In my town, you’re either a redneck or a hippie. It’s a wildly simplistic view of the world, but for some residents, it’s reality.
Rednecks are folks who can claim, "My great-granddad chased the Utes out of this valley" — or who drive pickup trucks, drink Budweiser and vote Republican. Hippies are the folks who sport dreadlocks and smoke funny herbs — or else they’re newcomers like me, who may steer clear of the dreads and the herbs, and even drink an occasional Budweiser, but clearly hold political views that run counter to the conservative mainstream.
For several years now, I’ve been wanting to print up a bumper sticker that says, "REDNECKS AND HIPPIES UNITE!" Not that I buy into the hippie-redneck dichotomy; the point is that we’re all here for the same reasons — the small-town living, the mountain backdrop. And we all share some of the same dreams for this quirky, run-down town — for a more lively economy, more jobs for the young people. Together, we could get some work done.
But recent town elections have dampened my enthusiasm. A few right-wing good-ol’-boys landed in office, and have announced their intention to turn our small town into a big one, no matter what it costs. At a town council meeting this week, their ringleader waved off concerns about the possible multimillion-dollar price tag of a wider bridge on the road into town, saying, "We can’t let things like that get in the way of growth." This, in a working-class town of roughly 1,500, with an annual budget of just $2 million.
The pro-growth mayor tried to reassure a restless audience by saying, "I’m the mayor of all the people — even the opposition." Uh, right.
This winner-takes-all arrogance is not unlike what we’re seeing on the national level, as Ray Ring reports in this issue’s feature story. The Bush administration is laying waste to the bedrock laws and tough regulations that protect the West’s land, air, water and residents. Bigwigs in the Interior and Agriculture departments spout platitudes about bringing environmentalists and industry together to find common ground, but behind the scenes, they’re gutting the very rules that force industry to the negotiating table in the first place.
Champions of the "radical center," who gained so much ground under the Clinton administration, must be feeling burned. Some are walking away from negotiations and mounting the barricades, shouting back at Bush and slinging lawsuits.
I can understand the disappointment and anger. But on the local front, I think I’ll make my bumper sticker, anyway: It’s time we all got together to fight for responsive, and responsible, leadership.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at email@example.com.