“I can’t believe you live there.”
“Have fun in the Tragic City.”
“Billings is just the worst..”
These are just a few of the things I have heard from my Western Montana friends since moving to the Magic City in 2010. And I can’t be that mad for them saying such disparaging things, since before Billings became “home” I said similar (and probably more profane) things about this seemingly redneck town (being a Butte Girl and all). I mean just driving by Billings on I-90 the view is a refinery. Followed by another refinery. And another. Pretty rough.
I moved here for work, not choice. Pure and simple. I was living in Missoula at the time, wanted the job I have now and when I finally got the offer it came with a condition. “We will need you to move to Billings.” As I weighed this decision, it was difficult to ignore my assumptions about Billings (dirty, flat, boring, conservative). But I needed a job, and wanted to stay in the organizing field, so I accepted and started the move to south central Montana.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love. Not with a person, but with Billings. Digging into the town beyond the rough exterior I found a town that sticks up for itself, that tends to embrace its diverse communities, always has stuff going on, and even has a few restaurants that stay open past 9:00 pm.
I love Billings, despite the atrocious actions from a select few that have brought unwanted national attention to my town. The past two years have given us some dandies…..(I would mention something about the caricature of an old white man, but that’s a whole other topic)
Richard Cebull: Last year’s news, Former US District Judge Cebull cast a negative light on Billings when he made the news for sending racists jokes over his work email.
Judge G. Todd Baugh: Billings made national news over a sitting judge making some of the most absurd comments ever regarding a young rape victim. He claimed she was “older than her chronological age” and in “just as much control of the situation” as the rapist. He then attempted to apologize with some very odd remarks about “forcible violent rapes” and “movie rape.”
Max Lenington: I honestly don’t know what to say about this guy. With every month there is a new story about his blatant racism and disregard for rules regarding appropriate workplace behavior.
Despite these characters, my love for this small town (yes I realize it is the largest city in Montana, it is still by every definition a small town) has grown because of its response to embarrassing individuals. Organized town-halls and community outcry followed the news about Cebull, leading eventually to his early “retirement.” The largest rally (in recent memory) Billings was quickly organized to protest Baugh’s victim blaming language. And sure enough, the outrage against Lenington continues to grow. None of this is surprising, considering our history. The Not In Our Town movement launched in Billings in 1995, when the community stood together against hate. We may not look, feel, or vote all that progressive, but when push comes to shove, Billings is a supportive community.
And while the rest of the country is dealing with the aftermath of the recession, and towns are struggling to make ends meet, Billings has voted the past 3 consecutive elections to invest in our community. First with the Public Library Bond, then in back to back victories for our public schools, with the most recent school victory being a decisive Bond measure victory.
Not that bad for a town with some clearly rough edges.
Update 11/06/2013 5:35 pm… How could I forget to mention the beer?!?! 7 breweries right in downtown. If that doesn’t sell you on Billings I don’t know what will.