Silence is a highly prized asset in our National Parks. As a first time visitor I was awed when I first experienced it, walking beside a beaver pond in Acadia National Park. With the town of Bar Harbor right outside the entrance, we were ensconced in 40, 000 acres of old growth forest, meadows and mountain on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. A tension I didn’t know I’d been carrying slipped off my back. I sank into the quiet natural rhythm of the Earth, and I have returned to national parks a myriad times to experience that feeling again and again.
But the quiet coming out of the national parks now is eerie and sinister.
Just two days after I wrote the blog questioning why the stewards of our national parks are missing in action when we need them to be most vocal, this story surfaced:
I’ve been hearing that the “new” Park Service actively discourages park staff from speaking out, and this story illuminates the point.
This means that the National Park Service whose 100th anniversary we celebrated with much fanfare August 25, 2016 and which we pay to manage those assets deemed worthy of protection “for the benefit of this and future generations,” is prohibited from doing a key function of its job. Though wholly inadequate, it’s still almost $3 billion of our federal tax dollars that fund the national parks annually.
So at this very dark and dangerous point in our history, the National Park Service cannot bring the warnings from our past experience to bear on the subjects roiling our society:
Immigration - The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are icons for how welcoming America has been, but few know that “Anti-immigration legislation passed in the 1920s, as well as the Great Depression, kept immigration at an all-time low. For the first time in Ellis Island's history, deportation far outnumbered admissions. . . .The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required all ‘resident aliens’ to be registered and fingerprinted and a 1941 Presidential proclamation identified all citizens of Japan, Germany, and Italy residing in the United States as ‘alien enemies.’ “
Clearly, we had to jettison that doctrine for our country to progress to where it is today. How might art and technology, music and culture in country be different today had we continued to victimize those immigrants? as we are doing to our Dreamers today?
Religion - Like Roy Moore’s spokesperson, many of us believe “America is a Christian country.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. We would know that if Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, where the separation of Church and State was laid out in the Declaration of Independence and where the Constitution was debated and signed, came out and told us the history of these original documents now domiciled in the National Archives.
Abuse of women - In 1848, women and their supporters including Frederick Douglass rallied at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York to demand equal treatment. They modeled their Declaration of Sentiments after the Declaration of Independence. Sojourner Truth, a leader in the Women’s Rights Movement, opined in her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at a conference on the issue in 1851,
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them...”
We desperately need to reacquaint ourselves with these struggles at Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
It’s alarming that our leaders today are deliberately try to muddle the meaning of words, much like George Orwell warned in 1984. And now national parks that are literally the canary in the mine of climate change are being chastised for telling us the facts, and our country’s foremost health protection agency, the Center for Disease Control, is being ordered to stop using words common to the lexicon of health protection.
My friend on Facebook asked what is the point of banning words and how can it be enforced. “Is it just blustering or are there laws in place? Will a person who uses ‘banned’ words lose their job?”
As a Floridian living under the Rick Scott governorship which prohibited state employees from using the words “climate change,” I can see the direct results in our state’s lack of preparedness for sea level rise, a factor of climate change, although we are in the bull’s eye. Similarly, banning words such as “science based,” “transgender” and “diversity” can signal a shift in policy AWAY such vital issues for our country.
On the day before the potential passage of a tax bill propagandized as “helping” the middle class that the CBO says will hurt the poor even as it enriches the wealthiest one-percent and balloons the debt, I yearn for the voices of sanity and reality from our national parks. Oh that we could awaken and see ourselves as we are. You can Google the national parks by issue at National Park Service. I don’t know what kind of government bans words, but I do know that the truth resides in our national parks, and it’s evidently up to us to learn and share them.