« Return to this article

Know the West

Where people are stepping up

In the face of conflict and misinformation, hope remains.


Each day lately has been like waking in an alternate reality. The United States has become a country where facts are optional, face masks are political, and climate change is a hoax. In this issue, we explore conflicting realities and spreading ideologies, and we offer several stories of cooperation and hope.

Members of the Patriot militia movement watched the March for Our Rights 3 in Olympia, Washington.
The past decade has been a boon for the West’s militia movement, but with the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprising, “Patriots” are making a recruitment push. Where concerned citizens assemble to protest state violence, police brutality and white supremacy, militia members have also appeared, armed and dangerous. Amid the pandemic, similar groups have sought to provide services, from security to food distribution, eroding the legitimacy of the government. The pandemic has also brought on warnings of plagues and conspiracy theories. Dangerous ideas are spreading in a moment of national confusion.

At another scale, the dismissal of climate warnings by national leadership has left the country ill-prepared for what is coming. The lengthening wildfire season is straining firefighters, causing post-traumatic stress that our health system cannot handle. To make matters worse, our poor response to COVID-19 has brought a massive economic downturn, including for the renewable energy sector. We are entering negative feedback loops.

In a fragmenting world, we must work harder to connect. Where systems fail, individuals can step up. To give one example: COVID-19 economics are presenting a housing challenge in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was already experiencing severe economic pressure and gentrification. There, though, citizens are pushing for policies that help them buy buildings, so that people can stay in their homes. To give another: In Washington, where the pandemic is disrupting food distribution, people are learning to grow their own food and supply their neighbors.

Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
A similar kind of cooperation was essential, too, for the recent return of a ceremonial shield to the Pueblo of Acoma. As Contributing Editor Elena Saavedra Buckley reports in this issue, the shield was stolen from the tribal nation decades ago, only to appear for auction in Paris. Through steadfast pursuit by and cooperation between Acoma leaders and U.S. investigators, the shield came home. It was a major win for the Acoma, and also proof that there are still good people out there, willing to do good work. In this splintered, confusing time, such goodwill goes a long way.

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.