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Do you feel free in Aspen?

ASPEN Friday is July 4, Independence Day. Aspenites and visitors will celebrate at the annual parade, gasp at the fireworks and no doubt have a whole lot of fun eating, drinking and merrymaking. We hope also theyll stop for a few minutes, at least, and think about what Independence Day really means.Its easy to take our American freedoms for granted, but frequent news dispatches from places like Iraq, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Iran and China should remind us of just how fortunate we are in this country.Of course, we cant do anything and everything that we want in the Roaring Fork Valley, and many locals have raised compelling questions about perceived limits to our freedoms. So, on the occasion of July 4, we decided to ask a cross-section of locals from all walks of life this question: Do you feel free?Obviously we didnt think of all the right people to contact for this project, but we did try to gauge various kinds of freedom, and probe for different definitions of freedom. Some people preferred to be interviewed, while some decided to write it in their own words. Heres what 14 respondents had to say.

Aspen Times: Do you feel free to express yourself in the Roaring Fork Valley?Campbell: Yes. However, those who would be on the receiving end of that expression have for various reasons been at times denied that communication.Aspen Times: You had a specific experience where you tried to share an alternative historical perspective on Grassroots Television. Your effort to show a video sparked a controversy. Recap that event and what it said to you about freedom of speech.Campbell: I asked Grassroots TV to air a video called Judea Declares War on Germany: A Critical Look at World War II. After the board of directors was informed by Executive Director John Masters of my intent, and after a meeting where community members voiced their opinions, and after weeks of letters to the editor, columnists views and an editorial response from the newspaper, the board made a decision against allowing me to air the video, going against their written policy guidelines and mission statement.What that showed me was that Grassroots TV is controlled by people who do not honor freedom of speech and expression, and are certainly not interested in pursuing truth, however uncomfortable it may be. Their attempt to paint the video as obscene and hateful was a smoke screen to justify its censorship, but to the informed it was an obvious display of thought control.George Orwell summed it up quite nicely: Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.To have that poisonous element operating here in our valley is contrary to everything that this country was founded upon and the sooner positive changes can be made at Grassroots TV, the better for all of us.Aspen Times: In general, do you think we live freely in the valley?Campbell: That is a huge question and one best answered by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free. Scott Condon

In early June I had a hugely life-effecting experience. I spent six days at the Aspen Institute as part of their executive seminar, discussing liberty and equality, community and productivity.At the end, each participant was asked to locate ourselves on what the Institute calls the Executives Compass. I did as I was told, but not before rewriting the compass. My new quadrants were happiness and fear, transcendence and wealth. I desire greatly to contribute to the good society. As such, my efforts, my life practice, are about attempting to create opportunities for transcendence. That is what led me to art and eventually to art in Aspen.Inherent in the freedom to present art to the public, and to educate people about art, is an immense responsibility. My choices cannot be led by trend nor personal whim but rather art historical perspective and community engagement.As director and chief curator of the Aspen Art Museum I benefit from the intellectual and aesthetic curiosity and generosity of our board of trustees, national council and members. They are immensely brave individuals who truly fear no art. Together we believe that art saves lives and that everyone deserves the chance to experience art. The possibility of transcendence through art is just that a possibility.I often find myself referring back to a soccer analogy of shots-on-goal that I learned from a coach when I was not even a teenager. Shoot whenever you are close to the goal, because with each try your probability of getting one in goes up. Hence our concept of free art.I truly believe that art is for everyone and as such it should be free, all the time. My role here grants me the freedom to contribute to the good society by proselytizing about the power and value of art and how through and with art we can positively effect both individual and societal change.



I had hoped to interview El Salvador-born Maria Rivera through a translator, but when I called her English-language tutor, the woman suggested we try the interview in English. She and Maria had already discussed what Maria wanted to say. So between my Spanish (horrible) and her English (pretty good) we stumbled through at least the basics of her beliefs about freedom in America. My Spanish didnt allow for complex questions about, say, discrimination, but Im not sure any question would have dampened Marias enthusiasm. Maria clearly felt that the freedom afforded United States citizens a title she has been able to claim for two years now should not be taken for granted.With citizenship, I can have different jobs. I can have my drivers license. I can travel to different states or countries, with no problems, she said, in a combination of English and Spanish. I can give my vote for president, senator or city council. I can obtain social services. I can have legal rights. I can educate my two sons.I am very happy that today, tomorrow or next year, my family will have opportunities in the United States. Maybe they will go to college. Maybe I will go to college.Her own freedom was hampered only by one thing, said Maria: her ability to speak English. Expressing a desire to go to college or technical school some day, in order to work in an office, Maria explained that she would have to improve her English first. She is presently working with an English-language tutor through the midvalley nonprofit English in Action.In the meantime, her job as a lunch lady at Basalt Elementary School affords her liberty of a different kind: The freedom to be home after school and take school vacations. This is a very different job [than working in an office], no? she said. But it gives me the freedom to be with my sons. Katie Redding

If freedoms just another word for nothin left to lose, Im the freest man in town. Not only have I lost everything, I owe more than $14 million and more every day all for income tax the Internal Revenue Service claims I owe for a single year. Be aware: They took everything without a hint of due process as required by law. So Im either the freest guy around or I live in a beautiful, totalitarian police state. Both are true. Why $14 million? Because police states terrorize people who speak the truth and act with conviction. In multiple columns and years of letters to the editor, I have documented my stance with irrefutable evidence. There simply is no law that requires a citizen to file an income tax return.As Kris Kristofferson sang, If you waste your time a-talking to the people who dont listen to the things you are saying, who do you think is gonna hear?Have I wasted my time, my fortune, possibly my freedom? Not at all. By the IRSs own reckoning, 65 million Americans do not file, many because they now know the truth. Millions of others know, yet every April they submit to tyranny, betray themselves and those who have sacrificed so much for freedom. On Aug. 11, Robert Schulz will begin a fast till death or resolution on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. To learn more, visit http://www.givemeliberty.org/revolution/.If I submit, I would not be free. Meanwhile, I pay the price. While I dont dwell on my predicament, it takes energy to repress my resentment and the fear that there will be a loud knock in the dark of night. Ill let Kris tell you how I feel: And I guess Ill die explaining how the things that they complain about are things they could be changin, hopin someones gonna care.



I often reflect on the decision that I made nine years ago to emigrate from Russia to the United States. At the time I did so, Russia was a place where people survived, not lived. America offered me a chance to enjoy life without constantly worrying about day-to-day survival and personal safety.In my opinion, that is freedom: The ability to safely live your life the way you want. After arriving in America I felt relieved and hopeful, but that feeling was deceptive. I had no idea what was about to happen to me and how I was to overcome the various challenges. If I needed help, who would be there for me? How would I make friends? What kind of job could I find with my poor language skills? How can I get around without a car? I found myself dependent on others.The truth is, immigrants are not completely free after arriving on American soil. Many cannot communicate freely because they do not speak the language as well as native-born speakers. Many feel alienated in a culture with customs different from what they are used to. Some are unfamiliar with the use of a computer, others have never driven a car.In other words, many immigrants get trapped in a life that is restricted not by law or government authority, but by their inability to assimilate, their lack of skills and the unknown culture. Some never fully assimilate, but simply hope their descendants will someday taste the freedom.For me, the assimilation process was hard as well. But now I feel that it is behind me and I can finally say that I have the freedom to pursue my life goals and my happiness.

I remember the joy of being able to choose to move to Aspen as a young family in 1950, where we were welcome to start a business, raise our children and live a healthy, mountain lifestyle.Aspen was a small, sparsely populated, rather shabby place, though its slow revival via Walter Paepckes ambitious plans was beginning to take hold.Most of the streets were dirt, outhouses were not uncommon, the Red Brick School taught all the town children from first through 12th grade, and most of us supplemented our diets with trout, elk, rabbits and deer, easily available in the surrounding wild country via our old jeeps. Our easygoing local government officials were tolerant and usually forgiving. Aspen was truly a happy definition of Live and Let Live, my favorite but fast-disappearing axiom.And what freedom of choice we enjoyed!We rented our first bed and breakfast inn, a 75-year-old Victorian on Main Street, for the exorbitant monthly sum of $75. We felt that we were rich when we were paid $3.75 per person for room and $2.75 for dorm space, including all the breakfast you can eat.The hourly pay for my husbands construction and carpentry work was an acceptable dollar an hour. Ski instructing offered about the same. Yet we of that generation of post-World War II newcomers felt such freedom to enjoy our surroundings, to gather for picnics, climb mountains, visit friends and neighbors over a cup of coffee. We all worked hard, yet there was always time to just be and enjoy.So, how free are we today?With the overgrowth of our town and the valley, we find more government, more rules, regulations, warnings, laws, bylaws and finger-pointing than ever before. Yes, our fabulous views, deep powder, wildflowers and blue skies keep us firmly attached to the ideal of high country living. The availability of great music, fine arts, winter and summer sports, and environmental sciences keep us here despite prohibitive expenses.We still have freedom of choice, to love this valley or leave it, to pay or forego. How fortunate for us that we are able to exercise our freedom of choice … to be here and now. Jony Larrowe

Just as we are all grateful to live in freedom in these United States, we can be especially grateful to live in this particular American city called Aspen. Personally, I feel very free living in Aspen. I think Aspenites are quite tolerant of many lifestyles and perspectives. I have visited some towns and places in this country that feel different, like there is a certain norm and standard expected. Sometimes it feels slightly oppressive. It always feels good to come home to Aspen and feel free to be ones self.We are not only free to be in Aspen, but we are free to serve others in Aspen. Aspen is a very giving community. For a small town we have an abundance of nonprofit organizations, not only in culture and the arts, but also in human services. Such organizations are expressions of freedom. And when there is a person or family in need in Aspen, the community comes to their aid in many different ways. If you want to know the real soul of Aspen, come to a memorial service. The freedom to serve is one of our best ways to further freedom and freedom for all. In 1833, David Hartley Coleridge said that Freedom, rightly understood, is a universal license to do and be good.People may say Aspen is full of free spirits. I suspect this is true, but also I think it is our spirit and matters of the spirit that really set us free. I perceive Aspen to be a spiritual place, in its beauty and in its people. People in Aspen are free to have many things, but a deeper freedom is really a freedom from things. I have discovered this attitude in many people in Aspen, even people who have many things. Albert Einstein said, All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward enabling mans life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual toward real freedom. Walter Paepcke founded our modern-day Aspen on the principles of body, mind and spirit. The more we realize this foundation, the more we shall realize our freedom. If we reclaim this vision, Aspen could be on the edge of being the epitome of freedom.

Freedom is why Im here. Liberty from a quarter-century of corporate life. Moving to Aspen was the ultimate freeing experience recreation, intellectual stimulus and access to everything I could want. I was told everyone is welcome here, no matter your background, your profession, or your politics in Aspen, we live and let live. But Aspen is a dichotomy, representing ultimate freedom to those of us who are retired, but with a concerning element of fear-based constraints for those who work here, or are otherwise beholden to the city government. This concern has been addressed by people Ive heard from on the recent matter of challenging the city on Burlingame [affordable housing development] and taping public meetings [of the Aspen City Council]. Scores of people report that they want to stand beside me, but they fear retribution retribution delivered by withholding permissions or privileges or business that the city controls. Others fear verbal attacks, intimidation or scorn. Some vow never to enter Council Chambers again after disparaging treatment in the past.There is little tolerance for differing views on certain sacrosanct topics. At times, our local government uses its considerable power to quash public process or inquiry, and to discourage any challenge to their sometimes arbitrary rulings. For a year now, we have tolerated the unfair consequences of arbitrary Ordinance 30 dictated overnight without public input, using erroneous data, which the council attempted to withhold from the public. People trapped by the resulting law are not free in Aspen. It is but one example.The good news is that those of us who have little to lose can still access the fundamental tenets of democracy and the free press to bring focus and change. We, the people, have the power to return Aspen to the tolerant, intelligent and free community it once was. Choose liberty.

I think freedom implies that you can act, think, or create with no restrictions and that your actions can be called solely your own, but thats just my definition. Freedom is a general term that conveys the idea of liberty from confinement, yet that characterization morphs slightly for each individual.My freedom will increase when I turn 18 and I am able to vote and legally call myself an adult. Our definitions of the word freedom reflect where we wish we stood in the social structure and what limitations we each are fighting against. So, do I feel free in Aspen?Economically, yes. Despite the recession and rising gas prices, the inhabitants of this valley are better off economically than the majority of American citizens. Politically, I have felt brushed aside since I am not of legal age. It seems to me that politicians tend to think that our youth makes us completely ignorant. Teenagers have more ideas than we are given credit for, and we dont really have a way to share them. We can observe city council meetings and work sessions, but I dont feel like we have the ability to express our opinions in a meaningful and influential way. We are being taught to observe and accept rather than to become involved.This message contradicts what I was taught in high school. I graduated from Aspen High in May, and I was happy with the time that I spent there. I found that the teachers urged students to leave their own mark on their work, encouraging us to think and write independently. Its ironic that teachers persuade us to become involved, yet I never felt like my opinion was valued outside of the school.My political freedom as a minor has been limited; however, as I look toward college, I realize how lucky I was to grow up in Aspen. This town has made me who I am, and I find that the liberal character of Aspen sways its citizens to act on local and international levels.

I have been given a 300-word limit to write about free speech as it relates to my experiences in Aspen. Talk about irony?One could argue free speech in Aspen is only so free depending on who or what you are talking about. I have expressed my free speech rights with an eclectic mix of irreverent satire. At times, I have found myself at the mercy of some who try to quiet you down, usually by threatening to take something away. In 2000, when I was on the radio, I called the Aspen Skiing Co.s advertising campaign, Uncrowded By Design, one of the worst I had ever seen because of its unclear message. An implied threat to take away ski passes from the station resulted in me moving my show to GrassRoots TV. For the most part, GrassRoots provides the ultimate climate with respect to free speech. With no FCC regulations to follow, I have never felt so free think going commando.Or so I thought, until two years ago, when GrassRoots was influenced.In that case, the culprit was the Food & Wine festival. For the last two years, I have been banned from covering the event. They went so far as to threaten to cancel GrassRoots press passes if I used them. The ban was based on a satiric segment I did, Smoking After Sixty, in which I took the premise that the tobacco industry was going to target baby boomers who had never smoked, figuring cancer risk was minimal and they had lots of discretionary income. I was shut down, then shut out. The explanation: Theres nothing funny about Food & Wine. Criticizing local politics has bitten me in the ass more than once. A few years back I was not reappointed to the volunteer Commercial Core and Lodging Commission board because Madame Mayor was angry with me. Pushing the envelope, asking tough questions is what free speech is all about to me. Without discourse, without dissent, free speech is an empty concept.So, I say, stand up, speak your mind, and remember there is nothing worse than what you wanted to say … yesterday.(Note: I used 360 words. Now thats free speech!)

Retired Lt. Col. Dick Merritt of Basalt spent 20 years in active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is at the center of virtually all veterans activities in the Roaring Fork Valley.He said he enjoys the freedoms that Americas veterans have fought to ensure, starting with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.I feel free from restraints. I feel that we have political independence here and we have civil rights. We enjoy all the rights and privileges (that were fought for) in 1776, Merritt said.Veterans of the Roaring Fork Valley march in Aspens Fourth of July parade to celebrate that freedom. Its very rewarding to get the standing ovation, Merritt said. The veterans get tears in their eyes.He believes U.S. citizens are recognizing the sacrifices made by people in the service now more than ever, with wars extending beyond five years in Iraq and Afghanistan. People are showing up in record numbers at Memorial Day observances in Aspen; Veterans Day services are well attended; the veterans march in the parade draws a lot of participants and is well-received.Merritt is helping lead a Roaring Fork Valley Living History Project, along with Grassroots Television and the Aspen Historical Society, to interview veterans in the valley, particularly the older ones. Many expressions of freedom come out in those videos, he said.

Javier reflected on his personal freedom recently during lunch at a Roaring Fork Valley construction site.People say this is a free country, and especially here in Aspen, theres no way you can feel its not, said Javier (not his real name). Back in Belize, he said, there were things he couldnt afford; here, he can afford them. And here people tend to live independently, rather than with their parents.I like it both ways, said the soft-spoken and polite immigrant. Some days I do miss my parents and I love it when they come over. But I like being independent. I think it makes you mature faster and learn more.He also appreciates the trust borne of small-town America. What I like about here sad to say is that its a lot more trustful than Belize, he said. At nighttime, you can leave bikes in the driveway, cars unlocked, even the front door unlocked. Thats what I like about these small towns, you can trust people.His greatest freedom as an immigrant has come from his ability to speak English, he explained. Because he was born in English-speaking Belize, he has not had to struggle like many immigrants he knows. A native Spanish speaker might not feel as free as he does to walk up to a construction site and ask for a job, he said. Still, his freedom is hampered by one issue: Javier is not a legal citizen. He brushes over the matter, saying that speaking English helps with that, too. If he is stopped by the police, for example, he understands what they are saying. Thats the other thing I like here. The law enforcement wont stop you because theyre prejudiced. Theyll stop you because youre breaking the law.Most of the time, he doesnt worry too much about being deported. But sometimes, it does come to mind, he admitted. Katie Redding

When asked recently to describe how free he feels in Aspen, Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis waxed philosophical about the foundations of democracy, channeled French author and sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, and somehow managed to compare the Supreme Court to a boa constrictors digestive tract.He even found time to gush about the skiing.His colorful discourse thoroughly supported one major claim: That nearly every facet of Aspen society helps promote the personal freedoms that have been examined and strived for throughout history.I think Aspen and Pitkin County have been governed very well during the 40 years Ive lived here, he said while lounging in his office in the Pitkin County Courthouse basement. The governing bodies, the City Council and the county commissioners, have weighed very seriously ordinances that protect the interests of individuals.Balancing the needs of the individual versus the needs of the state has been a delicate waltz since the dawn of recorded history. A ruler should be an agent of the people, not a master of the people.Its a premise that Braudis takes to heart, both as a citizen and as a law officer. He believes strong community leaders should force people to be free.Part of every sheriffs job is to protect freedom, he continued. Good cops understand the importance of law enforcement in a free society. Peace officers have no desire to drift toward a police state … Aspen would not permit it.The city and other local institutions promote a free and lively exchange of ideas, a unique dimension that should be encouraged, Braudis added.There are a lot of small towns in the Rocky Mountains, but not many have institutions like the Aspen Institute, the arts and other intellectual pursuits we have, Braudis said. I hope and believe Aspen will continue to attract people for the same reasons it attracted me. Add skiing to that list. Braudis first came to Aspen to ski in 1964. He returned in 1969 and hasnt left since.I came out here for a week in March in 1964. It snowed every night, and every morning the sky was blue, he said. I remember thinking, This cant be real, after skiing blue ice under gray skies.Thats freedom. Jon Maletz

Longtime Aspen resident Jon Busch isnt thrilled with everything that has happened in Aspen during his nearly 40-year tenure here, but he has no complaints when it comes to his personal freedom.When he arrived in 1969, Busch contends, Aspen was an accepting community when it came to individual freedom. And it continues to be.My personal freedom as a gay man in Aspen is total, he said. Aspen is very much, on a personal level, live and let live.And, as a former Aspen Daily News columnist of 25 years, Busch regularly exercised his First Amendment rights (they include freedom of speech, and of the press) without question.As a columnist in the paper, I had total freedom, Busch said. Nobody ever told me to write about anything, or not to write about anything, which is indicative, I think, of the freedom we feel in Aspen.That said, Busch added, there likely are those who question their freedoms when it comes to government control.People complain about development opportunities, limitations imposed by the city, he noted.But for Busch, the freedom accorded others in the exercise of their property rights has impacted the character of Aspen, its landscape and, in a way, its social fabric.There was a quality about Aspen, its artistic freedom, the percolation of new ideas, that were primarily the domain of youth your 20-somethings. That has, to a great extent, gone away.Busch lamented the social plasticity that characterizes todays super-expensive Aspen.There is a diminishment in the quality of my Aspen experience, but that is not impinging on my personal freedom, Busch concluded. My personal freedom is unimpinged in terms of what I can say and do in Aspen. Janet Urquhart


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