Flash Fiction: Rebellion


Rebellion: 1) opposition to one in authority or dominance; 2) open, armed, and usually unsuccessful defiance of or resistance to an established government

I am inspired to write my first blog of the year by the January 6 flash fiction challenge from Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch, which references, as a starting point, the occupation by an armed group in Oregon of a federal wildlife preserve, in protest over the government’s imprisonment of two local ranchers.

To provide perspective on this event, Charli gives us both a personal history of the kind of people who make their living off the land—and who often find themselves front line in the battle over use and control of resources—as well as an impassioned appeal to try to understand the intersection of power, control of resources, individual rights, and our duties as members of a democracy.

The Farm outside Willow City ND, 2014

Most of us can surely sympathize with cases of justified dissent and protest, of instances of the provoked little guy finally standing up to the big bully. Indeed, I resonate with stories of farmers and ranchers standing up to the government’s overreach, tracing my own paternal roots back a hundred and twenty years or so to a farm cut from the open prairies of a remote stretch of North Dakota (how much of that state is not remote?) And like all Americans, and perhaps especially those who’ve grown up in a Western state like Arizona (in my case) or Idaho (where Charli lives and writes), I have also gotten drunk on the lore of the staunch, independent pioneers, ranchers, and cowboys who risked all to stake a claim to open space, land, and greater self-determination.

Ahh the passions such a train of thought can dredge up!

But I am no believer in the free rein of passions without the restraint of reason. Passion is the voice not only of rightful advocates of good causes but of mobs, fascists, and demagogues.

Which brings us to the current climate in the United States and the underlying issue of guns. Forgive the overt sexism, but any group of men wielding AK-47s is apt to make me piss my pants. I am one who shudders at violence as a response to conflict and to the vitriol, distortion, and irrationality of the debate surrounding the Second Amendment’s presumed guarantee that every American has the constitutional right to arm themselves to the teeth with high-powered automatic, military-grade weapons. So while I may find it edifying to hear the stories of the half-frozen men—now appealing for deliveries of vittles via the United States Post Office (a public service of the Federal Government)—their wielding such weapons makes them immediately suspect in my eyes. As does the recent evidence (the arrival Saturday of a similar group calling themselves the Pacific Patriots Network) that their example sends a clarion call to others whose main objective may not simply be solidarity with a cause but an opportunity to engage in rabble-rousing and mayhem.

In short, I realize it’s a complicated issue, but I do not support insurgency or outbreaks of seditious activities by any group. And I’d like someone to explain to me the justice in one group forcefully claiming 187,000 acres of federal land on behalf of the county in which it is situated. Last time I checked, we are supposed to be a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” and that land has been set aside and protected since 1908, for all Americans. Again, I admit there are issues here that I do not understand. I am willing to be enlightened.

For now, I prefer to hold faith with a central government that, imperfect organ as it is,  strives to balance the rights of all Americans and the competing interests of states, special interest groups, and individuals. And when that faith is tested, I turn first towards educating myself on the various angles of the issue being contested. In the case of Oregon, I first try to understand why the government owns so much land in the first place.

So many angles of this issue compete for our hearts and minds. That’s why I applaud Charli for honing in on this theme for the prompt this week on rebellion. Her appeal at the end makes it a particularly thought-provoking challenge.” As she notes: “Perhaps little story-rebellions from marginalized communities around the globe can teach us to better appreciate one another’s struggles. But how do we stand up to the powers that be? How do we take control of our lives and livelihoods without becoming what we struggle against?”

January 6, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a rebellion. Is it one a character fights for or is it one another suppresses? Explore what makes a rebellion, pros or cons. Use past or current rebellions as inspiration or make up one of your own.

And here’s my flash, inspired by reports on just one of the groups roused to anger by the events in Oregon.

Photo by Jeff Rietsma

Crack Shots

In the spring they came. From Florida and Minnesota, New York and Texas. A great gentle army streaming from the four corners of a common patrimony—the land. Along the Pacific Flyway they massed, their pickets like pistons, rising and falling with their footfalls. The first yellow warbler flashing topaz against the sky heralded their arrival.

Sharp angles marked the buildings of the Malheur Wildlife Preserve. Sunlight glinted off gun barrels from beyond the entrance. The marchers halted. They readied their arms. Focused their targets in their sites. And let loose a volley of shutter-clicks.

The Birders had returned.


13 thoughts on “Flash Fiction: Rebellion

    1. Thanks Ann. Have avidly followed the developments of the Oregon standoff. Though I do question my own latent authoritarian tendencies, cameras over guns makes sense to me. Somehow “angry birders” is so much less threatening 🙂

    1. Good to hear from you Norah! I can imagine that, working with children as you do, you are daily challenged by the subtle and not-so-subtle messages kids receive from the larger culture that teaches violence in so many ways. Teaching children how to control anger and impulses, and negotiate tense situations–and of course modeling that behavior–is so important. Would be lovely if we could sell as many “toy cameras” as we do “toy guns”in this country!

  1. Excellent post, Jeanne! This is why we need a collection of stories because we are a government of the people by the people for the people, not whoever wields the most power or biggest guns. You really hit it with this: “But I am no believer in the free rein of passions without the restraint of reason. Passion is the voice not only of rightful advocates of good causes but of mobs, fascists, and demagogues.” And to go on to reflect on the most obvious passion that has been ignored — that of birders. Great article link, and yes, the Pacific flyway is so vital. We need common ground for multi-purpose use. We need common ground to understand one another. Strong arms hurt too many. Great flash!

    1. Thanks Charli for the additional insights. I did feel torn writing this post, since I greatly admire those folks who put themselves on the line to protest for a rightful cause. That takes so much courage and commitment! But in the current climate in our country, my first instinct is to step back a bit and cool down. (Not that the hub would agree with that assertion; I am always sputtering and spouting off when we watch the news together.) But I did love that image of the “angry birders” and it will be interesting to see how this thing in Oregon plays out. As always, your example of action through words is so inspiring.

  2. I also loved your post-the “volley of shutter-clicks”! In talking about who has claims to this place, though, let’s not forget the Burns Paiute tribe who never signed a treaty over this land. Yet they haven’t marched in and tried to stake ownership. Of course, they know that they wouldn’t be so humanely treated by the authorities if they did…

    1. Barbara! Of course the whole issue of who “owns’ this land really starts with the Native Americans who, treaty or no treaty, have gotten the very short end of every stick. I wanted to touch on that, but the limits of a blog post restrained me. I feel there are considerations I failed to address even as it is. But I am delighted you stopped by to comment. Your perspective has enriched my understanding of so many issues, for decades now. Thanks for touching on this side of the situation. It’s one big chicken that hasn’t quite roosted yet. But it can’t be ignored.

  3. I didn’t know about the Oregon stand off until I read Charli’s Rebellion post and I did seriously wonder if my ex was/is there, for more than one reason. He mentioned something helping farmers and their land which ‘the government are trying to take away’. The word militia was mentioned. And I know just the kind of guns they are using. You write beautifully Jeanne, putting your feelings into the battle, expressed so elequently and I just loved your flash, wonderfully written, great twist, one I much prefer 🙂 Thank you and Charli both for educating me about the ongoing Second Amendement Right to Bear Arms conflict…

    1. Extremist militias are a big thing here, and one reason why the government has not responded in force is the disastrous consequences of past conflicts of this sort (i.e., the storming of the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco Texas) in which not only “cult” members died but many children as well. I caught your comment about your ex on the Carrot Ranch site and wondered about that. That would be an interesting conversation to have with you! Many of my own relatives are rather suspicious of the government, and most are suspect of the government’s attempts to pass some kind of meaningful gun control. I just know that the decade I spent abroad (Japan, England, France) was a really enlightening time for me. Imagine, not worrying about guns! (Or, in England and France, healthcare!) Thanks for your comment. Check out the video I put on FB about this, made by another group advocating fair management of the West and its resources…a group very critical of the approach the armed extremists have taken in Oregon. And thanks so much for the comments about my little flash!

      1. I remember well the tragedy at Waco Texas, watching it unfold on TV when I lived in California. Awful. I must have missed your video Jeanne, will check it out! And yes, we could have some very interesting conversations…one day, one day I hope!

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