Late one Monday night in May 2012, Jessie Pocock stood inside the state Capitol building, waiting to hear the fate of civil unions in Colorado. Shouts of "Shame on you!" and "I hope you [expletive] die!" rang throughout the day. Outside, protesters had rallied for days, and inside, supporters packed the committee room. Tim Gill, a gay-rights leader, made a rare public appearance that night.
At midnight, the bill was dead — killed in committee, without even a chance to reach a vote on the floor. The Denver Post called it a "late-night game of political chicken."
Pocock, then the southern Colorado field organizer for One Colorado, the state's largest gay-rights group, was photographed by the Post in tears. Not only did months of work by the organization die with the bill, but the decision was punctuated by testimony that shocks her to this day.
"It was so stupid. God, it was painful. ... The talk on the floor, just in addition to being really insane, like really crazy testimony, was really painful and mean," she remembers. "And you're there with people you love and family members ... It was a quiet ride home."
But it wasn't the end. Pocock and her colleagues would get to work on civil unions again. And in 2013, it passed.
"People needed critical protection immediately," the 32-year-old says. "We weren't going to be able to wait for marriage. That was going to take some time, but families that have kids and are worried about not being able to hold their partner's hand in the hospital, they needed protection right away. So we went for civil unions. It was doable, and we got it, and what is it, a year and a half later? Marriage. Boom. So great."
The story echoes much about Pocock, in that out of adversity comes strength, and in the face of hate, grace. What seems like a long shot actually isn't so impossible after all.
When you meet Pocock, you feel her friendliness right away. Above a broad smile, her twinkling eyes don't betray the long hours she spends planning events, writing grants and staffing galleries in her current position, as development and events professional at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' Galleries of Contemporary Art.
With the expansion of UCCS, and the $56 million visual and performing arts building the university is planning (set to open in 2017), GOCA is bustling. Amid other plans, there is talk of new partnerships, made possible by the promise of an on-site recital hall and theater. GOCA director Daisy McConnell says Pocock has been instrumental in helping her lay the groundwork.
"Jessie's so talented in that she effortlessly connects with people," says McConnell. But there's plenty of effort, too: "She puts her whole heart into her work."
A Springs native, Pocock has studied at three of the four major schools in town: first at Pikes Peak Community College, then as a transfer to Colorado College, where she graduated in 2008 with a major in sociology. Last year, she finished her post-graduate work in public administration at UCCS.
It was in one CC class where she discovered a love for nonprofit work. "It almost seemed like a lot of social justice in action, like, 'Here's all the theories, but what are you going to do to change it?'" she recalls, adding, "This is theory in action. This is where people actually make the change."
Pocock started out at the small-scale level at the Club of Arts, a visual and performing arts organization geared primarily toward serving people with disabilities, and then moved to the far-reaching, well-oiled machine of Pikes Peak United Way. After a one-year stop at Colorado Technical University, it was on to One Colorado.
By now, Pocock, says, "I feel like a generalist, like, 'I know a little bit about everything nonprofit.' Because you really do, especially at small organizations. You fundraise, you help work with the board, you're working with the clients, whoever they might be, you're doing any administrative type work — I did the books, you know? Everything."
At GOCA, she touches everything from grant writing to programming to planning. And lots of events. In the past two years, GOCA has held more than 100: art shows, of course, but also wine tastings, lunchtime dance parties, speaking engagements and its big annual fundraiser, Brilliant.
"I can't even tell you how many hours go into something like that," Pocock says of the latter. Beyond tracking down sponsorships, coordinating the artists who would perform or create works for the affair — which included a show from Ormao Dance Company and large-scale screens airing seven channels of motion-based art — she also had to round up items for the silent auction, and keep the GOCA board clued in each step of the way.
People were still talking about the event months later, and it won third place for best fundraising event in the Indy's recent Best Of Colorado Springs readers poll.
"That's how you get people to know that they care about your organization," Pocock says, "is you bring them to you, and especially in the arts right now, there's a lot of research that suggests that arts really — people no longer want to passively visit a museum, they want to experience it, they want to experience each other, they want a social experience."
Looking forward, Pocock sees the world as her oyster.
"I have so many things I want to do in life. I'm not a one-track person," she says, smiling wider than ever. "That's one of the things I learned about myself when doing things that didn't jibe with me. I don't think that that's flaky, I think that that's really empowering, because I can work at a high intensity on something I really care about, and once I've created a system and structure that I know can really survive in the future, then I can go do that somewhere else."
That somewhere will stay, though, in the realm of activism (and in the Springs, at least for now, where her family is rooted).
"It would be really cool to run for office someday," Pocock says. "I think that would be really awesome, to actually go and be a lawmaker and really bring activism to the policy level in that way."
And if that means more experiences like the one at the Capitol in 2012, well, she'll deal with them.
"You know, I was a pretty renegade person growing up," she says. "I dropped out of high school and lived in a lot of places. I moved out for the first time when I was 13. I've been all over the place — here — but there are some crazy places you can be here, and I think through that experience, I just kind of am a self-starter. ... At this point, if I can drop out of high school and make it to CC, I can do whatever."
I ask what advice she would give to a young woman starting out in her sector. Pocock covers more points than this space can contain, but finishes this way:
"Don't be afraid to take chances, and push the envelope in organizations, because sometimes that's how you step up to the next level. And you know, enjoy it, man. You get to be a change-maker. Where else do you get to be a change-maker in this world?"
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