Seeds of change

"Don't stop thinking about tomorrow ..." Remember the song? Fleetwood Mac, c. 1977.

And remember how Bill Clinton adopted it as his campaign theme song in 1992? And remember how young, fresh, energetic and hopeful Bill & Hillary and Al & Tipper seemed? And remember what happened? The failed healthcare plan; the endless fights with slash-and-burn Republicans; the scandals, real and invented; Monica [another song: "Devil with a blue dress, blue dress on ..."]; and finally Bush vs. Gore, when, thanks to the Supremes, tomorrow became yesterday.

After the healthcare debacle, Clinton didn't think much about tomorrow. He could have, for example, institutionalized and made permanent environmental policies that would have protected America's wild lands from exploitation, saved for future generations. He could have forced reforms in Medicare and Social Security, instead of passing the buck.

He was smart, charming, persuasive -- in person, mesmerizing -- but he was just another pol, riding the polls and governing in the moment.

I had occasion to find out just how little Clinton cared about tomorrow. As a City Council member in the 1990s, I'd been fighting a losing battle to get the city, and the Forest Service, to change policies that had caused massive environmental damage to Pikes Peak and the surrounding Pike National Forest. Once Clinton was in, I figured that the war was over -- I'd won. Good ol' Bill would put the enviros in charge, and, like good stewards, they'd do the right thing.

Stupid me! I didn't realize that Clinton was just another calculating pol, whose time horizon was measured in weeks and months, not years and decades. He saw no reason to offend the Republican power brokers in Colorado just to please a handful of powerless local do-gooders. So nothing happened, at least initially.

Finally, the Sierra Club sued both the city and the Forest Service, won, and now, thanks to a court order from a stern federal judge, the damage is being slowly repaired.

So what's the point? Only this -- it's a lot easier to provide for the future than to fight today's battles, even though almost all politicians choose the latter. You get consumed by the present, by its immediacy, its passionate urgency. You're afraid that your opponents will score points on you, that you'll seem slow-witted and out of touch, that you won't be a player anymore. That's why local policy-makers are timid, fearful and unimaginative, under the thumb of shifting special-interest coalitions.

But not always. Recall the halcyon days of Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, who led a council majority dedicated to positive, far-reaching change. Look around you; at the renovated City Hall, at the revived downtown, at Confluence Park under construction, at our trails and open space -- and that's a partial list.

Alas, those days are over. In Colorado Springs, progressive governments, like droughts, come once every 25 years. Welcome to the locust years, when governments are cautious, sleepy and reactive.

Maybe that's not so bad. Because despite our torpid local governments, there are some extraordinarily exciting developments taking place in the nonprofit world.

Colorado College recently announced a $4 million grant from the Inasmuch Foundation to help fund the $30 million Cornerstone Arts Facility, a 73,000-square-foot building to be constructed on the half-block on Cascade between Cache La Poudre and Dale streets.

And across the street, the Fine Arts Center has received a $5 million pledge from a longtime supporter to jump-start its planned expansion.

On the north side of Confluence Park, DADA's ambitious dreams of a downtown arts district are taking shape and form, thanks to the quiet persistence of a bunch of practical visionaries. And although it's not clear what'll become of the City Auditorium, it is clear that the citizens won't let it decay and crumble for another 20 years. Maybe this is a time of private initiatives, large and small, to preserve and enhance our community.

So what can you do? Join up and volunteer with any of the hundreds of nonprofits, religious or not, that are trying to make our small world a little better. And if you're not a joiner ... well, consider the anonymous West Sider who, 130 years ago, planted an acorn in the barren prairie soil next to my house on Bijou Street. Today, the mighty Bijou Oak shades an entire neighborhood, feeds a legion of squirrels, and since oaks can live for half a century, is just getting started.

Not bad for five minutes of work in 1874.



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