Every weekend, I (or a proxy, if I want the weekend off) go through well over a dozen New Mexico newspapers and their websites in search of compelling stories to send out to subscribers of the Community News Exchange. This weekly column is part of this weekly news-sharing service.
Sometimes I’m inspired to write this column about one of the stories I read; other times I’ve got something else on my mind. This week, I’ve been inspired by three local stories in particular:
• In Silver City, I suspect the town “talker” last week was of a 19-year-old male who allegedly robbed a Family Dollar store employee of about $1,500 that was in a deposit bag the employee was taking to the bank. Surveillance video showed the robber running to a vehicle after the holdup, only to find he’d locked his keys in the car. He ended up having to try to talk his way out of the mess with an officer who arrived at the scene to investigate the robbery. Needless to say, he was busted.
That’s the kind of story that generates a lot of jokes, and it apparently did just that at the Daily Press last week. But the newspaper’s editorial took a more somber tone, reminding its readers of the human tragedy behind the incident.
I get it. The suspect was legally an adult but is really just a kid. Something like this, when it happens to a stranger, might be funny, but when it happens to one of your own, it’s a far more serious matter. And in small towns, it’s easy for a story like this to hit too close to home.
• Meanwhile, up in Santa Rosa, The Communicator published a story about the near closure of Los Amigos Assisted Living. A year ago, the owner announced it was closing the facility, leaving 17 residents under the threat of losing their home. The story really humanizes the crisis, as many of the residents couldn’t afford any place else and were facing a frightening and uncertain future.
Fortunately, some dedicated people saved Los Amigos so that it’s still open and inhabited. It’s a testament to what people will do for the good of others. Senior citizens are often left behind in small towns as their children and grandchildren leave for opportunities in bigger cities, but many of those who remain in these communities have enormous hearts. Small towns survive by people with means taking care of those without.
• Then there’s the growing protest up north, at Standing Rock on Sioux tribal land in North Dakota, where Native Americans and others have been camped out for more than two years now in an effort to stop the construction of an oil pipeline they say will threaten their water supply.
The Communicator published an at-the-scene report of the protesters as they warily celebrated a recent win—a permit for the pipeline was denied—and braced themselves for a brutally cold winter. The story includes interviews with New Mexicans who have joined the protesters in an effort to ensure the pipeline goes no farther.
The Silver City Daily Press did a related story a few weeks ago, about locals leaving town to go to Standing Rock. Such stories make me wonder how many New Mexicans have done this, and how many are talking about bringing their protests back home—perhaps to Navajo Nation country in the northwestern corner of our state, where fracking is big.
It remains to be seen whether this is just another issue fueled by the left or if it’s the start of a bona-fide movement in defiance of Big Oil and Corporate America. What the Trump administration does about this showdown plays heavily into the mix.
It occurs to me that these three stories are indicative of what’s going on in rural America. Crime was once a big-city problem; now it’s personal, and growing, in small towns everywhere.
Additionally, what to do with aging citizens who are left behind as younger people move to the cities is a growing concern. Small-town nursing homes and hospitals are disappearing.
As for Standing Rock, it’s tapping into the frustrations many people feel about not being heard by the powers that dominate the American landscape. That’s a frustration with people on the left and the right—and especially, as the 2016 election showed, in the heartland of our nation.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.