The Sucker and the Citizen
When I daydream about my political rights and duties as an American citizen and what I have done and what I should do, lately the image of a sucker fish swims into my mind. After exhaustive research on the Internet, I found my sucker was the spitting image of a Colorado River Blue Sucker. I was glad to see that it is an elite species, less glad that it is very endangered, and facing extinction, a fate that has befallen several other sucker species in the river. It isn’t one of those high-tone species like trout, the Cutthroats, Rainbows and all those icons, or the bass, the Stripers and those out-of-river Smallmouths coming in to eat everybody else’s fry.
Suckers aren’t sporty; they’re an ordinary type of fish that finds plenty of food on the bottom of the river – they find good, nutritious algae right on rocks in fast-moving parts of the stream, and plenty of cover from raptor, man and beast.
Like the Colorado River Blue Sucker, we ordinary Americans with steady voting records, stable addresses, and some sort of income flow, are subject to increasing levels of political manipulation of our environment. And as much as I adore the myth of the yeoman farmer, corporate agribusiness dominates American farming and it is making a prolonged Western drought worse than it might be. There is also the Sunbelt, that great promise of a new beginning within our land of new beginnings, ending up with carpenters from Buffalo and Cleveland building homes for plumbers from Pittsburg and dry-wall hangers from Toledo.
Among the many similarities the Blue Sucker and I share because we co-habit the same simile, is the issue of shrinking space in which to live. The Sucker’s problem is evaporation, the shrinking of the river, limiting both its movement and the number of good habitats within the river. My mobility and ability to find pleasant surroundings is limited by the spread of diseases and by the disappearance of money.
The Colorado Plateau Drought is part of the Sucker’s problem; increasing water extraction by expanding agriculture and municipal development is the worse problem. Expanding agricultural and municipal development gave me COPD and I can’t see the mountains on either side of the valley where I grew up except for short periods after rain.
But the principal restraint on my movement and quality of environment is lack of money. In the same way the Sucker’s habitat is being reduced by growing extraction of water by huge, powerful entities, the wealth around me is being siphoned out of my communities and concentrated in fewer and fewer hands with ill effects on the neighborhood, the town, the county, and state. Las Vegas demands more water every year in the same way the various casinos of capitalism – from stocks and bonds markets and labor arbitrage to booms and busts in natural resources, retail and housing investment by larger and fewer financial corporations are extracting the wealth from my environment. My political duties and rights are about as effective against this financial monopoly capitalism as the Sucker’s ability to swim fast is against the shrinking of the river.
But, although our situations have great similarities, there are important differences between an American citizen and a fish. For example, the Colorado River Blue Sucker is listed as an endangered species. The American citizen is not. Several federal and state natural resource agencies are charged with defending endangered species, across the board on absolutely each and every occasion when that defense does not in any way interfere with any economic activity, however idiotic it may be. Witness the Department of Interior’s recent failure to discipline the Colorado River’s lower basin states to take less water, thus avoiding the danger of stopping the electricity generators in Glenn Canyon and Hoover Dam. The Biden administration, in order to secure western senators’ votes for the Inflation Reduction Act, gave them a $4 billion bribe instead of mandatory water cuts. Municipalities and agribusiness will be properly rewarded for temporarily reducing their impacts on the river. And to add frosting, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Co. came Out West last week to bestow an additional $310 million to combat “megadrought.” The administration evidently intends to forestall folks from raising the Stars and Bars over the entire Southwest before the midterms. (The federal government frequently has us choking on our chaw.)
But, it is settled scientific opinion that an American citizen is not a sucker (fish). It is a question of variables. The Colorado River Blue Sucker has limited variables, which makes it much more amenable to scientific investigation than human beings. The sucker is a fish and is wired to be no more than a fish with limited choices in life. It has evolved to live best in certain reaches of the Colorado River.
The American citizen on the other hand, being a human being, is a prodigy of variables, and because it is an American human being, a prodigy of contending creeds. “Let a thousand American creeds contend!” as our Chinese friends might say.
Let us examine a small collection of various American creeds: Wegun Tah (Pequot); Don’t Tread on Me; Give me Liberty or Give me Death; No Taxation without Representation; Tippecanoe and Tyler Too; 54-40 or Fight! Hoka Hey!(Lakota) Remember the Alamo; Deo Vindici Confederate States of America); Remember the Maine; One Flag, One Land, One Heart, One Hand, One Nation Evermore; Loose Lips Sink Ships; Viva La Raza; Make the World Safe for Democracy; We Shall Overcome; The Best Defense: Preventative War; Faz Favor de Trabalhar Mais Depressa; You Will Not Replace Us; El Pueblo Unido No Sera’ Vencido; Let Freedom Ring: Freedom Isn’t Free; Stop the War on Women; My Flag, My Country. Your Approval is not Required; Sal Si Puedes; Si Se Puede; It All Hangs Together; Black Lives Matter; Pride is about Love; and …Carry On!
But, the Sucker and the American citizen are not equivalent, however similar they might appear with respect to the political power of self-determination. Just to take one Colorado River example of the difference: American citizens continue to support government after government that spend billions of dollars of public funds “to fix the Salton Sea.” The Sea, as readers familiar with Southern California environmental atrocity know, was formed when a century ago a canal built to siphon water out of the Colorado for irrigation and municipal expansion in California, developed a break through which fresh water flowed for two years, filling a vast depression in the desert.
After the years of happy boating and fishing in the Sea, its only remaining source of water, agricultural runoff from Imperial Valley agribusiness, killed all the fish and the real estate value. Today, the “sea” is a shrinking sump of agricultural waste-water pollution and no Colorado River Blue Sucker fish would be caught dead in it.