Ray Ring's cover story on the environmental movement in Montana is a fascinating and instructive history which all Western environmentalists should study. But I can't help feeling Ray missed one of the most important factors in the decline of Montana's progressive coalition and the environmental movement in the rural West generally.
Ring accurately reports that today "many (Montanans) see themselves fighting against what they think of as an alien movement." But he fails to analyze how much this attitude has been created by the drumbeat of anti-environmental, right-wing propaganda.
The criticisms of the antis, repeated ad infinitum, come to be accepted as truth even by those who know better. And so Ray Ring, like reporters and writers across the West, unconsciously adopts the rhetoric of the antis when he generalizes about environmentalists' "reluctance to compromise" and "all or nothing stands" and reports that one environmental professional makes "$2,000 more than the governor." Never mind that the salary is an anomaly and that most professional environmentalists earn working-poor wages with few benefits.
The closest Ring approaches the importance of an organized, well-funded anti-environmental right is when he quotes Dan Funsch's reference to "right-wing" think tanks. But he fails to note the control of print and radio media that is a cornerstone of the antis' gains in rural areas. Ring also fails to compare the proliferation and funding of environmental groups with the similar proliferation of groups whose mission is to discredit the environmental movement by creating and perpetuating negative stereotypes. Foundations which fund the environmental movement are now household names in the rural West, but no one reveals who funds the antis.
Ring is correct that future success will require a return to progressive coalitions. Such coalitions will face difficulties in rural areas, however, until the antis' campaign of misinformation, labeling and media control is exposed and becomes a focus for progressives - including progressive media like HCN. To date, however, HCN has all but ignored this aspect of the emerging West, a failing which Ray Ring's otherwise excellent article repeats.