Community Organizers Drive Progressive Legislation in Longmont
If you go
What: Longmont Salon presents The Climate Crisis, Is It Too Late? with speaker Rick Visser, a founding member of Extinction Rebellion Denver and speaker Judy Lubow, of the Sunrise Movement
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Longmont Public Library, 409 Fourth Ave.
Cost: Free, but donations will be accepted
More info: Longmontsalon@gmail.com
The “blue wave” many political scientists predicted following the 2016 election turned out to be more of a trickle nationwide. But in Colorado, that wave crashed over the state house and nowhere has that leftward swing been more evident than in Longmont, where Democrats turned out at a rate of 80 percent in the last election.
At least part of this progressive surge in Longmont was brought about by a group of women who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election and felt the need to build a community in Longmont where similarly progressive individuals could come together to discuss various political issues and spread the word about various advocacy groups.
As the 2020 presidential election nears, these women have continued to expand their reach within the community and have begun to have clear effect on local policy decisions.
It all started after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, when Lynette McClain, who was working as a community organizer for the Sanders campaign in Longmont, decided to morph the local organization that built up around the Sanders campaign into a community organization that helped people stay engaged and combat political apathy.
“We just continued to meet once a month after the election and from that sprung the Longmont Political Revolution,” McClain said. “Within the Longmont Political Revolution, we branched off into subgroups that could focus on different issues like fracking, public banking, and air quality.”
One of those subgroups became the Longmont Public Forum, which shows documentaries each month at the Longmont Public Library and organizes forums with related advocacy groups afterward to teach people how to get involved.
“If you learn about something that’s a difficult issue, you leave feeling overwhelmed sometimes,” said Nancy McKenna, one of the Longmont Public Forums’ organizers. “But if you know about a group that’s working on it and you can take some action, it’s fulfilling. It’s what keeps me going as an activist.”
As the popularity of the Longmont Public Forums grew, reinvigorating members from previously organized activist groups like the Longmont Leads with Love Weekly Vigil, McClain decided she would start yet another group known at the Longmont Salon, which would bring in live speakers to Longmont rather than show documentaries.
Fittingly, the Longmont Salon’s first guest was David Barsamian, the founder and host of Alternative Radio, a Boulder-based public affairs broadcast syndicated around the county, who spoke about the need for people to organize themselves to resist injustices in their society.
His stirring speech evoking memories of the women’s suffrage and civil rights movement was just what the audience needed to fire them up for future events.
“Everyone wants to be an old oak tree, no one wants to be an acorn” he said. “But that’s where we start. There’s not much we can do to help the Rohingya in Myanmar, but there are things we can do in Longmont and Broomfield and Niwot and Boulder and Firestone. I always say think globally and nationally, but act locally, that’s where you can intervene.”
The Longmont Salon’s next event, on March 27, is designed to inspire the audience to do just that. Starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Longmont Public Library, Rick Visser and Judy Lubow will present about their recent work with the local chapters of the Extinction Rebellion and Sunrise Movement, two global movements demanding political leaders take action on climate change by peacefully protesting.
Though McClain has only hosted two salons so far, each event has been bigger than the last.
“I continually see new faces, new engagement and new enthusiasm,” Sharron Malloy, one of the organizers for the Longmont Leads with Love Weekly Vigil, said. “It’s motivating new people to run for office, especially young people, a lot of women and people of color.”
Not only have these forums prompted several members to get involved with advocacy groups like Stand with Our Saint Vrain Creek, Citizens Climate Lobby and Moms Demand Action, but together these groups have begun to move the needle in local and state politics.
“We’re a power to be reckoned with when we’re canvassing,” McClain said.
In conjunction with the Longmont Area Democrats, these groups helped support the city council races for Polly Christensen, Joan Peck, Tim Waters, and Aren Rodriguez as well as State Rep. Jonathan Singer.
With a more progressive council in place, the city of Longmont enacted an initiative to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, protect the St. Vrain riparian corridor, increased funding for homeless services and affordable housing, and supported proposals in the state legislature to restrict fracking and allow municipalities to set their own minimum wage.
“If you’re asking me if these groups make a difference, let me be unequivocally clear; absolutely,” Mayor Brian Bagley said. “That is not a complaint, that’s an invitation to anyone in this city who doesn’t like what’s going on to get involved. If you don’t stand up and speak out, you have no voice.”
While the political momentum in Longmont has certainly swayed towards progressives since 2016, a similar movement occurred in the 2000s. However, when the economy crashed in 2008, it swung the political pendulum back to the right during the 2009 election cycle.
In the 2008 election, when Longmont helped elect Rep. Betsy Markey, a Democrat, there was a 70 percent turnout, noted Kaye Fissinger, who made an unsuccessful bid for an at-large seat in the Longmont City Council in 2009.
“Now we’re down to about 40 percent,” she said at the time. “Last year, people were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore with respect to (former President George W.) Bush. Now they’re just mad as hell.”
Nevertheless, she added that she believes the city is still evolving away from its conservative roots as more people move in from Boulder and elsewhere.
While the city council maintained a conservative majority throughout the next decade, much like with the election of President George W. Bush, the election of Donald Trump may have well awakened the progressive movement in Longmont for good — especially as people from traditionally more Democratic Boulder and Denver flock to Longmont.
“With Longmont being the last ‘affordable bastion,’ I think demographically we are getting more progressive,” Malloy said. “But, I think in the wake of Donald Trump people who have lived here for a long time are now feeling like they need to be involved where before they might have voted and been minimally involved.”
John Spina: 303-473-1389, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jsspina24