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An Amazing Story

By Brian Hawthorne of USA-All

The phone rang at the office…
About a month or so ago, we got a call from a 21 year old woman. Her name is Rebecca Elwell and she's a senior at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Rebecca said she needed some help.

She was enrolled in an Environmental History class. The class is currently studying the history of the impact of the “Environmental Movement” on American society. The professor also assigned a semester-long class project with its goal to have his students become familiar with “Grass Roots” organizations by participating in a volunteer project. She asked if USA-ALL had a project that would fit the criteria for this assignment in which she and some of her classmates could participate. I said we did, and began to describe a number of projects that she could help us with.

After agreeing on a project, I queried her about her class. I speak in a couple of classes on public lands and environmental studies and know that any professor that recommends volunteering for USA-ALL is definitely a rare occurrence.

Rebecca's amazing story:
Rebecca was born in the Philippines and grew up in Bishop, where she experienced first hand the bombardments of environmental groups like the Sierra Club during the Clinton years. Her first car was a jeep and she very much enjoyed taking it out with her friends and going four-wheeling after school from time to time. After discovering that the Roadless Initiative meant the closure of her favorite riding areas, she immediately realized that the Sierra Club's intent was not just about ‘saving’ the forest. Rebecca knew first hand that the Roadless Initiative was wholly unjustified and unnecessary.

While in high school, she continued to question the motivations of "environmentalists" and began quietly protesting whenever possible. She continued in college where Environmental organizations, especially SUWA, are often invited on to campus to recruit indifferent students to help fight their cause; hence, they were often featured as speakers in environmental related classes, and would jump at any opportunity to spread their beliefs. Rebecca took the opportunity and had some small debates about the significance of road closures with pro-environment professors and students.

Her Environmental Studies class was no exception. In fact, the professor originally didn't suggested she contact just any grass roots organization for the volunteer project; rather, he volunteered the whole class to assist the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in organizing a rally in support of their 9.3 million acre wilderness bill!

Well, Rebecca and a few others took exception. Rebecca is an avid 4-wheeler, mountainbiker, snowboarder, snowmobiler and dirt bike rider. She knew full well that if SUWA’s bill passed her access to scenic public lands in Utah would be ELIMINATED.

Rebecca told me how her professor was surprised and sort of taken back by the fact that some of his students actually knew what Wilderness meant to their recreational access and strongly objected and disagreed with the legislation. Bottom line was this: if the class project was to learn about grass roots organizations, then Rebecca would be looking to organizations like the BlueRibbon Coalition and USA-ALL to learn that lesson, not SUWA. Her main question was, “why make us work for a ‘grassroots organization’ if we do not believe in their cause.”

As the class project progressed, Rebecca became even more motivated to become active and oppose SUWA’s lock out plans. She was determined to voice her opinion, and give meaning to working for a grassroots organization in which she truly believed.

She decided that if her professor was going to volunteer his entire class to help SUWA organize a Anti-Access rally, she would organize a Pro-Access Rally.

The Gumption Factor...
Rebecca got on the phone and rang up a guy in Salt Lake City named Larry Kuehn. Rebecca learned about Larry after reading several excellent letters to the editor he wrote. She also remembered that Larry organized a protest in front of SUWA’s offices after they tried to block the Bookcliff Rattlers desert race near Moab.

Larry's protest got statewide media coverage and was featured on several TV news broadcast. That protest is legendary now. I know lots of you have read the story about Larry's rally in BlueRibbon’s Magazine and many websites. Totally spontaneous, totally independent and totally sincere.

That's what Rebecca liked and that's what she wants her rally to be like. She, Larry and another student, Stephen Neilson (the guy who started the Multiple Use club at the University of Utah) raised funds, got the permits, printed up fliers, made the posters and they fully expect this protest to draw a thousand pro-access people.

I tried to help. In fact, I sort of stuck my nose right in and offered to do all sorts of stuff. They said they appreciated the offer of help and that I could hang out at their meetings if I wanted. They said they wanted USA-ALL to have a table there and to pass out information. They all said they appreciate what USA-ALL does and what we stand for.

But Rebecca and Larry said SUWA's proposal isn't just going to hurt USA-ALL's members. SUWA's plans will devastate rural communities, drive cattlemen out of business, deny access to other recreationists like mountainbikers. This wasn't about USA-ALL… it was bigger.

I wasn't hurt or mad. Crap, I was IMPRESSED!

Thinking For Yourself...
As I've gotten to know Rebecca in the last couple of months, it's plain to see why she didn't fall in lock step with the radical enviro's on campus. See, Rebecca has a very close family. Her relationship with her father is remarkable. Along with a deep love and appreciation of the out-of-doors, Rebecca's parents instilled a love of discovery and learning. Throughout her childhood they taught a discipline of study and reading. They taught her to test what she was being told and not just accept as fact what she was going to learn at school. They taught her to think for herself.

It's the same with Stephen Nielson. Stephen's the guy who organized the Multiple Use Club at the U of U. Stephen and his family are very close. He would often talk with his father about the wacko’s on campus and the way the most radical theories, whether regarding environmentalism or social change, were indoctrinated or taught as fact in classrooms.

Butting In…
I admire the gumption and the “can-do” attitude of Rebecca, Stephen and Larry. But I'm not going to butt out completely. These kids need our help. They're only asking for 2 hours of your time on Saturday, March 29th 2003 from 11:00am to 1:00 pm. Their Rally will be on the front steps of the Utah State Capitol. That's a week from this coming Saturday so PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR!

Don't let SUWA steal the show. We need more than a thousand people there to show the media and our legislators that the public wants access to public lands.

Please show Rebecca and Stephen that you appreciate what they are doing. Show Larry that he's not alone and the vast majority of Utahan's agree with him. Make plans TODAY to attend the Public Lands Access Rally at the Utah State Capitol.

For more information please give Larry an email at: [email protected]
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