In a city that's home to Focus on the Family and a fistful of military installations, you might think that there is a limited range for student activism. Sometimes, though, sheep's clothing hides the best wolves.
Yes, Colorado Springs' civic leadership is pro-military, and it seems as though there isn't a Department of Defense dollar it doesn't like. And, yes, it can be hard for some to look forward when they're always referring to religious texts written a few millennia ago. But that doesn't mean you can't instigate social change, says Steve Saint, executive director of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, a community-based organization focusing on nonviolence, sustainable living and social and economic justice.
"If you're talking about being an activist in a security-state environment, the key is finding something you can change without anyone's permission — a piece of the world you can affect," he says. "We are looking all over town for that."
Finger on the pulse
College students in particular bring a unique perspective and energy to activism, and there are many opportunities where they can present their voice (see "Find your niche," p. 25). One that's relevant locally and elsewhere is re-localization of the economy. Previously called bioregionalism and decentralism, the idea is to take money, and thus control, away from both Wall Street and the global supply chain.
"'Local' is the new trendy thing," Saint says. But he adds that doesn't necessarily mean just protesting the next Wal-Mart arrival.
"What does a local economy really look like?" he asks. "Not just saying what is bad, but what are you in favor of?"
Joining a group like the Green Cities Coalition (greencitiescoalition.net) can help you set your sights on the bigger picture, but you can also keep an eye out for smaller initiatives — for instance, Local Food Week in September.
A more contentious issue locally, at least last year, was hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, or "fracking." As Colorado Springs City Council considered setting regulations for oil and gas companies who wanted to drill in the city, the pro-fracking camp often promoted the jobs the industry can create; the anti- camp worried mostly about environmental impacts.
It's quieted since energy companies uncovered no viable reserves during test-well drilling on Colorado Springs' eastern plains, and Council dropped the issue. But Laurel Biedermann, co-founder of Pikes Peak Alliance for the Future (ppafuture.com), says it's far from over: Smaller companies often come in, scout out locations, and then get absorbed by larger companies like Shell that have the resources to launch the projects that the satellite companies can't.
"These companies out east have said they haven't found what they were looking for, saying there's nothing to worry about and that regulations aren't necessary," she says. "That's not true."
And Saint points out that the land hasn't been sold. A forward-thinking individual would push for proactive civic leadership; instead of turning it over to developers, he asks, what if it was preserved as open space or a reserve for future local farming?
You can contact groups like the Alliance for the Future and Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights (frackfreesprings.org) if this is a fight you'd like to join.
There's also recreational marijuana. With all local municipalities except for Manitou Springs having banned sales in their jurisdictions — despite the overwhelming success of last year's pro-legalization Amendment 64 — many voters have been left feeling like their votes don't matter. Locally, the Every Vote Counts movement is holding meetings, trying to start a citizen-sponsored initiative to overturn the ban. Follow it on Facebook (tiny.cc/icomply) to find out how to get involved.
Just jump in
Part of the difficulty with proactive activism for young adults is time and the nature of college life. "It may take you years while you're at school," Saint notes. "You may not see the results of your initial effort."
Organizations such as the Justice and Peace Commission and their members can help keep the continuity for longer-scale projects, but activists should be prepared to either step into the footprints laid down by someone else or not finish the path they set out to start, he says.
Saint offers three suggestions for young adult activists. First, as in every relationship, communication is vital: Students need to be able to interact with local groups and businesses. Without networking, it's difficult to get the resources to implement the best ideas.
Also, he says, proactivism also is more cost-, time- and resource-efficient than reacting after the fact. If we, as a city, can begin focusing on preventative measures instead of retroactive damage control, we'll be a lot better off, Saint says.
Finally, both the survivalist and community-resilience movements have come into heightened vogue over the past few years. They are parallel paths, both focusing on self-sufficiency, homemade goods and a move away from being a part of the larger capitalist structure. One picks the individual, though, while the other picks the communal approach.
"That's why I'm going to keep banging the drum of the local economy," Saint says. "Not only as the most subversive thing, but also as the most sensible thing; so when the lights go out, you can make your own candles."