For the Creating Community Breakfast 6-7-2012

If you’ve been to one of our events before, you know that we usually begin by telling you where Citizens Project has been and where we’re going.

You may have already heard the story of our inception in 1992, a generation ago. What you may not know is that Citizens Project formed initially because a teacher in our community was under attack for teaching – you guessed it – Greek Mythology.

Momentum grew.  We moved on to take a stand against Amendment 2, and we continued to stand by students seeking academic freedom, and teachers who wanted to present controversial material…  you know, like,  evolution, and literature.

You may have already heard all that.

I had just started high school at St. Mary’s, here in town.  Like most teenagers, I was on the phone. My best friend had something deep and important to tell me.  After 10 minutes of wavering, stammering, she finally said what she wanted to. She tried to come out to me. I was young, and inexperienced, and naïve, and without knowing what I had done, I shoved her right back into the closet, and abandoned her there. It was two more years before she was finally able to come out to me.So, rather than tell you what CP was doing in 1992, this morning I’d like to tell you what I was doing.

You see, it matters what I was doing in 1992, because all of us, you and me, we’re all capable of inflicting great damage and injury onto the people we care most about.  But we’re also all capable of incredible courage, and healing, and regeneration.

Perhaps at precisely the same moment my friend was coming out to me, brave and inspired leaders in this very city were gathering, standing together in the face of adversity. Against bigotry, against oppression, against isolation and indifference. Against indoctrination, and against harming other people; out of ignorance, out of spite, or out of fear.

These people, my heroes, were saving this city before I had the political consciousness to know it needed to be saved. They were preparing the ground for what you see today.  Citizens Project: a garden bed from which we – as a community – can grow equal and civil rights, a vibrant democracy, and religious freedom.

This year, Citizens Project worked with a creative team who donated their time and talent to develop an awareness campaign with this tagline: Common Ground for the Common Good. At Citizens Project, we have always believed that our strength as a community lies in our differences, our diversity. But we also believe that our strength lies in what we share, and we have more in common than we think. We all want a vibrant city. Good schools. The freedom to worship – or not worship – in the way that is most meaningful for us. Safe neighborhoods. Healthy families.

And that’s we’re doing today. We’re building a garden for all residents of the Pikes Peak region, creating a community of people who share these values and will sustain this garden.

In this community, countless leaders before us helped set the stones, pour the soil, plant the seeds. They stood in support of Gay Straight Alliances, they exposed school board candidates with pernicious agendas, they created dialog where none existed. More recently, we worked with community leaders to re-establish a human relations commission, followed up with our County Elections department to ensure as many secular polling places as possible, and addressed complaints about teacher and coach behavior in our local schools with the administrations of those schools.  Citizens Project takes proactive measures to promote more inclusive policy and monitors and responds to threats to pluralism, equal and civil rights, and voting access, meanwhile supporting coalitions and institutions that enhance the quality of life, such as the recently-reinvigorated Pikes Peak Equality Coalition.

And we do these things in addition to our education programs, like our day-long Citizens Religious Freedom Institute, which this year empowered 50 teachers, administrators, and school board members with the information and tools they need to uphold religious freedom in their schools. Like our nonpartisan election education forums, which attracted more than 250 people last year. Or our candidate survey voter guide resource, which was distributed to more than 140,000 residents in the Pikes Peak region to provide factual, nonpartisan information about the candidates’ positions on issues facing our community.

Together, we have sown seeds of support for our most vulnerable community members. But with every new generation, there’s a new predator in our garden: a new surreptitious movement to undermine our right to freely be who we are. The soil of our movement erodes easily unless we remain vigilant and committed to a vision of freedom, equality, and civic engagement.

Last week, the national spotlight was on pastors who called for a “gay holocaust” and “gay concentration camps.”

Last month, Civil Unions was filibustered in the Colorado House of Representatives and died in special session.

Two months ago, Focus on the Family filed a deceptively-titled “Religious Liberty Amendment” that would have allowed discrimination that stemmed from “a sincerely held religious belief.”  Citizens Project was part of a statewide coalition of first responders who challenged the measure at the title board, effectively causing Focus to withdraw the measure.

And next week, Citizens Project will be part of a dedicated local group, the Safe @ School Coalition, that shows up at a District 11 School Board meeting to advocate for enumerated, inclusive language in the district’s harassment policy.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. beseeched us nearly half a century ago “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” He urged us to find intersections of identity and oppression and stand in solidarity with those who suffer. Today’s movement must include our LGBT and straight people, immigrants, poor  and rich, communities of color, atheists and people of faith, disabled, liberal and conservative. We must stand together against false dichotomies, these superficial divisions designed to keep us separate, and fight against ALL forms of oppression.  As Voltaire reminds us in Candide, “We must cultivate our own garden.” In Colorado Springs, Citizens Project IS that garden.

We watch. We contact our legislators and we encourage our friends to do the same. We vote. We organize and attend rallies and education events. We march. We sit down to build bridges of understanding. We learn. We love. We tend our garden and our relationships. And we do not stop.

I can’t tell you what the next threat will be. But I can promise you that Citizens Project will always be at the front lines, informing and galvanizing people to raise their own voices. Finding our common ground, and working together to enhance the common good. But we can’t do it alone, and we haven’t done it alone. We need gardeners. We need you.

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