Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Bozeman, Montana

I've been following this story over at A Chicken is Not Pillage regarding some white supremacist groups moving into Bozeman, Montana. The story caught my attention for a couple reasons - the main one being that Laura grew up in Bozeman. It's her hometown! It is also the place in Montana that I have visited the most over the last 8 years or so, since her family still lives there.

So I have rather fond feelings towards Bozeman and find this current development rather disturbing.

Wulfgar lays it all out in a couple of posts. First in, Not the White Christmas I was Dreaming of, he gives an overview of what's been going on the last few months. Then, in I Live In A Town Of Morans, he makes the excellent point that calling Bozeman a "hotbed of racism" is, aside from totally untrue, quite counterproductive in dealing with these people:
"You just gave them what they desperately wanted. An endorsement. Well done, you twit. Thanks to you, Bozeman is now a "hotbed" of racism. We've condemned it, oh yes. But that won't stop their spread and you've just lent them credibility, folks. No one would want to come here ... except the racist motherf*ckers that you have just invited in. Thank you. Thank you very much."
This one attracted some rather - unpleasant - commentators, which he then addresses in the most recent post. This one also has some thoughts on how to deal with these people without giving them what they want - which is a fight:
"Ignore? No, nor did I suggest that. Rather I propose the opposite in fact, and that's to know the nature of the beast. But it has to be done realistically. Keep in mind, these people are human beings ... ignorant, paranoid, self-absorbed, and frequently angry/bitter, but people none the less. They are not monsters, nor do they have the power of such. Like other humans, their only strength comes in groups, the larger the better. Keep them divided, struggling and insignificant and they have nothing. "
There's quite a bit more; I recommend reading the whole thing. There are also a couple posts about this over at Winter of Dissent.

At any rate, this whole business has reminded me of a Montana / Bozeman story that Laura told me several years ago. Back in October 1995, a controversy regarding homosexuality was stirred up in Bozeman. It started with gay-supportive messages chalked on the university sidewalks - with the university's permission, I might add - that were then defaced with swastikas and rather unpleasant messages done in spray paint.

This triggered an ongoing debate in the letters to the editor of the local paper.* From this, a Belgrade** woman (Robin Kargel) who opposed to gays decided to hold a little protest and she rounded up a small handful of people and marched up and down main street. The news blurb I found for this, quoted her saying:
"They are saying we tolerate homosexuals in Montana and we don't - that's what this [march] is about."
I am relying on Laura's memory of the incident from this point on, as I can't find anything further about the actual protest. Kargel had about 30 people with her on her march. There were about 500 counter-protesters lining the other side of the street, 3 - 5 people deep.

500 people. Keep in mind, most of them - the vast majority of them - were straight. According to Laura, many of the gays and lesbians did NOT attend the counter-protest because they were too closeted. Many of those counter-protesters probably had certain objections of their own - they didn't necessarily come out there because they wholeheartedly approved of gays, but because, from what I understand from Laura, there is a strong streak of "live and let live" in Montana. Montanans don't like being told what to do or think, or being told what they do or do not tolerate.

I've been keeping this story in mind while reading Wulfgar's posts. If these hate groups really believe that they'll win many Montanans to their side, I think they are sorely mistaken.

I have to end this post with one last thought from the Montanan I live with, here in exile in Illinois (yes, I think she does regard it as exile):
"What people don’t see is that there have always been the crazies, but there are many many more decent people who show support when necessary."
*I assume it was in the Bozeman Chronicle. Unfortunately, the archives only go back to 1996, so I can't look up the actual letters.

**Belgrade is the town next door to Bozeman.

OK, I lied, I actually must end this post with some pictures from my last trip to Bozeman:

Another view from Target parking lot, Bozeman Montana
Another view from Target parking lot, Bozeman Montana

A coffee hut in Bozeman, early morning
A coffee hut in Bozeman, early morning

Leaving Bozeman in the morning
Leaving Bozeman in the morning

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