Understanding Mayor Engen’s Final Proclamation Using A Quote From Orwell’s 1984

by Travis Mateer

The Orwell quote I saw materialize this week in the Mayor’s proclamation that August 24th will be James K. Caras day goes like this: who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

Here’s the kind of time I was TRYING to think about yesterday, as represented in an image from the 1930s of Higgins Bridge, which you can find in a book titled Missoula County Images, Volume II.

This image shows Missoula’s iconic Wilma building on the upper left, and a side channel of the Clark Fork river on the right, which seems to flow almost right next to the Wilma. It wasn’t until 1962, exactly 60 years ago, that this side-channel was filled in, creating Caras Park.

For a present day look, here’s a quick panorama I took yesterday from Higgins bridge, itself nearing completion and set to be rededicated soon.

The narrative control I will continue to write critically about, even the seemingly well-intentioned platforming of marginalized people, is starkly embodied in County Commissioner, Dave Strohmaier, and his attempt to use the bridge for PR purposes while his political colleagues at City Council play funding games with ARPA dollars.

Here’s Dave himself, excitingly describing what the dedication of the bridge might accomplish:

Earlier this year, the Higgins Avenue Bridge was officially renamed the Beartrack Bridge, to honor the Bitterroot Salish peoples who crossed the river over a hundred years ago on their own ‘trail of tears’ to what is now the Flathead Reservation.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier was the first to forward the idea after the bridge remodeling project got underway.

“Maybe we need to use this rededication of the major piece of infrastructure as an opportunity to recognize and honor native heritage and history, and that dates back to 1891, when the U.S. Government conducted a forced relocation of the Bitterroot Salish people to the Jocko Reservation, or what is now called the Flathead Reservation,” said Strohmaier.

Talking about the present efforts by our elected (and non-elected) leaders to be “inclusive” with their new forms of narrative control is fun and all, but on the day meant for James K. Caras, I was upstream, on a different river, celebrating someone who has a calling similar to my own.

Yes, it’s true, I’ve joined forces with a fellow writer and overall amazing woman who has taken a stand against the predatory inclinations of our dying institutions because she recognizes what’s at stake. And August 24th was HER birthday, something a wide-spectrum of political operators can appreciate (or at least pretend to on Facebook).

What is LESS appreciated is the discomfort our mere existence can sometimes produce. It’s weird. But our parallel paths over the years, with non-profit work and criminal justice advocacy, and the subsequent alienation we’ve experienced by NOT shutting up about the things we know–her from the faith community, and me from the arts community–make our collaboration seem inevitable.

And, to those with shit to hide, pretty threatening.

Yesterday, while writing this post, what I found threatening were the real world experiences I kept having, like once again having to call 911 because a VERY unstable individual was acting out, in the middle of the day, just half a block away from where kids were outside chalking the sidewalk.

I did a quick search on this guy’s name, since I know him from working at the shelter, and what I found was like an irony-onion with too many layers to peel for outsiders to appreciate, but I’ll include a screenshot anyway:

Yes, the name, the year, the headline and, most disturbingly, those eyes, all resonate strongly for me. Maybe that’s why I appear a little escalated in this on-the-ground report:

Who controls the present? That’s an interesting question to ask as University students flood back into town, hitting the bars for that college experience.

Those in authority have a big advantage when it comes to controlling the present, especially on the narrative level. For example, what’s the biggest threat in Montana, according to Attorney General Austin Knudsen? And WHO is our AG going to rely on to deal with the threat?

Here’s some recent messaging from the AG’s office about the threat of fentanyl (emphasis mine):

“There’s no question that fentanyl is now the number one public safety threat facing Montana. Mexican drug cartels are pushing it across the border, flooding it into our state at an unprecedented rate — and killing Montanans,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “I’ve put additional resources into the fight against drugs and crime in Montana and will continue my efforts alongside other law enforcement agencies to keep our communities safe.”

Narrative control is a great way to control the present, and an Attorney General of any state carries a lot of weight when it comes to defining things in the present that are threatening, then outlining the remedy.

But as much as any person or institution may try to exert control over the present circumstances of navigating life in America at this late stage of the experiment, reality is getting incredibly uncooperative, making those in authority even MORE desperate to exert control–or, at least, the illusion of it.

After this article posts I’ll be driving to Mineral County to investigate a rumor that a certain Sheriff Deputy is trying to control his own future, and thus the future of the entire County, by getting himself appointed due to the ill health of his boss.

To back up this rumor, here’s what’s supposed to be going down in Mineral County, according to the agenda:

Though I can’t say what the future holds, I CAN read books about the past, and Margie E. Hahn has a book on the history of Mineral County, titled In Retrospect. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 8:

Dividing boundaries and placing land under different jurisdictions is no new thing. What is now Mineral County has been successively under the jurisdiction of thirteen governmental combinations since the white manifest came to the northwest.

On July 5th, 1843 the provisional government of Oregon Territory created four districts of which Clackamas was one. It extended to the continental divide so what is now Mineral County was included.

The next year the Hudson Bay Company protested the northern boundary so its as moved south to the Columbia River, placing this area in what was called the Vancouver District by the British.

In 1845 the Hudson Bay Company agreed that land north of the Columbia River should be incorporated as a county, thus setting up another form of jurisdiction. This was still Oregon Territory. That same year the county was divided and the eastern half became Clarke County.

I find this fascinating, and helpful context for what we’re dealing with here.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Understanding Mayor Engen’s Final Proclamation Using A Quote From Orwell’s 1984

  1. Your collaborationship synergy with your new partner in Thought Crime has produced very palpable results. Your writing has matured/evolved to a level more nearly commensurate with your erudition and imagination. I’m not kissing ass here, just saying that the insights revealed by the writing, unfettered by the “conventional wisdom” of Opinion Leaders, frequently transcends the petty jealousies of partisanship even as strong criticism and muckraking is practiced; and none of us is immune (as I learned only too well a year ago).

    As Leon Trotsky wrote from exile a decade before his assassination by a Stalin enforcer, in “My Life — An Attempt at a Biography”:

    “In Shakespeare, tragedy alternates with comedy for the
    same reason that in life the sublime is mingled with the
    petty and vulgar.”

    As in life and in Shakespeare, your writing does, and undoubtedly always will, mingle the sublime with the petty and vulgar. And your actions accompanying your words make you neither Shakespeare nor Trotsky, but a mingling of the two (in a phenomenological, rather than a political, sense).

    Some literary shots will hit, some will miss; some will evoke praise, others denunciation — from friends and foes, strangers and intimates. Such is the nature of pursuing the elusive Holy Grails Truth and Justice.


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