By Jen Jackson Quintano
For a second, we worried that we were a tree service without a crew.
For a second, we worried that my politics might be the problem.
Alas, it’s not true. But we worried.
We’re trying to hire new employees, our former ones having left Sandpoint over the winter for greener pastures. Plus, I’m largely stepping back from the day-to-day of slaying trees in order to focus on the unremitting flow of paperwork and myriad creative projects. Essentially, Tyler is now the lonely star around which a whole new constellation must form.
The pool of qualified applicants proved shallow, so upon finding a candidate we liked last week, we lunged for him. Like starving hyenas. Like our lives depended on it. Because they kind of do. Or, at least, our livelihood. (The two are so easily confused.) We conducted the interview and offered a job mere hours later. Tyler made the overture to the man’s voicemail; the candidate didn’t answer. And days later, he still hadn’t called back.
With silent phone in hand, Tyler said to me, half in jest, “Maybe he found out about The Pro-Voice Project. Or that you’re The Lumberjill.”
While some see my creative endeavors as worthwhile — or at least entertaining — to others, I am a femi-Nazi who enjoys watching half-formed babies die. Full stop.
Who would want to work for that nasty woman?
In the past, political leanings mattered little on our crew. We’ve simply known not to broach certain topics nor respond when employees bring up opinions at odds with our own. Our more progressive views were a private affair. In fact, it took me several years to warm up to the idea of putting a “Love Lives Here” sign in our yard, so concerned was I about alienating employees and clients (as if the prayer flags didn’t already give it away).
Now, thanks to this column and other forms of activism in our community, my political leanings are not a private affair. I have a Sandpoint-sized megaphone, and I’m using it.
This is new territory for me. Over the past 20 years, I’ve called Wyoming, Utah and Idaho home. That’s essentially the holy trifecta of Western Redness, the bulwark against encroaching purple and blue. My chosen political candidates rarely win. As the blue sheep grazing in crimson fields, I’ve learned to moderate some of my views and remain silent regarding the ones on which I’m unwilling to compromise. This is a combination of self-preservation and pragmatism. It’s worked well.
Thanks to this strategy, I’ve befriended and attended church with a ranching family. A jovial Mormon crane operator offered to marry Tyler and me because he liked us and wanted to relieve himself of the burden of daily prayer for our sinfully cohabitating souls. I’ve learned about firearms from card-carrying NRA members, annihilating bottles and cans under their guidance. And I’ve attended the Blue Collar Comedy Tour — with a self-described redneck — giggling at all the riffs on my kind.
In short, I like hopping the perceived fence. My life is expanded for it. Over there, my views don’t go unchallenged.
However, all of this happened in the BTE years — Before the Trump Era — when it felt easier to be a person rather than an amalgam of political views. Where once my politics were ancillary to casual relationships, now they seem to be the primary indicator of a relationship’s functionality. MAGA adherents need not apply in my world. And my abortion-brandishing self need not show up in theirs (except in demeaning Facebook posts, I suppose).
I now feel the tug of competing impulses. On the one hand, I do not want to contribute to further polarization in a county and a country already rent wickedly at the seams. Instead, how much would I love to set political stances aside and break bread with someone who hates my opinions but is open to my humanity? Do you know how much I want to learn what makes that person tick? How much I want to see one another as humans in the round?
A lot. I want that a lot.
On the other hand, there has never before been a time where I’ve felt so compelled to scream the state Legislature into submission. How can I not speak out when institutions I wholeheartedly support — libraries, reproductive rights, voting rights, civil rights, education, Medicaid, the regulation of militias — are all under attack? How can I stand idly by and pretend to be apolitical when the rights of my child — to be herself, to learn, to think critically, to make family planning decisions, to vote, to feel safe and free — are all on the chopping block?
My worries about proclaiming that Love Lives Here now seem trivial. The bigger worry today is that the conservative minority in Idaho is running roughshod over our state’s longstanding ethos of Live and Let Live. What happened to you doing your thing and me doing mine? More importantly, what happened to, upon being done with our respective doings, us meeting up for a beer and a laugh?
That used to be Idaho As Fuck. Now, we’re IAF when we make national headlines for doxxing young rape victims, comparing women to dairy cows and ousting kindly library directors.
For better or worse, I’m done with silence. I feel a moral and parental imperative to speak out and make change. But, you know what? So does every person driving past me on Highway 95 sporting a Let’s Go Brandon sticker. We’re all doing the same thing — and for the same future-saving reasons — just in different lanes. And where once those lanes ran side by side, now they appear to be merging, creating head-on ideological collisions daily.
I once sought to insulate my business from my politics, but no longer. What does that mean for the future of the business? If qualified potential employees are turned off by all the signifiers of my progressivism, what then? If clients are turned off, what then? Is it better to stay mum and support one’s family? Or is it better to crusade for a better world for that family, damn the consequences?
Our golden candidate did eventually call back. It was an issue of a broken iPhone, not problematic politics. But being spooked by the possibility warrants a deeper look.
So far, my outspokenness has not impacted our business. It may never. Yet, in a time and place where people are so often punished for their political beliefs — via threats, trolling, misinformation campaigns and more — I remain vigilant, watching for proverbial (and, in this case, political) chickens coming home to roost.
Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at sandcreektreeservice.com. See more of Quintano’s writing at jenjacksonquintano.com.
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