In early 1995, just a few months after I had arrived in Boulder, Colorado, the Republican controlled House of Representatives took up the mantle of the logging and livestock industries, crafting a bill to suspend environmental laws that govern these industries on public lands. Facing this unprecedented opportunity, industry lobbyists twisted many important arms in the Capitol. Despite their efforts, however, as the bill came to a vote it appeared as if the Senate would rebuke the House version by a one-vote margin. Regrettably, Colorado’s Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell switched his vote, giving a green light to the “lawless logging bill”; within weeks, the U.S. Forest Service had several massive tracts of pristine Western forest up for sale.
Incensed by this betrayal of the last fragments of America’s wild forests, thousands of citizens in the Western United States took to the streets in protest. Although similar provisions to suspend environmental review of livestock grazing were equally pernicious, images of chainsaws raging in America’s wilderness sparked the most outrage.
By the summer of 1995, that outrage drove me—once a Republican—to chain myself to four of my friends atop the roof of the Colorado Republican Party headquarters in Denver. Hundreds of people milled around in the streets below, chanting songs for the forests, waving signs and banners and doing their best to ensure that the people of Colorado knew that there was trouble in paradise.
For several hours, we remained atop the building, giving the local papers enough time to take a few good pictures—and allowing the police time to figure out how to cut the bike locks binding us together. Even before the police and fire department had removed us from the roof, the crowd below had successfully raised our bail by simply passing the hat. Nonetheless, the police held us for eleven hours—subjecting us to an unrelenting barrage of sarcasm.
None of us believed that we’d single-handedly move our government to restore law to our public lands. Like the millions of citizens of this country who’d risked their freedom in decades past to protest injustices, however, we were obliged to bear witness to this latest insult. Bearing witness comes at a price, however—and this particularly nasty battle had left me running on fumes.