By Lionel Washington
My mother Linda and my grandfather James are the bravest people I’ve ever known.
Ernest Hemingway tells us that courage is grace under pressure. These two heroes of mine had plenty of both.
I was fortunate to live with my extended family, who exposed me at an early age to important issues facing our community. Mill levies and ballot initiatives were discussed over a plate of collard greens cornbread and. Both my mom and my grandpa were leading the charge…and actively involved in voting rights and in the parent/teacher association.
My mother was a hardworking teacher. My grandpa James Washington was a proud member of the military—pre and post segregation. WWII, Korea, Vietnam. Even after serving our country, and fighting for freedom. He experienced racism that affected his promotions and career advancement. It was so bad that even left the Army and moved to the Air Force which had just become a separate branch of service from the Army Air Corps, because it was at least was somewhat better for people of color to serve.
When I was 11, my grandfather explained to me the importance of voting and issued a broad but very clear directive: ‘Get involved!!’
And so I did. In Junior High, I attended District Accountability meetings with him and my mother. I was elected to student council and volunteered for local candidates I believed in—all because this was instilled in me. I WANTED to participate. My first job in college was to register voters on the 16th Street Mall. When I encountered apathy, I’d say, “People fought and died during Jim Crow and through the Civil Rights movement so we could do this. This is important. Our country is on the line. [People are counting on you not voting.]”
“My mom raised me to be a community organizer—to get involved. That’s why I coach basketball. That’s why I worked as a University Admissions counselor. I care about our young people—and was raised to do so.”
This morning is about hope. And it’s also about courage in the face of challenge. And over the last decade in the Pikes Peak region, I’ve experienced challenge. I have been denied access to a bar (pause)… denied a Martin Luther King day off by my employer (pause)…and I’ve been jumped.
If my grandpa were here today, I wish I could tell him that everything was just fixed.
Nelson Mandela quote: There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere. And you must walk through the valley of the shadow of death again and again until you reach the mountain top of your desires.
Getting involved isn’t something you do once. You do it every day. You chip away at inequality. You face challenges. You maintain grace under pressure. You do it again and again. You get involved.
That’s what Citizens Project does, and that’s why this little organization that could has captured my imagination and my heart.
I want something better for my 1 year old son, Carter Jade. I imagine a community that is truly equal, truly free. I know you want this, too. Not only for my son, but for your children and grandchildren. Really, for ALL children. That’s why we’re all here. So as we cope, with the recent Supreme Court ruling to strike down some of the critical protections of the 1965 VRA, we continue to face modern day challenges voting and the rights of citizens- that is why, the important work of Citizens Project really does matter…even in 2014.
One last thing. I think you all know what my little guy will hear at the kitchen table once as soon as he is out of the high chair and sharing a plate of greens and cornbread with his daddy, I’ll lean over and pass on the wisdom that my grandfather- his great-grandfather gave to me and that I’ll share with you all this morning…. “Get involved!”
Marji Mitchell, Volunteer Coordinator:
I moved to Colorado Springs in early 2013 from Olympia, Washington with my partner Judy. Many of our friends there regaled us with tales of how conservative it was here…that we would have difficulty finding friends…that we wouldn’t be able to “talk politics”…you get the idea. So imagine my delight when I read about Citizens Project’s Creating Community Breakfast. Further exploration led me to the Mission Statement and Vision. I knew then that there was hope (“It’s A Springs Thing”). I definitely wanted to become part of this organization. I spent 21 years working in the private non-profit sector—many of those years organizing and managing volunteers. It just seemed natural for me to volunteer in that capacity with Citizens Project. So it is with great pleasure that I say to the friends in Olympia, “let me tell you about this GREAT organization…”.
Earlier this year we asked you, our loyal friends and supporters, to give us feedback about our work and impact. Thanks to the participation of 100 Citizens Project supporters, we learned a lot about our organization, including our strengths and our challenges. One of the opportunities for growth we identified was communication: we learned that we could be doing a better job of keeping you posted on all our programs and successes. To that end, we happily present this mid-year report of exactly what Citizens Project has been up to:
- Collaborating with the Pikes Peak Equality Coalition: On February 14, we worked closely with member organizations of PPEC to produce #IHeartCOS, an awareness-raising campaign that highlighted the positive things in our community. There’s more in store for the #IHeartCOS campaign, so stay tuned!
- Tackling voting from the ground up:
- On the ground: We’re working in collaboration with the Pikes Peak Equality Coalition to galvanize more underrepresented voters than ever before in the Pikes Peak region. For each election, we send postcards, make phone calls and knock on doors to make sure people connect with their communities and support their values by casting their ballots. We’ve reached out to about 1,200 voters each year and we’ve seen a steady increase in participation rates among traditionally marginalized voters.
- At the local level: As always, you can count on us to conduct comprehensive election education activities for all local elections including voter guides and forums.
- At the municipal policy level: In the last two years, we’ve participated in civic collaborations that have successfully advanced improvements in campaign finance code and a more robust, public process for city council redistricting. We’ve recently conducted a series of seven community meetings to gather public input on potential reforms to our city’s election code and are preparing to present what we heard from the community to City Council.
- At the county level: Over the last several years, we’ve met with the El Paso County Elections Department frequently to help ensure implementation of policies and practices that enhance access for voters. As a result of our efforts, more of the polling places in El Paso County are secular locations, and we continue to advocate for voting sites that are in close proximity to public transportation.
- At the state level: We monitor the state legislature and rally 1,500 activists in the Pikes Peak region in support of initiatives that enhance voting access, such as the 2013 Modernized Voting and Elections Act, which – among other things – created “one stop shops” for all voting needs and allowed for same-day voter registration and registration changes.
- Supporting partner organizations in infrastructure and governance development: Earlier this year, we provided office space, fundraising support, governance support and transition support to our friends at Inside/Out Youth services. We’re delighted to report that they have a new home; a new, committed board of directors; a new executive director; and a stable funding base!
- Co-sponsoring community-creating programs with partners: Collaborations over the last few months include: Americans United’s “Diversity We’re Defending” series, Food for Thought’s “Mental Health Begins with Me” conversations, the Independence Center’s “The Meaning of Disability” brownbag lunch, Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s Nonprofit Day, and PFLAG’s special program this week featuring Steven Chavez, Director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division.
- Elevating the conversation in Colorado Springs: Thanks to Lunchbucket Creative, Lamar Outdoor Advertising and the Colorado Springs Independent, we’ve deployed an awareness campaign designed to highlight the positive aspects of our community.
- Recognizing the contributions of leaders: This year we were delighted to honor June Waller at and Judy and Dick Noyes at our annual Divine Award celebration.
- Planning our annual Creating Community Breakfast: Thanks to the hard work of our committee, table captains, and speakers, this year’s event is sure to delight and inspire you! Please RSVP today!
- Facilitating local collaboration: We currently serve on the Safe @ School Coalition, the Diversity Forum’s Public Affairs and Government Relations Committee, and the UCCS Center for Religious Diversity Advisory Committee.
- Revitalizing our volunteer program: We are in the process of a volunteer audit, which will help us to better support our incredible volunteers and provide meaningful opportunities for those wishing to get more involved!
- Speaking out on key issues and expanding awareness of Citizens Project: Over the last few months, we’ve appeared on the KRCC fund drive, on KGNU, in the Cheyenne & Woodmen Editions, and on the Colorado Springs Independent and Gazette Blogs.
- Monitoring statewide legislation & taking stands on issues: Citizens Project took several positions this year during the state legislative session. All the bills we opposed (SB 71, SB 74, SB 79, SB 141, HB 1043 and HB 1128) ultimately failed, and many of the bills we supported were signed into law. Successful bills included: a wage fairness bill (SB 5), a civil unions loophole-closing bill (SB 19), a recall election bill requiring adherence to state election guidelines (SB 158), updates to election code (SB 161), and a bill requiring special districts to comply with some state laws for elections (HB 1164).
- Tracking local policy and notifying activists of opportunities to get involved: In recent months, Citizens Project has supported an ordinance establishing a “leadership pipeline” for underrepresented groups in municipal boards and commissions and a collaborative effort to enhance public transportation.
All this equality-building, community-creating work is made possible through your support and feedback! Please share your thoughts with us on a regular basis, and let us know if there are opportunities to advance diversity, equality, religious freedom and civic engagement in the beautiful Pikes Peak region.
The date of this year’s primary election is Tuesday, June 24th.
The last day to register online to receive a ballot in the mail is June 16th, but you can still register in person up until election day. However, the last day for affiliated voters to change their political affiliation is May 23rd. Unaffiliated voters may affiliate at any time.
Ballots will be mailed out on June 2nd and the last day to request a mail ballot is June 17th.
For more information, check out Just Vote Colorado, which offers registration information and resources, ballot information, and more!
In Colorado, political parties use both caucuses and primaries to determine who will be on the ballot in the coordinated election in the fall. The purpose of caucuses is to determine who will be on the primary ballot in June.
The party caucus meetings took place earlier this month, on March 4. In these caucus precinct meetings, party members joined together to discuss nominees for party primary elections and delegates for county, state, and national assemblies (as applicable). Any party member who resided in the precinct for 30 days, registered to vote at least 29 days before the caucus and had been affiliated with the respective party for two months was eligible to attend their precinct caucus to vote on delegates. Whether they were technically eligible to vote or not, all caucus attendees are able to discuss who they prefer to be the party nominee for the general election.
Still to come, however, are the county assemblies. The Democratic county assembly will be held on March 22nd at UCCS (more information available at peakdems.org). The Republican county assembly will take place March 29th at UCCS (you can visit elpaso.coloradogop.us for more information). Delegates at the county assembly will take a formal vote on candidates, as well as delegates for the congressional district assembly and state assembly. The dates of these district assemblies are still to be determined.
As already noted, county assemblies and “higher assemblies” are crucial in determining who will be on primary ballots. Candidates with 30% of the vote automatically qualify for inclusion on the ballot, and candidates with 10-29% of the vote may petition on to the ballot. Candidates may also forgo the caucus process altogether and petition onto the primary ballot, but early deadlines for signature collection prevent most candidates from getting on the ballot in this way.
This year, primary elections will be held on June 24th. If you’re interested in voting in a primary, please visit the secretary of state website.
By Kristy Milligan
A few weeks ago, I shared lunch with a close friend, who also happens to be a Citizens Project donor, volunteer, committee member, and former board member.
When it was my turn to give a work update, I droned on for several minutes on about our organizational priorities and calendar for the next few months. My friend paused, considered and asked the most simple, profound question.
“What does all that actually mean?”
Most cultures, ranging from ethnic to geographic to professional specialty, adopt a particular vernacular to describe the world around them. That specialized vernacular appears in the form of acronyms, jargon, and hollow, reverberating axioms that are utterly devoid of meaning outside of the shared cultural understanding.
We at Citizens Project are guilty.
It can be easy to speak and write without giving much thought to language, falling into familiar patterns, familiar vocabulary. But sometimes, our language can be limiting or limited, especially when there’s not a shared meaning between the speaker and the listener. Because we at Citizens Project strive to create shared understanding in all we do, this essay is a first step toward that lofty goal of inspiring, impactful language.
Words matter. Intention matters. I hope you’ll join us in this conversation by sharing your own words and your own meanings.
LGBT: This stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and is intended to be an all-encompassing representation of a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities. Although it has crept into our everyday vernacular with little fanfare, it’s one of our most interesting acronyms from a historical standpoint and it continues to evolve. Over the last decade or so, individuals who do not feel the standard acronym represents their unique identity have advocated for the integration of additional letters. An alternative, more comprehensive (though not exhaustive) acronym is LGBTQQIP2SAA: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous, and asexual. Occasionally, we’ll see a third a for ally, and sometimes it’s preceded by an s for straight ally. At Citizens Project, we aspire to include all people. For us, it’s not about using the perfect acronym, but it is about using language that implies respect for all people.
PPEC: This stands for the Pikes Peak Equality Coalition, the primary local collaboration between equality-loving organizations in the Pikes Peak region. Citizens Project has been a member since its inception in 2006.
GOTV: This stands for Get-Out-The-Vote and represents any activity aimed at galvanizing a group of people to vote. Some of Citizens Project’s GOTV efforts include: phone calls, door-knocking (personal visits), and postcards.
RLA: This stands for Religious Liberty Amendment. Is it a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would decriminalize discrimination against groups of people if that discrimination is rooted in theology (think of the recent flap with the bakery that refused service to a civil union couple). It also usually includes a provision that allows nonprofit organizations that discriminate on religious grounds to still be eligible for federal and state funding. Legislation of this ilk has been floated at the State Capitol for the last several years, and each year it is withdrawn. It’s characterized by alluring, deceptive language that makes it sound like it protects religious liberty, but its intended impact is anything but liberty-inducing.
CRFI: This is shorthand for our annual Citizens’ Religious Freedom Institute, a day-long symposium for educators and administrators on how to protect religious freedom in the schools.
Citizens Project Terminology-
When I’m introducing someone to Citizens Project for the first time, I often say the same thing: “We educate and empower people to promote and protect diversity, equality, religious freedom and civic engagement.” I’ve been using this particular turn of phrase for so long that I know that I can’t *only* say this. I have to continue on to clarify what this all means. For you longtime supporters, this may be superfluous, but I include it anyway, for our new friends.
Educate: When Citizens Project talks about education, we mean that we provide information and programs designed to illuminate key issues facing our community. Sometimes this education takes the form of an instructional article on our website (like this one), sometimes it manifests in interactive programs like our Citizens’ Religious Freedom Institute, and sometimes we educate through production of voter guides and forums, to give potential voters comprehensive information about candidates and ballot measures.
Empower: When Citizens Project says we empower people, we usually mean we provide people with information and tools to take action. One way we do this is through electronic Action Alerts, which alert subscribers to opportunities to get involved in decision-making. Sometimes the focus of these action alerts is on proposed legislation (with information about how to learn more and contact legislators), and other times the focus is on civic opportunities such as rallies, community-building events and more. Our GOTV work also falls into this category, as we strive to provide potential voters with the motivation and means to vote.
Diversity: The simplest definition of diversity is difference. Because they are comprised of individuals, our communities necessarily include people with differences in views, differences in habit and preference, and differences in ways of being and moving in the world. At Citizens Project, we honor each of these differences and we believe they contribute to a richness of life and society.
Equality: Equality is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.” Equality does not mean that we’re not different: it simply means that all people are born with, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Religious Freedom: For Citizens Project, this means freedom of religion. The prerogative of anyone to exercise their individual religious rights without government interference provided their religious practices neither compel others to participate nor hinder anyone else’s individual freedoms.
Civic Engagement: Literally, engagement in the community. This could look like voting, participating in programs that create community, contact with legislators, or any activity that involves human beings with a desire to make a positive impact.
Social Justice: Social justice involves creating a more fair and equitable society by addressing injustice of any kind and valuing diversity. Organizations that self-identify as social justice organizations can address one or many of a broad range of social issues in which inequality exists: focus can range from criminal justice to employment to housing to education.
Discriminate: The literal meaning of discriminate is to make a distinction in favor or against something or someone. In the social justice arena, however, to discriminate usually means to deny someone an opportunity on the basis of their real or perceived group or individual demographic status: this could include race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, veteran status, political affiliation, and more.
Enumeration: Enumeration refers to the comprehensive listing of demographic identifiers, usually in an anti-discrimination policy (to identify vulnerable, and therefore protected, classes). A fully enumerated policy might look like this: “Bullying means any gesture or written, verbal or physical act that takes place on school property, bus or off-site location where school activities are taking place, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory handicap, or by any other distinguishing characteristic…” Studies show that enumeration matters, in terms of a policy’s impact.
Advocacy: For Citizens Project, advocacy almost always involves a recommendation for or against a cause or proposal. Our advocacy is frequently aimed at representing or elevating voices that are traditionally overlooked in policy-setting arenas. Advocacy is an action. It’s standing up. It’s involving. It’s raising voices and awareness in support of underrepresented views.
Pluralism: Defined by Merriam-Webster as: a situation in which people of different social classes, religions, races, etc., are together in a society but continue to have their different traditions and interests. Pluralism is distinct from the American concept of the “melting pot,” in which differences and traditions dissipate in the greater society, because pluralism is predicated on the retention of those unique traditions. At Citizens Project, we celebrate pluralism as a superior alternative to the dissolution of diversity.
Inclusive/Affirming: This language describes a space that is friendly toward all types of people. Historically synonymous with “tolerant,” this language gained traction with individuals and communities who felt merely “tolerating” other ways of being was an inadequate approach to building real community. Citizens Project strives to create an inclusive and affirming community for all people.
Privilege: Merriam Webster defines privilege as “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.” Personal characteristics, including age, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, economic status, ability status, immigration status, and others can influence access and opportunity, sometimes without the beneficiary even knowing the cause of his or her privilege. In a recent TED talk, Justin Ford describes privilege as “access to or enjoying rights or advantages simply by membership or belonging to a certain group or identity.”
Queer: For centuries, this term was a synonym for “odd,” until the 20th century, when it was first used as a pejorative term for gay. Still an offensive term for many, queer has recently been “reclaimed” by the academic community and young people who find “LGBT” to be too rigid and binary to encompass their sexual orientation and gender identity. When in doubt about someone’s preferred self-identification, we always ask.
Gender binary: The traditional division of genders into male or female. This term can also be extended to sexuality when describing one’s attraction as either same-sex or opposite-sex attraction. Many find that the presenting of only two options is not only limiting, but antagonistic to the fluidity of the human experience.
While researching, I googled “nonprofit jargon” and came up with this incredible tool for developing absolutely nonsensical phrases using buzz language from the sector. There’s an abundance of official-sounding nonprofit vernacular out there, and Citizens Project uses a few key “buzz phrases” to define who we are and what we do.
501 (c) 3: An IRS designation for a particular kind of nonprofit with an “exempt purpose.” 501 (c) 3 organizations are characterized by their social impact (versus profit) focus, and are tax exempt. Citizens Project is a 501 (c) 3, and as a result, we must remain nonpartisan in all our activities and adhere to IRS reporting regulations.
Nonpartisan: Most simply, this means unbiased, or not supporting or opposing any political party (or candidate) over another. Citizens Project goes to great lengths to remain nonpartisan in all our activities, and especially in our voter education programs.
All this language can be enough to leave you reeling. But the bottom line is this:
At Citizens Project, we have our sleeves rolled up and are creating (we think!) a better world. You are welcome here. We want to hear and understand your language, too! Always let us know if we are speaking in jargon, with acronyms…or in any way that makes our message less strong. We want you to hear. We want the world to hear. And we want to hear you! Please help us create a vocabulary that rings loudly and clearly from peak to shining peak.