When I moved to Ashland in 1993 the second (or third?) wave of post-1960’s hippie revival was in full bloom. They had dreads, wore tie-dye, smoked pot, played guitars, worshipped the Grateful Dead and were kind, gentle people. They were very much of the “peace and love” hippie sensibility as espoused by the demonstration on Ashland’s Plaza Aug. 31.
I have no idea where the hippies I knew went. The influx of travelers that Ashland has seen in the past 10 or so years are not hippies. Hordes of them arrive and leave throughout the tourist season, well aware that visitors with money to spend have arrived. Dot Fisher-Smith and her ilk can assert all they want that Ashland police are targeting the travelers. Quite the contrary. The Ashland police are doing their job.
I have been harassed, taunted and threatened by the travelers. I have had to step over and around them as they insist on taking space on public walkways. They have accused me of multiple personality flaws because I refused to speak to them or give them money. I have seen them relieve themselves publicly when a bathroom was available, watched as they allowed their pit bulls to run loose (I wonder when the first child will be mauled?), drink, fight, litter, play music at late hours and indulge in the kind of vitriol that would make a “peace and love” hippie blush.
These are not the hippies of the past, and to refer to them as hippies is inaccurate and an insult to hippies and hippie culture. Rather, the travelers I have encountered and observed are self-entitled, smug, contemptible opportunists. They show one face to tourists and another when they think they no one is watching, or harass those that refuse to indulge them. As a non-driver, I regularly see their tactics at play.
I do not for a moment pretend that we haven’t a problem in this country in how we treat the mentally ill and/or those with addiction issues. I want to see more socialist programs, but also I am not blind to the realities of the travelers. Many of them have made a conscious choice to live outside of mainstream society and set up an advantageous pass through Ashland.
To be clear, I don’t advocate that they must live a mainstream existence. I do however maintain that as they venture into society for their economic benefit they must adhere to its laws and maintain a sense of “peace and love” that so far has been lacking.
Finally, I would like to say to the Ashland Police Department: Thank you for your service and all that you do.
Christopher Johnson lives in Ashland.