Montana has a long tradition of listening to and respecting — revering — its writers and the state’s literary tradition. In an unprecedented show of unity, more than forty of Montana’s best writers have gathered, in rapid response fashion, to write original essays and testimonials advocating for the protection of our public lands, and endorsing Democratic House of Representatives candidate Rob Quist’s position on this (literally) most common ground of issues. Please vote on May 25.

A Great Equalizing Force

Walter Kirn

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Public lands put us on an equal footing; they give people a sense of ownership in the way that only aristocrats had historically. Everywhere else we’re trespassing, but when we’re enjoying public lands we can do so with a sense of individual and collective freedom. Public lands translate in my mind to space for people — people of every kind, background, income.

One could argue that in Montana people of various social classes mix so freely (and in a way they don’t almost anywhere else in America) because public lands are a great equalizing force. There are no such other spaces like this in America. If they disappeared, a terrific sense of togetherness — one that we aren’t even necessarily conscious of — would disappear too. They are a place where you don’t see anyone who shouldn’t belong there. You belong there by virtue of being there. Public lands make people equal.

Walter Kirn is a novelist and essayist in Livingston, Montana.