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  • Ken Ilgunas

This Land Is Our Land: Haters Welcome

I have a hunch that This Land Is Our Land will be viciously attacked.

This hunch comes from two places: 1. A review of my book by National Parks Traveler, a website devoted to covering issues related to parks; and, 2. My Backpacker Magazine article on Scotland’s right to roam. The review was positive and I was happy with how the Backpacker article turned out, but it was in the Facebook comment sections for these articles where my ideas were angrily dismissed and I was personally attacked.

For the National Parks Traveler article, reader David Schultz says, “Ilgunas is having a wet dream. This will never happen nor should it. Apparently, he doesn’t understand the definition of private property.” Reader Brian Emch says “Right to roam my arse. The author is obviously just a libtard who wants to go anywhere he wants.”

The Backpacker audience didn’t concern themselves with the details of my wet dreams (which are about things far more exciting than the right to roam, believe me), but these readers weren’t any more enthusiastic about the right to roam:

The somewhat alarming thing about these responses is that these people (people who love parks, the outdoors, and hiking) should be my base! They should be my supporters! Yet I’m getting loud and really cranky opposition from them. What’s it going to be like when libertarians, big landowners, and the far right hear of my idea or read my book? It’s not going to be pretty.

You might think that I’m upset by all of this. Not one bit. I knew that my idea — that citizens should be able to responsibly access the great bulk of our nation’s lands and waters — would be controversial. And I realize how the enactment of a right to roam law, should it come to that, is a long way away. So I’m okay if my book doesn’t automatically lead to legislation. I’m okay if the right to roam doesn’t happen in my lifetime. I’m okay if a lot of people hate the idea at first.

When it comes to saying something radical (but right and true and just), I like how the late British MP, Tony Benn, put it: “First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”

I know the right to roam is right the same way I know universal suffrage, universal healthcare, and democracy are right. I know the right to roam is the right policy for an advanced country devoted to equality, good health, and justice. So I’m not worried about being wrong. And I’m not worried about a few uninformed, if earnest, comments from Facebook users (who might not be so critical if they read my book because I do indeed address all of their most common concerns).

The only thing I’m worried about is step one in Benn’s progression: Getting ignored. I’d prefer that I skip ahead to steps two and three, when everyone can call me mad and dangerous.

Honestly, the best thing that could happen for the right to roam is for me and my book to get burnt at the (metaphorical) stake. We should die the heretic’s death: that is, die loudly and symbolically, surrounded by naysayers chanting for blood. This way, the idea can go as far as it can. It can reach as many eyes as possible. Then, at a later date, once we’ve all calmed down, once the idea has had time to slowly and more gently seep in the collective consciousness, maybe we can begin an earnest debate about the right to roam.

First comes blood, then comes bills.

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Fall 2018 Speaking Schedule

(This will be updated with links and new events as they come.) Thur. Oct. 4, 7 p.m. – New England College (Henniker, NH) in the Great Room Fri. Oct. 5, 4:15 p.m. – Bates College (Lewiston, ME) Tue.


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