Shannon Poe walked up to Courthouse Square in downtown Sonora at about 10 a.m. on Thursday with an American flag hanging out of his backpack.
It was one of the many rural communities Poe has passed through on a 312-mile journey to walk the length of Highway 49 and send a message to politicians in Sacramento about regulations that they feel make life harder for people living in these areas.
“This is to make lawmakers see that we’re coming together,” Poe said. “We’ve been ignored. All of these people have been ignored.”
Poe and his partner in the effort, Jere Clements, have taken turns every 12.5 miles as they work toward completing their “Walk 4 Liberty,” which began on Aug. 13 about 230 miles away from Sonora at the north end of Highway 49 in Vinton.
It will all cultimate with a rally at 1 p.m. on Tuesday on the south lawn of the state capital in Sacramento.
“We even had to get a permit to exercise our First Amendment rights,” Poe added.
About 25 people were gathered at Courthouse Square on Thursday to greet Poe and Clements as they arrived, some holding signs that read: “Overregulation destroys liberty.”
Many of the people at the park were sporting some form of apparel for the State of Jefferson, a movement to split from California and form a new state that’s become popular in rural counties and conservative circles.
Poe, of Greeley Hill, represents the interests of miners as the president of the American Mining Rights Association.
The group has clashed with the state for years over a 2009 ban on suction dredging in waterways, which they believe violates federal mining laws.
Poe said he left behind a career in the corporate world in 2007 to become a full-time miner and made six figures in his first year.
“I just got sick of the rat race and wearing a suit and tie,” he said.
One of Poe’s goals through the “Walk 4 Liberty” is to unite other rural interests that have been negatively affected by regulations handed down by the state, including farmers, ranchers, loggers, fishermen, hunters and off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
A logging truck honked in approval while driving by the group in Courthouse Square.
Poe said they spoke with ranchers in Sierraville and Loyalton who supported their message because they’re afraid of being driven out of business by increasing regulations on water use.
“We usually fight our individual battles, but we need to come together,” Poe said of the affected groups.
Robert Guardiola, president of Delta Gold Diggers in Stockton, was also at the rally on Thursday because he supported the message.
Guardiola’s group helps teach people how to mine and has several claims in Tuolumne County. He said state’s increasing restrictions on public lands, some of which he acknowledged were brought by people littering and treating them poorly, flies in the face of federal law.
“We’re not asking them to do anything illegal or change any laws, just follow the ones they’ve already put in place,” he said.
Poe said the turnout to the rally on Thursday was the largest they’ve received in any town on their trip so far.
Ray Briese, a member of the American Mining Rights Association who lives in Mariposa, has been following Poe and Clements along the way because he believes federal lands are essentially being shut down over time.
“It’s not their job to own it, it’s their job to manage it,” he said of federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We own it.”
Dave Titchenal, president of the State of Jefferson chapter in Tuolumne County, helped raise awareness about the rally on Thursday and was pleased at the turnout.
Titchenal said the State of Jefferson movement is realizing that it needs to branch out and work more with other groups that share common political goals.
One of the aims of the State of Jefferson movement is to get the state to reapportion representation in the state Legislature to give rural counties a stronger voice, which Titchenal believes would solve many of the issues being highlighted by “Walk 4 Liberty.”
“The super majority has pretty much eliminated the voice for rural people,” he said. “The core silver bullet for all of these problems is representation, and that’s what Jefferson is all about.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.