Jim Letourneau's Blog

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Documenting Injustice - Bundy Ranch

Peter Gabriel was ahead of his time. In 1992 he co-founded WITNESS, an international nonprofit organization that has been using the power of video and storytelling for 20 years to open the eyes of the world to human rights abuses. Watch his TED talk from 2006, Fight injustice with raw video

The ideal of handing out portable DV cams to citizen journalists was born of technological innovation. Technological innovation has killed DV cams but today we have a nearly infinite number of citizen journalists. 

Our stories and injustices, real and perceived, are now documented in excruciating detail. 

Which brings me to the Bundy Ranch story. Cliven Bundy runs cattle in the middle of a desert north of Las Vegas. Bundy's cattle graze on public land. He claims pre-emptive rights due to his Mormon ancestry. The free range days ended quite some time ago for most ranchers. Tragedy of the commons stuff.  For background read CNN's Showdown on the range: Nevada rancher, feds face off over cattle grazing rights

The plight of a rancher is to be frustrated. Working the land is hard. Cattle prices fluctuate. Add increasing government regulation to the mix and tempers flair. In this case Bundy's last stand is the result of his failure to win in the courts. Bundy can't graze cattle but large solar facilities probably eradicate more tortoise habitat. Meat is out and solar is in and the government is trying to enforce the will of an increasingly fickle population. 

Back to citizen journalism. Watch the raw footage of the most recent "Bundy Ranch" confrontation. People are so immersed in capturing footage, that they trip over each other. It is half media scrum/half protest. Protesters are struggling to provoke government agents with one hand because the other is holding a phone camera.  

I doubt this is what Peter Gabriel had in mind when he started WITNESS but there is no question that these protesters feel empowered because they have the ability to document their encounters with agents of the US government. Hopefully this conflict can be resolved without anybody getting seriously hurt. If not, at least there will be video.