Where Have All the People Gone

On a recent road trip that took me from north of Las Vegas where I had travelled to Creech AFB to protest assassination warfare by drone, I was able to check out nearly 700 miles of highway between Nevada and home in the Bay Area.

Travelling south from Indian Springs, soon we found our eyes assaulted by the forest of giant signs that clutter both sides of the roadway through the architectural aberrations of Las Vegas, signs that obliterate the skyline, vying for the custom of passersby eager for cheap thrills. “The Largest Chevron in the World,” screams one sign, followed by “Size Really Matters.”

Sprung from its commercial clutches, we continued on our way past hundreds of miles of Nevada desert, edged by purple and sand-colored hills and mountains, and mile upon mile of trailers, hundreds and thousands of them, whole trailer towns, some in decay, their doors gaping empty, their windows smashed. A stranger passing through these lands might conclude all America (except the super-rich) lives in trailers.

The hills and mountains of the Tehachapi Pass gave way to a view as far as eye’s reach of California’s Central Valley, mile upon flat mile of Kern country farmland, studded here and there with empty corporation yards, spilling over with rusting farm machinery, row upon row of porta potties, and orchards check by jowl with endless furrows, and more orchards and the occasional vineyard. No people. No people anywhere. Come to a small town, I spotted one human being, not a convenience store or gas station employee, or a tourist merely passing through, but a human being at last, a sighting rare as glimpsing a desert fox. “Look!” I found myself exclaiming, “there’s a human being.”

I found my eyes straining, trying to find the occasional family picnicking between the endless rows of fruit and almond trees, sharing wine perhaps, or perhaps telling stories. Nothing. Where are the folk festivals and celebrations, the libraries, or the theaters, or the schools or the universities? No where to be seen. Kern County doesn’t need people anymore. Now what was once farming has become agribusiness, conducted by machine, plowing, seeding, watering, weeding; with a possible exception when the harvest rolls around.

But this eerily depopulated landscape didn’t just get that way by accident. With the 1902 formation of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the state began to work with the feds, sorting out the complex legal fights over water rights. These battles were drawn out but mostly settled during the New Deal and Truman administration. Activists together with California cities tried to push through a public power and water system in 1922 but at least $1 million was spent by PG&E and allies to kill that statewide initiative. In 1933 the state passed new legislation for a $170 million central valley project that was meant to build dams in the north and construct canals to ship water south, eventually to Kern county. After a two-year delay caused by PG&E’s attempts to block the public power project, the US Bureau of Reclamation took charge, using federal funding to start constructing the canals and necessary power to pump the water south into San Joaquin Valley, setting water access levels with 160-acre limitation on all land owners (320 acres for farms owned jointly by man and wife). PG&E used its massive lobbying operations to stop most of the project until after the war, but continued to block power that was needed to pump the water south. According to an article in Zocalo, “an irony of the water projects is that they killed off half of the smaller family farms…, while helping bigger and richer corporate “farmers” like Standard Oil, Prudential Financial, Southern Pacific, Getty Oil and Shell. With the recent seven-year drought, farmers had to let millions of acres go unplanted.

In 1948 San Joaquin Valley (which includes Kern), there were around 13,000 farmers with 20 large ones holding over 50% of the land. Over time, other corporations stepped in, bankrupted the family farms, and bought them up for pennies on the dollar, consolidating their strangle hold over the Central Valley, impoverishing and polluting the soil, and significantly contributing to global warming with its heavydependence on plowing and fossil fuels, pesticides and fertilizers, and establishing a style of farming that is unsustainable. Today, according to a 2012 article in the San Jose Mercury News, The Central Valley is among the poorest areas in California and the US, with the Bakersfield area ranking fourth poorest in the nation. Students who aim for a college degree face many obstacles, and public education funding is in decline. Many who graduate migrate elsewhere to find work.

Unrepresented Souls, Depleted Soils

Where have all the people displaced by agribusiness gone? On the right of way between Fresno and Hanford, the train passes through miles of tent cities lining the tracks.

The fare is just $5.00.

Demand big polluters like Exxon and Shell pay up at

https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/sign-now-to-tell-government-officials-make-big-polluters-pay-to-fix-the-climate-catastrophe-theyve-caused?source=group-climate-hawks-vote&referrer=group-climate-hawks-vote

Donate to block William Pendley’s appointment to the Bureau of Land Management where he wants to put all BLM lands East of the Mississippi up for sale at

https://secure.lcv.org/page/contribute/C4DFEMOCT02?source=4212196

Oppose the EPA’s changes regulating the release of methane gas at

https://secure.psr.org/page/49694/action/1?ea.url.id=4154848

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