A voter in a heavily Republican precinct in Montrose, Colorado opened his door and Seth Cagin, Democratic candidate for Colorado’s State House, tried to read the scene. The voter’s arms were tattooed with military insignia and a white Fu Manchu mustache twirled off below his chin.
Cagin asked what was on the voter’s mind. Veteran healthcare, said the voter, and then, after a pregnant pause, he launched into a deep dive supporting more access to marijuana. Cagin said that he supported improving healthcare – Western Colorado’s insurance premiums are near the highest in the nation and typically 40% higher than those in Denver – and he couldn’t understand Montrose County’s opposition to recreational cannabis.
Did this mean that the man might vote for Cagin, a Democrat, in this fall’s election? Seth left a flyer and, walking away, made a note in his database: leaning favorable.
“I think I picked up ten votes today,” later said Cagin as we wound through the subdivision, “Ten votes a day is better than sitting at home complaining.”
Cagin lives in Telluride, where Hillary Clinton won more than 80 percent of the vote in 2016. But the rest of the district, which spans ranches, uranium mines and the Pinto Bean Capital of the World, is deeply conservative and handed Trump a more than 40% margin.
In the last contested election for Colorado State House district 58 in 2012, Don Coram, a Republican rancher from Montrose, won 22,071 votes, twice as many as his Democratic challenger, Tammy Theis.
So Cagin knows he’s unlikely to win his bid for Colorado’s 58th House District, but, he explained, “you can’t save America by writing half of it off.”
Believing that every race should be contested, Cagin set himself on a course to meet as many people face to face as possible. Because the district has not been hotly contested, there is limited data on voters, but Cagin used Votebuilder to identify 10,000 homes where the occupants were not known to be either strongly Democratic or Republican.
Nearly every day, he drives either north to Montrose or south to Cortez to walk a new neighborhood, armed with campaign flyers and a map displaying addresses and voter affiliations. Every door is a mystery until Cagin knocks: what does the American flag planted in their flower bed say about their political persuasion? Their Denver Broncos sign? Will they breathe fire or invite him in for coffee?
Cagin and his wife, Marta, ran The Watch newspaper for more than 20 years, following every twist and turn of local events as they grew their reach from Telluride to Ridgway to Montrose. Seth was known for his pointed OpEds, but running for office has forced him to meet voters where they are and confront their opinions and experiences directly [Ed note: Alec Jacobson worked for Seth Cagin and Marta Tarbell at The Watch].
When I walked with Cagin for an afternoon, he had already visited more than 6,000 homes and had adopted what he describes as a pilgrim mentality, knocking his way door to door as if performing his daily ablutions, seeking a sort of humble enlightenment as he is variously welcomed into homes and shooed away. “It’s about the journey, not the destination,” he explained.
One voter opened her door, Cagin introduced himself and she called her husband. “Democrat or Republican?” he asked. “Democrat,” said Cagin. “See you later,” said the husband, and the voters closed their door.
Cagin quickly entered a note that he probably had not won their votes, hustling to the next target on his map.
In the span of a couple blocks, a staunch Democrat invited us into her living room for communion. “Can you believe Kavanaugh?!” she exclaimed. She said that she couldn’t open up to her neighbors, pointing out the window to the houses where she often played cards but never talked politics.
Cagin registered that he’d likely win her vote, though he noted that he probably would have won it anyway.
“Why did Don Quixote tilt at windmills? Because he was crazy,” he told me in between houses, his Bernie-Sanders-esque shoots of white hair tucked under a logo-free hat.
After selling The Watch, Cagin joined a fledgling campaign for Bob Baer – of CNN and Syriana fame – to unseat Scott Tipton from the US House of Representatives in 2017. But after dipping his toes in the decidedly opposed waters of Colorado’s third congressional district, Baer backed down.
When Democrats swept key races in Virginia in 2017, Cagin decided to step up to the plate himself.
“There is a tendency that people have to imagine that somebody bigger, better and smarter than they are is gonna do the thing that they think needs to get done,” Cagin said as we drove through open country near Montrose.
On the porch of a middle-aged man, a massive mounted elk visible through the doorway, Cagin waxed philosophical about polarization in politics, boiling down divisions to core beliefs either in the value hard work or social justice. He admitted that he was generally driven by social justice, but explained that, as he’d met voters, he realized that, “these are both good values.” The voter, a registered Republican, nodded at times and grimaced at others, explaining that he cared most that candidates have integrity. He took one of Cagin’s flyers.
“If I win it’ll be the upset of the century,” Cagin said in between houses.
At another home, as Cagin leaned on the stoop, an older man engaged on issues of western Colorado’s high health insurance premiums (among the highest in the nation and 40% higher than the rates for similar plans in Denver) and Montrose’s underfunded schools. After some back and forth, he admitted, “I’m pretty conservative.”
“And I’m pretty liberal,” said Seth, “I bet we can disagree about a lot.”
“But I bet we can agree on a few things,” said the voter.
At this point in the election cycle, it seems nearly crass to say that politics are divided in America. But this takes on a somewhat different meaning from our vantage point in the mountains. While our regions are, by broad statistical category, rural America and are impacted by issues typical of the West, ski towns appear as blue islands on the New York Times precinct-level map of 2016 voting data. So, in this issue of the Independent, we have stories that work to understand the distinct contrasts of mountain town politics.
Our goal is to step back from the conversation about whether there will be a blue wave or a show of Trumpist support in the Midterms, but to dig into the ways in which the national elections relate to the local issues we are deeply about.
And Mike Rogge, in an interview with Jeremy Jones, opines on the future of the outdoors in politics, hoping that some day, there might be a party that represents more directly the issues that we care about.
We hope, in the end to draw at least a bit of a line between national politics and their impact on our homes.
[blockquote3]“Record-setting drought reduced flows on the Colorado River by nearly 20 percent…[so far] this century…” – Shaun McKinnon, The Republic | azcentral.com[/blockquote3]
On the Upper Great Plains where I grew up, folks dreaded winter, complained about having to shovel snow and rejoiced when spring arrived. Here in the mountains, it’s different. We welcome winter and worry when there isn’t enough snow.
The more the better.
In the San Juan Mountains where I live, we expect abundant snow in winter and a big thaw in spring that lasts well into the summer. We expect “mud month” to start sometime in April and run into May, although exactly when it happens varies from year to year.
Mud month was abbreviated in 2018 because there was so little snow to melt. If it gets much shorter we will have to start calling it mud week or, God forbid, mud day.
The streams that usually run strong in early summer were down to a trickle in June. By the Fourth of July, some were bone dry for the first time in recent memory.
We often ignore problems that don’t directly affect us—until they do. It’s human nature. When my cistern ran dry in August, I became acutely aware of how dependent we all are on a reliable water supply. We imagine that water is limitless and tend to take it for granted because all we have to do is turn on a faucet or push a button on the washing machine.
Nowhere in America is public awareness of water as a finite resource more critical than in the Southwest, a rapidly growing arid region with sprawling cities largely dependent on a single source of fresh water: The Colorado River.
[blockquote3]“The Colorado River is the most dammed, drained, depleted river on the planet.” – Gary Wockner, Director, Save the Colorado[/blockquote3]
Under the Colorado River Compact—a deal struck almost a century ago and still in effect—the lion’s share of Colorado River water belongs to six other states in the region. At the time, the river seemed to have a nearly unlimited supply of water, and the compact divided it equally between the Upper and Lower states.
The four Upper Basin states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico) and three Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada, and California) each get a total of 7.5 million acre-feet per year.
The Lower Basin states were given the right to an extra million acre-feet if necessary. After all, it’s just water.
That attitude is perfectly understandable in the context of the early 1920s when populations were low, the Rockies were snowcapped year-round and the flow rate in the Colorado was strong and steady. It was hard then to imagine that it would ever be “depleted”.
[blockquote3]…2000 to 2014 [is] a period marked by one of the worst droughts in modern history. The river’s flow during those years declined by 19 percent, about 2.9 million acre-feet per year compared with the long-term average from 1906 to 1999.” – Shaun McKinnon, The Republic|azcentral.com[/blockquote3]
In 1948, the Upper Basin states agreed on a water-sharing formula in which Colorado’s share is 51.75 percent. (Utah gets 23 percent, Wyoming 14 percent, and New Mexico 11.25 percent.) Colorado gets roughly a quarter of the total (half of the Upper Basin’s half). The rest goes south and west.
As much as two-thirds of Colorado’s share is diverted across (or under) the continental divide to the Front Range. The water diversion started in 1985 with the Windy Gap Project.
Climate change is not the only or even the major reason why so much Western Slope water is diverted to Denver and other cities on the East Slope. Rather, it’s a reflection of a problem that will not go away even if we get normal or above-normal precipitation levels in some of the coming years.
The real problem is too many people in too many of the wrong places—thirsty cities and crops in desiccated landscapes.
When the Colorado River Compact was hammered out almost a century ago California’s population stood at four million or just 10% of its present population; the rest of the Southwest (minus Texas) did not reach four million until the early 1950s. In 2016 it had climbed to 21 million.
Massive metropolitan areas— most notably Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, among others—have grown exponentially, creating an ever-increasing need for water, but as is true of many overpopulated and arid regions, California’s own water resources are relatively inelastic Today, 55-65 percent of southern California’s water comes from the Colorado River which forms the state’s border with Arizona.
Much the same is true of the other two Lower Basin states. Las Vegas and Phoenix are two examples of outsized cities located in a desert where the term “drought” has no place because lack of water is a natural and permanent condition.
In December 2007 the seven original compact states signed a new “historic” agreement. The AP gushed, “Seven Western states signed a sweeping agreement on Thursday to conserve and share scarce Colorado River water, ending a divisive battle among the thirsty rivals” and noted “…the drought plan lets the lower-basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona use the vast Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam to store water they conserve or don’t need for use later.”
Problem solved, right? Not so fast: In mid-August of this year Lake Powell measured 49% full and Lake Mead a meager 38% full. Neither “lake” would exist without the Colorado River.
Closer to home, the Blue Mesa Reservoir west of Gunnison—the largest reservoir entirely contained in Colorado—is 77.41 feet below Full Pool (or 32.88% of Full Pool). It’s jarring to see it now.
If you’ve driven by a receding reservoir lately and wondered where all the water has gone, have a look at a good map of Colorado’s river systems and you’ll get the picture. On the Western Slope where I live, the Uncompahgre is a tributary of the Gunnison which flows into the Colorado River, which no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez. If that doesn’t answer the question, look again.
[blockquote3]California had it own Zero Day not long ago when, in Tulare County in the Central Valley, an area of corporate farms, something like a thousand wells went dry…more than seven thousand people…[were] occupying houses where you would turn on a tap and nothing came out. – Alec Wilkinson, Esquire[/blockquote3]
In 2010, California needed 38 billion gallons of water per day—a 116.617.7 acre feet—to sustain its population and economy. About 80% of Colorado River water is used to irrigate 3.5 million acres of farmland in the arid Southwest. It would take California only about a week to drain the Blue Mesa Reservoir at Full Pool.
Water for food and profit accounts for 80% of California’s water consumption. Almond production alone takes 10% of the total. At a water cost of one gallon per almond, that’s more water than Los Angeles and San Francisco together use.
We can’t make more water and there’s not going to be enough to go around. It’s true that there’s a vast amount of water in our world—salt water. Less than 3 percent is fresh; two-thirds of the fresh water takes the form of ice or permafrost. That leaves less than 1 percent for all the planet’s existing fauna and flora.
Meanwhile, elected officials get failing marks for water leadership. Few ever dare to engage in straight talk about overpopulation or water conservation, and virtually never talk about the vital relationship between these two major challenges in the 21st century.
Campaign contributions (PAC money) and raw politics (bitter take-no-prisoners partisanship) trump sound public policy. Too many members of Congress care too much about being re-elected and too little about breaking the gridlock in Washington and getting things done.
Bottom line: this November, make an effort to find out where candidates on the ballot stand on water-conservation, clean energy, and climate change, and vote as if planet earth and life as we know it depends on the outcome. Because it does.
Running between evergreen pines as tall as two-story buildings, staring down a footprint-less trail coated in new snow, Clare Gallagher stops short. She’s only a few miles from her grandparent’s house in Summit County, Colorado and near the often-choked Interstate 70 that slashes east-west across the state. But even here, in the mere periphery of the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, there’s stillness. Nothing but her raspy cold-air breath disturbs the frosted forest’s muted charm, what Gallagher calls “earth raging magic.”
“Winter in the trees after snow is a mystical fairyland,” she says, explaining how she first discovered the wild-magic as a lanky-limbed kid in suburban Denver, driving into the mountains with her family on weekends and exploring the wilderness around Summit County—home to the destination ski resorts and hiking meccas scattered between Vail and Eagle. It was in that terrain that Gallagher trained to win the infamous Leadville 100-mile trail running race in 2016. “Honestly,” she says, “this is the place that taught me what trail running is, this place created the foundation of my career.”
Over the past year, though, the wild-magic has ignited Gallagher’s senses in a new way. In January 2018, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Jared Polis jointly introduced the Continental Divide Wilderness, Recreation, and Camp Hale Legacy Act to Congress. The bill came on the dawn of the outdoor recreation industry’s multi-million dollar trade show’s debut in Denver, which, after twenty years, left Utah in favor of Colorado when Beehive state officials supported Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s review of public lands (and his eventual, controversial decision to reduce Bears Ears National Monument). If passed, Bennet and Polis’ proposal would grow the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness in addition to adding more slivers of wilderness, wildlife conservation and recreation management areas along the Continental Divide, in and around Summit and Eagle Counties. In total, it would re-designate nearly 100,000 acres of public land, including the creation of the nation’s first National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale, the roughly 28,000-acre swath of terrain where the 10th Mountain Division trained in preparation for World World II.
[blockquote3]Though land fights like Bears Ears have become national red-blue flash pointes, many of the wilderness conversations that take place every year as new bills are vetted and proposed instead boil down to a much more human scale clash between motorized and non-motorized recreationists.[/blockquote3]
“To not preserve [more of that area] is ridiculous,” Gallagher tells me one recent morning, shaking her green tea basket out from its single-serving pot. She’s been using her status as a champion runner to campaign for the bill and for the preservation of American wilderness at large.
“I feel like it’s really my duty to be sharing what I’m seeing and the importance of preserving what we have,” she tells me. “That space [along the Continental Divide], it’s no small miracle we still have that in 2018; it’s like it could have been 500 years ago. And we want to keep it like that for people 500 years from now.”
But, there is one voice of dissent.
Years before Gallagher was even old enough to step foot on a trail, Scott Jones was navigating his snowmobile across terrain around Summit County, in and out of the White River National Forest, the same forest within which Eagle’s Nest and eight other wildernesses are contained. It’s also the country’s most popular National Forest, attracting over 12 million visits each year. Jones, the president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association, wishes more of those visitors could be fellow snowmobilers, but as it stands today, snowmobiling opportunities are only suitable and available in about 7 percent of the White River National Forest.
“Some areas up there are exceptional for snowmobiles,” he says. “Other areas would be exceptional.”
Jones has been legislating against wilderness designations for longer than he’d like to admit, he says, and he represents the only coalition of organizations publically lobbying against the Continental Divide bill. A letter he presented in March 2018 to Senator Bennet and Representative Polis on behalf of the Colorado Snowmobile Association, the Trail Preservation Alliance, and the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, details the motorized community’s concerns that increasing the amount of wilderness in the state will further reduce motorized recreation and stunt future growth of the industry, as motorized recreation is strictly not allowed in wilderness areas.
“With the state population growing the way ours is, we’re going to need to expand,” he explains to me. “We’re going to need to do it thoughtfully. … When it all gets designated as wilderness, it makes those types of discussions difficult.”
Though land fights like Bears Ears have become national red-blue flash pointes, many of the wilderness conversations that take place every year as new bills are vetted and proposed instead boil down to a much more human scale clash between motorized and non-motorized recreationists.
The town of Montezuma sits just outside one of the proposed areas outlined in the Continental Divide bill. Surrounding the 68-person town is ample terrain available for motorized recreation use. It also happens to be where Gallagher’s other set of grandparents live. “Snowmobilers are everywhere there,” she says. “They’re horrible—well, they’re not bad people, but one snowmobiler can ruin the whole experience; all it takes is one engine revving.”
Snowmobile noise can actually travel up to 10 miles, depending on speed, the type of machine, and wind conditions, according to the Winter Wildlands Alliance. And though 10 miles might be an easy run for Gallagher, it’s farther than most snowshoers or cross-country skiers care to do in a day. Plus, as Gallagher mentions, those trying to escape into the mountains on foot aren’t also looking to dodge emission clouds from snowmobiles, which emit carcinogens and pose dangers to human and wildlife health. There’s enough of that along the nearby Interstate as it is.
Once, while out on a winter run, Gallagher says, “I was under a snowmobiler going above me on a slope, and it was terrifying. They weren’t [taking into account] any of the avalanche danger.” Later that day, she heard an altercation between a snowmobiler and a skier—they were arguing about particular safety issues in the area. “It was terrifying.”
The Winter Wildlands Alliance also reports most winter backcountry trails have no posted speed limits and “the most powerful snowmobiles today have from 125- to 177- horsepower engines, allowing them to travel at very high rates of speed. Snowmobiles weigh up to 600 pounds, and many can travel at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour.” Thus, a snowmobile traveling at such speed will move nearly 200 feet before being able to fully stop.
Jones, on the other hand, generally feels slighted and unheard. “We’ve been raising our concerns for quite a while,” he says, as the snowmobile population has been growing in tandem with the ski and snowshoe industries, but few new snowmobile areas has been added to any part of the state since his efforts began. Because snowmobiles can travel so far in a day (the average snowmobile outing is over 100 miles), they need an extensive network of trails and access points.
“To lose any acreage is concerning,” he says. “We’ve been really trying to get some balance in there.”
Wilderness is one of the strictest designations a piece of land can have, as it generally prohibits activities like timber harvesting, commercial activities unrelated to recreation, motorized access and permanent road or structure construction. As such, wildness bills can take years or even decades to pass in Congress, explains Scott Miller, the Southwest senior regional director of The Wilderness Society who has been involved in the fine-tuning of the Continental Divide bill for the past five years. The varied interest groups vying to use public land for different reasons—be it backpacking, hunting, snowmobiling or resource extraction—often are at odds.
This is where the story of this bill really sets itself apart. It seems that everyone, save the motorized recreators and the timber industry, are on board. No red-blue stalemate. No overt colonial oppression tactics. No desperate money grabs.
As Miller puts it, “This bill was designed through a collaborative process with forest health experts and fire managers that resulted in a constellation of designations that reflect wilderness and wildlife conservation and recreation management needs.”
“That’s [why] it’s such a robust bill in my mind,” Gallagher explains, listing examples of the industries in favor of the bill, illustrating its widespread support: Vail Mountain Bike Association, Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Fishermen, Sierra Club, Vail Resorts, Outdoor Industry Association and U.S. Army veterans, to name but a few of the hundred-plus supporters.
Julie Mach, conservation director for Colorado Mountain Club, an organization that’s been involved in the bill’s campaign since its inception, helps me think of the Continental Divide bill like the final link in a chain of natural jewels. “It captures the last iconic features in that area that aren’t already protected.”
As of 2018, Colorado contains more than 3.5 million acres of federally protected wilderness that’s spread between 41 separate areas. Every acre of wilderness in the U.S. originated as federally owned land and, at some point, was nominated for a wilderness designation either by a federal agency like the U.S. Forest Service or a grassroots conservation or sportsman’s organization. In order for land to receive a wilderness designation, it must be presented to and receive approval from Congress in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964—a bipartisan measure that was passed to assure increasing populations won’t “occupy or modify” all areas within the U.S. and to preserve the benefits of wilderness for present and future generations.
At the moment, at least nine states have wilderness bills pending in Congress. Colorado has three; one of which, now known as the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2018, has been reintroduced in different iterations at least every two years since 1999 by Congresswoman Diana DeGette. The Continental Divide bill is now in its fifth iteration after nine years of work, and 2018 is the first year Senator Bennet felt like he’d garnered enough support to join Representative Polis’ endeavor and also introduce the same version to the Senate.
Mach admits refereeing between different public land users isn’t easy, especially as the spaces are meant for all people to enjoy. While skiers and snowshoers claim motorized impacts of noise, exhaust and safety concerns have infiltrated opportunities for quiet and quality recreation, snowmobilers counter that their access to forest lands is slowly growing extinct. “It’s a challenging balance to strike between motorized land users and non-motorized users. At some point we have to think about what really makes the most sense for the landscape,” she says.
According to a 2015 analysis of motorized and non-motorized winter recreation opportunities in National Forest lands by the Winter Wildlands Alliance, participation in both motorized and non-motorized activities have double in popularity since the ‘80s. Within that, however, data shows that for every one snowmobiler visit to National Forest lands in Colorado, there are two cross-country/backcountry skier and snowshoer visits. In the White River National Forest, the report shows almost 9 times as many non-motorized users visit the forest than motorized, though there are slightly more than twice as many non-motorized acres. “The consequence of this disparate situation is unequal opportunity for skiers, snowshoers and other quiet winter recreationists when compared to OSV users and escalating conflict between motorized and non-motorized uses on National Forest land,” the report concludes.
In any case, Mach says, “Most acres [proposed in the Continental Divide bill] are not high priority for snowmobiles; it’s steeper slopes than most can’t get up.”
So, really, what’s the bill’s hold up? Can this wrestling match produce a winner? Jake Kuhn, a field director for Conservation Colorado, paints the bill’s current situation clearly: “I don’t think there will be any movement until after the [midterm elections],” he says. “There’s tons of local support, and now we’re just waiting for a hearing. Senator Gardner (Senator Bennet’s Republican counterpart) is kind of neutral right now, we want to keep him neutral and not push him towards opposing.”
Until then, Gallagher says, the fight to preserve her mountain backyard might not be so different from her other endurance efforts; it’s the land, ultimately, that suffers and someone needs to stand up for it. “This bill, even though its a wilderness preservation bill, it’s a climate change issue,” she says. “Even if there aren’t extraction industries in this area, making it so land can stay as-is is supporting climate change mitigation.
“If we start ripping these places up and not making it clear that there’s truly wild places left in this Front Range mountain mecca, we’re doing Colorado a disservice.”
When speaking in terms of money, the outdoor industry is bigger than pharmaceuticals. The outdoor industry is also bigger by some measures than oil and gas, which runs Washington, D.C. And if we’re calling it how we see it, it’s a lot cooler than those two industries as well. I believe it is high time we, the outdoor industry, started acting like we own the place because we do.
With over $887 billion in consumer spending, the outdoor recreation sector of the United States needs to get organized. If the industry lobbied as carefully as they curated an Instagram feed or packed a backpack, we’d be running the United States as a modern day Bull Moose Party amongst the donkeys and elephants. The outdoor party wouldn’t be a third-party, we could be a major party—The Outdoor Party. Everyone loves an outdoor party, but alas that dream will not happen overnight.
On a sunny autumn day, as leaves change color and the Truckee River runs at a low, steady pace, snowboarder Jeremy Jones walks-in to Dark Horse Coffee. The shop, originally founded in San Diego, is a quiet alternative to the more popular establishments in the cozy mountain town. Jer, as friends and family call him, lives nearby with wife Tiffany and two kids.
For the last two decades, Jones carved out a name as the single greatest big mountain rider in snowboarding history, awing viewers with gnarly lines and gigantic pursuits. His latest film, Ode To Muir, is due to be released in fall 2018. Jones is known for a calm, steady presence, not unlike the river this time of year.
In addition to his professional riding career, Jones is the founder of Jones Snowboards, a backcountry snowboarding brand specializing in split boards. And he is the founder of Protect Our Winters, which is why we’re meeting today at Dark Horse.
I’ve been a quiet critic of Protect Our Winters. Until now I’d never publicly spoken or written about my qualms. Mostly, I am irked by a lack of knowledge in what they’re actually doing with the money donated to them. Are they representing me? Are they pushing politicians to be climate champions? It wasn’t until a recent Instagram post by an anonymous critic of professional skier Caroline Gleich set me in the direction of learning some truth.
The account, @socialmediaskier, called out Gleich for what they saw in their eyes as a moral contradiction. Gleich, an accomplished ski mountaineer, travels the world via plane and is also a vocal advocate for Protect Our Winters. The account, often a tongue-and-cheek joke poking fun of the social media habits of professional skiers, raised a valid criticism.
How does POW expect to be credible when the very athletes promoting a reduction of carbon footprints have a much larger carbon footprint than the average snowboarder or skier? What’s with all the selfies in front of the Capital Building in Washington, D.C.? Do they actually meet with politicians? And what does the non-profit actually do?
Since 2007, Protect Our Winters, or POW (not to be confused with the military designation P.O.W. or prisoners of war), strove to raise awareness and encourage activism for the issue of climate change. With a global community stretching several millions of impressions via social media and outdoor partners in Burton, The North Face, Cliff Bar, REI, and Patagonia, to name a few, POW has positioned itself as the de facto leader in an industry in desperate need of one.
[blockquote3]“Last year, 146.1 million Americans participated in an outdoor activity at least once. Many of these are passionate outdoors people, who know how to set goals and have the stamina to take on big challenges,” – Mario Molina, POW Action Fund Executive Director[/blockquote3]
There’s an old saying in the outdoor industry that it is three miles wide, yet only three inches deep. In other words, there has never been a collective voice representing all of outdoor in terms of lobbying or getting the stance of outdoor recreation into the country’s zeitgeist. Protect Our Winters might be the industry’s best chance at breaking through the noise. Perhaps when the Outdoor Party eventually forms, the founders will look back on POW as the founding fathers and mothers of the movement. Or maybe it’s all a sham.
Jones isn’t afraid of the criticism, he says over a coffee. Since the election of a climate change-denying president, Jones says the organization has seen more support.
“On our end, in terms of dollars and in terms of engagement, we’re seeing deniers are truly in the minority,” says Jones. “Seventy-percent of Americans want to see more renewable energy. The deniers are a much smaller group that the news would have you believe.”
Jones has heard the critics before. He’s taken to not checking his Instagram comments. He doesn’t find them constructive, but his climate post following the election was his single most-liked post of the year, a small metric, Jones admits, but uses it to show the needle is moving in the right direction in terms of public sentiment.
“We all have a carbon footprint, and of course we all want to try to keep reducing that every year, and we have all these opportunities to do that, which is great,” says Jones. “We need to always go on that path. But it is the fossil fuel industry, the propping up of the fossil fuel industry that has gotten us to where we are today. It is not because of a bunch of people riding a chairlift, or going and hopping on an airplane that are melting our polar ice caps…it is our reliance on fossil fuels.”
In September, POW created the Protect Our Winters Action Fund, a sister organization. POW Action Fund will train supporters on how to talk about climate change on the chairlift or with family members still unsure of the science. They register people to vote for the November 2018 midterms and beyond. Most importantly, says Jones, the group aims to elect climate champions. Their first endorsements were incumbent Montana Senator Jon Tester and California Fourth Congressional District Candidate Jessica Morse.
“Last year, 146.1 million Americans participated in an outdoor activity at least once. Many of these are passionate outdoors people, who know how to set goals and have the stamina to take on big challenges,” said Mario Molina, Executive Director of the POW Action Fund, in a press release. “That’s a powerful voting bloc. At the POW Action Fund, we will be supporting their efforts by providing practical ways to get involved and advance climate action.”
For Jones, he believes the critics within outdoor need to get past their, in his words, tiny gripes.
“Don’t let perfect get in the way of good,” says Jones. “We need to stop making villains out of someone like [professional skiers] Caroline Gleich or Brody Levin. They are not what is ruining the world. We really need to get out of this little bubble, and that line of thinking, and start coming together and collectively. If we do that, it’s like we’re hummingbirds fighting this dragon. We need a lot of hummingbirds. We can’t be picking apart the hummingbirds if they fly the wrong way or do what they do.”
As the river hums by, Jones says he finds time each day to get outside, to find clarity in the outdoors. With his company, his career, and POW and POW Action Fund, Jones is running at a slow, steady pace, in hopes of making a giant impact on the future of climate politics. Critics be damned.
Is Jer the perfect champion lobbyist who we’d all choose to represent the Outdoor Party? Perhaps not. Maybe, ideally, we’d combine his charisma with the deep knowledge of an Auden Schendler and the data gathering energy of the Outdoor Industry Association. But, for now, Jer’s who we’ve got. Maybe in 20 years, when Outdoor Party members sit in the President’s cabinet and hold high office, we’ll look back on this early era as the foundation of a movment.
[blockquote3]Inside Western Colorado’s Indivisible D3 Movement[/blockquote3]
Call it fuel for the fire.
On the day Brett Kavanaugh becomes a Supreme Court justice, a glossy flyer lands in mailboxes across Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District – a vast rural district the size of Florida that covers most of western Colorado.
“DIANE MITSCH BUSH IS A SOCIALIST,” the flyer blares in bright red all-caps. On the flip side, it reiterates, “DIANE MITSCH BUSH wants to take our country down a path towards Socialism.”
There’s a photo of the 68-year-old Democratic candidate from Steamboat Springs – with her long gray hair and folded arms and serious smile and PhD in Sociology – who hopes to soon topple Republican incumbent Scott Tipton in her bid for U.S. Congress. A menacing red tower with giant loudspeakers has been photo-shopped in behind her, straight out of some weird North Korean nightmare.
Midterm season – with all its nasty-grams, fear-mongering and bizarre attack ads – is in full swing. And the foot soldiers of the Resistance in western Colorado have one thing to say: Bring it on.
Each of the 6,000 or so chapters of the Indivisible movement – the grassroots movement at the heart of a nationwide effort to thwart the Trump agenda – has its own unique story of origin.
This one started with a flurry of text messages around Thanksgiving time in 2016. United in outrage at the election of Trump “and this feeling that we had to do something,” five women from the small town of Ridgway, Colo. came up with a plan to sit in silence together for 30 minutes on the day after Trump’s inauguration.
Soon, their plan grew into a whole day of grassroots community action.
Word spread, as it has a way of doing in small towns. And on a snowy January day in 2017, as millions of protesters marched in cities around the world, dozens of Ridgway-ites also marched, then meditated by candlelight, and finally packed into the Kiva Room at the Chipeta Solar Springs Resort to break bread together in the Trumpian dusk.
Toward the end of the evening, a newcomer to the community – a distinguished former senior fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University by the name of Dr. William Steding – offered a few words of courage to those in the room whose hearts were seized with panic.
“Vacation’s over,” he said. “You are right and you know you are right. Don’t be intimidated. Step out, stand up, speak up, act up. This will not be easy. Presidential power is very big. ‘Huge,’ as another person would say…”
Steding then conjured “six words to write on the wall” – six principals of resistance to buoy all would-be activists in the room:
[list_item icon=”ss-pointright”]Authentic: Embody your beliefs, convictions and purpose.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”ss-pointright”]Resilience: Take a hit and bounce back.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”ss-pointright”]Gonzo: Channel your inner Hunter S. Thompson. Understand the rules of the game so you know what not to do. The rules are designed to keep those who are in power in power.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”ss-pointright”]Transcendent: Rise above the rabble. Don’t get mired and stuck in your own little social political bubble.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”ss-pointright”]Stealth: High profiles are dangerous in periods of crisis, and the period of danger that follows. There are many people who enjoy health, wealth and happiness who never stick their head in front of the camera. Be like them.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”ss-pointright”]Grace: Beautiful things are the most durable in world. Bring people together in a way that makes people say ‘Wow, that’s beautiful,’ or just plain cool. Bring people together in just the right way to ensure your destiny. Then, you are in a state of grace.[/list_item]
The Kiva Room crackled with energy. You could almost smell the ozone in the air.
“We were so inspired that we felt compelled to move forward and create something that would be more lasting than this single day of action,” recalls Erika Moss Gordon, a poet, film festival coordinator and yoga teacher who helped organize the event.
The only question was: “What’s next?”
The five friends met incessantly over the next few weeks to figure out the answer to that question. Then, on a cold, dark night in early February – 19 days into Trump’s presidency – they unveiled their plan to a standing-room-only crowd at the old Sherbino Theater in downtown Ridgway.
Drawing inspiration from the viral Indivisible Guide – the “Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” that was sweeping the nation – the women proposed to create not just a local Indivisible chapter in Ouray County, but an umbrella organization for other fledgling resistance groups across western Colorado’s sprawling 3rd Congressional District.
There would be policy-tracking committees. Daily actions, distributed via email or text message. Field trips to congressional offices. Activist social hours. Craftivism – activism through artistic expression – and much, much more. All with the goal of becoming a Western Slope hub for resistance in the age of Trump.
Sure, it was ambitious. “But if the goal is to take action on a congressional level, it makes sense to represent the congressional district we are in,” the women argued. “There is a lot of power in connecting groups throughout our congressional district to work together. If we can create the structure to do that, we’ll be successful.”
Thankful for a direction in which to channel their free floating outrage, the crowd loosely organized itself into teams to help herd the movement forward. District 3 Indivisible Colorado was born – D3 for short. And 150 or so newly minted activists dispersed into the night.
Within a week or so, a sleek D3 Indivisible Colorado website had gone live, and the movement was off and running.
March 20, 2017
Day 60 of the Trump presidency finds the founders of D3 huddled around a kitchen table in a quiet Ridgway neighborhood for their weekly strategizing session and a shared meal of soup, bread and red wine. Candles twinkle on the table. Jazz music softly slinks around the edges of their conversation.
Ranging in age from 30s to 50s, these five women are many things – yoginis, graphic designers, a psychotherapist, a restaurant owner. Athletic, outdoorsy, college-educated, well-traveled. Some are moms. None are Ridgway natives. Indeed, they are part of the reason that Ouray County has shifted from red to bluish over the past dozen or so years.
The mountainous, rural county and its two small municipalities – Ridgway and Ouray – are a microcosm of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District as a whole, with its roots in ranching and mining, growing outdoor-and-adventure-based tourism economy, and rapidly evolving demographics that have made Ridgway more progressive by the year, even as other corners of the county remain deeply conservative.
Old buildings that were featured in John Wayne’s True Grit have been transformed into coffeeshops, eateries and art galleries. Yoga and Pilates studios coexist with hardware stores, and the town boasts equal parts Asian restaurants and burger joints, liquor stores and pot shops. Marijuana farms flourish alongside historic ranches, as the cow pastures near town slowly fill up with neighborhoods like the one where the women of D3 have gathered on this night.
They are all a little stunned at how their original idea for 30 minutes of silence has grown so quickly into a collective yawp that sounds out over the rooftops of District 3 – one of the geographically largest congressional districts in the United States, where Tipton has held onto power for the past eight years.
“We did the march, had half an hour of silence, and community potluck and Dr. Steding gave this insane speech that became our manifesto,” recalls Gordon. “It has become more political than we knew it would be, and very quickly we have become the unifying voice of the district.”
None of the women have engaged in political activism until now, but they have a lot to show for their work over the past few months.
They’ve created a framework and a tool set for Indivisible groups throughout District 3. They’ve convened an advisory board headed up by Steding. They are fielding a slew of daily emails, and leading regular conference calls with other Indivisible chapters from Pueblo, Alamosa, Durango, Montrose, Grand Junction, Aspen, Paonia, Carbondale, the Yampa Valley, the Roaring Fork Valley, the San Luis Valley.
“Most of the groups are led by women, which is rad,” Gordon says.
She has become D3’s de facto spokeswoman. The rest of the women of D3 ask not to be identified for this story. “We are a wee bit shy about getting our personal names out there into the world,” one of them explains. “I think we all feel cautious in that regard.”
The business owners among them worry about burning bridges and scaring off potential customers and clients. More than that, though, they’re concerned for their personal safety, and that of their families, after the leader of the “Mesa County Deplorables” recently tweeted that D3 was an “anti-American, anti-rural, left-wing, Soros-funded extremist hate group.”
“All in the same tweet,” Gordon sighs. “They had undercover people come to our meetings. They posted pictures of our stuff on their social media.”
The women laugh about it now. But, Gordon adds, “I do check my door locks at night. More than once. I am conscious of that.”
“We need handles, code names,” one of the women suggests.
Gordon doesn’t think so. “Anonymity isn’t as powerful as putting your name on something,” she counters. “You have to stand up. I do believe this is not about us. It’s about the movement, not about the individuals. But I want to feel super-comfortable standing up and telling people what I believe right now. To avoid conflict – there’s no time for it anymore.”
[blockquote3]“We were so inspired that we felt compelled to move forward and create something that would be more lasting than this single day of action.” – Erika Moss Gordon[/blockquote3]
GONZO part 1
April 7, 2017
Trump has been president for 78 days. D3 Indivisible members have been emailing and calling Congressman Tipton on a daily basis to express their outrage at Trump’s agenda. At best, they get nothing more than a generic email in return and an assurance on the phone that their messages will be relayed to the congressman.
Finally, Tipton agrees to hold an official town hall meeting – on friendly turf – in the conservative town of Montrose just north of Ridgway.
Dozens of progressives from across Colorado’s Western Slope crowd into a church in Montrose on the appointed day to review their game plan before heading over to the high school gym where the town hall is scheduled to take place.
An hour later, they’re jammed on bleachers like awkward students at a school assembly, armed with blue and red “AGREE” and “DISAGREE” print-outs that Gordon has passed around. The crowd numbers in the hundreds.
The conservative congressman from Cortez stands before them like the school principal, in his trademark jeans, blazer and white button-down shirt – blue eyes blazing, thatch of caramel-colored hair combed neatly to the side, polished cowboy boots widely planted on the polished gym floor.
A couple of uniformed policemen stand beside the push-bar doors. A “God Bless America” sign hangs above the drinking fountains in the nearby hallway.
Tipton smoothly delivers a few opening remarks then shifts into Q&A mode. His brawny field rep holds a microphone out in front of a petite, older woman in a white sweater who’s been selected to ask the first question.
“There are a lot of representatives who are not holding town halls and we are appreciative that you came,” she begins, politely, reading from her notes. “It seems your district may be becoming more progressive. How will you represent your district’s preferences? Will you poll us? How do you want us to let you know how we feel about individual issues as they come up over the next two years?”
Tipton tells her he may not see eye to eye on many issues with many of his constituents. “But it’s important to hear your thoughts,” he adds, and points out that he has several field offices across the district.
“Do you think the Russia-Trump connection should be fairly and vigorously pursued wherever it leads, with the only objective being total truth?” another questioner asks.
“Yes,” Tipton says, sending a tsunami of blue “AGREE” signs into the air. But he quickly loses traction with the crowd after that, as he alternately answers and deflects their barrage of questions on energy policy, environmental regulations, public lands, health care, budget priorities and ‘The Wall’, revealing his unwavering support for Trump’s agenda.
Gordon finally gets her turn at the mike. She could pass for a teenager in her favorite blue hoody, her long blond hair in a messy bun. “If Trump’s found guilty of collusion with the Russians, will you vote to impeach him? It’s a yes or no question,” she says.
“Let’s let the facts go where they may,” Tipton shrugs. “We’ll see what happens.”
And so it goes. For the progressives in the audience, the 2018 midterms – and the chance to vote Tipton out of office – can’t come soon enough.
Gonzo part 2
April 20, 2017
Trump has been president for 91 days. And on 4/20 – the unofficial national holiday for cannabis culture – D3 Indivisible hosts a town hall meeting in Ridgway with Colorado’s junior U.S. Senator Cory Gardner.
The problem is – Gardner never accepted the invitation. Nobody thinks he will show up. And nobody is surprised when he doesn’t. Like many Republican members of Congress, he’s avoided his progressive constituents ever since Trump got elected, alleging that the flood of calls and emails to his office are coming from paid protesters as opposed to genuinely concerned constituents.
In spite of the fact that Gardner’s a no-show, a hundred or so people have poured into the Ouray County 4-H Event Center for the occasion, which is being live-streamed on Facebook.
Someone wheels in a caged chicken to serve as Gardner’s stand-in. The crowd cracks up as the chicken is humanely whisked away. Gordon then steps forward to bring them up-to-date on what D3’s leaders have been up to lately – including a recent sit-down with Gov. Hickenlooper at the capital in Denver.
Yet even as D3 Indivisible has gained recognition and momentum over the past few months, there is a growing sense of impending doom as Trump’s agenda continues to relentlessly unfold.
“We all are feeling the weight of the daily news, the tensions, the legislation that challenges our environment, the planet and woman’s rights,” Gordon acknowledges. “The battery of information is super-disheartening. We in the beginning had an initial wave of adrenalin, as all of you, I’m sure, have. But it’s become exhausting, and we have a long way to go.”
Local attorney Roger Sagal, a D3 advisory board member, takes it from there, doing his best to rally the troops.
“Let’s get a sense of who you are and why you came tonight,” he says. “In a very unscientific study… how many here among us live in Ouray County?” Most of the hands in the room go up.
“San Miguel County?” A few more hands. “They’re probably at 4/20,” Sagal jokes of the missing folks from nearby Telluride. But there are several people from Montrose County. One from Silverton. A handful from Palisade and Grand Junction.
“How many here are native-born Coloradans?” Sagal asks. “Native-born Western Slopers?” Just a smattering of hands.
“How many here are involved in the ranching industry? Mining?” No hands at all. “Anybody retired military?” A lone hand goes up in the air.
“Anybody here a paid radical despot because George Soros wrote them a check?” Everyone laughs, and Sagal ploughs ahead.
“How many of you woke up the day after the 2016 election and thought ‘Holy Shit?’” A sea of hands.
“How many woke up and thought to themselves, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’” A sea of hands, again.
“That’s why you’re here,” Sagal says.
July 20-22, 2017
In the summer of 2017, six months into the Trump world order, D3 hosts its biggest gathering yet – a summit conference in Ridgway.
The event includes educational forums on topics like how to engage millennials, how to get out the vote, and Activism 101; a panel discussion on district issues specific to D3; and a candidate’s forum with Democratic hopefuls including Diane Mitsch Bush.
The summit is a huge success. “We expected 50 attendees and there were around 200,” Gordon says. “It was the first time in a long time that progressive leaders from the district and state came together to discuss issues.”
One of the most significant outcomes of the summit was the creation of a regional D3 board that continues to hold monthly meetings via conference call. Since the summit, D3’s leaders have also taken the time to carefully refine their policy statements in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm election.
“Drafting them was the work of over a year of listening and distilling – really having to think about our stance on things and needing to be succinct,” Gordon says. “Although we are nonpartisan, we need to have a candidate that supports our policy statements.”
Posted on the D3 Indivisible website, the statements reflect the group’s progressive stance on civil rights and the rule of law, education, energy and the environment, gun violence prevention, healthcare, immigration, national security, public lands, science, women’s rights and gender equality.
People in high places have taken notice. Colorado’s senior U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, recently traveled to Ridgway to sit with D3’s leaders around Gordon’s kitchen table. “He read our policy statements and said they are some of the best he’s ever read,” Gordon says with pride.
Now, Bennet’s office routinely reaches out to D3 to get input on issues he must consider in his role as senator.
Oct. 23, 2018
Trump has been president for 642 days. Not that anyone is keeping track of that time-smear anymore. These days, it’s all about looking forward – toward the midterm elections.
The outburst of political activism in western Colorado in the early months of Trump’s presidency seems like ancient history now. Success for progressives in 2018 hangs on the ability of groups like D3 Indivisible Colorado to take hit, after hit, after hit, from the barrage of daily news, and still bounce back – translating their early activism and energy into a blue wave at the ballot box.
In Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, Diane Mitsch Bush is outraising Tipton, and FiveThirtyEight (the national news organization that specializes in poll tracking) has declared the contest to be a “true coin flip”. Every vote – and ounce of activism – could make a difference.
But as the midterm elections loom ever-closer, attendance at monthly Indivisible meetings in Ouray County has dwindled to just a handful of diehard activists.
“It’s kind of disappointing,” says Taylor Chase, a young teacher who stepped up to run Ouray County’s local Indivisible chapter when D3’s founders shifted their focus toward running the regional umbrella organization. “But you have to tell yourself, ‘There is attrition. Okay. What do you do with the people you have around?’”
With the midterms just a few weeks away, the answer is pretty simple: get out the vote. As Chase puts it, “We have transitioned from doing a lot of policy tracking that resulted in ‘Call your legislators,’ to ‘Let’s get them out of office in the next few weeks.’”
Toward this end, the few remaining active members of Ouray County’s Indivisible chapter are laser-focused this fall on voter registration drives, voter outreach and getting people aware of the issues.
“Thinking about our little corner of the world here, it’s never been a huge bastion of political energy,” Chase reflects. “Sometimes it’s easy to say ‘We are going to hide away in our mountain corner and not deal.’ But from where we were two years ago, we are well ahead of the game. There are a lot more doors being knocked on, a lot more conversations being had.”
Attrition has also struck at the heart of D3; three of the five women who founded the organization back in the early days of the Trump administration have since stepped off the working board and are no longer actively involved.
“It’s exhausting,” Gordon says. “Everyone feels it. The initial rage and shock and despair was fantastic fuel…and then there is life. It’s totally okay. One of the great things that we have facilitated for each other, is that if someone needs to take a pause, that pause is 100 percent supported. Everyone does what they can. That’s the only sustainable way for all of us to engage. We have to parent. We have to work. We have to live our lives.”
But Gordon is still all in. “I need my kids to know I did everything I could. You know?”
Beyond its core group of founders, the regional D3 board is still very much alive, holding regular conference calls and partnering with other progressive organizations such as the Western Independence Project to increase its reach and resonance across the state.
Perhaps most importantly, D3 has recently hired Neal Morgan, an experienced electoral field program coach who worked on the Obama and Hillary Clinton presidential campaigns, to train Indivisible leaders across CD3 how to increase voter turnout.
Morgan focuses strictly on the two things that have been proven to make the most difference in winning elections: training volunteers to have authentic conversations with other voters – by knocking on doors or making phone calls – to persuade and mobilize them to vote; and building capacity by getting those same volunteers to bring even more people into the process to do the same thing.
“He talks a lot about the things we do that are wastes of our time – how many meetings do we need to have?” Gordon says. “We need to collaborate. But, people need to be voting. We need to get everyone we can to vote. And the second the 2018 election is over, we have to regroup for 2020. Big time.”
William Steding will be there to help. The man who helped launch D3 with his fiery speech back in early 2017 sees the group’s current mission and platform as a remarkable achievement. “The energy of outrage has been channeled into meaningful and responsible political engagement,” he says. “D3 Indivisible is a stellar example of how democracy is supposed to work.”
As the women of D3 have worked to transform the political landscape of western Colorado over the past two years, their activism has also transformed their interior landscapes in mysterious ways – as Gordon recently discovered when her car broke down and she needed a two-hour tow.
When she got into the tow truck with the driver, she became uncomfortably aware of an initial wave of judgement toward him – she could tell they belonged to different political tribes. But as they started talking, they discovered that they had something in common: they were both single parents.
“And right away we got into a very intimate conversation about our lives, kids, things we had to overcome as parents,” Gordon says. “He told me some incredible stories. We immediately were very human with each other.”
Eventually, inevitably, the conversation came around to politics. In the past, Gordon says, she would have backpedaled. But because of her activism over the past two years, she went right into it. “There was no bullshit,” Gordon says. “He spoke his truth. I spoke my truth. It was totally okay. It was a seminal experience for me.”
Gordon takes a deep breath, glances out her kitchen window at the ragged meringue of mountains on the horizon. November is coming.
“I think what we need to do is we need to come toward each other,” she says. “And that is actually the most important thing.”