Published by

Martin C. Fredricks IV

Martin C. “Red” Fredricks Martin is a husband, father of three, small business owner and writer. His op-eds, columns and blog posts have tackled everything from condoms in university residence hall bathrooms to application of the death penalty, the warmth of a North Dakota blizzard to robots that play soccer, the curse of Christmas present to an unexpected meeting on the way home from the Winter Olympics. Martin’s past experience includes a stint as editor of a weekly newspaper, a strategic planner and copywriter at a couple of advertising firms, a constituent service rep on a U.S. senator’s staff and a senior writer and editor at a university. He can be reached at

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — Not One Red Cent

The Forum of Fargo initially said it was $104,528.22.

Then the mayor said it was more like $10,000 over the daily cost of law enforcement.

The deputy police chief said city law enforcement “… accrued only $1,200 in overtime.”

A commentator from The Forum said it was actually $31,147.58.

The cost of President Trump’s event in Fargo in support of Rep. Kevin Cramer’s campaign has been spun a bunch of different ways, and comments about whether funds were for regular or overtime pay for law enforcement have been boomeranging, too.

But in the swirl, a couple of much more important points have been lost.

Point No. 1: Taxpayer money was used for campaign purposes.

Fraction of cents

So far, no one is arguing there was not a cost to Fargo and Cass County taxpayers, just how much the cost really was. Which seems to have drawn the reporters’, commentators’ and public’s attention away from the real issues.

President Donald J. Trump’s visit to Fargo was for a political campaign rally. Period. It was billed that way, organized that way and reported that way.

Political. Campaign. Rally.

The event’s purpose was to give Rep. Kevin Cramer positive coverage in the midst of a tough U.S. Senate campaign and to help him raise money.

Cramer was not there on official business. He was not tending to the needs of U.S. or North Dakota citizens.

Trump was not there on official business. He was not tending to the challenges facing the American people.

Both were there in purely political capacities.

Given that, even one red cent of cost to the taxpayers of Fargo or Cass County was too much.

Fractions of sense

The House Ethics Committee is clear on the use of public funds for political activities, especially activities intended to improve a member’s chances for re-election. The Committee’s “General Prohibition Against Using Official Resources for Campaign or Political Purposes” references “… the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain re-election.”

That might not be pertinent to this specific situation, but the core ethical point is absolutely relevant.

“Basic principle.” As in, this is so basic anyone should be able to understand it. Public funds should not support candidates for office.

So, the cost of a rally by one candidate (Trump, who began running for re-election the day after his Inauguration) for another (Cramer), should not be hoisted upon local and county taxpayers.

The funds should be repaid, and the repayment should come from the campaign coffers of Cramer and Trump. I’d be saying the same thing if we were talking about a president and member of Congress who were Democrats.

It’s just common sense.

Free will but nothing else

Statements after the fact about the total dollar figure being much less than what was originally reported are deflection and misdirection. It doesn’t matter how much the city and county had to shell out for the rally.

It only matters that we got stuck with a bill, even for one red cent. Or, in the case of each of this county’s taxpayers, a small fraction of one red cent.

We have free will. Each of us, if we want to contribute to Cramer’s or Trump’s re-election campaigns, can do it on our own, thank you.

Setting aside for a moment the $3 checkoff for the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (see this explanation — — from the Federal Election Commission), why should our tax dollars go to support the re-election of candidates, whether we support them or not? Why should they get a free ride?

They shouldn’t.

Point No. 2: Even if officers were on their regular shifts, or paid with regular wages, they weren’t attending to their regular duties.

In his letter in the July 25 edition of The Forum, Robert Seigel of Moorhead nailed it.

“These officers were withdrawn from regular duties for special assignment and did not contribute to the enforcement work expected of the Police Department on a normal day.”

I’m sure the Fargo Police Department protected and served the city’s neighborhoods during the rally, even though manpower was diverted.

The officers who were on the political rally detail were not attending to their normal duties of protecting and serving the thousands of us who did not attend. Resources were diverted. In other words, taken away from. From whom? From us, the taxpayers.

This is not a criticism of the Fargo Police Department or its officers. I simply do not want them diverted to a political activity on the taxpayers’ dime.

Or even one red cent.

Divide; divert; Distract

Rather than getting distracted by the dollar figures, misdirected by noise about regular vs. overtime, let’s remember two things:

Our money was used for a political rally. Our police force was diverted from its normal duties for a political rally.

Neither should happen.

Because at the end of the day, right and wrong don’t depend on right or left.

It’s just dead wrong.

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — I Am A Patriotic American

Don’t Try To Tell Me Otherwise

I am a patriotic American.


  • I believe life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights. For everyone.
  • I believe all people are created equal, regardless of country of origin or citizenship, race, gender, color or creed.
  • I honor the American flag and what it symbolizes. And because I do, I’ll fight for every U.S. citizen’s right to drape themselves in it, wear it on caps and T-shirts, put it on pottery and, in the extreme, burn it in protest if they feel they must.
  • I will question the decisions, actions and inactions of our government, just as our nation’s founders did.
  • I support veterans and military personnel. I am duty-bound to them, their families and our country to question the reasons they are sent into harm’s way.

Because I am a patriotic American —

  • I’ll fight for every U.S. citizen’s right to peacefully protest injustices perpetrated upon ourselves and our fellow citizens.
  • I have a responsibility to inform myself about candidates and issues and to vote in every election.
  • I believe in majority rule. However, as a patriotic American, I will never believe for a millisecond that alignment with the majority automatically makes one right.

Because I am a patriotic American —

  • I honor not just our country, but our country. That means I’ll do whatever I can to protect the quality of our air, lands and waterways, to leave them in pristine condition for my children and yours.
  • I honor immigrants, from my great-great grandparents — immigrants themselves who helped build this nation — to people coming today in search of better lives. I wouldn’t be here without immigrants, and unless you’re Native American, neither would you.
  • I believe we are obligated to honor treaties with native peoples, just as we do agreements with other sovereign nations.
  • I believe in every person’s right to better themselves, as long as their actions do not cut down, misrepresent or swindle someone else.
  • I take pride in being a member of an honorable nation. And to me that means treating other nations and their peoples with the same respect we expect.
  • I believe in a clear and uncompromised separation of church and state.
  • I acknowledge every U.S. citizen’s right to formulate, hold and propagate opinions, and every other U.S. citizen’s right to agree, disagree or ignore them.

I am a patriotic American, and because I am, I’m confident in my right to hold these beliefs. I trust in my Constitutional rights to think, say and write about them without fear of reprisal from my government.

Because I am a patriotic American, I acknowledge your right to your views and definitions of patriotism, even when we disagree. And I expect you to acknowledge mine.

I am a patriotic American, and because I am, I celebrate Independence Day every July 4. I honor the courageous patriots who questioned their government, who defied it in a bold declaration, and who fought for the rights so many U.S. citizens now enjoy.

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — New Community Project Highlights ‘Extraordinary Ordinary’ People

I’m proud to announce “About Faces,” a new community project featuring images and stories of people who illustrate — we hope — the extraordinary in our ordinary, work-a-day lives.

“About Faces” is a collection of portraits — in images and words — about people who make Fargo-Moorhead and the surrounding communities what they have been, what they are and what they can be.

Here you’ll find fewer “movers-and-shakers” and more “doers-and-makers” — people who do the things that make a difference for individuals and communities.

Some have lived through unbelievable times or participated in creating monumental shifts. Others have made sudden about-faces in their personal or professional lives, while others have held the line, doing what they do for years or even decades.

Darren Gibbins and I are collaborating to create “About Faces”; it’s been great pleasure to work with such a talented photographer. Instead of making any money on the deal, we see it as a chance to give regular folks a few moments in the limelight for free, return just a tiny bit back to our communities and have some fun while we’re at it.

New stories are published every other week (give or take, here or there, more or less).

Please visit the “About Faces” website, check out Darren’s awesome pictures and read the stories (three so far). Then, do us a favor — please visit “About Faces” on Facebook and Twitter, like and — MOST IMPORTANTLY — share one of the stories there with your friends and followers. (The images and stories aren’t worth much if no one sees them. 😉

If you know someone who lives in Fargo-Moorhead or the surrounding communities and has a great “extraordinary ordinary” story, please let us know. Thanks!

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — I Call BS, Too, And My Conscience Screams NO!

Please join me in saying NRA? No Way!
and using #NRANoWay on social media.

My Facebook friend, Steven G. Johnk, better known as Spider, created this graphic (on top of this blog). It’s right in line with what many of the survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting are saying.

Here are the comments of three Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
students to CNN:

  • “This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about the Democrats. This is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians who are accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral.” — Cameron Kasky
  • “The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us…. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.” — Emma Gonzalez
  • “We’ve sat around too long being inactive in our political climate, and as a result, children have died. If our elected officials are not willing to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to continue to take money from the NRA because children are dying,’ they shouldn’t be in office and they won’t be in office because this is a midterm year and this is the change that we need.” — David Hogg

Watch for yourself:

  • “Parkland students say, ‘We are going to be the last mass shooting’”\
  • “Florida student Emma Gonzalez to lawmakers and gun advocates: ‘We call BS (

These students, and a group called March For Our Lives ( are planning a protest in Washington, D.C., and other cities around the country for March 24. I’ll be with them, I hope physically but if not then at least in spirit.

There’s a school walkout protest planned for April 20. My kids will have permission to participate.

And, finally, I will no longer vote for candidates for office who are members of or take money from the National Rifle Association.

People I know and respect are afraid of what might happen if they withhold their votes. They say that while their representative or senator is a member of or takes money from the NRA, they vote the right way on other issues. They’re afraid if they don’t vote for that incumbent, or a desirable replacement, the other, less desirable candidate will win the election. And where will that leave us?

They’re absolutely right. To them I say, “I get it. I feel you.”

But here’s the thing …

I can no longer, in good conscience, support anyone who aids and abets the NRA in its quest to keep as many guns as possible in our communities and on our streets.

I will no longer settle for the least objectionable candidate.

I reject “lesser of two evils” justifications when it comes to my representatives. Just because the alternative is worse doesn’t mean the better alternative is good.

Bad is bad.

Members of Congress and state legislatures who take money from the NRA, or believe what it preaches, have blood on their hands. If I continue to vote for them, or candidates vying to replace them, blood will be on mine, too.

I have three children in public schools.

I can’t do it.

To get my vote back, members of Congress and state legislatures need to repudiate the NRA narrative, cancel their memberships and vow to eschew campaign funds or backdoor deals from the organization.

Call me naive if you must, but I’m not. My eyes are wide open. But I’ve had enough. I can’t stomach seeing any more dead kids, or adults for that matter, on my television, in my newspaper or on social media, the victims of mass shootings.

It’s all become very simple. If a candidate enables the killing for our children, they will do so without me.


MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — Let’s Add One Word To The NRA’s Talking Point

The National Rifle Association’s key talking point rolled out as predictably as the sad reality that another mass shooting will happen soon in a U.S. school.

“This is not the time to discuss gun control.”

Let’s add just one word to the key talking point: This is not the ONLY time to discuss gun control.

In fact, it’s EXACTLY the time.

The add-on to the “Now is not the time …” argument usually goes something like this: “The dead aren’t even cold yet, and you want to turn it into an argument for gun control. Shame on you.”

This illogical and dispassionate reasoning has been repeated across social media and echoed through the halls of the U.S. Congress since the Feb. 14 slaying of 17 people at a Florida high school. The Speaker of the House provided a representative sound bite in a news conference the next day.

“This is not the time to jump to some conclusion not knowing the full facts,” he said. “This is one of those moments where we just need to step back and count our blessings.”

It’s not exactly clear which blessings he was talking about. It’s a good bet a lot of parents, siblings, spouses, grandparents and friends haven’t been feeling especially blessed since last Wednesday.

As for the dead children in Parkland, Fla., they’re not counting or feeling anything anymore.

To repeat:



Would the people who use the “Now is not the time …” argument change their tunes if it was their husband, father, son, daughter, sister or brother lying on the school’s hallway floor? Would it change their minds about gun control? Or anything else?

Because one thing’s clear — something has to change.

Purveyors of the “Now is not the time …” argument often follow it up with, “Besides, mass shootings have nothing to do with guns. The real issue is mental health.”

Mental health is an issue in this country, certainly. It undoubtedly contributes to many problems, including gun violence.

So, let’s talk about mental health. Let’s talk about availability, affordability and access to mental health care. Let’s talk about reasonable, effective gun control legislation, as well.

In fact, let’s talk about every issue that qualified experts identify as contributing to mass shootings in the United States. They should all be on the table.

More importantly, let’s finally do something.

As the dead are mourned in Florida, the real questions are these: If we shouldn’t talk about these issues now, then when? If we don’t go beyond talk to take action now, then when? If we don’t stop the killing of our children, who will?

Because it’s shame on us all if we don’t.

We call our country great, and in so many ways, it is. But we won’t be able to say so for long if we stand by as our children are slaughtered in their schools.

Stop. Really think about that.

Our children. Slaughtered. In their schools.

Now is not the ONLY time. Now is EXACTLY the time.

* Meanwhile, I’ll be using the hashtag #NRANoWay wherever and whenever I can and withholding my vote from any politician who belongs to or takes money from the NRA. Please join me.

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — Sound Of Freedom

It’s been 26 years and 29 days since I wrote this piece. I was fresh out of North Dakota State University and in my first “real” job — editor of The Courant, the “Official Newspaper of Bottineau County, N.D.” I think of it every year about this time. I’ve always thought it’s not half-bad. I hope you do, too.

For the past two weeks or so, I have been waking at night with shivers running up and down my spine. These shivers have little to do with the weather.

I’m a fairly light sleeper, one of those people who seldom wakes up without knowing what day it is and what needs to be done before the day is done.

In the past 2½ weeks, a faint but invigorating sound has drawn me out of dreamland and into the yard before trying to get back to sleep. Great writers have tried to capture the awe-inspiring quality that this sound can have on humans. It is the sound of freedom and struggle and the strength to overcome.

It is the sound of the southbound geese, calling out to one another in the moonlight as they continue their fall migration.

It is a sound that brings to the surface in me a desire to fly, to be free of all the earthly worries to which we humans are bound.


I remember being in college, lost in the study of Russian history, worried about an exam I had the next day, the homework I needed to accomplish regardless of a full weekend at work and a phone bill that needed paying. I was at my desk, completely absorbed in a textbook when a faint sound drifted through the slightly open window.

My head came up and I started to rise out of my chair. Then I thought better of it, knowing the traffic that screeched past on the street in front of my house would drown out that sound. I figured it was my imagination, and returned to Trotsky, Lenin and the first Russian Revolution of this century.

A few minutes later, I heard the sound again, this time more distinct, and I knew I wasn’t hearing things. I leaped out of my chair and started searching under piles of test-week dirty laundry for some shoes, any shoes. Finally, I realized I didn’t have time to waste on shoes; I ran out the door and into the backyard in my bare feet.

I could still hear the geese but couldn’t see them. My yard in Fargo was squashed between two other houses and a one-story garage. I scaled the garage in a matter of seconds, hoping I wouldn’t be too late.

At the top, I was greeted by 30 greater Canada geese, honkers, flying across the backdrop of a splendid North Dakota autumn sunset of reds, pinks, oranges and blues. I laughed exultantly and waved a clinched fist at the squawking birds, hoping they might raise a call for me.

I watched as they flew out of sight, a bare-footed, grinning idiot, thinking only of the strength it must take to fly thousands of miles, and the freedom one must have to do so. And for the thousandth time, I wished I was one of them.

They left me there on top of a crumbling garage with my useless wish, cursing myself for not bringing my camera. I laughed again, then climbed back down to the yard and my trivial problems.

I didn’t return to the Russian Revolution. The geese had started my blood pumping and I couldn’t concentrate. I spent the evening writing and thinking about other good memories the geese have given me. I went to bed early, completely happy and relaxed.

The next day I took that exam, and I probably did better than I would have had I stressed out over the books all night.


I am a hunter, but that has little bearing on the love I have for the geese and the joyous feeling they give me each time they lure me out of sleep or self-concern. They remind me that we live in a state where the big birds can stop to rest and refuel, and the fact that they fly thousands of miles is a reminder that we can do anything if we have the determination and the strength to try.

Except fly, of course.


“For long spells they would fly in silence, but most often they maintained noisy communication, arguing, protesting, exulting; at night, especially, they uttered cries which echoed forever in the memories of men who heard them drifting down through the frosty air of autumn….”  — James A. Michener, Chesapeake, “Voyage Eight: 1822”

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — Let’s Not Allow A Refinery Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

I grew up in Medora, N.D. It was the 1970s, about the time a previous oil boom was running full-tilt in the western part of the state.

The air was still fresh and clean, whitetails walked down an empty Main Street in the early evenings this time of year, and the 100 or so souls who called the place home year-round enjoyed the post-tourist peace and quiet.

My folks often took visiting relatives into Theodore Roosevelt National Park to hopefully glimpse wild horses, maybe come upon a buffalo and definitely to check out the view, which on clear days could stretch all the way to Dickinson and beyond.

Out that way is Fryburg, where I went to school in the fifth grade because otherwise I would have been the only boy in grades five through eight in Medora’s two-room schoolhouse. A few miles farther east is Belfield, where Medora’s older kids attended high school. It also had the nearest movie theater, where I saw “The Apple Dumpling Gang” for the first time.

Fresh and clean

Not much is the same today. Medora is almost completely commercialized, the two-room schoolhouse is long gone, and so is the pristine view of the Badlands from North Dakota’s only national park. One can stand on the highest buttes and see … oil rigs.

Now comes Meridian Energy Group. To add insult to injury, this bunch of out-of-staters wants to build an oil refinery just three miles from the southeast corner of the park’s South Unit near Fryburg. Plans are for a huge industrial complex between there and Belfield, in full view of Interstate 94.

The Davis refinery would have a 55,000-barrel (2.3-million-gallon) per-day capacity. The facility and its plume would be painfully visible from the park, where thousands of visitors would otherwise enjoy a clear view of the surrounding Badlands.

In 2016, 750,000 people visited the park and spent nearly $50 million. But it isn’t a state gem just because of the economic boon; it’s also because of the park’s rich history, rugged terrain and breathtaking vistas.

Fresh and clean

The N.D. Department of Health and the National Park Service are currently reviewing an air permit application from Meridian, and the North Dakota Water Commission is reviewing a water use permit. Meridian is disputing the need for a site compatibility permit from the Public Service Commission, even though it’s required by state law given the proposed facility’s capacity.

The National Parks Conservation Association recently commissioned an independent analysis that found the proposed refinery would be “… a major source of pollution that would release substantial amounts of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants — all harmful to human and ecological health.”

Sound good to you? Not to me, either. I’m guessing the whitetail, wild horses and buffalo would object, too.

Fresh and clean

To the extent we still can, let’s keep the air and views of Theodore Roosevelt National Park that way.

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — Fusion For Caring

Invaluable. That’s the Real Answer, Mr. Commissioner; A Fusion of Smiles, Languages And Colors

No matter how you slice it, surgery is no fun. More to the point, it’s no fun no matter how they need to slice you.

Painful stuff. Recovery is no walk in the park, either. After nearly eight days in recovery at Sanford, I can say this with certainty.

I also can say the people who took care of me are diamonds, immigrants from across the United States and the world, each with a dazzling smile worth a million bucks.

Fusion, Part I

I’ve had daily pain from degeneration of my spine for about five years. Bulging discs, pinched spinal cord, constant pain in my hips and lightning bolts screaming down the backs of my legs. I tried everything, from physical therapy to chiropractic to steroid shots. It all helped a little for a little while but, ultimately, the pain and resulting limitations kept worsening.

The surgical team connected the vertebra above the key problem area to the one below with four screws, then inserted and expanded artificial material between them to relieve the pressure on my spinal cord. Ultimately, the vertebrae will fuse together.

Some issues extended my stay from the expected three to five days to more than a week. That’s a long stretch, but I had some great people helping me through.

Community Pain

I also had lots of time to think. Physical pain was on my mind, certainly, but another kind, too.

It’s the pain and embarrassment I feel as immigrants and refugees are targeted with accusations that they drain resources or burden communities.

One targeter is on the Fargo City Commission, others are in the North Dakota Legislature, and there are many more around the country. They call for an accounting of costs, suggesting “others” take services away from “real Americans.”

Funny thing, though. The targeters never seem very interested in balancing the scales with the value “they” bring to our communities and our country.

Immigrants and refugees work. Hard. They pay taxes. They start businesses. They diversify community identities. They share new customs, foods, music, art and clothing styles. They become citizens. Their children often go on to improve American society. They make us richer.

Oh, yeah. They improve and save lives, too. One day it could be yours.

My experience didn’t open my eyes but made me perceive the persecution of immigrants and refugees more keenly. I use the word persecution purposely; in my mind, the implication that immigrants and refugees cost too much is just that.

Cost and value are the wrong words, anyway.

Invaluable. Now there’s a word that makes the cut.

Fusion, Part II

My caretakers are from the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota. One is an authentic University of Arkansas Razorback, first one I’ve ever met. More than a third hail from around the world — eastern Europe, as well as Canada, Liberia, Nigeria and other countries.

They have melodious accents, a brilliant array of skin colors and command of many languages.

One aide came to the States in his teens, all by himself. He relocated from New Jersey because Fargo “seemed safer” and “isn’t so crazy.” He speaks five languages. I speak one. How about you?

Whether they came from the USA or the other side of the globe, they prepped me for surgery, helped me to the bathroom, refilled daily meds, monitored pain and progress, brought me food, emptied fluids from my surgical wound, made sure I could put my own socks on and walked me up and down the halls. They also got me through some really rough patches.

Their life experiences, expertise and compassion fused into one powerful, international force committed to making me better. They did so without any need for thanks or giving a rip about my skin color, religion or political beliefs.

Capital “U”

I am not unique or special, even though the nurses, aides, doctors, therapists, technicians and everyone else at Sanford made me feel that way.

They’re simply professionals living their lives, doing their jobs and applying their talents where they’re most needed. I happened to be an Everyman who needed it most.

There was no me or they. There was only us, and we made it through those eight days together. Kind of how I’d like to see Us — yes, with a capital “U” — make it through the coming decades and centuries.

The pain I’ve had for years is gone. Turns out recovery really is a walk in the park, or at least up and down my block. Each day, I feel better and go a little farther.

This, thanks to everyone who literally helped get me back on my feet, including “they” and the “others” who are as American, and as invaluable, as I’ll ever be.

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — Good Fence Makes Good Neighbors

Pour, Water, Tamp, Mix, Tamp…

His name is Dennis.

Five years of living 60 or 70 yards away, just over the backyard fence, I really should’ve known that already.

I stood on his front step, shaking his hand and explaining that the posts that should’ve been holding up a couple of sections of our shared fence had rotted out. He’d noticed it, too.

Yeah, we should replace them.

Neither of us knew which of the previous owners of our homes had built the fence in the first place. We agreed to split the costs and do the labor ourselves.

Five years and we’d never even waved at each other. Two little white dogs send my three little black, brown, gray and white ones into a frenzy whenever they’re on the other side of the fence. That’s all I knew.

And on a day we meet to walk the line /

And set the wall between us once again.

We meet out back on the agreed-upon day, each on his own side, shake over the fence’s slats and start the work.

I take out the screws since they’re all on my side. Must mean the fence — and the fixing — belong to me. No matter, he says, we both need to keep our dogs on our own sides. We carry three sections, one of us on each end, and lean them against another length that runs along my property. Then we start digging around the old footings.

Dennis has replaced posts before. We can leave three sides of the old footings in, slide the new 4-by-4s right in and seal them with Quikrete® on the fourth side. Less work and easier to make them plumb, he says. Smart, I say back.

How long have you lived here? Since ’91. Wow, you’ve seen a lot of neighbors come through, I say, motioning at my house. Yep. He leans on his shovel and makes a sweeping motion. Everyone’s been in these other houses for a long time.

So it goes. Dig, talk, ram the bar into the rotted wood, scrape, dig… and I start thinking about an old story. …

We wear our fingers rough with handling them /

Oh, just another kind of out-door game / One on a side.

We marvel at each other’s tools. Who else would have a 15-pound tamper on hand? No kidding, I say, holding the tool that was once my Dad’s.

Turns out we both inherited our tools from our fathers. The cross-cut saws are almost identical. Both fathers marked them with their names; the ink’s faded on mine, and the tape is tattered on his, but they’re still there.

Good tools, we agree. Good fathers, too. They didn’t just leave us tools; they taught us the right way to use them.

This is kind of fun, Dennis says, out here working with my father’s tools. For me, too.

Holes dug, rotted wood carved out, new posts in. Time to mix Quikrete in the holes.

Pour, water, tamp, mix, tamp. Pour, water, tamp, mix, tamp some more. The bar and the flat-tipped shovel go up and down, in and out of the mix, over and over again. Hard work, we agree, but not so bad with two hard workers.

I’d work with you any day, I say. He laughs.

We keep pouring, watering, tamping, mixing …

‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

… and we talk some more.

Both self-employed. He’s an accountant, offices down by the Dairy Queen. Mine is right there, I say, pointing at a window.

He’s writing a book. It’s about the travails of caring for his elderly mother, the love-torment-respect relationship and the frustration with siblings who aren’t there when they ought to be. Funny, I say, I went through that not long ago, myself. Not so funny, maybe. He nods.

I’d purchased two 4-by-4 posts and a couple of bags of Quikrete, probably about eight bags short. He ran to the hardware store to get more.

We resume, and our stories continue to mix together as we pour, water, tamp…

Why do they make good neighbours?

Isn’t it / Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Done. Tools to our respective sheds.

Cold beer? Sounds great.

No current events, no politics. We discuss kids, the challenges and joys of raising them.

He has one, a chef now, down in New Orleans. Yeah, we get down there about once a year. No, not to Mardi Gras yet. Maybe next year. Three for me. Oldest is learning to drive. His eyes twinkle below raised eyebrows. I remember that, he says.

Bottles empty. Another shake. See you in a coupla days. Sounds good.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall / That wants it down.

We meet three days later, after the Quikrete has set, to hang the fence sections on the new posts. Quick work, that, with electric drills turned screwdrivers. Our fathers didn’t have those. Nope, sure didn’t.

The fence is good again. But is it?

Wanna compare receipts or call it square? I ask over the fence. Square, he says. We shake hands over the slats. Don’t be a stranger.

Five years and two rotted-out fence posts it took to meet Dennis. Good guy. Gonna make sure it’s not another five and two before we sit down for another cold one.

And I think, Frost was right. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. Even so. …

‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Mending Wall

Robert Frost, 1874-1963

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs.  The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,

One on a side.  It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

‘Why do they make good neighbors?  Isn’t it

Where there are cows?  But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.’  I could say ‘Elves’ to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself.  I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

MARTIN C. FREDRICKS IV: Four The Record — N.D. Dem-NPL, It’s Time to Stand Up

And, Please, No More “Republican Lite”

Byron Dorgan once got my ass kicked.

That’s not literally true, of course. I can’t remember the name of the kid who actually trounced me in a back alley half a block from Jamestown (N.D.) Junior High when I was in the seventh grade, but it did start with our future senator.

It was 1980. Dorgan was the North Dakota tax commissioner and Democratic-NPL candidate for the U.S. House. My parents were strong Democrats, and Dorgan was their guy. They talked about his campaign around the dinner table, about why they believed he was a good man. He stood for the right things, they said.

A few weeks before the real election, one of the seventh-grade teachers held a faux one. He wrote each open office and the candidates’ names on the blackboard, and we were to cast our ballots.

I stood up before voting began and proclaimed that anyone who didn’t vote for Byron Dorgan was a moron, and I’d meet them in the alley after school.

Dorgan won the votes, that day and a few weeks later.

I lost in a landslide.

Better, not lesser

Shortly after the election of Tom Perez as the chairman of the Democratic Party this past February, progressive commentator John Nichols wrote about “The Battle for the DNC.” To be successful, he said, Democrats …

… must resist the uninspiring lesser-of-two-evils arguments that leave voters wondering if Democrats stand for anything. … Parties win when voters know what they stand for, and when what they stand for isn’t winning for the sake of winning, but a clearly defined set of values.

A couple of weeks earlier, I was speaking to a Dem-NPL activist who has worked on multiple campaigns for the N.D. Legislature and helped several candidates get re-elected. “We don’t even say we’re Democrats,” this person said. “We just talk about how they should be re-elected because of the great job they’ve done.”

A few weeks after Perez’s election, I heard about someone who didn’t want a meeting of Dem-NPLers streamed live because, “Who knows what they’ll use against us,” referring, of course, to the Republican Party.

More recently, people have been saying the Dem-NPL needs to keep its message moderate, that if we’re too progressive, we’ll lose.

Hmmm. Seems to me we’ve already been doing just that for a long while.

Values first

It’s tough to be a Dem in one of the reddest states in the Union. It can be frightening to go on record for fear something will be taken out of context and used in a campaign ad. And admitting to being a progressive in this state? Some would say that’s the political equivalent to taking a razor blade to your own wrists.

I get it. But I’ll never believe in it.

Instead, I believe in the ideas and values I absorbed growing up in a Democratic-NPL home.

Helping people who are less fortunate is a responsibility, just like protecting our children, always telling the truth, caring for family members and admitting mistakes, regardless of the negative consequences.

Everyone deserves the same shot, and if they screw up, a second. Taking care of the planet is crucial, and it starts in our own backyards. Never judge books, or people, by their covers, figuratively or literally.

All people, regardless of gender, should earn the same for doing the same jobs. We should not cede governance over our bodies to anyone. Gay, straight, LGBTQIA  — doesn’t matter. We’re all human beings deserving of empathy and respect, until we do something to lose it.

In my judgment, people who believe in these things have a right, perhaps even a responsibility, to be proud of it.

Stand strong

I say it would be better to lose 1,000 elections, maybe even 10,000, standing up for what we believe in, taking pride in our values and view of how the world should work, than to win even one race by hiding who we really are or making so many concessions our core values are compromised.

If someone beats us up verbally for what we believe, stand strong. If they take us out of context, explain again what we mean and why it matters to our families, friends, neighbors and coworkers.

Own it.

Many Democrats will say we’re already doing this. I’ve seen individuals who are, and I applaud them. But I still see a tendency to downplay in the face of the supermajority, to round off the rough edges so, presumably, Dem-NPLers are more electable.

Dig in

The Dem-NPL lost 17 seats in the Legislature in 2016 and now holds only 22 out of 141. Zero Democrats — the big ol’ goose egg — hold statewide offices.

Boy, oh boy, are we sick of those numbers. Right? But the fact is they’re only a continuation of a years-long trend. We should post them, in huge letters, next to our nightstands so they’re our first sight of every day.

Clearly, we need to change our approach.

In my view, part of that is to stop being “Republican Lite.” We need to offer a more distinct alternative. Be Democrats. Say so loudly, clearly and without flinching from what might come.

Principles and backbone — what the old-timers might have called “sand” — still count for something in North Dakota. We should dig our heels into that sand, find bedrock and stand stronger.

We’ll lose some elections, but we’ll win some, too. And I believe that, over time, as people begin to appreciate our values and the way we stand up for them, we’ll win some more.

The first thing

I got my ass handed to me in 1980. No denyin’ it.

It was stupid to challenge my classmates to fisticuffs over a fake election, and violence never solves anything.

But if you’d asked me, even then, as I picked myself up from the back-alley gravel and wiped blood from nose to sleeve, I’d have said it was worth it.

Still is.

The only place real value can be found is in staying true to yourself.

We need to stand for something. Lots of things, actually. Let’s make sure “Democrat” is the first thing.