Working people should back the demand for the immediate release of cattle ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, sent back to federal prison after they already served their initial sentences for arson over fires set to protect their land. This and other issues brought to the fore in Harney County, Oregon, since the start of the year are important for workers and rural toilers across the country.
The Hammonds’ five-year extended sentences were imposed under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, part of the mushrooming of mandatory minimum sentences that have led to soaring incarceration rates over the last 30 years. Many workers have become familiar with how these laws are used to bludgeon out “plea bargains,” and to punish those who insist on their right to a jury trial with draconian sentences.
Those who call the people occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge “domestic terrorists” help lay the groundwork for federal agents to use military might against them. We should never forget the FBI’s murderous 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian religious sect that killed 86 men, women and children in Waco, Texas. “This heinous crime exposes the true face of the bipartisan imperialist government in the United States — its imperial presidency, Congress, armed forces, cop agencies, and courts,” said a statement issued by the Socialist Workers Party National Committee. The imprisonment of the Hammonds and related developments take place in the midst of a deepening economic contraction that has hit workers, small farmers, farmworkers and others in rural areas the hardest.
Ranchers and farmers have been increasingly affected by the explosion of government red tape making it harder to make ends meet — especially for those who work the land themselves. Owners of large capitalist enterprises find ways to make the system work.
The capitalist state has been growing since the end of World War II. The Barack Obama administration has accelerated the expansion of federal regulation. In many Western states, where a majority of the land is under government jurisdiction, this leads to fights over access to grazing, water and other necessities for ranchers and farmers.
Mass meetings in Harney County have made it clear there is widespread support for freeing the Hammonds and for demands against government restrictions that cripple those working the land.
The purpose of the Socialist Workers Party is “to educate and organize the working class in order to establish a workers and farmers government, which will abolish capitalism in the United States and join in the worldwide struggle for socialism.” This points to the alliance needed between workers and working farmers to put an end to the dictatorship of capital and its increasingly devastating consequences for the toilers in city and countryside.
The Cuban Revolution set an example. After taking power in 1959, workers and farmers carried through a far-reaching land reform. Land there can’t be sold, and the right to use it is guaranteed to those who work it — gains that continue to this day.
Oregon actions demand ‘Free Hammonds,’ open land use
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