When I first moved to Missoula in the early 1970s, I was your standard long-haired, rock ’n’ roll playin’, bell-bottom wearin’, bleeding-heart suburban liberal pseudo-hippie. A former colleague of mine used to refer to it as being a “Sears Hippie.” Well, now it’s 2011. I shave my head to hide my gray hair, I still play rock ’n’ roll and I’m still a bleeding-heart liberal. (I’ve even taken the time to actually stop and hug a tree. It’s a pretty cool feeling.) However, as the years roll past I discover that I am slowly becoming—well, that guy who sits on the front porch in his rocking chair shouting things like “You kids get off my lawn!” and “Turn that crap down! You call that music!?” and of course, “Why, in my day...” In short, I am coming to grips with my inner curmudgeon and am beginning to embrace my ever-emerging inner conservative as well. Case in point:
Recently, I was driving west on Broadway past the Missoula County Courthouse where the local rebels and revolutionaries are “occupying Missoula.” Cool. Power to the people! Stick it to the man! Then I see a guy holding a sign that says, “How many soldiers died to fill your gas tank?”
My first response was, “Fuck you, you fear-guilt-shame-mongering asshole!”
Then I began to reflect. Was I only feeling my own guilt and shame at driving my used Subaru Outback during a time of war in the oil-rich Middle East? Nope. I was pissed. This guy was co-opting a message of corporate greed and writing un-researched gibberish on his placard of freedom.
Truth is, most of our oil imports come from Canada. And, other than the War of 1812 and the naval battles of the Great Lakes, I don’t think an American soldier has died at the hands of a Canadian in nearly two centuries.
So I continued driving on to Staples, where I purchased a few new printer cartridges, a piece of poster board and some shiny new black markers, and made up my own little sign. It read, “How many soldiers died so that we could occupy public lands?”
I went and set up camp in front of the courthouse. Within a few minutes I felt my butt getting numb from the cold and the rather unforgiving wooden bench. Then I began to weep openly as I thought about my sign. How many men, women and animals have given their lives so that I could make my little sign and sit there on public land speaking my piece? I was humbled. Deeply humbled.
My life is filled with blessings, living as I do in the greatest country this world has ever known. We’re on rocky footing right now, but I still walk into the Good Food Store, see the bounty and say “God bless America.” I’m still a socialist. Maybe a Democrat. Maybe a little bit of a Republican. Probably more of a Bull Moose Party kind of guy (kids, ask your parents; better yet, go to the library and learn about our 26th president). I’m also a conservative: conserve the constitution, the Bill of Rights and the rule of law. Conserve our natural resources and forests and the beasts who dwell there. Conserve the arts that we may maintain some level of civil expression of our deepest selves. And conserve the rights of a young man whose expression of his First Amendment rights may have rubbed me the wrong way, but who still has the right to say that with which I may disagree with my whole being.