OPINION – Sometimes a bit of controversy can be a good thing.
This certainly appears to have been the case regarding last weekend’s “Western Freedom Festival” in Cedar City.
Detractors, who put great effort into trying to conjure up media controversy regarding the festival, ended up giving it a great deal of free publicity.
This publicity reached a number of people who otherwise might never have heard of the event, prompting them to come and see if it was as egregious as they’d been told. What they found instead was a genuine, nonpartisan gathering of people from many walks of life who still value freedom and common sense.
The festival and conference was first conceived as an educational event to honor, respect and pledge continued support to preserving the lifestyle, heritage, family values and freedom of the American West.
It began with the “Legacy of Freedom Conference” held in the festival hall at Cedar City’s Heritage Center. It kicked off with a panel discussion on outdoor recreation featuring representatives from state and national parks as well as tourism officials.
Participants then had the option of attending a series of presentations regarding federalism, public lands, the proper role of government and constitutional limits, environmental policy, sound money and personal freedom.
A lunchtime panel discussion examined the necessity of sustaining agriculture.
From the very first panel discussion to the final presentation that afternoon, the conference rooms were packed and overflow seating had to be opened up several times.
Attendees ranged from young mothers and fathers with babies in their arms to retired couples and everything in between.
The day finished up with a performance by country music star Darryl Worley that drew thousands of enthusiastic concertgoers to the SUU Centrum.
For the county commissioners and others who helped organize the event, it was a very satisfying success. No local event of this type had been attempted before and the zealous intensity of opposition to the festival was wildly disproportionate.
What was it about the talk of freedom that made festival opponents come unhinged?
Perhaps it’s the realization that free, confident people are less likely to consent to giving others unlimited control over their lives. People with moral clarity are more capable of properly examining the policies mandated by bureaucracies both near and far away.
They understand that their natural rights originate with their Creator and not from man-made government. This means that there are limits on government power and therefore our rights are not subject to the will of the human collective.
Naturally, this infuriates those agents of the status quo who live to dominate others via government.
But the handful of activists opposed to the freedom festival couldn’t refute the case for limited government, property rights, and personal freedom. Instead, they did their best to politicize the event.
They bamboozled the Iron County School District with inflated concerns about using children singing patriotic songs as political pawns — even as they shamelessly treated the kids as political pawns.
Promoting a vast conspiracy that would have had John Birch Society members rolling their eyes, opponents falsely accused various presenters at the festival of being funded by the Koch brothers.
In desperation, the festival’s detractors dug up old photos of Darryl Worley from a Playgirl magazine photo shoot to discourage people from attending a concert performed by a professional musician who apparently had once made a questionable decision.
The scare tactics, accusations and intimidation didn’t work.
Many people still attended, learned and had a great time in the process.
It was immensely reassuring to see the conference rooms filled during the “Legacy of Freedom” portion of the day’s events. The real measure of the festival’s success was evidenced by the throngs of people who flocked to the concert that evening.
Several lonely protesters stood outside the venue holding up their homemade signs as a steady stream of families poured into the arena. Few of those passing by gave notice to the protesters although some favored them with looks of pity.
The protesters’ discouragement seemed to grow in proportion to the crowd of concertgoers.
It was reminiscent of the scene in Rob Reiner’s film “The Sure Thing” where a young woman convinces her stuffy, uptight boyfriend to accompany her to a college mixer. Upon entering a room filled with dancing party-goers, her boyfriend looks around in discomfort and sniffs: “Look at these people. They probably think they’re having a good time.”
The folks who attended the “Western Freedom Festival” certainly had ample opportunity to enjoy themselves. No one there told them who to hate or fear except the critics trying to dissuade them from attending.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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