March 2011

Blending the New and Old West

By Art Goodtimes


Common Sense

Maybe it’s time
for Americans
to stop inhaling

the addictive
tobacco of more
& start examining

the medicinal
allure of

SAN FRAN/TELLURIDE … Hey, I inhaled the Sixties … Moved from adolescence to maturity in the S.F. empañada of Noe Valley – halfway between the Hispanic Mission District & the fabled Haight Ashbury. Personal freedoms meant a lot to me, as well as living the Kennedy challenge – doing what I could for my country. As a Vista on the Crow rez. As a conscientious objector to the Nam War … Done with my service phase, I went back to school. Found a career in early childhood education. Spent weekends in the woods experiencing nature … Eventually, the city became too much for me. Any city would have. Sure I loved the Pacific Rim adventure of the streets, the arts & culture sashay, my circle of urban compañeros. But it was all too fast. Too dangerous … After I was robbed a third time, I realized I had to get closer to the grounded source of what I held most sacred — out there in the mountains and away from the manufactured wilds of materialism & Walmart parking lots. Places where there were few enough people so one could tolerate the worst, enjoy the best. Places where a handshake was the ultimate insurance policy … The conundrum came long after the great post-Sixties reinhabitation of the West’s rimrock red had played out and green newcomers, like myself, had woven themselves into the local fabric. It was the absence of regulation and the small close-knit feel of a rural community that drew me to Colorado. But darn if I didn’t bring my urban need for rules with me. Had to protect this. And make sure we didn’t lose that … A progressive minority of us nouveau Westerners put down roots. Raised children. Became thorns in the side of the dominant “less-government” crowd. In the process we sometimes found ourselves running counter to the whorls of rural grain. Pushing agendas that pulled our rural communities apart … Slowly, our necks got redder and our bias for personal freedoms got stronger, especially in the face of international building codes, unfunded mandates, shifting political policies. Income taxes, excise taxes, sales taxes. Fees, permits, certifications … Many of us cheered when Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation making Illinois the sixth state in the land to grant civil-union status to gay couples. When it comes to personal freedoms, I’m a strict Constitutionalist. Whatever freedom brings your life happiness is a legal pursuit, in my book. So long as it doesn’t restrict my rights and freedoms. Gay. Hare Krishna. Evangelical nudist. Who cares? That’s your business, not mine … But, by the same vein, most in the West come from a long religious tradition. Sometimes Mormon. Or Native American. Or Jewish/Hindi/ Muslim/Buddhist, but mostly Christian. And it’s hard to ignore and not pay our respects to the spiritual paths of our parents and grandparents … So, when it comes to marriage, perhaps it’s no surprise that I’m a strict religionist. Marriage has been for generations, nay millennia, a sacrament. Government shouldn’t be marrying people. Only churches should consummate that. And if one congregation sanctions gay marriage and another doesn’t, then it doesn’t take a Solomon to choose which group’s right for you … What government should be doing is granting civil unions. To anyone seeking them. Whether “married” or not, though those married in a church of their choosing would still need a civil-union certificate to enjoy shared legal rights. Much as a marriage certificate grants one legal rights now. But no more marriage licenses from the state … Civil unions would be contracts granted to any and all couplings upon the payment of a filing fee, the filling out of an application, and joint signatures on the dotted line … Is that a liberal idea? Or a conservative one? … I don’t know any more. What seems true is that the more we build community locally in our rural towns and counties, the more common- sense answers become available to us … The ones who profit from our perceived differences and manufactured confrontations aren’t the large majorities who live in the rural Red or the urban Blue zones. But those cadres of the far left and ultra right who want to pull us apart. So they can claim advantage … What we need is a mo vement of the radical middle … As a rural Green, I’ve come to see the dangers in big government (even the Dems support portions of the Patriot Act). But together with my Dem friends I also understand the need to moderate the widening income gap between the haves and have-nots. And I’m no longer deaf to the cries of my Repub colleagues about the need to stimulate our economy in the face of rapid and challenging changes – human, technological, social and everything beyond our control … Could we return to a locally self-sufficient rural America where energy was decentralized, farm markets replaced big boxes, and our percentage of the world’s resources slipped to average instead of over the top? … Could we mix the mind of urban innovations with the heart of rural neighborliness? … Maybe it’s time for Americans to stop inhaling the addictive tobacco of more, and start examining the medicinal allure of less … Whatever the answers are that we will carry into this new millennium, it’s clear we need to start listening to each other. Reds mingling with blues. Greens and browns, blacks and yellows. Not a blur but a blending.

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner.