The 2016 election played out again on the water at Mille Lacs Lake last weekend. From the Star Tribune:
Gov. Mark Dayton canceled a meeting with business owners around Lake Mille Lacs Saturday after about 75 protesters in boats encircled him on the lake to protest a temporary ban on walleye fishing.
Dayton was with a small group of people fishing for bass to promote the fishing that is still allowed at the lake after restrictions — including a ban on fishing walleye until July 28 — went into place Thursday. Dayton’s boat spent about 90 minutes on the water before heading back to land.Passengers on roughly 25 boats displayed balloons and signs reading “REGULATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION = TYRANNY” and “GOV. DAYTON STOP LAKE MILLE LACS POLITICS!”
I don’t think it’s too hot of a take to say that the same dynamics that elected Donald Trump president are also evident in the rage against the DNR on Mille Lacs. The people on those boats were concerned for their livelihoods being ruined. They are frustrated because of the lack of progress and government action — for a crisis that there may not be any immediate solutions for. Climate change, spiny water fleas, hooking mortality: the possible causes offered by the DNR are too abstract and scary for the Mille Lacs residents to accept. Those three reasons mean there is really nothing any human person can do in the short term to fix it. Gov. Mark Dayton — or those people standing out on boats, yelling at him — can do next to nothing to avert climate change or invasive species. And the anti-hooking mortality measures the DNR put in place, — stopping fishing on the lakes during the hottest part of the summer, when caught fish are more likely to die — are clearly too onerous for the Mille Lacs denizens to even think about.
The protest was called “boorish” and “tacky” by several outdoors writers: Dennis Anderson on Friday and Rod Sando this weekend. They rightly took issue with protesters yelling sexual vulgarities at Dayton.
“Mark Dayton can be forgiven if he chooses not to help Mille Lacs area residents and business owners any further during his final 18 months in office,” Anderson wrote.
This reminds me of the constant dismissal of Trump rally behavior last year. The columnists have a valid point in saying that yelling at the governor is not going to solve anything on the lake. However, like the pundits who criticized the Trump movement, they need to check themselves a little, too. The people on the lake still have real anger in their hearts, and the sentiment is not going to go away simply by dismissing it in a newspaper column. Yes, the behavior is boorish and disgusting, but think for a moment about what would drive a person to do something like last Saturday’s display. Their rage must be confronted head-on, by talking and educating and counter-messaging. To dismiss them as hotheads is to invite more turmoil later. We didn’t stop engaging with North Korea or Iran or Cuba just because they do belligerent things — why can’t Minnesotans talk to each other?
Proactive solutions plan for the future, whereas reactive solutions respond to events haphazardly and emotionally as they occur.
Gov. Dayton was there in the first place to go bass fishing, an example of the government’s current approach to the situation on Mille Lacs. They want to encourage a diversification of industry there, so the economy is not based on people coming for one type of fish. It’s the best option available to resorts and rec fishing businesses on the lake, amid climate change and invasive species’ inevitable altering of the ecosystem. However, it’s going to take some gut-checks and an earnest willingness to embrace change in business models. Those boat protesters are evidence the willingness is not there yet. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, they better start swimming, or they’ll sink like a stone.