A time to get mad 

"Most of us don't even start to think until we get mad."

These were the words of Colorado journalist and teacher George Sibley, following the unveiling of Colorado College's first annual State of the Rockies report card.

That was two years ago, but Sibley's words are appropriate this week. The 130-year-old liberal arts college just north of downtown delivered its latest report of trends and challenges facing the eight states of the Rocky Mountain West.

This year, the college is highlighting how global warming is going to result in a drastic loss of snowpack, which has the potential to decimate our billion-dollar ski industry, among other things.

By 2085, unchecked climate change will reduce snowpack in Colorado's ski counties to an average of 50 percent of their 1976 levels, the report says. Taos County, in New Mexico, is predicted to suffer an astounding 89 percent decrease.

The report also stresses the not-surprising fact that minorities and low-income residents are most likely to live nearest to toxic sites throughout the region.

And this year, the students and advisers who undertook the massive study tackled how we nurture our youth. El Paso County gets a C-minus in overall efforts. We come in second from the bottom of 281 Western counties, thanks in part to an abysmal K-12 student-to-teacher ratio, and a reported high school dropout rate of 30 percent.

Distressing as it may be, the report is a good thing. After all, when you have knowledge, you have power. And when you have groups and individuals collaborating, solutions and common ground can be reached.

While a few dozen thinking folks on Monday were participating in the first installment of the four-day conference, a thousand or more demonstrators gathered a little more than a mile away at the park in front of the Pioneers Museum to rally for immigration reform.

They clearly have been thinking as well, and, as Sibley might note, they are mad. Mad about proposed laws to turn undocumented workers into felons; mad that Congress decided to take a couple weeks' vacation instead of tackling the tough issue of immigration; mad that people with names like Sanchez and Martinez have been sent to war but cannot become U.S. citizens; mad about overt racism directed their way. And they're mad that their contributions too often go unrecognized.

The rally was one of dozens staged across the country, which drew hundreds of thousands to the streets. The show of force in Colorado Springs was an incredible sight. After all, the gazebo at the museum is more often host to a couple dozen hardcore Republican Party faithfuls, gathering, say, to hear gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez reminisce about his good old cow-milking days.

The couple people who showed up to counter-demonstrate were drowned out in the sea of Latino faces, some framed by American flags and Broncos caps. They held signs: "Daddy is not a criminal," "We deserve our rights."

Their chants of Si, se puede! "Yes, we can!" were hopeful, optimistic. Jos Barrera, a longtime local Latino activist, was awed at the show of solidarity.

"We never expected the working class to be so assertive," he said. "This is not a vanguard of intellectuals leading the masses, and that is so good."

It's hard not to juxtapose the buoyancy of the demonstration with the gravity of the topics being shared at the State of the Rockies. The conference's stated purpose is to draw on the adventurous spirit of the Rocky Mountain West. It's inspired in large part by the memory of Colorado Springs founder William Jackson Palmer, whose vision bore tremendous impact on this place.

During a session on protecting the West's unique landscapes and habitats, Bruce Runnels, a vice president of the Nature Conservancy, talked about important lessons his organization has learned during years working to save the planet.

Reaching out to partners and neighbors is critical.

Remembering the global connections we have with each other, and always considering that broad perspective, is critical.

Thinking bigger is the challenge.

Si, se puede.


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