by Mark Agather, Kalispell, Montana
As many of you know, I was invited to meet with representatives of the John Birch Society (JBS), namely Chris Stevens, their field coordinator out of Seely Lake and Bliss Tew, their field director out of Orem, Utah. The meeting took place at Sykes restaurant yesterday and lasted for over two hours. Also present were four or five other local JBS supporters.
We had, what I would call, a very robust discussion of the issues besetting our country today and the tactics we believe effective in promoting our respective causes. Although we agreed, in most part, relative to the underlying issues, we saw things differently concerning the tactics each of our sides supported.
There are many areas of agreement. Most agreed that our country’s situation has gone from extreme to desperate. That being said, I’m under the impression that JBS feels we have more time than I do. Secondly they agree that the political movement we are facing is large, well-funded, superbly organized and that it has strong allies in the form of TV, papers, Hollywood, education and, in some degree or another, even our churches. Third, we all agree that the Supreme Court is one of our main concerns and is, to a large degree, and extremely powerful force against our Constitution as written and against our individual liberties as well as the rights of individual states.
Our main areas of disagreement centered on tactics and was concentrated specifically on the convention of states (COS) initiative. From what I heard the JPS is terrified of this proposal:
- They maintain the word “call” in article 5 gives Congress the power to dictate how the convention will be run.
- They fear Congress will dictate the number of delegates and how they are selected.
- There’s your Congress will insist representation will be based upon population instead of one vote for each state.
- They fear progressives will take over the meeting and insist on a “constitutional convention” which will lead to the replacement of our present Constitution with a socialist model.
- They fear the Congress would call for state conventions which would be overrun by liberals would approve far left initiatives.
- They fear that the delegates of Montana picked by our legislature would not be conservative enough.
- They fear liberal amendments would be approved and that they would be ratified by three quarters of the states and made a part of our Constitution
They back up these fears by articulating imagined scenarios depicting fairly apocalyptic outcomes which may or may not have any basis in actual future events.
I do not mean to imply that the fears of the JBS shouldn’t be considered. Many, if not all, are valid concerns and should be evaluated. However, if I have a criticism of the JBS and their adherents, it would be this: I do not believe they have, with an open mind, investigated the C of S positions which address every one of their concerns with careful evaluation based on history, court cases and insightful discussions. Certainly they were not at this meeting for a thoughtful, open-minded investigation of both points of view. Nor did I anticipate such. They were there solely to convince me that I was wrong in my support of the C. of S.
After this opening, our discussion focused mainly on their “action” plan in comparison with the C of S approach. As I articulated, given an agreement something must be done, alternative strategies must be compared for effectiveness. To focus on and criticize only one approach without a comparison to the other leaves a void in understanding and clarity.
Chris continually maintained that all we need to do is get back to the Constitution as written. I said you mean how we, the conservatives interpret it. To that statement he agreed. However, when I questioned him about how to counter the interpretation of our Constitution by the far left he maintained we “just need to get them to read it”. I, of course, said it would be nice if it were that easy. But when I pressed on by asking them “how” to accomplish this, the conversation became much more diffuse. They centered on education of the public and getting elected officials and our Supreme Court to obey the Constitution as it was written.
I said that from my point of view this was merely a statement to keep doing what we have been doing for the last 40 years; that it hasn’t worked and in fact we are falling behind at an ever accelerating pace; that we are being overwhelmed; that educational of an uninvolved, uninformed and an unconcerned public was virtually impossible; that continuing to use the same approach we have used for the last 40 years that has led us to this place and time contains more risk of failure and of the total destruction of our freedom, our Constitution and our way of life as the C of S approach. I felt my concerns were largely overlooked during the rest of the discussion. When pressed further relative to how we could accomplish these goals of education and of getting elected officials to obey the Constitution, Chris’s main response was “by wearing out the leather on the bottoms of your shoes”. In other words continue yelling as loudly as possible.
My impression is that the JBS senses they are still effective and that they are gaining traction. Here I disagree. Inside of small groups of adherents much of this sounds good. However, from my involvement in different groups and with friends, very few, if any, are even aware that the JBS still exists—I certainly didn’t. And even for those small numbers who are aware of them, they still perceive the JBS, rightly or wrongly, as part of the far right, wing-nut groups who don’t deserve to be listened to. Now certainly I disagree with that perception but, in reality, that is what I face on a daily basis.
To sum up our disagreement over tactics it is simple: the JBS is terrified of a Convention of States and I do not have any belief their approach of basically yelling louder and electing true conservatives can succeed inside of the timeframe needed.
For my part I realized very quickly during our discussion, there was no point in rehashing these arguments endlessly as I did not feel the JBS was there to listen, to carefully evaluate and understand different points of view. For that reason I concentrated on our areas of agreement:
- Our country is broken and the situation is desperate
- Our Constitution is being ignored
- The political force against us is large and dangerous
- The Supreme Court is our main problem
- The education of the public is admirable if difficult to achieve
- The support of nullification attempts where they can be effective
- That are states need to take back and control the land within our borders
- That County Commissioners need exercise much more control and leadership inside of the counties.
I maintain that all of us involved in this fight are good people and well-intentioned. Chris and Bliss are on our side even if we disagree on tactics. I, for my part, welcome their support inside our areas of agreement and I’d support their efforts as well.
However that being said it is my perception that, in the past, JBS proponents insist groups they associate with must believe in and adhere to their mantras. If people or other groups did not conform to their beliefs, the JBS would refuse to participate, cooperate or be involved with them and would, instead, actually fight those groups even though the goals were the same but tactics were different. I maintain such an attitude of noncooperation in the past has kept the JBS a fringe group consisting of small number of passionate adherents that has little effect on the general public.
Hopefully, the new leadership of the JBS can overcome such tendencies and agree to participate effectively with all groups working just as hard and just as passionately as they for the same goals even if using different tactics. For united we stand, divided we fall. I, for my part, do not believe we have time to let our disagreements over tactics to allow us to waste valuable time, energy and resources in the unproductive behavior of arguing amongst ourselves. The issues are too profound. The time is too short. For the crisis is upon us now. The war is actually here. What happens in the next three years with determine the outcome of our country. Let’s pray to God we can come together during such auspicious times and that, in so doing, we are on the victorious side of this fight.