Occupied Land
By Trudy Wischemann
1:02 pm,
October 19, 2023

“I wish you’d write about Palestine,” said my dear friend who pre-reads these columns weekly, correcting grammar and mistakes of the heart. I invited him to try his hand at it, and you may see his words here next week on that throbbing subject.

Below the warfare there, which is currently decimating lives, land and centuries of human structures built to make the occupation of that land into Home, the question lies unresolved. Who is to occupy that land, or any other, and under what conditions? Whose land is it? Whose land is Ukraine? Whose land is Cuyama Valley, or the bed of Tulare Lake?

During the fight over the acreage limitation in the 1970s, the Fresno-based nonprofit National Land for People had a bumper sticker that said “La tierra pertenece al que la trabaja”—the land belongs to those who work it. That thought actually turns out to be biblical, though I can’t find the passage in scripture at the moment and it’s not likely to come straight to mind even for most Christians. It flies in the face of Americans’ notion of land ownership, which is one of the rungs of upward mobility, a belief in which we base myriad judgments of peoples’ worth. The lack of land ownership is a recipe for downward mobility and the concomitant judgment of worthlessness. Check out your mental checklist of worthiness qualities if you think I’m wrong.

So in this country at least, land ownership is some kind of guarantee that safeguards your occupation of that land, a half-promise that your little homestead is not subject to someone else’s decision-making or needs. The rise of property taxes, zoning and other government regulations has impinged on that guarantee in honor of the neighbor and/or neighborhood. These impingements are recognition of common wealth, the belief that at least part of the wealth created by such human stability is held in common. Each of us benefits from maintaining the neighborhood, the nation.

When it comes to groundwater, the notion of land ownership has not served us well. According to California water law (before SGMA), a landowner had the right to pump as much water from the ground as he/she wanted and/or was able, providing that it did not harm the right of the neighbor to do the same. Since there was no way to prove whose pumping was harming who, there was no real legal recourse when individual pumpers became unneighborly. As another friend reminded me, the natural world was left out of this equation entirely, such that when pumping dried up springs, creeks, ponds and even lakes, the lifeforms dependent upon those surface expressions of groundwater became landless. Many died, part of our ecological genocide.

So why take a stand, for example, with the residents of Cuyama Valley, the real human occupants, when the realities of landownership still rule? Why go out on a limb when the non-resident, absentee landowners first stack the deck, then play their cards right and threaten to close down the game? Why risk caring when these corporate land title-holders can write off the losses and move on, take up occupation of others’ lands when Cuyama’s water is gone, long after the real residents have dried up and gone away? Why bother to stand with them when the fact is that (as my ecologically-inclined friend said,) “when money collides with community, the money wins every time”?

Because SGMA is a chance to make things right. Because resident occupiers of land are more valuable to the integrity of the ecosystem and the human neighborhood than absentee investor-owned corporations, whose bottom line is making money, not community health. Because there are tiny cracks in the rules slanted toward money, microfractures intended to give democracy a 1% chance of surviving, and if we don’t use them, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Because when push comes to shove, we are all just occupiers of land, temporary residents, and the opportunity to reform ourselves into land stewards shouldn’t be wasted.

So, like I said last week, let’s stop eating Cuyama’s evaporating groundwater. Visit www.StandWithCuyama.com, sign their petition, and watch the fine 3-minute video. Read some of the documents and reports, created by others who have found themselves committed to standing up against the depletion of that valley’s most precious resources, human as well as water. Then join the boycott of Grimmway and Bolthouse carrot products. Afterward, check your measurements. You just might find yourself standing a little taller as a result.

Trudy Wischemann is an itinerant preacher and banjo player who writes. Send her your carrotless recipes c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247. This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.

About the Author

Trudy Wischemann
Local writer of the column ‘Notes From Home’