Top Learnings from our trip to Southwestern Colorado
Each summer and fall, we get out of Denver and the Front Range, to meet and listen to people across this big amazing state. We know that if we are to be authentically statewide, and accurate advocates, we have to build relationships with these communities. We have to learn about their assets and dreams, struggles and social issues.
Last week, we visited the communities of Creede, Alamosa and the San Luis Valley, and Durango. Here is what we learned:
**We (who all live in the Denver metro area) know SO LITTLE about more ‘rural’ (and the vast diversity within ‘rural’) communities in Colorado. These trips allow us to scratch the surface. We call this a listening tour for a reason--and we must keep listening!
In many of the communities we visited, we heard there is a particular, amplified importance to the County Commissioner office. We should further explore the role and impacts of the County Commissioner in multiple contexts.
There are opportunities for partnership with universities in small college towns.
There is deep creativity and innovation happening in community based organizations across the state--we were specifically grateful to meet with and learn about La Puente Home, Center for Restorative Programs (Alamosa), Cooking Matters, the Rainbow Youth Center, A Mile in My Shoes, and Community Compassion Outreach.
The people of the San Luis Valley have grit, determination & resilience--we have much to learn from them! There is unique depth to this community where many families have lived on the same land for five or more generations. We LOVED all of the people we met and were incredibly grateful for the time given to share with us.
GLBTQ youth and adults can have limited resources and spaces where they feel fully safe. The Rainbow Youth Center is the only place for GLBTQ youth in Durango, and attracts people from northern New Mexico to Montrose.
Women’s health and reproductive choice options are limited in smaller towns. Durango is the only town in the region with an abortion clinic. Additionally, there are numerous ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ which can be deceiving, shame inducing, and provide inaccurate medical information.
There are challenges around ‘interfaith work’ in religiously monolithic communities. For example, many people in the communities we visited had never met a Muslim person, and the Jewish community in Durango is the only synagogue in a 200 mile radius. Getting ‘out’ to participate in justice work can be challenging since the communities are so small… however many individuals in these smaller faith communities are very active and engaged.
Radical advocacy or divisive language can do more damage than good in communities where relationships are intimately personal and interwoven. Tactics may need to change based on context, and this is OK!
There is a heightened awareness and direct experience around water and land resources in the state where ranching, farming, and tourism are ‘felt’ realities, alongside water rationing and wildfires.
There is a growing issue of ‘debtors prisons’ in rural communities. Colorado is one of the worst states for debtors prisons in the country, and Alamosa is one one of the worst in the state. (https://acluco-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/JUSTICE-DERAILED-web.pdf)
Lack of consistent broadband access is an equity issue. Healthcare access, education, and employment are dramatically impacted by lack of solid broadband access.
Durango does not get Denver news or TV. They feel frustrated and disconnected about not being able to watch Broncos games--and also miss out on news and political information from Denver. Durango gets Albuquerque news and TV stations. Albuquerque will not let this change because they want to hold onto the market.
The opioid epidemic has a ripple effect on education, families, crime and more. While this is a statewide reality, the impact feels more personal and consequential in communities where everyone knows everyone.
In the San Luis Valley transportation between the many very small towns creates real barriers to access of services and support. The San Luis Valley is the land size of Massachusetts with a population of 46k and includes 6 counties and numerous towns--some very very small.
Economic development is extremely uneven and out of balance. There are pockets of extreme poverty-- especially in the San Luis Valley--and areas such as Durango where the cost of living rivals Aspen. Imbalance impacts communities and people’s lives on both ends of the spectrum: extreme poverty or extreme wealth.
Front range ‘liberal minded’ people must remember that ‘conservative’ is not always a dirty word. There are many things we need to ‘conserve’ which those in rural communities feel intimately: water, land and soil, community connections and support, rich local cultures, and more.
Service providers in outlying towns in Colorado can feel isolated and disconnected from statewide government services and institutions. Specifically- there can be attempts to overlay or prescribe front range ‘solutions' onto rural struggles can feel condescending and irrelevant.
Our work must move beyond the front range in Colorado--we must creatively and intentionally seek ways to re-weave our rural, urban, and suburban communities to better support one another.
**We know SO LITTLE about more ‘rural’ (and the vast diversity within ‘rural’) communities in Colorado. These trips allow us to scratch the surface. We call this a listening tour for a reason--and we must keep listening!