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Whatcom Watch Online
Former Bellingham Activist Tells All

July 2003

Book Review

Former Bellingham Activist Tells All

Reviewed by Tom Pratum

Tom Pratum is a board member of North Cascades Audubon Society, who has lived in Whatcom County for most of his life, but fortunately lived in King County when the events of the book were transpiring. He hopes they will not be repeated.

Blind Spots
A Citizen’s Memoir

by Jay Thomas Taber
iUniverse Inc. (, 2003
138 pp., softbound, $13.95
ISBN 0-595-28092-7

I have never personally known Jay Taber, and prior to reading this book had only heard recounts of his legendary pursuits through stories told by Dave Schmalz and others. Given that background, I found this book quite interesting.

In his book, Jay takes us through a time period from 1991 to 1998 during which some of the epic battles to preserve our Whatcom County way of life were waged. These included the incredibly important battles to force Whatcom County to abide by Growth Management Act guidelines, derail the ill-conceived Lake Whatcom Connector project, and the now-lost battle over Water District No. 10’s Lake Louise Sewer Interceptor.

Jay and his allies played an integral role in all of these efforts and others. One wonders what would have happened if he had not be present to do battle. He relates to us what he saw and participated in as he saw it—and he did see most of it.

Figures and Organizations of the Time

Property rights’ organizations such as Keystone and CLUE (Coalition for Land Use Education) appear to have faded from existence, but many of the individuals and background organizations involved here are very much still on the scene.

The efforts of the great environmental activists of the time are also recounted. The important work of not only himself, but of Sherilyn Wells, Paul de Armond, Dave Schmalz, Lois Garlick and others in opposing the property rights/wise use movement in Whatcom County are documented here as Jay saw them unfold.

At the same time he is not afraid to point out the “cowardly liberals,” who not only were of no help at all, but often appeared to him to have a back-stabbing agenda. As I read some of his unflattering attacks on his environmental comrades, I felt fortunate that I lived in the Seattle area at the time.

The reader is graced with past accounts of familiar figures such as Skip Richards, Bruce Ayers, Bob Wiesen, Bill Geyer, Jean Freestone and many other property rights’ stalwarts opposed to environmental protection and other governmental regulation.

Far more insidious militia groups are also revealed, and here I was surprised to learn that Ben Hinkle was quite active in the militia movement, and did more than just park his old truck downtown and pass out “Get U.S. Out of the U.N.” literature (and write similar letters to the editor).

The common thread of the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County as the likely powerhouse behind many of these property rights’ groups is seen as a fact that continues to this day.

I was disappointed I couldn’t read a description of former Building Industry Association Government Affairs 0fficer Rich Emerson railing against this or that at a City or County Council meeting—this would fit right in with the events of the early 1990s, and be a description to which I could personally relate. Mr. Emerson may have left the BIA, but you can see that the organization’s agenda is little changed from his coming and going.

Racism in Whatcom County

Racism as a theme in the property rights’ movement is fleshed out through their consideration of the importance of Native Peoples’ treaty rights to be subservient to those of individual property owners. The familiar figure of former county councilwoman Marlene Dawson is well placed here, as are others.

Taber states at one point, “It was the first time I unequivocally understood the historical continuity and linkage of racism, religious fundamentalism and environmental desecration that characterized relations between people, and between people and the earth in the United States. I was both deeply saddened and morally indignant.” Clearly this is an area upon which we all could use some reflection.

While I personally found the book very satisfying, I am puzzled by the marketing of the material to anyone other than local Whatcom County readers. I can’t see how sufficient background material is presented for anyone else to understand exactly what is being described.

There are many examples, but as one, Greenways is mentioned as a successful community effort (which Jay participated in) without any explanation of what the program actually represents.

I suppose that the book may have been judged unreasonably long by inclusion of such background material. However, I then have to wonder why it was felt necessary to include several pages linking the “madness around Whatcom politics” with illness of the central nervous system.

Such a link may be there, but the author is certainly unqualified to comment on it and it deserved none other than a minor footnote in this book.

Errors in Names and Titles

Given the interest and usefulness of the book to local residents, I was somewhat disappointed at the errors in names and titles that are almost pervasive. Joan Casey is referred to as Joan Watts. Robin Matthews’ first name is misspelled. Lois Garlick is referred to as a retired college professor when she is actually a retired WWU staff member.

Richard Horner is described as a limnologist when his degree is in environmental engineering and he is, in fact, a stormwater expert (a perhaps subtle but important difference). There are other numerous misspellings of places and names—the book really needed a good fact checking before publication!

Even with its background shortcomings and lack of fact checking, I feel this book is very worthwhile—especially if you are someone such as myself who needs to fill in a few gaps in your knowledge of the local events of the 1990s.

The book is most useful to readers who already have some background knowledge of the primary events described, but even for those with little knowledge, the book can be viewed as an autobiographical account of one individual’s focused time of activism.

In this way, it serves as a warning to activists that their lives can be consumed by the intense work ahead of them. §

Note that the persons mentioned in this book review - either directly or indirectly - with regard to the property rights movement should in no way be construed as being of a racist nature.

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