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Cheer up! The Environmental Party's Just Begun!



I'm a bit of an oddity these days. While my friends stumble around fretting and forlorn, wringing their hands in the wake of Little Bush's election and his nomination of Gale Norton for Interior Secretary (whom my friends call "James Watt in a skirt" -- now how can you not be cheered up by an image like that?), I'm happy. Chipper. Downright enthused and inspired, one might say.

It's not that I think that Bush and Norton won't yank the reins back toward the 19th century -- they'll surely try. I agree with my worried friends: The next four years ain't gonna be pretty. The economic jihad is on, and it's coming to the West near you. The difference between me and my friends is that I'm excited. I feel like I just woke up from a long nap to find the kegs rolling in and the band setting up for a big party.

Let me explain: I was lucky enough to get to participate in those rowdy, roustabout, radical days of the 1980s, when disparate groups of idealists gathered and rallied against the Reagan/Watt crusade. We had a real enemy that was working hard to develop the undeveloped West and economize its uneconomical outpost towns -- those life-giving refuges for those of us who need wild country and simplicity more than money and malls to spend it in. It was a time of spirit and vision, unity and camaraderie, and a time of good, solid offensive defense of the American West and its public lands.

I remember taking over the lawn of the Capitol in Denver until Gov. Roy Romer came out to talk to us about Two Forks Dam; staging a funeral on the Capitol steps for a logged old-growth spruce tree; marching in costume through fast-food stores and department stores and down main streets. Humor and audacity got our message on the news. And then there were the amazing parties afterwards, where we met people from all over the state, all over the country, all over the American social landscape.

We had no single Grand Plan. In fact, you could find plenty of arguments over what the plan should be. Uniting us all was no more (and no less) than a feeling, a sense that we were all fighting for the same thing: our genetic right to live in and pass on an intact and functioning world. That desire was not radical; it was responsible.

It's been my observation, though, that eight years of Clinton and Babbitt have lulled too many of us to sleep. (Lest we forget, it was Clinton and Babbitt who brought us the insidious subversion known as the Fee-Demo Program, whereby tax-paying citizens have to pay double to gain access to "public" lands.) In that time, the so-called "radical environmental" movement lost its most articulate and visionary leaders -- the Dave Foremans, the Howie Wolkes, and the Ed Abbeys -- those who inspired people to believe more, to unite better, and to push harder. Today it seems that "radical environmentalism" means small, isolated, anarchistic groups who burn restaurants at ski areas and throw rocks at cops.

It also seems that too many of those who remained on the environmental watch after Clinton's election have slipped into timid cowering, like a bunch of Young Republicans. I cite as a recent example the Sierra Club's shrill scoldings about how I should have voted for Gore as the lesser of evils rather than risking a futile vote for Ralph Nader. Silly me -- I thought Nader was the lesser of evils. As Hunter Thompson once wrote, "I'm embarrassed for a generation that accepts this."

What we need -- we tree-huggers, Sagebrush Patriots, young, dreadlocked, aimless-but-aspiring eco-radicals and even (and especially) those environmental-group professionals -- is a good kick in the seat of our pants.

So I say, bring on the Bush-man and whatever crusading corporate missionaries he wants to march our way. Bring on the evangelical cults of profiteering and privatization. It may be enough to make a Sierra Clubber fall into a fetal position and sob, but for a middle-aged semi-retired radical like myself, it's hope. I say, nothing like some good old political ideologues and free-market zealots to infuse life, humor, hope and vision into the grassroots front line -- those who are really needed to save what's left of the wild West.

Now, if I can only remember where I packed away those old Earth First! T-shirts.

Ken Wright is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He lives in Durango, Colorado.

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