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Potlatch Activism and Adverse Possession

a bad mix for the activists

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 28, 2007.

It’s tough to be an unthinking cipher, trained to respond solely within certain parameters according to a template. On the right wing, it tends to be a juvenile conception of ‘patriotism’ that defines the template. On the left, a juvenile conception of social justice. In both, a jaw dropping ignorance of history, for which is substituted jargon and chant, now called sound bytes and taglines. Both will memorize recondite theories and trivia to imply an understanding that does not exist. It’s one of the reasons the right wing loves the Federalist Papers in the United States, and the Left the UN and International Law.

Significant portions of both groups, though, simply feel being seen in action defying authority is the same thing as meaningful defiance. Hence, the love of organized mobs, which can vary from peaceful screams for justice from obese citizens without jobs or coat and tie rallies for war among young Republican types who have no intention of enlisting themselves.

In Boulder over the last few weeks, a columnist in the Daily Camera wrote what seemed at first blush a clarion call for social justice. It seems a couple, who’d lived next door to a vacant lot for some years, were only able to walk directly between two parts of their own property by travelling through their house or cutting across the neighbor’s lot. Over the years, a path developed. At some point, negotiations started between the entities to buy, or get an easement, or some logical solution. Negotiations failed, and the older couple went to court, claiming Adverse Possession, a sturdy legal doctrine that predates the Magna Carta. They won, fair and square, now own the contested property without payment to the previous owners, and people are feigning outrage. I say feigning because I don’t for a minute believe the most outraged understand any of the issues, and nothing I’ve seen on the Daily Camera blogs wobbles that opinion.

A gathering in the disputed area was arranged for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and about 200 people showed up. Courageously, someone had the clever idea to rewrite the lyrics to This Land Is Your Land as a show of support and photo op. Various blogs and message boards had posted entries expressing the desire to spit upon the winning couple, but they were deprived of that joy.

The debate continued, and if you’ve lived in Boulder for a while, you could write the letters to the editor yourself, and your pet the letters to the blogs, so predictable are we. But the intensity and rancor of the debate shielded some remarkable features, some wholly unexpected.

First, the revelation that the Daily Camera is read at all, anymore, having outsourced itself to Denver printers and having a reporting staff that can kindly be called fetal and an editorial slant that stops just short of sexual procurement for advertisers. Second, that the token conservative columnist had any readers outside the Independence Institute, a gathering of shills which is the plaything of the Coors family. And third, that the supposed protest gathering could be so hypocritical, pointless, and yet remain a despicable attempt by a mob to conjoin itself with courage.

It’s turned out that Adverse Possession is a rather common issue in the courts, and the fact that the elderly couple were both lawyers, one a judge and former Boulder Mayor, and both Democratic Party luminaries, confused the left side of the mob, but it inflamed the right side to greater indignation. Wasn’t it illegal for lawyers to know the law and use it? Well, unethical? Something.

In turn, the right is now deflated since it came to light that another case of Adverse Possession in Boulder was won by a plaintiff also a judge, albeit in her role as a neighbor, who is considered conservative, and that this judge/plaintiff was represented by a lawyer who works in the firm closely associated with the businesses of the original columnist, Bob Greenlee, a Republican, another former Boulder Mayor. One wonders whether his indignation is reserved solely for his political opponents of the past, who generally beat him.

And then, it turns out that the attractive couple who lost the case mentioned in Greenlee’s column are in a business that many who chanted and sang for them would decry. He collects old, Second World fighter aircraft, buffs them up, and rents them for training to military units. In the past, the same folks who felt safety in numbers to intimidate a couple in their seventies last week would be picketing such a business.

In all cases, it’s Potlatch Activism, all about the heroic activist and not the supposed cause, which nobody outside of the weedy types in legal real estate understand, anyway. I hate mobs, and I hate cowards finding strength in mobs. That was the downside of fascism; gathered sticks can be of the oppressed or of the cowards and bullies looking for safe ways of being violent. It should be stomped on whenever it appears, as it did in Boulder of late.