the brink of cultural and economic extinction. We needed to take bold action or face losing our identity, history, religious and traditional knowledge. This was the era of assimilation. Although the official federal policy ended with the passage of the 1973 Self-Determination Act: old habits die hard among the federal bureaucratic class. The traditionalists were still targets of hate and retribution. This encompassed my young life on Hill 57.
I am the wife of a disabled veteran and we barely manage to meet monthly needs of our household. For 14 years of our relationship; I have been a companion to him. We have endured this time in dealing with effects of his service, and Gulf War Syndrome. I have watched his struggle with multiple health issues during this time. He, like tens of thousands of veterans of this era; have been told time and again by our government -- their conditions are just in their heads. There is no real problem. It was small consolation to see President Obama's administration move to re-open these denied claims. This is a start and I hope this effort goes forward with a result that is just for all veterans affected. I returned to school in 2003 to complete the degree I began working on at 18. I am at the tail end of this effort, and I fully intend to continue to law school should I not advance in June's primary.
I have many reasons not to pursue this. Why run now? This winter, my family went through unexpected medical delays; my daughter needed a tonsillectomy/adenoid removal. She is since fully recovered. My spouse suffers problems of equilibrium as a result of his military service; he fell and injured himself for the third time since I have known him. This time he needed knee surgery, luckily, the VA provided coverage. We are uninsured.
My reasons for running are many. I fully understand the negative consequences of federal mismanagement, be it in tribal affairs, veteran issues, energy, jobs or health care. I had worked to address these issues; as a non-profit leader who worked under the leadership of my late father on environmental justice causes (here in MT, Zortman Landusky open pit mine, Sweetgrass Hills moratorium), to bringing the concepts of civil rights to Montana as a fair housing advocate, to developing tourism initiatives.
FAIRNESS IN ELECTORAL ORGANIZING
I feel this race has already exposed a negative side to state politics -- one that I hope to change not only in this state, but in the Democratic party if there are to be continued victories. I am not a politician, I am not in any pipeline to be groomed for the party line. I am an extreme outsider. If you look at the totality of my life; you can see that I was bred to be an effective outsider. This has always been my strength, and I have learned to capitalize on my lifetime of disadvantages--to develop an outside-the-box mental method. I believe this is a key leadership trait. I was disappointed to see my opponent, Dennis McDonald manipulate an early union endorsement in our state. This has set the stage in Montana to pit two key Democratic constituencies against each other; the union and the powerful Native American swing vote. I believe this political misstep will cost him the primary.
THE FUTILITY OF STRIVING FOR BIPARTISAN UTOPIA
I do want to put this nation on the right trajectory. We do have Democratic Blue Dog realists, like Sen. Baucus, of which I am his most vocal critic. They have led us to make the false choice of mediocre legislation like the health insurance reform act--to attain the fantasy of bipartisanship. The Republican party is not in a bipartisan mood and more interested in scoring political points than doing the work of the American people. This is political reality and one that we cannot waste any more time on; in time the moderates will take their party back, it is in their political survival to do so. So far, we have endured national political humiliation at the hands of Sarah Palin and her Tea Party cohorts. We need to think about tomorrow, not cling to an unrealistic ideal of the past.
AMERICA NEEDS CIVIL RIGHTS RENEWAL: A FEDERAL EFFORT TO ATTAIN A JUST SOCIETY
We need to remember civil rights practitioners have long viewed the Dept. of HUD as a "weak institutional home for civil rights" with respect to federal commitment and enforcement. This nation needs revamped civil rights laws consistent with today's and tomorrow's realities. I believe a cabinet level agency must address long standing inequities in our nation's history, these inequalities manifest themselves today in financial apartheid that resulted in the subprime mess that in turn, created the 2008 economic crisis. We need fair protection of our lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual family members in our nation. This is beyond DADT; only a strong federal commitment will end this discrimination. It is not acceptable to leave this class of citizens to fight their battle state by state; this is as draconian an approach as the black codes of the post-Reconstruction South. History will judge us on this issue.
USA'S ECONOMIC GROUND ZERO: GT. FALLS, EUREKA, LIBBY, & BROWNING MT TO URBAN DETROIT
We must rethink how we address poverty. Throughout my adult life and Sen. Baucus's tenure in the Senate there has been 60-80% unemployment on Montana's Indian Reservations -- as a normal condition of everyday life. This has devastated tribal people and robbed them of a future. I would like to see a federal commitment to aggressively monitor unemployment statistics and target federal commitment to directly address these life-threatening conditions all across this nation. These conditions should not be tolerated in one of the wealthiest, industrialized nations on the planet. I would like to see a federal law enacted to monitor unemployment conditions that will automatically kick in federal aid to a wide array of community organizations, governments; the public and private sector.
This is as true and applicable to Browning, Montana, or the small rural towns of northwest Montana, such as Eureka and Libby, as it is in south-central LA, and urban Detroit. A sustained and targeted federal commitment is needed to grow jobs in these areas of economic distress, with unprecedented commitment to local communities to achieve job creation. Washington must put the same trust in Main Street as it has Wall Street. Americans in these distressed communities cannot endure continued federal disinvestment that occurred in the Bush years.
GROW JOBS IN A NEW RESURGENT ECONOMY
We cannot accept the false claim of fiscal conservatism of eight years of Republicans that gave us trillions in federal deficit spending, and zero net job creation during nine years of my Republican opponent. No new net job growth during the Bush years, and we are paying a heavy price. We need to enlist all citizens in this effort, city by city, county by county across this nation. There is no easy path to creating economic sectors. We need to work together as never before, and reach across international borders to develop productive partnerships. We need to embrace regionalism in our approach to developing new economies of scale and work as our state Governor (Schweitzer) has done to connect rural Montana with expanded internet technology, bringing the world marketplace to their front door. However, as in the Bitterroot Valley, the effort must continue. I do not believe recreating boom and bust economic cycles is conducive to long term economic stability; some proposals in the state rely on this tried and failed model.
In Montana, we need affordable energy to attract business to a state that is at or near the bottom in disposable income. Montana has in recent years experienced a 'brain drain,' the state educates the young who in turn, go find prosperity elsewhere--the jobs that support a quality standard of living cannot be found in this state. I will enact proposals that jumpstart a new green energy economy, I am ready and capable of creating the kind of partnerships needed to make this happen. This must encompass all interests in the state and create new patterns of growth, from the laid off workers of the Smurfit Stone plant to the dispossessed Chippewa Indian bands of Great Falls, it can happen.
Reading about the betrayal of progressives by the more centrist Democrats is a cause for concern; no where is that more evident than in Montana. The Democratic primary challengers face this at the highest levels of the party; the Baucus strangle-hold I have written about before. It is time for action; this is a pivotal race. Democrats would like to create and sustain a Rocky Mountain strategy. Should the western U.S. go blue; it will likely start on a state like Montana -- it is ready to turn as evidenced in 2008. McCain won by less than 2% points.
In Montana, I am warmly received with support, encouragement, and an ever dwindling supply of cash. This is a campaign that is thus far fueled by optimism and not much else. I urge the readers here to show the party leadership that we will back up our talk with money. State Democrats have historically underfunded the U.S. House race against a perceived popular incumbent. This has been unfortunate; the U.S. House is where the tire meets the road in terms of policy. Montana is the largest geographic congressional district in the U.S. -- it is vital this becomes a Democratic stronghold. Please turn our action directly into victory: support my historic run for this seat. If this happens, this is among the last of the glass ceilings to be shattered. A Native American woman has yet to serve in Congress.
Follow Melinda Gopher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OjibwekweOgemaw