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Sniffing for justice: 'Polarization tends to make a closer-knit progressive community'


There clearly is no shortage of civil-liberties offenses occurring in Colorado Springs. At least, that's what the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado found when they started sniffing around in earnest a couple of years ago. And soon, the Denver folks realized that we're a veritable goody box of potential lawsuits -- or, at the very least, stern warnings to cops, elected officials and others to clean up their uncivil acts.

The ACLU cites eight litigation and advocacy highlights in which they've been recently involved, in Colorado Springs. Among them:

Suing Sheriff John Anderson and his jail gang for dangerous use of the restraint board on prisoners.

Convincing the City Council to repeal its ordinance that made it illegal to cuss in city parks.

Intervening on behalf of a group of sixth grade girls who were roughly interrogated and disciplined for reading a book about witchcraft at school.

Suing the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division after one of their agents confiscated 29 signs with cuss words said agent found offensive.

Suing Colorado Springs Fire Chief Manuel Navarro for issuing a gag order that prevented firefighters from expressing their opinions on fire-safety issues.

We could go on. But the upshot to all this activity is that a Pikes Peak chapter of the ACLU has formed and will serve as a watchdog for civil injustice. If you feel your rights have been violated, or if you want to become a bona fide, card-carrying member, attend a gathering of Springs' ACLU supporters at the Warehouse Gallery, Thursday, Nov. 18, 7:30-9 p.m.

Mainstream is sitting up to take notice of us alternative types, and it isn't with the disdain of the past. Case in point, the Nov. 8 Newsweek, which devoted a box to a "tour" of sorts of what it calls the "alternative-media culture."

"Reports are the once-staid mainstream press has stolen the thunder from the country's iconoclastic alternative newsweeklies. But the innovative papers still command attention, and profits: New York's Village Voice and six sister papers are expected to sell at auction for as much as $200 million."

Newsweek doesn't specify which "reports" it relies on for the stealing of the thunder, but did offer a number of clues to identify a truly hip product. Included in the glossary: scoops (weeklies break important stories that mainstream dailies won't touch); free (as in, no charge); tuned in (we know what's really going on in local politics); and launch pad (Example: Establishment types like Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal have risen from the alternative media).

It's almost a year before the Big Election, yet Vice President Al Gore is already taking a beating here in Colorado. This week, 13 high-profile Colorado Dems endorsed former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley for president. Included in the group were Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley, former Congressman David Skaggs, Sen. Pat Pascoe, former state party chairman Howard Gelt and Colorado Young Democrats President Colton Alton.

The Colorado Progressive Coalition is holding its next meeting here in the Springs, and yes, they are actually expecting a hefty crowd.

"Actually, we find there are a surprising number of progressives in the Springs," said coalition head Bill Vandenberg. "People in Denver say, Oh, Colorado Springs -- I can't drag myself in my car down there. But the polarization [witnessed here in the past few years] tends to make a closer-knit progressive community."

The group expects a crowd of about 75 people at its Nov. 20 meeting, about half from the Springs and half from Pueblo, the Denver Metro area and Fort Collins. Colorado Springs City Councilman Richard Skorman, who was elected in April, will be on hand to share his success story. "Progressives can be elected in Colorado Springs and Colorado," Vandenberg pointed out.

So who exactly are these progressives? Vandenberg says they are a diverse group of people from all walks of life who care about social and racial justice, economic and environmental issues. A significant number come from labor unions and civil rights groups. "When we formed in 1996, we said, 'Hey we're not going to be your father's Oldsmobile organization.' We realized we needed to go beyond the usual strategies."

Last year, the group took the lead in battling efforts by the state Legislature to kill rules related to hiring state employees -- and making sure the applicants' pool was expanded to people who previously wouldn't be considered (read: minorities). Every member of the Colorado Springs legislative delegation voted against the measure, except for Rep. Marcy Morrison. So it's not surprising that Vandenberg doesn't have a whole lot of nice things to say about them.

But the times, he says, are a changin'.

In fact, progressives have taken a cue from the right wing in terms of organizing and strategic maneuvering in the political arena. Combining money and technology with old-fashioned roll-up-your-sleeves hard work has paid off, including in Colorado.

Says Vandenberg: "We're a hardworking, scrappy organization. We don't have money, but we know how to roll up our sleeves."

If you want in on this, call them in Denver at 303/866-0908, or send them an e-mail at

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