Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Standing up

In my youth, Bozeman was known as a rrrredneck town. It was the kind of place where, if you had long hair and you hitchhiked, you did your best to avoid it. Arlo Guthrie was only one of many long-hairs famously beaten up there.

Sure, it was home to Montana State University, but that only meant the students there were considered redneck too. It was the ag and engineering school.

That's all changed a lot in the past 20 years. The town has mellowed, become a lot friendlier, with a pretty strong hippie/environmentalist subculture. But even with all that, the old reputation lingers.

Redneck or not, the town recently made everyone in Montana proud by standing up and repudiating the candidacy of a white supremacist named Kevin McGuire, who ran for an open seat on the local school board.

In the just-finished vote, McGuire garnered 157 votes, or 3.6 percent:
Turnout was the highest in 21 years, said Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent and district clerk in charge of elections. At noon when the polls opened at the Willson School gym, there were already a couple hundred people lined up, eager to vote.

"That's unheard of," Johnson said. "It was kind of neat."

By 2 p.m., people were lined up 23 deep at the table for last names starting with F through H. "Nobody complained about waiting -- a couple threatened to change their last name," one election worker joked.

Turnout was 4,260 voters, which was twice last year's and 17 percent of the total registered voters in the Bozeman elementary district.

Leaving the polls, Jessica Reed, 21, an office assistant, said she voted because she didn't want "anything having to do with white supremacists" in the schools.

"I wanted to see Mr. McGuire get trounced as badly as possible," said Tom Davey, a Galavan driver. "I didn't worry he would win, but I thought the larger the numbers, the better the message."

"I really do think this is a great referendum," said Don Bachman, an avalanche technician. "We don't often get to vote for those feelings and ideals."

For a first-person account of the wave that drove Bozeman voters to the polls, be sure to read renaissance grrrl's terrific Kos diary detailing her day:
We could have defeated Kevin McGuire, probably, if only 50 people had voted. But-- I don't know the tally -- but I would guess it was thousands. Everybody wanted to be part of the giant "NO" handed to Kevin on this night. You think you represent us, white boy? Think again. NO.

And... despite the fact that I always knew he wouldn't, couldn't win... and despite the fact that his loss does not magically turn Bozeman more diverse... and despite the fact that it was only a school board election... I left the gym and cried. Because people, many people, are good. And they cared enough to show up and be counted, many more than needed to be counted. And it made me proud to be... dare I say it... an American. For today.

Wulfgar correctly points out that McGuire's 157 votes is about a hundred more than he should have gotten. But at the end of the day, Bozeman deserves everyone's applause for a job well done in standing up to hate-filled ideologues.

It may still be a redneck town. But it's my kind of redneck town.

No comments: