About nancycronk

Nancy Cronk is a longtime community activist and women's leader living in Arapahoe County. Six months before the historic "red sweep" election of 2014, she was recruited to run as a "placeholder" in HD37, and managed to bring in 40K from 500 small donors, and 42% of the vote -- just one point lower than the previous candidate who ran in a presidential year.

Taking Back the Streets from Anti-Woman Ideologues

(When misogynists say “don’t dress like a slut in order to avoid being victimized,” there always seems to be an unspoken “…by someone like me.” – promoted by ProgressiveCowgirl)

Fourth of July festivities abound in Colorado this weekend, and many legislators will practice their retail politicking at parades, marches, firework displays and other photo opportunities. One event will probably not be on Congressman Cory Gardner’s itinerary, however: “Slutwalk 2011”.

Thousands of women and men in Colorado will come together Saturday, July 2nd, 2011 to take back the streets of Denver and send two simple messages: rape is a violent crime not a sexual act, and women never ask to be raped, no matter how they dress. Women do not invite rape by wearing scanty clothing anymore than wealthy men invite being robbed by wearing a good suit. Rape is a violent crime, and the perpetrators are solely responsible for their actions. “Slutwalks” are being organized internationally, on various weekends throughout the summer, to bring these messages to every major city.  

Gardner’s comments about rape and abortion have gotten him into hot water with Coloradans over and over again. Recently, Gardner and other Republican lawmakers including Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn, banded together to sponsor and support HR 3, a bill which seeks to redefine rape, in reference to the exclusion in the abortion funding ban for victims of rape and incest. (Apparently, the Republican party does not own a dictionary — rape, by definition, is a sexual attack using force.)

Colorado is not the only state with legislators who “don’t seem to get it”. Florida Republican State Representative Kathleen Passidomo blamed the gang rape by 18 adult men of an eleven year old girl on the victim.  Passidomo was quoted by David Edwards of Raw Story:

“There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gangraped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute,” Passidomo declared.

“And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn’t happen to our students,” she added.

The idea for Slutwalk Denver came from the original Slutwalk in Toronto, when a member of the Toronto Police told a group of students, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized”. The five outraged Toronto women took action, and the annual “Slutwalks” to end victim-blaming and the rape-culture, were born.

From the Slutwalk 2011 facebook page:

The clothing a person is wearing is not an invitation to be sexually assaulted. It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing, where they are walking, or how much they’ve had to drink – the only person at fault is the assaulter. We are reclaiming the word “slut” in solidarity with people who have been blamed unfairly for being assaulted.

We are asking you to join us for SlutWalk, to make a unified statement about sexual assault and victims’ rights and to demand respect for all. You needn’t claim the word “slut” for yourself; whether a fellow slut or simply an ally, you don’t have to wear your sexual proclivities on your sleeve, we just ask that you come. Any gender-identification, any age. Singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers, children, friends. Come walk or roll or strut or holler or stomp with us.

For those who wish to attend, simply show up. Women, men and children who believe, as I do, that blaming the victim will no longer be tolerated in the State of Colorado, are encouraged to attend and bring everyone they know for a beautiful and safe summer walk in the park.

SlutWalk Denver will be held at the Greek Theater in Civic Center Park (south east corner). The physical address is 100 W 14th Ave Pkwy, Denver, CO 80204. Metered parking is available on the street for up to two hours. Organizers suggest finding local lots and paying to park there. Nearby lots can be found at: 1256 Delaware, 1440 Tremont, 1200-1300 Cherokee, and 1200-1300 Bannock. Participants are encouraged to remember sunscreen and water. Four “mini-marches” will occur.

The schedule for Saturday is as follows:

12:00pm: Event starts, opening speeches

12:35 (at the latest): Mini marches 1 and 2 leave

1:10: Keynote speaker Pamela White

1:45: Mini marches 3 and 4 depart

2:30: Closing speech and ending

For more information on Stutwalks 2011, please visit http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/

or on Twitter and Tumblr!

http://www.twitter.com/slutwal…

http://slutwalkdenver.tumblr.com/

E-mail: SlutWalkDenver@gmail.com

Mitt Romney Feels Your Pain

Having grown up a few miles outside of Detroit, I know a lot of people who have been hard hit by the recession. People who lost their jobs when their work was sent overseas. People who grew up believing if you work hard, you’ll be able to get a job. People who have advanced degrees, but still cannot find work, because there are still too few jobs to be had.

People who re-use nails when fixing their houses, so they can save a few cents the next time. People whose kids eat a lot of ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese because that’s all they can afford — when they can afford it. People who live paycheck to paycheck, surviving only by the grace of their neighbors and friends at times, who loan them money for the “extras” –extras like first-time rent deposits, school clothes, their kids senior pictures, or a new lawn mower. People who clip coupons, people who extend their meatloaf with extra cracker crumbs, people who were on unemployment so long, they no longer qualify.

People like my youngest brother who has a wife and two small kids, and is constantly on the verge of losing his house. My brother is not in the auto industry, but because everything in Michigan is dependent on the auto industry or related manufacturing, his business in home improvement is affected, as well. Having already sold the family car, he and his wife share my Dad’s old truck — a vehicle that is not at all reliable. His weekly prayer is that he and his wife and the babies never get stuck on the snowy northern rural roads for too long if it breaks down.

I worry a lot about my brother and the rest of my family and friends in Michigan — those who live in the once-great-but-now-crumbling-city, and those who live outside of it. I worry that most of them are upside down on their mortgages, and the schools their children go to now have up to 70 children in each classroom (the City of Detroit recently closed half of all of the schools). I worry for my mother who lives in a house that is too big for her to maintain and pay taxes on, but from which she can never leave because a smaller home would cost her even more.

Then there’s Mitt Romney, a guy with a neatly pressed, expensive shirt with the sleeves rolled up — a guy who probably never dug a hole in his life — who goes on television and says “I’m also unemployed”.  Mitt Romney, son of the former Governor of Michigan, a man who owns several houses in several states, and is “worth” two hundred million dollars. Mitt Romney feels your pain, Michigan… and Florida… and Pennsylvania… and California. Really. He does.

Remember when you vote, Mitt Romney needs a job. Can you spare some of your change for the Mitt?

Friday Jam-Fest

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Pols — hope you don’t mind I started Jam-Fest early. I really needed to post this. Today is my Father’s 80th birthday, but I cannot celebrate it with him. He died a year ago, next week, not long after celebrating his last birthday and father’s day with us. I wrote about it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/… and here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/… if anyone is interested.

Happy Birthday, Daddy. I miss you so.

Weiner’s Premature Evacuation

(Thanks for the memories – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Throwing in the Towel.

Going down.

Pulls out.

Beaten.

Deflated.

Packing it in. Zipping it up.

Anthony Weiner told Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday he will be stepping down from his job as a US Congressman. In the words of CBS News:

After nearly three weeks of pressure building on Weiner to call it quits, the New York Democrat has planned a news conference for 2:00 p.m ET Thursday afternoon in the New York City area to announce his resignation.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-50…

In all seriousness, I personally thank Representative Weiner for being a courageous member of Congress who frequently stood up for the average person, cutting through the partisan-b.s., calling things the way he saw them, and reminding other members of Congress who they were (supposed to be) serving. I hope the end of Weinergate will be the beginning of a new era for himself and for his family. May he summon the personal courage he showed in Congress to move on from the past, and build a new life as a husband and father. Best wishes, Representative Weiner!

Commence last-minute Weiner jokes (this may be your last chance).  

Weiner Cleared of Sexting Minor

Update: Since last night, . Weiner has been cleared of all charges related to this story.

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I wasn’t sure if I should bring this up, since I respect and admire Representative Weiner on his political stands. I figured if I don’t, someone else will. (Hoping for a serious conversation about the potential political fallout.)

The Huffington Post reports that law enforcement today questioned a seventeen year old girl who has exchanged internet communications with US Representative Anthony Weiner. After thirty minutes of meeting with the police at her home, the police left, and the girl and her mother followed in another car. Weiner denies that his correspondence with the girl was inappropriate.  

This story just keeps getting stranger and more complicated. Many Democrats have rallied behind Anthony Weiner, stating that his marital issues are private, and what happened between two consenting adults using electronic media is no one else’s business. The latest twist in the story could throw in a whole new angle — the possibility that the internet communications were not just with adults.

Personally, I think Anthony Weiner’s political career could politically survive this past week’s revelations, but I think this latest rumour could make a difference, and he would be forced to resign. Despite the fact that it would be difficult to know how young a female constituent is via photos and tweets, in the public’s mind, seventeen years old means she is a minor.

The craziest part of all of this? You know this will not be the end of legislators involved in sex scandals. People do not seem to learn from the failings of others. Thoughts?

In Praise of Firefighters

Despite the distraction of Weinergate,  Denver Mayoral rumours, and the lure of the penalty box parties calling me back, I’ve been watching the news about the enormous wildfire in Arizona. As of yesterday afternoon, the inferno was zero percent contained and almost 400,000 acres, an area larger than the city of Phoenix. The weather forecast said “hot, windy, and dry” — exactly the recipe for rapid spreading. The fires are now threatening to affect the entire west, as key powerlines may be in danger. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer (who is not normally the sharpest spine on the proverbial cactus, IMHO) wisely declared an emergency. Firefighters and apparatus from other states have been sent to help out our neighbors to the southwest.

I was fortunate to have delivered a thank-you speech to my favorite metro-area firefighters, paramedics and EMTs not long ago, at their annual awards night. (I won’t name the district  since they may not agree with my political views on the blogs). I’d like to extend what I said to all of the safety personnel in the Pols readership. I hope my fellow Pols clowns will join me in thanking these heroes.

The following has been edited to protect the identity of the fire department, for whom I am not a spokeperson, but merely a cheerleader. (Thanks for not outing them.)

Godspeed to those of you who will be heading down to Arizona, or who are there already. This community loves you, appreciates you, and is praying for your safety.  

To My Heroes

I asked the Chief if I could speak on behalf of our community — the people you wake up every day to educate, to protect, to rescue, to reassure, to heal, to transport and to care about, day in and day out, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, year after year after year. Whether you risk your own life to put out fires, or perform CPR, start IV’s, educate children, inspect new buildings, teach new hires, manage the district’s money, answer the phones, cook the food, drive the trucks, go to meetings, plan the trainings, service the equipment, program the computers, represent your union brothers and sisters, or fill any one of a number of other  pieces of this puzzle, you are an important part of a great team.

A team that includes people brave enough, you are willing to go against your every instinct for self-preservation, and instead, when your body is telling you not to, know you must be the ones to battle every blaze head-on, as if the lives of your own family depended on your swift action. A team so dedicated, you show up to work on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the birthdays of your loved ones. A team so well-trained, you are always ready to do what is needed or asked of you, whether that is on land or in the water, on the ground, or three hundred feet up, whether it involves toxic chemicals or natural disasters, brush fires or overdoses. There is no scenario that seems to daunt you.

There is a reason most little boys, and some girls, go through a stage when they want to be a firefighter when they grow up. Everyone wants to be a hero at some point. The comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “It’s a good thing not everyone becomes what they wanted to be when they were little, or the world would have nothing but firefighters and ballerinas in it.” But not every person can be a firefighter, or a paramedic, or a public servant who runs a fire district. It takes people committed to their communities, committed to the well-being of others, committed to working long hours for nowhere near enough pay (in my humble opinion), committed to a higher calling of public service. It takes people like you. Like all of you.

I remember when I heard my brother-in-law, a member of one of the largest volunteer departments in the country, and my nephew, a firefighter in the Navy, first announced they were joining the fire service. My first thought was, “Are you out of your ever-loving mind? Why on Earth would you want to do something so dangerous?” Perhaps some of the spouses and family members in this room can relate. It didn’t take long to see their passion for caring for other people. Like many of your relatives, I could not be more proud.

When the awards committee met last month to determine who would get the awards for the previous year, 2010, we read all of the survey responses, and the nominations. As you know, the awards are not decided by the Fire Chief, or by the senior staff, or by the Board. Nominations are made by all employees of this District, an effort for peers to acknowledge and show appreciation for the outstanding efforts of their coworkers. I wish you all could have been in the room to hear the discussion.

We read about employees who faced great challenges during the course of their work in 2010. There were many medical calls requiring quick thinking, decisive action, and good judgment. We read about employees who were attacked by dogs while working. We heard of people being injured while doing their daily physical training. We heard about the heroic efforts of many people who were involved in a huge apartment fire not long ago.

The stories we heard made my toes curl at times. And yet, according to the task we were given, we were only allowed to give awards to people who were performing above and beyond the call of duty. (As the Chief can attest, I wanted to give out awards to just about everyone!) But the guidelines are very strict, and the criteria incredibly selective. Over and over, the Chief told me, “That is what we do”.

“That is what we do.” Five little words. Five little words that save countless lives every year. Five little words that make you… our heroes. Words do not adequately address the indebtedness this community has to all of you. From the bottom of our hearts, “Thank you”.

Redundancy

I spent hours working on a funny post for today, and then threw it away, opting for complete honesty. I’ve always been one to jump to the defense of the persecuted, and for the first time, that person is me. Thank you to those who know my character, and know I have been unjustly accused of trying to “out” another blogger. It’s impossible to out someone when you have no idea who they are in the first place, and couldn’t care less to boot.

I have been tried and convicted of being “redundant” and “hamhanded” (still looking that one up.) I guess I do get a little redundant when my name is maligned publicly. My bad. (“Continuous flamewars?” Seriously?)

I ask Pols to reconsider having the names of the people in the penalty box for perpetuity. It is the scarlet letter of this blog, and serves to defame those of us who are proud to express our opinions under our real names (shouldn’t every blogger have the right to choose?). Even more importantly, it was undeserved. Keeping the names up do not help heal conflicts, nor help people to move on. It encourages people to create new sockpuppets — something I won’t do — or simply leave. I’m proud of my political views and I feel no need to hide them (that’s why I came out on the blogs one year ago). People should not be punished for their honesty. Clearly, this was the wrong place to be honest.

To sxp151 — Mortimer, Mr. Jingles, and triguardian say hello.

To Steve Harvey — thank you for leaving the poetry books in the cell with Ralphie’s coloring books.

Pols — The food here is worse than Casa Bonita, and your stupid television only plays Russian music videos with no captions.

Again, thank you to those who know me and can attest to my integrity.

~ Redundant

Wednesday Open Thread

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

“The significant problems of our time cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

–Albert Einstein

Mother’s Deserve Their Own Thread

Happy Mother’s day to all of the great Moms out there. Whether your raised children that were born to you, children that were given to you, shared your child with another family to raise because you loved them so much, or helped someone else raise a child … thank you for your investment in coming generations. Blessings upon you, today and everyday!

(Shout-outs to individual Moms here.)

Shout-out to my Mother who raised nine children on the tightest budget I can imagine. Part mother, part magician, part angel. Love you, Mom!

Quick FAQs About CO’s John’s Bill, SB 85

CO SB 85, the “john’s bill” or demand-side diversion program, is in the House for second reading today.

What is it?

SB 85 attempts to save young people from sexual slavery, by giving cities an option to establish “john’s schools” for first time offenders. Like traffic school, it’s goal is to educate the consumers (“johns”) about problems associated with prostitution, when arrested. Because the needs of each community are different, they would each be allowed, under the bill, to determine the content of their class.

How does it work?

Johns would have a choice to pay a fine, or go to the class. In it, they could learn about the serious problem of human trafficking and hear from former prostitutes about the dangers of the streets. They would learn that prostitution is not a victimless crime — many young girls and boys enter it out of desperation after running away from home, or from being kicked out, or having nowhere to turn for help. Once on the streets, studies show pimps approach them, on average, within 48 hours. They are often beaten, drugged, trafficked to other cities, and sometimes murdered by their pimps. The hope is that the john’s school will educate the consumers in the industry to make better choices. When the pimps make less money from forcing kids into prostitution, they are less motivated to find them, manipulate them, or enslave them.

What happens if the johns don’t attend the class?

If the john does not want to go to class he (or she) pays the fine, most of which will go to the authorities within each municipality. The fine is stiff enough he (or she) will hopefully want to attend class instead.

How much will this program cost the State of CO?

Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Gooseegg. SB 85 is a win-win-win. The bill is budget neutral — in other words, it costs the state NOTHING. The budget office has determined it pays for itself.

An economic side benefit of the program is that it increases potential fines for violations of state law up to $5000. The exact amount is not specified, and leaves judges flexibility to make decisions based on financial hardship, etc.

Why pick on johns? Why not punish the prostitutes or the pimps?

The current system of arresting prostitutes is not working to reduce the problem of human trafficking. Not only is it sexist (most prostitutes are female and most pimps and johns are male), but prostitutes already suffer an unfair burden in our laws. They are often the unwilling victims, yet we punish them disproportionately.

Pimps are off the hook completely; they are almost impossible to prosecute, since the only witnesses are often the prostitutes and the johns — neither of which are eager to appear in court. (The only way to effectively make pimps pay is to get them where it hurts — in their wallets.)

The current fees for johns who are arrested is so low, many municipalities don’t even bother — it costs more to arrest them in man-hours than they get back in fees. Shaming programs (putting johns on television or their photos on the internet) often punish their innocent families. SB 85 is not a vice bill; it is not about judging, shaming, punishing, or moralizing. It is about education. When consumers understand the serious problem of sexual slavery and human trafficking that exists within the larger industry of prostitution, that awareness can help reduce the problem. Evidence presented in the Senate and House hearings have verified similar programs are already working in other cities in the United States.

Who supports this bill?

Support for this bill has come from people on both sides of the political aisle. It was written by anti-human trafficking international expert Beth Klein, and sponsored by Senator Brandon Shaffer in the CO Senate, and Representative Beth McCann in the CO House. In committees, it passed with bi-partisan support.

Where did the idea come from?

John’s schools have been very effective, and their use is growing in cities all over the country. Here is a review of the San Francisco john school by the Justice Department.

Why not give prostitutes services and options for going into other work?

The bill does not increase services such as job training which would give prostitutes other options. (I personally feel strongly that is needed, as well, but that would be a different bill.) By reducing demand, we believe the bill will slow the steady recruitment of kids at risk for sexual slavery.

What about decriminalizing prostitution, taxing it, and heavily regulating the industry?

This bill does not address decriminalizing prostitution. That conversation may take many years, if and when Coloradans choose to have it. In the meantime, teenagers are working the streets right now, in the city of Denver and elsewhere. Something must be, and can be done, about it now.

Why should I support this bill?

This is one of those rare times Republicans and Democrats can stand together and say, “NO more” to our kids selling their bodies to line the wallets of opportunistic pimps. PLEASE call your legislators and ask them to vote yes on SB85.  Phone numbers to all the CO state representatives are here.

“Please support SB 85”.  

“John’s School” / Anti-Slavery Bill Heard Today

Update: We won with a 6-5 bipartisan vote. The bill now goes to the House floor.

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I am excited to be joining friends —  international anti-trafficking expert Beth Klein and Colorado activist/organizer Debbie Fischer, along with a slate of bipartisan supporters, to testify on behalf of CO SB85. SB85 will stiffen fines for johns that are currently set so low, they are never enforced. The increased revenue from the fines will be put into a fund to create a “john’s school” — teaching customers of prostitutes the unintended consequences of their actions.

John’s schools have worked well in other states. The most famous of them may be the San Francisco First Offenders of Prostitution Program (FOPP). According to a report commissioned by the Department of Justice, the program accomplishes its goal of reducing recidivism of solicitation by educating the public about its consequences –increased human kidnapping and trafficking, physical and sexual abuse of children who are forced into prostitution as teenagers, and creating a class of “throw-away” young people who are more-often-than-not addicted to hard drugs. The average life expectancy of a prostitute is only seven years from the beginning of their “career” due to frequent beatings, substance abuse and sometimes, murder. John’s school teaches about the negative effects for customers as well, including the increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

Opponents of SB 85 have argued that prostitution is a victimless crime. Beth Klein and other experts will attest to the growing problem of human trafficking for sex, and how sexual slavery exists right here in Colorado. The industry of prostitution relies on the kidnapping and abuse of millions of innocent girls, and sometimes boys, who are forced or manipulated into selling their bodies for sex, in exchange for food, drugs, and sometimes, fewer physical beatings. Debbie may share the painful story of her sister’s tragic life for the very first time. My own experience as a former crisis center counselor talking to girls, both on the streets outside of Detroit and in downtown Denver, was that they desperately wanted to get out of the sex trade, but feared for their lives from abusive pimps — many of whom were their boyfriends, husbands, brothers, and sometimes even — their own mothers.

Opponents of the bill have also argued that proponents are all “repressed fanatical right-wing anti-sex church ladies like Rosina Kovar “. Some may be. In my case, and the case of my friends, nothing could be further from the truth. Proponents of SB 85 are from both sides of the political aisle — Debbie and I, for example, were identified as two of three of the state’s best grassroots leaders on the left, when we met with Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine last year.

Beth Klein has traveled all over the world as an expert on anti-trafficking, meeting with celebrities and politicians monthly, garnering support for her anti-slavery efforts. In this month’s “More” magazine, Beth is listed as one of “50 Women You Want On Your Side” with the likes of Michelle Obama, Kirsten Gillabrand, Lady Gaga, Tina Fey, Melinda Gates, Tina Brown, Sheryl Sandberg, Diane Von Fursenberg, Gloria Allred, Queen Rania, Aung San Suu Kyi, Gabby Giffords, Meghan McCain, Oprah Winfrey, Meg Whitman, Angelina Jolie, Elena Kagan, Elizabeth Smart, Ruther Bader, Sonia Sotomayor, and Hillary Clinton (“The Fierce List”, pg 110.) Beth has also been identified as one of the “21 Leaders of the Twenty-First Century”.

“Repressed church ladies with an anti-sex agenda like Rosina Kovar”, we are not. We are mothers and activists who care about the slavery of innocent people, and want a better life for your daughters and sons. We hope you’ll join us.

I invite Pols readers to join us at the House Judiciary Committee Hearing today (Thursday) at 1:30pm in the basement of the CO state Capitol.  

Post-Script: This was my testimony. I represented myself.

My interest is two-fold – as a mother raising three young men, and as a volunteer in my community.

As a mother, I find it difficult to teach my sons to respect women when my state’s laws are too lax regarding the victimization and objectification of human beings for sex. I would like my state to give the purchasers in the sex trade more than a simple slap on the wrist for their role in this crime. I want my sons to see that their government takes the plight of those forced into prostitution seriously, and punishes those who contribute to slavery.

Second, I volunteered for several years at a crisis center where I previously lived just outside of Detroit, and again in my adopted home of Colorado with the group “Stand Up For Kids”. In both of those volunteer roles, I met young prostitutes living on the streets. My anecdotal experience is consistent with the facts presented by the sponsors of the bill – every one of the young people I met became prostitutes as young teenagers. They were either forced into the trade by boyfriends, fathers, stepfathers, uncles, and in one instance, her own mother.

Many of the youths we counseled and attempted to assist were addicted to drugs, and their payment for being sex slaves was a “hit” of their addictive substance, or scraps of food. Most of the young people we met started out in their profession when their home life was not safe, and they could no longer take the beatings or sexual abuse, so they became runaways . Once on the street, they did whatever they needed to do to make it through another day – that usually started with drugs, and led to selling their bodies. The depth of their pain, and the misery of their lives were beyond your wildest nightmares. Imagine if they were your children.

Prostitutes need services to give them other legitimate choices, but as long as there is demand, more innocent children will enter the system of sex slavery. As a mother trying to raise three young men to be good citizens, and as a volunteer in my community, I ask you, no, I plead with you, please make laws tougher on prostitution so that we can save more young people from the dangers of the streets.

Thank you.

Proud Member of the Religious Left

Recently, one of my facebook friends acknowledged me for helping her realize she could be religious and also be politically on the left. I was floored. Has the Republican party co-opted religion so completely that generations of Americans believe you can either by spiritual, or be a Democrat (or worse — gasp — a “Green” pary member!)? What is their definition of religion that would cause them to think such a thing?

I asked a few of my younger progressive friends what religion means to them. All of them said essentially the same thing, “Religion is a belief in a supernatural being”. None of them had ever considered there might be religions where belief in the supernatural is optional, or a religion that is centered around ethics.  (Coincidentally, all of these young people did not consider themselves religious, and did identify themselves as being politically on the left.)

Clearly, if a young person’s association with religion is almost entirely based on branches of it which have been enmeshed in political debate for the past thirty years, it is understandable where they would get that idea. According to Republican groups that have married themselves to the religious right in America, largely for political gain, if you are a Christian, you must care more about the rights of an embryo than a living, breating child. You must be willing to believe in male dominance over women, and  believe G*d wants Americans to be financially wealthy because of their elevated status in the world — screw everyone else. The same groups are usually tolerant of Jews, as long as they are working to prepare Israel for future Biblical prophecy. (In other words, G*d wants us to steal all the oil.)

Young people of Colorado — consider another possibility.

One of my favorite definitions of religion is this one, which reflects the breadth and width and complexity of religious traditions around the world:

Religion is a cultural system that creates powerful and long-lasting meaning by establishing symbols that relate humanity to beliefs and values.[Clifford Geertz, Religion as a Cultural System, 1973]

When a person studies world religions, he or she soon finds there are many spiritual traditions in the world that are not obsessed with damning people to eternal Hell-fire because they are gay, because they are divorced, because they have premarital sex (horror!), or because they voted for Barack Obama. There are many spiritual traditions out there — and a number who fiercely identify as Christian — who welcome your liberal, left-leaning self with open arms. A few, like the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian-Universalists (and so many others!), even consider such things as fighting for gay rights and the environment, or being pro-choice, as an expression of your personal, unique faith — the very expression of that which makes you holy.

I grew up in a Christian household. My grandmother was the epitomy of spiritual love. She gave to the poor, taught children, forgave everyone for everything, turned the other cheek, was generous to a fault, and said loving, empowering things to people she met everyday. I do not recall a single word of gay-bashing, being judgmental, or casting a proverbial stone at anyone. Unwed mothers, alcoholics, drug addicts — Grandma found something kind to say about everyone, and often reminded us, “Do not judge until you have walked a mile in their shoes”.

I left Christianity when I met “the other Christians”. You know the ones I am talking about — the ones who care more about what you believe than how you live your life. The ones who judge, who persecute, who are “holier than thou”. The ones who “pray for you” if you don’t believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. The ones who do not see the Bible as one of many sources of profound wisdom. The ones who do not see the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as historical documents — documents which have been passed down through many generations, changed and interpreted and translated and altered like a child’s game of “Telephone”. The ones who see being a homosexual as an abomination because they read it in a book, rather than looked inside their own hearts, never questioning if the book could be interpreted in different ways by different people.

I converted to liberal Judaism many years ago, and after that, studied Unitarian-Universalism. I’ll spare you the details, but I will say I found many tolerant, compassionate, incredibly generous people in both of those communities (and still do). Each of those faiths encouraged me to keep learning about other faiths. Ironically, it wasn’t until I left Christianity and studied many other faiths I could go back and really understand the teachings of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth — in cultural context. His teachings to feed the poor, provide free health care to those who are sick, take care of the elderly and widows and orphans, and to forgive those who are seen as sinners… really moved me.

What I’ve found in my search for dharma (a Hindu word most commonly translated as religion, truth or law) along my upayah (spiritual path), is there are many spiritual traditions in the world, all of which can be used for good, or used for evil (yes, kind of like Spiderman’s powers, if you will). The key is, “If you jump into any spiritual community, will you adhere to the sides of the pool in fear of being sucked down into the drain (the rules, the dogma, the beliefs, the mandates, the political b.s., etc.), or will you trust yourself to let go of the sides, and really allow yourself to learn to swim and enjoy the water?”

There are many spiritual traditions which will allow you to believe whatever it is you believe about G*d (or gods), or about the creation or existence of the universe. There are many faiths which frankly don’t give an Easter egg about what you believe — they are there to inspire you to follow the lessons of Jesus the Teacher — or the Buddha, or Confucious, or Maimonides, or the Dalai Lama, or whoever’s wise teachings you choose to study. They care more what kind of person you are — do you help your neighbor, do you lift up the child of the single mother, do you volunteer at your neighborhood school or food bank? Are you making a difference in the world, or merely leaving a gigantic carbon footprint for others to have to clean up?

As a rule of thumb, I’ve found one more thing to be true — if the teacher is/was great, he/she probably doesn’t care much who gets the credit, or where you send your donations. Mother Theresa of Calcutta was once asked to teach a wealthy person how to be saintly. She replied (I’m paraphrasing), “Take the money you would spend to fly to Calcutta to watch me work. Instead, find someone poor and give it to them.”

So, young political progressives. Please do not throw the religious baby out with the hypocritical, radical, fundamentalist, bathwater. Consider finding a community that affirms and celebrates YOU for who you already are, and what you already know in your heart. Find one that encourages you to be your best self — giving, generous, compassionate, selfless, understanding, loving and grateful — grateful for your family and friends, whoever they may be. Find one that gives you true freedom — yes, freedom — not the country-song, flag-waving kind that gets us into costly international wars to line the pockets of billionaires in the military-industrial complex — but the kind that allows you to express your feelings, your beliefs, and your opinions openly (like I just did).

Happy Passover/Easter/Spring/Earth Day/Solitude or whatever you may celebrate this time of year. May it inspire you to renew yourself, and to find your passion to make a difference in this world. Blessings upon your own journey.

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary, now go and study.” (Talmud Shabbat 31A.)

Remembering Columbine — 12 Years Later

Twelve years ago, I attended the Columbine Memorial service with thousands of other Coloradans. I didn’t know any of the victims, but like others, we grieved together for innocence lost, and for the pain we saw all around us.

My heart ached for all the victims and their families and friends, but also for the families of the perpetrators. Their lives would also never be the same. Will we ever have enough distance from that horrible day to see them as humans who grieved, too — not just for their children’s lives, but for the people they’d hoped their children would become? As a member of the Colorado community, I grieved not just for lives lost and bodies injured, but for the clearly inaccurate view we shared that our (collective) kids were doing okay.

Have we learned anything since Columbine? Is anything different now?

Before the controversies, and the arguments and the politics that followed, those first few days consisted of an outpouring of love onto Littleton, CO. I wrote this little poem that morning and left it at the Memorial site, to join the hundreds of teddy bears, heart shaped ribbons, and many balloons that were already there. I was not a blogger then — I hope you won’t mind if I share it with you now.

To all who suffered on that day — and whose lives were forever changed — this is for you. We remain one family in Colorado. We remain “Columbine”.  

April 25, 1999

Dear Friends,

As my children and I paid our respects at the Columbine Memorial today, this was placed in my heart.  I would like to share it with you.

We are Colorado,

and today we buried our children.

Yesterday, we spoke of

proms,

graduation,

track meets,

lockers,

gym class,

crushes,

CDs,

and asked “What’s for lunch?”

Today, we spoke of

gunshots,

bullets,

swat teams,

shrapnel,

funerals,

heaven,

and asked “What have we learned?”

Through the tears,

the hugs,

the flowers,

and the cameras,

we have reached out to one another from every city,

every neighborhood,

and every home.  

We have learned

to hug more,

to listen more,

to love more,

to judge less.

We have learned to ask our children

who their friends are,

what they enjoy doing,

what they are thinking,

and who their heroes are.

We have learned to reach out with love to

our children,

our grandchildren,

our neighbor’s children,

and the children in families we do not know.

We have learned

there are millions of loving voices

to every hateful one.

We have learned

to help each other through the worst of times

as well as the best.  

We have learned to teach our children how to handle their anger

and how to ask for help.  

We have learned to ask why a child

can own a weapon to kill

years before having his first glass of beer.

We have learned that violence disguises itself

as gossip,

as war games,

as arguments,

as cheating,

as criticizing,

as broken promises, and

as passing up the opportunity to help another.

We have learned

to never go to bed angry

and to never part without a hug.

We have learned

that what is real is felt in the heart,

and that love is the only thing that lasts forever.

In memory of the fifteen lives that were taken on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School

and the twenty – three students who were injured.  Also, in honor of the many heroes who saved

hundreds more lives.

With my heartfelt sympathy,

Nancy Cronk

Friday Jam-Fest

(It;s Friday.

– promoted by MADCO
)

Just insert Jan Brewer’s name if you want to make it a Round Robin.

Oh, and speaking of the worst Governor in the lower 49, did you see this? I feel sorry for my friends in Arizona who are very tired of their state being the laughing stock of the nation. http://www.aolnews.com/2011/04…

Not Intended To Be A Factual Statement

(Warning: Snark Alert)

Arizona Senator Jon Kyl recently argued that “90% of what Planned Parenthood does is to provide abortions” to justify taking community health service money away from people who don’t get congressional “cadillac” health care plans like he does.

Stephen Colbert and other alert viewers did their research and found that only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does are actually abortions. Planned Parenthood does mammograms, public health education, blood testing for sexually transmitted diseases, pap smears, pelvic exams, general health and wellness exams, and much, much more. In fact, Planned Parenthood does more of one thing than they actually do abortions. Are you ready for this… they actually help people plan for parenthood (gasp!). Whenn constituents called Kyl’s Senate office for an explanation, the staff was instructed to say, “Sentor Kyl’s comment was not intended to be a factual statement“.

Television comedian Stephen Colbert asked his viewers to help him figure out what other “facts” may not have been intended as factual statements. Here are some of the ones posted on twitter at #notintendedtobeafactualstatement.

1. Jon Kyl holds the Guinness World Record for “Largest Collection of Penis Enlargers.”

2. In 2009, Jon Kyl lost $380,000 wagering on dwarf tossing.

3. Jon Kyl calls the underside of his Senate seat: “The Booger Graveyard.”

4. Jon Kyl has the world’s most extensive catalogue of snuff films.

5. Jon Kyl can unhinge his jaw like a python to swallow small rodents whole.

6. Jon Kyl calls all Asians “Neil” no matter what their name is.

7. Jon Kyl let a game-winning ground ball roll through his legs in Game 6 of the ’86 World Series.

8. Jon Kyl developed his own line of hair care products just so he could test them on bunnies.

9. Once a year, Jon Kyl retreats to the Arizona Desert and deposits 2 million egg sacs under the sand.

10. Jon Kyl is one of Gaddafi’s sexy female ninja guards.

This got me to wondering — are there political “facts” in Colorado that were “not intended to be a factual statement?”? If you can think of any, please feel free to add the twitter hashtag #notintendedtobeafactualstatement to the end of  it. The People need help separating the facts from the GOP lies statements not intended to be factual.

I’m happy to start with some examples:

Ryan Call and the Colorado GOP give a damn about public education and your kids. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

Lots of brown people support the Colorado GOP because their concerns regarding equality are validated and affirmed. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

Here are a few national examples:

The GOP would never use a controversial wedge issue to dupe poorly-educated but otherwise decent religious people into voting against their own self-interests. They have too much integrity for that. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

George Bush actually thought there were weapons of mass destruction being hidden in Iraq. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

Donald Trump’s hair is transplanted from dead rodent tails. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

Being a millionaire qualifies a person to advise teachers with actual college degrees on education policy. #notintendedtobeafactualstatment

Log Cabin Republicans make sense. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

Jon Kyl submitted an application to be the official “Obama 2012 Girl”. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

Fox News. #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

Charlie Sheen To Run for President as Republican in 2012

Entertainer Charlie Sheen announced on Twitter today he would be running for President of the United States in 2012. Sheen made the announcement at his Malibu home, surrounded by his Goddesses. When asked what he would bring to the office, Sheen replied,

I’m different. I have a different constitution, I have a different brain, I have a different heart. I got tiger blood, man.

Sheen’s father Martin Sheen who is not a former President but who played one on the television show West Wing, is also a real-life Democratic activist. Martin Sheen did not attend his son’s  media event. Sheen Sr., on location filming a movie about a man whose drug-addicted son embarrasses him on a road trip in California, would not comment.

Sheen’s brother, Emilio Estevez, issued this statement:

I am surprised my brother Charlie Sheen has entered the race for the US Presidency, and I wish he would have told his family about it before the press conference. I do not understand his decision to run as a Republican, but I suspect it has something to do with his belief he has a better chance of ‘Winning!’

Standing behind Sheen were Republicans Chuck Norris, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Comedian Adam Sandler. Together, their IQs equaled that of “Two and a Half men”. Also in attendance were Republicans John McCain and Bill Cosby, both of whom wore sweaters with the imprint “Sheen” embroidered for the occasion.

Sheen was asked by a Washington reporter if he intended to marry one of the Goddesses, in order to make her First Lady, to which he replied,

My other marriages didnt work out so I’m going to marry a tree.

He added that if he did decide at a later date to marry one of his Goddesses, he would propose to her by saying,

If you’re a part of my family, I will love you violently.

Washington Journal asked Sheen how he intended to lead differently than former Republican Presidents, and current Democratic President Barack Obama. Sheen answered,

Resentments are the rocket fuel that lives in the tip of my saber.

He continued,

We need to hack up the person responsible for this bad connection. Hack him up into pieces in front of his children. We need to cut off his face and wear it and go on a very tightly budgeted shopping spree in stores that don’t exist yet!

For more information on Sheen’s platform, see http://charlieswinning.com/quo…

Happy April Fools Day, everyone. May G-d have mercy on me for this diary.  

Thank You Letter to Scott Walker

Dear Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker,

Thank you for your assistance in bringing together workers from every walk of life: teachers, firefighters, police officers, government employees, nurses, union members, people of faith, civil rights activists, environmentalists and many others. Thank you for giving us a reason, and a renewed commitment, to publicly declare that we stand together in solidarity to protect the middle class, and to ensure justice for workers. Thank you for helping us find our voice for democracy, and our passion for equal opportunity to the American Dream.

You see, when you and your corporate friends threatened the very fabric of our society — the working middle-class people of America — with your heavy-handed wrecking-ball policies, we woke up. We were not stupid; we knew this is not about the economy, or one state budget, or helping small businesses. We knew your power grab was really about weakening our voices — the voices of millions of hard-working people, as well as students, youth, immigrants, and people between jobs. We knew it was a way to make more profits for billionaires, at the hands of struggling American families. We are awake now, and we are not going to let you take our country from us without a fight.

On Monday, April 4th, we will stand together with our working brothers and sisters all over America. We will participate in marches, vigils, teach-ins, rallies, demonstrations, protests, and other events. We will take back our country, demand jobs that earn a living wage, and make our country better for all working people.

You see, we’ve been here before.

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined a group of 1300 city sanitation workers who marched for economic justice in Memphis. Dr. King stood with civil rights leaders, the faith community, and worker’s unions to demand justice for the striking workers. Together, they faced all who sought to suppress their free speech that day, and they won the moral battle.

The following day, April 4th, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated. We will not allow history to record that his life — and his work — were in vain.

Forty-three years later, Mr. Walker, you also threatened peaceful demonstrators — your own good citizens — that you would bring in the National Guard and illegally bar the doors of the Statehouse to the people of Wisconsin. You dared to take away the civil rights of hard-working Americans — public servants who only want their right to bargain collectively. Like the unified voices of the people’s movement four decades ago, our unified middle-class will not back down. We will not be intimidated. We will not be afraid.

We will stand together.

We will fight back.

We will WIN.

On April 4th, 2011, we will remember April 4th, 1968. Coloradans will join the people of Wisconsin, and Michigan, and all of the other United States of America, and we will honor the memory of Dr. King with our own courage and determination to reject your political over-reach, and your attempt to steal the American Dream. We will stand together for the future of our children, and for the future of this country. Together — firefighters, teachers, police officers, students, small business owners, sanitation workers, and many others — will take back America for the middle class.

Why? Because “We are One.”

Sincerely,

The People of Colorado

For the Colorado Event Schedule, please go to http://local.we-r-1.org/ . Check it frequently,  as new events are being added daily. See you there.  

Wellington and Wilma Webb endorse Hancock

The Colorado Independent reports this morning that former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former State Representative Wilma Webb have endorsed canidate Michael Hancock for Mayor. Wilma Webb recalls meeting Hancock as an ambitious high school student, and has followed his career closely as he worked in the non-profit sector and became President of the City Council. Mayor Webb stated that Hancock had what it takes to deal with tough financial troubles.

Congratulations to Michael Hancock. Big endorsement score. http://coloradoindependent.com…

Campaign “March Madness” and Romer’s New Ad

Some of us are excited about the Denver Mayoral Candidates, and some of us just love to watch the campaigns themselves. For us, this is the real March Madness. We want to look at each team’s rosters, remember how they each performed on other teams, and compare what we know about each staffer with what we’ve seen them accomplish before. Is Romer putting all his eggs in the field basket or in outreach? Is Hancock sticking mostly with his base and their friends, or is he maximizing the education angle as much as possible?

We want to know which company is marketing each candidate, what is their message, who they are going after, and what they are doing with their money. Don’t believe me? Look at the numbers to the left side of Denver Pols. We even compare  odds on this stuff.

Regardless of the qualities of a candidate, the managers and staff can make or break their chances of winning any office. If you want to know who is going to run the city of Denver next year, watch the candidates. If you want to know who will run the state in ten to twenty years, get to know their campaign staffs.

I just received a new ad from the Romer campaign by email. Kudos to Manager Adam Dunstone (former Field Director to Michael Bennet in 2010) for a great ad. Focusing on jobs was the right thing to do. (I’d bet my house keys Dunstone’s next gig will be the Obama re-election. His ground game was historic in Romanoff vs. Buck.)

Romanoff’s former Deputy campaign manager is heading up the Mejia campaign and doing a pretty great job, as well. Loyal Pols readers will note I (and others) raked the Romanoff Senate campaign over the coals for all kinds of blunders (hiring Pat Caddell, going too negative too early, hiring someone with a potential conflict of interest, etc.). Berrick Abramson seems to have learned a lesson or two from the earlier campaign, and has hired lots of top-notch staff including Bennet’s Arapahoe County point-man Peter Schottenfels, Ryann Dubiel, Brittany Petterson and others. He’s also stayed focused on the positive and once again reached out to free media like AM760 radio. Because of a series of good campaign decisions, Mejia has come up from behind and is now a serious contender for the seat.

On the Boigon race, rising star and campaign manager to State Reps Rhonda Fields and Angela Williams, Jovan Melton (one of the people I aggressively recruited for Center for Progressive Leadership, by the way!) helped Boigon capture the airwaves, and put herself out there as Hickenlooper’s successor first. Young talent Elliot Goldbaum is also a big boon to her campaign.

Hancock snagged Joe Rice’s manager John B. Scott and experienced strategist Matt Carberry. Despite a national Republican sweep resulting in a loss for the Dems in a seat we probably never should have had anyway, Scott has earned his stripes and then some.

I would love to see more aggressive campaigning from Team Linkhart and Team Spahn. Linkhart is the candidate who seems to be the most warmly embraced by the farthest left end of the Democratic spectrum, and his followers see him as a “true progressive”. I hope his staff will jump in the comments and update us on what’s going on there.

Several notable young talents who are missing from the lists I see, and I am not sure why they have not been snatched up by any of these campaigns, are Bennet’s Chris Rork, Colorado Young Dems Chair Gena Ozols, Change That Works Leader Nate McNeil, and ProgressNow’s Mike Ditto. These people are great at what they do — I’ve worked with them all in one way or another.

Because of space limitations, my apologies to all of the other young (and older) people working on these campaigns who deserve credit, whom I did not mention. I hope someone will add your name to the list in the comments.

Who’s winning this Mayoral race? I’d say a top-notch list of talented campaign workers.  

Republicans Vote To Defund NPR

In an entirely symbolic and play-to-your-base move, The US House of Representatives voted 228-192 to cease all federal funding for National Public Radio. Not a single Democrat voted “aye”.

Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY) praised them for their thoughtfulness and courage in this not-to-be-missed video:

Discuss.

How To Help Japan

The following organizations give concrete need assistance: search and rescue, blankets, food, water, clothing, etc. They do not ask for professions of faith, or anything else in return for the services they provide.

Red Cross International

www.redcross.org

Doctors Without Borders

www.doctorswithoutborders.org

Save The Children

www.savethechildren.org

The American Humane Association is also helping displaced, injured, and abandoned animals in Japan.

http://www.americanhumane.org/

However you give, please give generously. The people and animals of Japan have been through one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history, followed by a major tsunami, widespread fires, nuclear radiation, and now cold weather. The needs are great.

Thank you.

Wolves Want to Eat Your Children: Education Reform Made Simple

A friend of mine sent an email to me that said, “I don’t understand all of this education reform stuff. I don’t know the difference between vouchers and charter schools and magnet schools and education reform, and the other options. Can you give me the ‘idiot’s guide’ to understanding this stuff before my daughter starts school next fall?” This is my response to my friend:

Dear _____,

You and I have been friends a long time. I know I can be completely honest with you. This is how I see things as a parent whose kids are much older than yours. Take my opinion with a grain of salt and ask others in addition to me.

First you must understand that wolves want to eat your children. Not the furry kind of wolves — the human kind that are much more devious and dangerous.

There are three camps of “education experts” — two of whom are really wolves in sheep’s clothing: Corporate Wolves, Religious Wolves, and the Shepherds of Public Education. The Wolves love to call themselves “Education Reformers”.

Corporate wolves are usually Republicans and centrist Democrats (Democrats In Name Only, or DINOs) who worship business as a god. They want every student to grow up to be a slave to corporate America. Some corporate wolves know nothing about education but somehow seem to always have the podium because they are wealthy and their friends give big fat checks to political candidates. (A certain University President comes to mind.) Corporate wolves want you to forget well-rounded educations, learning to think critically, developing one’s potential, and encouraging meaningful dialogue. All education, to the corporate wolf, is to make bean-counters and worker bees. Drones. Zombies. Non-unionized cubicle inhabitants.

Corporate wolves can’t wait to get into the public school system using things called “public-private partnerships“. That is a fancy way to say, “We’re going to put unhealthy, high-profit margin, sugary foods in your kids vending machines in exchange for some cash dangled in front of your Principal’s face”.

Corporate wolves see art, science, physical education, and other subjects that honor the holistic development of each child as their enemy. Kids who think critically might question their superiors or their employers. “We can’t have that”, they say. Corporate wolves hate teacher’s unions. Corporate wolves love to say things like, “Any idiot can teach” and to show it, they pass laws allowing business people who have never had a single course in Teaching Methods or Educational Psychology to teach your kids.

Then their are Religious Wolves. These people want to brainwash your children to believe dinosaurs never existed, being gay is a “choice”, the founding fathers were all religious fundamentalists, and white people were the first and only “true” Americans. Religious wolves love vouchers.

Vouchers are money certificates public school districts collect (your taxes) and then turn over to the religious wolves so they can indoctrinate your kids in their religious dogma. Vouchers do not require the private schools that use them to hire teachers who are licensed, unionized, or even trained (state and federal standards for teachers only apply to the public schools) Case in point, I had a Mom-friend once who believed people can get AIDS by kissing someone with the virus. She also believed there is no such thing as climate change. This person is now a teacher in a private school in Arizona. (Where is the ACLU, you ask, crying foul because private school vouchers are a clear violation of the constitution’s “church and state” boundaries? Great question! I don’t know.)

One important thing to know about both of the wolf species above is, they know they are more likely to capture your children if they can get legislators to slash funding for education. When schools are weak, they cannot fight back. They also figured out that when they merge their packs together and make a super-pack, they are much more successful in their hunt.

Then you have the “Shepherds of Public Education” who are the vast majority of parents, teachers, and level-headed citizens. We are the ones who say, “We do not want our children eaten by either corporate wolves or religious wolves. We believe in growing human beings, not bean counters, worker drones, or religious zealots. We want our kids to learn to think for themselves, to ask questions, to listen critically, and to create, not just consume. We want our kids to be well-rounded, to stretch their imaginations, to make healthy choices for themselves, and to be tolerant of people from every culture and every tradition. We want them to learn all theories of creation, for example — the popular beliefs as well as those based on scientific evidence. We believe children should come to their own conclusions (a very dangerous idea to wolves, apparently!)”

The Shepherds are often blamed when it’s raining (times of financial stress), the sheep are sick from disease (poverty, poor nutrition, families with substance abuse, etc.), and for attacks from other wild animals on the herd (gang violence, parents who are not home, etc.). Recently, the greatest threat to the sheep are the Foxes (Fox News Network).

I think newly-registered Democrat Muhammad Ali Hasan hit the nail on the head when he descibed the pedagogy espoused by the Shepherds when he wrote in his blog post, “Why I Am Leaving The GOP“:

Since our inception and the creation of small, red-bricked schoolhouses, our practices of pedagogy have seen little change. Pedagogy is the way, in which our teachers instruct their students, and sadly, today’s pedagogy is based on an IQ score, a shallow evaluation that can somewhat test one’s linguistic and logical skill, but too often misrepresents true intelligence. Instead, we need a public school system that is driven by new pedagogy – a system based on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Spencer Kagan’s Cooperative Learning, and John Dewey’s Project Based Learning. Training our teachers to practice these methods of pedagogy, when writing their curriculum and lesson plans, as well as rewriting our evaluations to test based on such theory, will advance our public schools to the next level.

Magnet schools are schools that are set up to attract kids interested in a subject area or discipline. An “arts” school or a “tech” school is an example of a magnet school. Magnet schools are given their name because they offer something special — they “attract” students to neighborhood schools that might otherwise be declining in enrollment. Magnet schools can be part of the public school system or a private school network. My youngest son went to an arts magnet school based on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory in the Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) that was excellent. I wish it was around for all of my kids! (Tragically, I heard CCSD’s Walnut Hills Elementary has reverted back to a regular school. I have no idea why.)

Charter schools are a huge controversy right now, especially in Denver. Charter schools, by definition, are schools that have a charter, drawn between the people who pay for the school and the people who run the school. Charter schools are often created when a local, neighborhood school is not doing well. A public school district may say, “Parents, we’ve tried everything. We are turning this school over to you.” Cherry Creek Academy (CCA) is an example of a charter school. The district allowed the parents to create the rules, choose the curriculum, hire the teachers, etc. Although the back-to-basics philosophy (“sit down, shut up, read your textbook at your desk and dress like everyone else”) does not mesh with research on Best Practices (education practices based on empirical research of successful outcomes rather than partisan politics), many parents seem to love CCA.

Some charters are not drawn with the local neighborhood parents, but with Corporate Wolves. Those are the charter schools that organizations like Defense Denver, see red over. Basically, the school district says, “We give up” and the Corporate Wolves are allowed to sweep in and take over. Sadly, many people in Defense Denver forget there are other types of charter schools (not just corporate ones), so when they rail against them, people with other experiences (like CCA parents) cannot understand their fury.

When Corporate Wolves run charter schools, they don’t tend to know what to do with kids who have special needs, kids for whom English is not their first language, and kids living in poverty. The corporate dog-eat-dog mentality tends to victimize and punish these kids, rather than help them.

Perhaps the biggest objection to charter schools is the possibility that those who agree to run the schools according to the charter, may choose not to hire unionized teachers. Personally, I am sympathetic to that argument. Unions made the middle class. Unions not only protect workers, but they encourage professionalism. Unions work in partnership with public schools and communities to improve education by making teachers feel safe and secure in their jobs, and by providing their members with opportunities for continuing education that is relevant, research-based, and realistic.

Colorado is still looking for a Rancher brave and wise enough to chase away the wolves, to give the Shepherds respect and autonomy, and to provide the needed resources for them to do their work as they were trained.

I hope I’ve answered your questions in a rudimentary way, ______. I encourage you to ask other parents what they think. No matter what you decide for your daughter, stay involved in her school. The more eyes on the flock, the better.  Many successful charter schools and private schools are successful because the parents who send their kids there are involved parents who volunteer often. If you do that, any of the schools described above might be the right choice for your daughter!

Fondly,

Your opinionated friend and an experienced mother, Nancy

SB 133: Give Kids A Fair Shake

I give my kid a lot of credit for allowing me to share his story, in hopes that other kids will not have to go through what he did. Here is our family’s testimony regarding Senate Bill 133, in the form of a letter to Senators Newell and Hudak. SB133 would allow the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) to study the issue of fair discipline in schools. My son’s situation (thankfully) did not involve law enforcement, but it does give some insight into the downward spiraling effect of Zero Tolerance policies in schools.

March 10, 2011

Senators Newell and Hudak,

I am in favor of Senate Bill 133, giving the state the ability to review fair discipline in public schools. I would like to share our family’s story with you. (I changed my son’s name to protect him on the internet.)

It was the 1999-2000 academic year, and our son Aaron was in the fifth grade. Aaron was an “A” student, attended religious school weekly, played an instrument, was in Gifted and Talented classes, took after-school science classes, was in the baseball card club, and participated heavily in boy scouts and sports. He loved school, and adored his teachers. As his Mom, I volunteered two to three times each week at the school. Our son was excited about school, turned on by academics, and told everyone he wanted to be a chemist. At the end of 5th grade, he was chosen by the fifth grade staff at his school to receive the “President’s Award for Academic Excellence”. He had worked hard to earn it, and we were all very proud. He was supposed to receive the award at an assembly for that purpose.

The Columbine High School tragedy had just happened a few weeks prior, and educators everywhere, as well as parents, were edgy and nervous. The media of the day was inundated with dime-store analysis of what happened. Was it the music the kids listened to, their hairstyles, or the comic books they read that caused them to become violent? Churches were blaming working mothers, dark trench-coats and rap music. Liberals were blaming lax gun control laws, video games and violent movies. Everyone was asking why the school system did not identify the shooters earlier to get them help. Parents demanded that school systems do something… anything… to prevent the tragedy from happening again. School boards looked for a swift response to the problem to avoid the sudden onslaught of scrutiny and condemnation.

The concept of “Zero Tolerance” was embraced. Essentially, “Zero Tolerance” dictates a super-strict response to perceived transgressions – a school system can suspend or expel students for any reason, at any time. No investigation is warranted. Under “Zero Tolerance” schools are quick to refer many transgressions to the police and the juvenile court system.

The news of the day was soon filled with stories of preschoolers punished for using sharp items to cut their play-dough, kindergartners being suspended for bringing plastic knives to cut the sandwiches in their lunchboxes, kids on playgrounds expelled for saying, “Bang, your dead”, and second graders referred to psychiatrists for making pictures only using dark color crayons. It was a tense time everywhere, and my son’s little elementary school was no exception.

The day before the Awards assembly, my son and I were called into the Principal’s office. Up until that day, we had a close and respectful relationship with him. The school yearbook had just come out, and there was a group photo where my son was smiling and clowning around. One of my son’s hands was partially in-sight, and partially out of sight, with only three fingers visible. A parent who saw the photo told the Principal he was “flashing a gang symbol”. Because it was post-Columbine, he caved to her ranting, and suspended my son, calling it “unintended consequences”. The suspension was going to happen on the day of the assembly, so he would not be getting the award in front of the whole school after all. The district’s Zero Tolerance policy did not require an investigation, only an accusation, we were told.

My son was devastated. The best week of his young life, suddenly became one of the worst. To make matters worse, when Aaron was at the bus stop, one of our neighbor kids announced to all who were waiting there, “My Mom says you are in a gang”. My son didn’t even know what a gang was.  When he got home after school, I had to explain it to him. Socializing at his age was difficult enough — getting labeled unfairly left him with little self esteem to face his classmates again.

Until that day, our local elementary school had been like family to us, especially since we lived one thousand miles away from relatives. That “family” had suddenly become a place of persecution. I stayed up that night, trying to find an all-night copy store that could blow up the photo so everyone could see there was no gang symbol. In the morning, I showed the Principal the blown up photo, a letter from my son, and a chart I pulled off the internet of “known gang symbols in the western half of the United States”. After looking at the photo enlargement, the Principal agreed my son’s fingers were not making any known gang symbol, and admitted that the post-Columbine tension had caused him to over-react.

He also said that the school policy prohibited him from apologizing to my son, admitting he was wrong publicly, or reversing the suspension. He said it would not be on Aaron’s transcript, offered to give my son the award he deserved privately, and asked me to forget all about it.  Of course, I refused. My son already been humiliated. The recognition he worked for for six years was dangled in front of his face, and then stripped from him based on a lie. Knowing that the Principal knew his decision was wrong and refused to acknowledge it or make reparations, rubbed salt into our wound.  

I immediately went to the Superintendant of the  School District, who was completely unsympathetic. Without even hearing our side of the story fully, he stood with the Principal. On the drive home, all I could think of was, “He must have some kind of suspension quota to fill.” It did not make sense. At home, I told my son I tried the very best I could to defend his honor. He said, “I hate the Principal, and I hate school.”  He took the certificate for the Presidential Award, and I have never seen it since (he may have thrown it away, or flushed it down the toilet– I don’t know). To him, it is a reminder of the day he first learned to hate school.

That day was a turning point for Aaron — something died in him that day. His thirst for knowledge and love of education for education’s sake was extinguished for a long, long time. Despite moving to a new neighborhood, talking to every guidance counselor ever assigned to him, explaining life isn’t fair sometimes and he shouldn’t blame all schools for what happened, middle school and high school were not what they  could have been for him. His heart was no longer in school. It was no longer the one place he felt he had some personal power in life; it now seemed confusing and unfair.

Fortunately, his years of pain have a happy ending. At age 22, and after several years of therapy, my son is getting straight A’s in community college, and intends to transfer soon to a highly selective University, where he intends to study engineering. He is a good citizen, obeys the law, and chooses friends carefully. The chip on his shoulder has finally receded. He realizes now that his future is in his hands, and his alone.

Still, I wonder how much money we could have saved as parents on therapy, and how many years of emotional pain all of us could have been saved – had his Principal had the courage to say, “This policy is wrong. This kid is a good kid. If he did something wrong, it was because he didn’t understand what he was doing.”

It’s true, the Zero Tolerance policies in school districts across America may have saved lives somewhere, but they have also devastated many more. My heart aches for all of the kids who have been scapegoated, labeled, and humiliated. Kids who should have been issued a warning and educated, rather than suspended, expelled, or referred to law enforcement — when they made a mistake.

Discipline and consequences are a good thing, when they are coupled with education. The Zero Tolerance policies do not educate children. They result in kids feeling victimized rather than remorseful, and they often result in a downward spiral of low self esteem and acting out. School districts are in the business of educating children. A sound discipline policy needs to be fair, and provide kids an opportunity – the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, to take responsibility for their behavior, and to be given the chance to do well again. If a student who is given these opportunities still chooses inappropriate behavior, then the school is absolutely justified in suspending or expelling the student. If the student chooses illegal behavior, it is then justified that the the legal system should become involved, as well. Supporters of Senate Bill 133 are not asking for leniency; we are asking for fairness for Colorado’s kids.

Senators Newell and Hudak – thank you for believing in the young people of our country, and for being willing to give them a fair shake. My family, and the families of so many other young people, honor you for your courage and sense of justice.

Nancy Cronk, Arapahoe County

Highlights — Colorado Dems 2011 Re-organization

(Sometimes I wish the two major parties were not so dominant in Colorado politics.  But I haven’t won the lottery yet either.  And while they are, this matters to every voter, even those who think it doesn’t. – promoted by MADCO)

Something magical happened yesterday.

Parking at the Colorado Convention Center involves driving up a narrow, tight, concrete spiral at a very low speed — again and again and again, until one reaches the first level of the parking structure. While cranking the wheel to the right, one can see the tread marks and scrapes from all the cars that previously passed through, some leaving a little of their paint job behind. Not normally claustrophobic, I am always relieved when I see sunlight again at the top. The experience reminds me of the spiral of the Democratic party after a period of political divisiveness. When there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is glorious!

The 2011 reorganization was my first time serving as a voting member of the State Central Committee. Although I had attended in the past to participate in my Congressional District meeting and stayed to mingle or to volunteer, this was the first time I had credentials for “the big show”.  

The room was packed. As Congressman Ed Perlmutter pointed out in his speech, John Kennedy‘s first rule of politics was to get a slightly smaller room than your event requires, in order to give the appearance of having a full house. Clearly, Colorado Democratic Chair Pat Waak knew this rule. Chairs were linked together closely convention-style, forcing people who needed more room to use in-between seats for their purses and notebooks. The seats were strewn with candidate ads, copies of the Colorado Statesman, platform change fliers, and proposed rule suggestions. The walls were lined with Democrats visiting with each other, and VIPs waiting for their turn at the podium.

CDP Chair Pat Waak welcomed the group of nearly 500 Democrats and gave a touching, teary speech about how proud she was to have served for six years with such inspiring people. One after another, each speaker praised her for her ability to keep the party united under times of great stress and change in Colorado, and nationally. Pat retold a story I thought I had heard before — after the 2010 election, she sat grieving the loss of Betsy Markey‘s and John Salazar‘s Congressional seats, when she received a call from the Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine, who called Colorado the “bright spot in the middle of the country” for having elected Democratic US Senator Michael Bennet, and Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper. (Senator Bennet tells a similar story of a phone call he received from President Barack Obama hours after his election, referring to Colorado as the “one bright spot” of the 2010 elections.) Several speakers attempted to explain the success of Colorado’s Democrats — we heard everything — from the use of facebook and twitter, to the effective ground-games in our elections, as well as an efficient and  user-friendly voter data-base.

One of the first things on the agenda was the election of the new Chair. Former State Senator and former Andrew Romanoff campaign co-director Polly Baca spoke first. Behind Polly were hand-made signs reading “Polly for Chair” covering the walls. A row of approximately twenty community leaders stood with her — among them, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. Polly was nominated by Arapahoe County Young Democrat Chair, Andrew Bateman, who gave a firey and empassioned testimonial for his friend and mentor.

Polly, who first interned in a Democratic office during the 1960s, spoke of the need for the Democratic Chair to be bold and principled — to speak out against the regressive policies of the Republican party, while bringing in and empowering young Democrats. She sounded tough as nails, and prepared to fight whatever lied ahead. One of her closing remarks was about her advancing age. “I dare anyone to keep up with me”, she reassured the crowd. Supporters lept to their feet waving signs when she was finished. It was clear to all that the Colorado icon, whether she won or not, was beloved by Colorado Democrats for her long history of public service to the state.

Next was Rick Palacio. Former Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll stepped up to speak for him and said, “I’m Terrance Carroll and I used to be somebody”, followed by lots of laughter. Rick had a large, professionally-made banner behind him, urging committee members to vote Palacio.

Rick started out telling his family’s story, while pointing out his father was in the room. A 6th generation Coloradan, Rick’s grandmother was a leader in the Las Animas County Democrats, and both of Rick’s grandfathers were union mine workers. Rick’s father was a union steelworker in Pueblo, where Rick was born and raised. Growing up, Rick learned the value of hard work at his family’s plant nursery. A graduate of Denver’s Regis University, his political career started when he took a job as assistant to CO House Majority Leader, Alice Madden. From there, he went on to work for Minority whip, Congressman Steny Hoyer.

Though his political resume is impressive, Rick’s family story was the most compelling. He spoke of the generations before him who risked their lives so he could have the American Dream. He conveyed the very emotional story of a Grandmother, who as a little girl, survived the Ludlow massacre.  He spoke of the Democratic party that always stands with those who toil and sweat and work hard for something more — the Democratic party that believes he has a right to love who he wants to love. He said, “My ancestors knew more hardship and adversity than I will probably ever know. It is because of them I stand here today asking for your vote”, touching an emotional chord with everyone in the room.

Last was Adam Bowen, Chair of the Larimer County  Democratic party. Despite Adam’s equally impressive resume as a leader, fundraiser, strategist and uniter, Adam’s speech never hit the emotional buttons that Polly’s and Rick’s did. In stark contrast with Camp Baca and Camp Palacio, the supporters who stood behind Adam, with the exception of one African-American woman, were all white (they reflected the demographic reality of Larimer County, I suspect).

Polly Baca had been the favored candidate in the race, but it was apparent Rick Palacio was a far stronger contender than we had previously believed. While votes were tabulated, Pat Waak spoke about the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and honored those who also served, as she did. She shared the microphone with Senate Majority Leader Brandon Shaffer, House Minority Leader, and Boulder Senator Rollie Heath, among others.

When the results were finally in, Pat unceremoniously yet joyfully said, “I now pass the gavel to Rick Palacio”. Rick looked shocked, and stumbled through the next few items on the order of business. Rick will be serving with an otherwise all female new Board:

1st Vice-Chair: Beverly Ryken

2nd Vice-Chair: Vivian Stovall

Secrtary: Carolyn Boller

Treasurer: Sherry Jackson

A number of people I spoke to at lunch expressed surprise that Rick Palacio must have won more than fifty percent of the vote in order to have avoided a run-off. One of them said she had arrived intending to vote for Adam Bowen, yet switched her vote after hearing Rick’s speech. Another person said she was a Polly supporter, and was disappointed in Polly’s angry tone. “I want a leader who is ready to forget the Romanoff/Bennet primary, and Polly still seems to be living in the past” she told me. Two of the Central Committee members mentioned they had received calls from Adam Bowen and Polly Baca, but neither received a call from Rick Palacio. One older gentleman I spoke to wondered if Rick had the wisdom of enough election cycles under his belt at the tender age of 36, yet believed Palacio may bring newer, younger members into the party as it’s spokesperson. All of the people I spoke to said something to the effect of “Rick Palacio represents a fresh start for the Democratic party in Colorado”.

In the afternoon, I attended the annual meeting of the Colorado Progressive Democrats, where elections were also held. Dennis Obduskey and Andrea Merida were elected Co-Chairs to replace Hether Ayers and Mark Benner, despite the fact Merida was not in attendance. Merida’s husband Jason Justice nominated her and spoke on her behalf, leaving immediately after she was elected.

The annual CDP Jefferson-Jackson dinner is always a “whos-who” of union leaders, current candidates, campaign managers, business executives, community leaders, non-profit directors, and members of the interfaith community. This dinner was no different. Rabbi Stephen Foster attended with his wife, Senator Joyce Foster, and a group of interfaith clergy friends. Each Denver Mayor candidate came with their entourage, some with t-shirted, enthusiastic college-aged supporters working the crowd. Senator Chris Romer‘s campaign assembled cheerleaders into human pyramids at the top of the large stairway to the ballroom.

The evening started out with the usual speeches from former Governor Bill Ritter, current Governor John Hickenlooper, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Congressmen Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis, Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and many others. The “Volunteer of the Year” Award was given to Cindy Avram, and the “Lifetime Achievement Award’ went to recently deceased Arapahoe County’s Dan Candelaria, which was tearfully accepted by his family. The “Rising Star” Award went to newly elected House Representative from Aurora, Rhonda Fields, who became active in politics after her son and his fiance were killed while due to testify in a murder case. Rhonda is one of only two African-Americans (both Dems) currently serving in the Colorado legislature. The “Democrat of the Year” award went to Alan Salazar. All throughout the dinner, each speaker showered Pat Waak with praise for her years of service, and spoke of the ability of Democrats to come together, even after policy disagreements, or divisive primaries.

The highlight of the dinner was a rousing keynote speech by Massachusset’s Governor Deval Patrick. Gov. Patrick, an African-American man, told of growing up poor in Chicago — so poor, he did not own a book of his own until he was fourteen years old. He talked about the importance of education in building a country that gives everyone an equal opportunity. He urged us to press on, never to be satisfied when there was still work to do to provide every American a bright future. As Denver post columnist Lynn Bartels later tweeted, Colorado Democrats “wondered if our Governor was listening”.

Leaving the party, I reflected on the long day of speeches, speeches and more speeches, and the faces of the leaders of the Colorado Democratic party. Our new chair is a young, pro-union, openly-gay, Latino man. Many of our elected officials, both at the state and federal level, are openly gay as well (Jared Polis, Lucia Guzman, Pat Steadman, Mark Ferrandino, etc.) Colorado has more women in the state house than any other state. A number of our Colorado leaders are Latino/Latina, or have lived in other countries. Some have been ranchers, farmers or teachers. Many of them tell stories of growing up poor. One tells the painful story of being dyslexic and misunderstood by his teachers. One was the first Latina State Senator. All of the personal stories of the Colorado Democratic party share a compelling theme — stories of working hard, fighting adversity, and believing in the American Dream.

The Colorado reorganization meeting was a reminder of why we are Democrats, and why it is important to never allow ourselves to be divided. We are the party of the people, the party of the big umbrella, and the party of the American Dream. We believe in the potential of every American — regardless of skin color, “race”, religion, gender identity, sexual preference, primary language, bank balance and place of birth.

The drive down through the parking structure’s cement spiral didn’t seem as dark and forboding as the drive up had been. Even at ten o’clock pm, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The sparkling lights of the City of Denver lit up my path home, and reminded me why I am so proud to be a Democrat in Colorado.

Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Solidarity Across America

Rallies were held at state capitols in all fifty states this past week, bringing out hundreds of thousands of Americans to stand in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin. The rallies were a joint effort of MoveOn.org, labor unions, and progressive organizations. The protests, which were called “the largest rallies since the VietNam war” on facebook and twitter, were held in support of collective bargaining rights for all people.

Saturday’s protests involved more than 100,000 people. In Denver, 3000 people showed up Saturday, to voice their support, carrying signs that read things like “Cairo-Madison-Denver” and “Unions are the bedrock of the middle class”.  Immediately following the Denver pro-union rally, a coalition of pro-choice groups held a rally against the Congressional attacks on women’s rights. Several hundred people stayed to attend that rally, which became a march along neighboring streets, and back to the capitol.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that only five self-identified tea-party activists were in attendance at the Denver rally.

Several union organizers commented that the crowd in Denver was not the typical rally crowd. Many individuals who turned out did so after hearing reports about the rally this past Tuesday, which was estimated at 1000-1200 people. Several people I asked told me they did not belong to a union, but they believe in them philosophically. As Robert (last name withheld) told me, “If it weren’t for unions, there would be no middle class.”

I asked a number of people in the crowd their occupations, and how they heard about today’s rally in Denver. Several were teachers who said they heard about the rally through MoveOn.org.  One of them said she did not hear about it through her union, the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and was angry that they didn’t encourage members to participate. Another teacher, a member of the Denver Classroom Teacher’s Association (DCTA), said he heard about the rally through MoveOn.org, and called to confirm the details with his union. “They had to put me on hold and look it up. I don’t think they knew anything about it before I called.”

Several other teachers said they heard about the event through their union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Others heard union organizer Russel Bannan speak about it on the radio.

Union members in attendance also represented firefighters, truck drivers, grocery workers, communication workers, air traffic controllers, and plumbers. One man wore his fire fighter gear combined with a Wisconsin “cheesehead”.

Humans were joined with dozens of canine “protesters”, including a few service animals. Several people arrived in wheelchairs and a number of children arrived in strollers.

In Madison, Wisconsin, the crowd was estimated to be between 100,000-150,000, depending on the source.

Olympia, WA with Dennis Kucinich

Oregon rally:

Chicago, Illinois:

In Minnesota:

In Indiana:

In New Mexico:

From Tuesday in Boston, MA:

Tuesday in Oakland, CA

Albany, NY