Here’s a bit of trivia for you. What song did the late Jerry Garcia and the late Captain Kangaroo have in common? The answer is Teddy Bears Picnic, a melody written more than a century ago, with lyrics added in the 1930s. Captain Kangaroo gave instant but fleeting fame to a two-man group called Rosenshontz, when he played their sprightly version on his show. The one and only Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead recorded his slower paced rendition in the early 80s. I really wish I could make the song play as the soundtrack to this story, because it would be perfect.
If you go out in the woods today,
You’re in for a big surprise.
If you go out in the woods today,
You’d better go in disguise….
The song inspired groups of people in America and the United Kingdom, and as far away as New Zealand, to hold actual Teddy Bear Picnics for children and their stuffed bears. It’s often done now as an annual fundraiser for a children’s charity. But in northern Wisconsin this last week, the woods would not have been an appropriate venue for either children or Teddy bears. Thanks to Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature, if you went out in the woods in the Penokee Mountain Range, which is south of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin’s Ashland and Iron counties, this is who was there to not only greet you, but to stalk you as well :
The masked paramilitary guards wandering the Penokee Forest, are employees of Bulletproof Securities, there to make sure no outside agitator interrupts the rape of the Wisconsin wilderness. They were hired by Gogebic Taconite, a Florida mining company who are there to excavate a four-and-a-half mile long open iron ore pit. The mine has long been a wet dream (pun intended) of ALEC (The American Executive Exchange Council) rejected on a bipartisan basis for years by the Wisconsin legislature, because mining that area meant changing regulations to allow heavy metals, asbestos, lead, arsenic, mercury, sulfuric acid and all kinds of other toxic runoff to contaminate the nearby rivers and wetlands.
Wisconsin State Rep. Peter Barca tweeted this picture of the area downstream from the mine:
But this year was different. This year it appears the ALEC folk were finally able to get mining deregulation passed. It is now legal to dump a lot of very unhealthy chemicals in those bright blue rivers you see above, which, by the way, are the source of the drinking water in Ashland, Mellen, Highbridge, Marengo, Odanah and Upson Counties, and for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s reservation. It was the Republicans who voted for deregulation, and Republican Governor Scott Walker who signed the bill into law, but indirectly, angry Democratic voters may have enabled the passage of that bill through the law of nature we know as unintended consequences.
Do you remember when the Wisconsin State House was filled with crowds protesting Governor Walker and the Republican legislature’s attack on public unions? Passing that legislation so angered Democrats that it was followed by a recall election, in which several endangered Republicans found they needed money, needed BIG money, to keep their seats. Fortuitously, the mining lobby had money. Big money.
The price tag for Senator Alberta Darling, who was up for recall was $467,293 from mining interests. The Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, one of the legislative campaign committees used to rake in special interest money accepted $313,413. And GOP Senate Majority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald, who like Senator Darling was a recall target in 2012, took $262,735. And the list goes on. Governor Walker himself took $10,000 from the mining lobby. Looking at what the others got for their votes, maybe he came too cheap.
“Beneath the trees, where nobody sees
They’ll hide and seek as long as they please”
The environmental community is predictably unhappy, even leaking news that they are preparing to resist by learning non-violent protest methods, like tree sitting. A Gogebic spokesman said it was when the company got wind of planned protests that they decided to upgrade security. Naturally, Gogebic would want to counter that kind of non-violent tree sitting threat with masked guards in camouflage carrying semi-automatic weapons. That’s just good corporate policy!
Whether they were protesters or day hikers, or bird watchers, visitors to the Penokee Forest, which is privately owned but receives tax breaks for allowing the land to be used for public recreation, reported that Bulletproof’ guards followed them around videotaping them. The company explains their stalking behavior by pointing out all visitors are potential vandals whose actions might cost them time, and they are gathering evidence in case. Here’s a picture of one such dangerous protest group. (Above left) Do you think if one of them manages to climb a tree, the guards will use an AK-47 to shoot her down? Time is money.
What exactly are the rules of engagement for opening up on a treed vandal?
“If you go down in the woods today,
You better not go alone.
It’s lovely down in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home”
State Senator Bob Juach , (Right in the yellow), who represents the 25th District in northern Wisconsin, thought his constituents must be exaggerating when they began calling to complain about the guards. When he saw the photos, he was appalled, saying:
“To add the images of these military soldiers who look like they came out of the jungles of Nicaragua in the 80s rather than the forest of northern Wisconsin, people were horrified and it raises to the level of irrational behavior.”
Joined by State Assembly Rep. Janet Brewley, Senator Jauch wrote a letter to Bill Williams, the president of Gogebic Taconite, asking him to remove the paramilitary force. Although we are not privy to the response of Mr. Williams, a spokesman for the company, Bob Seitz, was said to have laughed at the idea, dismissing the complaint that semi-automatic weapons were (I can’t resist) overkill, saying:
“I’m not very concerned about what (kind of guns) a security firm selects. They have to provide a safe workplace for their people, too.”
Mr. Seitz made no mention of any concerns for the safety or peace of mind of potential Teddy Bear Picnickers.
Perhaps Gogebic Taconite should not have been quite so ready and willing to laugh in the face a member of the legislature, Democrat or not. Senator Jauch ran a check on Bulletproof Securities. He discovered that, even though they sold the mine as a Wisconsin jobs program, and even though there are over 600 licensed Wisconsin security firms, Gogebic hired Bulletproof Securities out of Arizona. The company is not licensed to do business in Wisconsin. I expect Mr. Seitz is no longer in a mood to guffaw.
Thanks to Senator Bob Juach, Gogebic has been forced to suspend using Bulletproof”s guards until they can secure a license in the state. Protesters will be able to leave their twiggy messages of hope on the hiking trails without a gun or a camera pointed at them by a masked man in the bushes. Teddy Bear picnickers can serve tea and cookies and gather wildflowers without appearing in the scope of a loaded assault rifle. Maybe between now and then, someone can talk the Republicans down out of the crazy tree, and come to an agreement with Gogebic as to the level of security it is reasonable to use to guard a hole in the ground.
Right now, the question remains unanswered, does Scott Walker pull ALEC’s strings? Or does ALEC pull his?
Wisconsin Forest Photos from photographer Jim Limbach’s Facebook page.
Picnic Photo from the Teddy Bears Picnic Facebook Page
Rep. Bob Jauch’s photo from Support Bob Jauch Facebook Page
Area photo tweeted by Democratic State Rep.Peter Barca.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.