Remember our change agents? 

Local View

What is wrong with Colorado Springs?

Wait. Don't answer that.

Whether you think the city needs better leadership, or needs to do more to attract and retain young talent, or to offer more opportunities for socializing, you're not alone.

And there are people out there doing something about it.

Or are they?

On Aug. 2 last year, the Colorado Springs Manifesto Project tweeted: "We will leave this city better than we found it." Asked on Twitter who was behind the project, the anonymous group replied, "Who are we? We are change agents. We are #COSprings. We are you. You are us."

Some of that was echoed in a 200-word manifesto that went up at cosmanifesto.com. Soon there were Manifesto T-shirts and posters for sale. A buzz kicked up, and attracted a little media attention.

Fast-forward a few months, and Manifesto has been quiet. On Twitter this week, they had 160 followers and a most recent tweet of Jan. 1. On Facebook, the 316 people who "liked" the project had been treated to a single post since early December.

The group did, however, reply via email to some questions about their goals.

"The Colorado Springs Manifesto is simply a published declaration of our intentions to tell a different story, to remind each other who is here and what we will do to make this city great, and motivate others to take a few risks and lead," they wrote. "It is a rally cry and a call-to-action: Demand the best from our city/county leadership. Quit complaining about what doesn't work for you here, do something to make it better. Model civility. Get things done. Ask questions. Solve problems. Change the status quo."

Noble ideas. But it's going to take more than T-shirts and posters to get the proverbial fire started. If it were that easy, wouldn't we be doing something already?

A few months ago, No Name was a Facebook group that proclaimed to be working to bring people together to keep Colorado Springs vibrant. I joined and watched as volunteer opportunities were shared and snatched up.

But No Name had lately been silent. When I reached out to the group for this column, I learned that as of last week it was taking a hiatus, if not shutting down completely. The Facebook page has been deleted.

Looking back a little further, there's iColoradoSprings. On its website, the (also-anonymous) project founders said, "The concept 'icoloradosprings' was created to be the springboard for dialogue, inclusion, creativity, and change. ... We want to know: If we gave you a paintbrush and a blank canvas, how would you 'color' Colorado Springs?"

Look at icoloradosprings.org today, and you'll see pretty postcards featuring some great ideas, but that's pretty much it.

How many groups will organize and try to effect change in Colorado Springs — just to fade as quickly as they bloom? And what will it take for a group or a movement to gain traction and truly succeed?

In looking to answer that second question, I approached Jon Severson, founder of Colorado Springs Young Professionals, which for about 10 years has been working to "retain and advance the quality of life for young professionals in Colorado Springs." Here are two takeaways from our conversation.

1. Treat the "change" organization as a business. Severson says some criticize him for accepting money from the establishments that host his socials. But, he notes, if you're going to get beyond the earliest stages of idea generation — "Everybody has a friend who is a graphic designer. Everybody has access to Facebook, it's free" — you need to find a way to sustain yourself. "It's going to be work at some point."

2. Have a concrete, specific agenda. Severson personally likes what Manifesto stands for, but clearly its mission is not especially focused. He's found that if you bring people together based on narrow interests (whether they be the outdoors, shared professional goals, or city government), they'll keep coming back.

When it comes down to it, "changing the status quo" is not enough to engage people for the long haul. And as our recent track record shows, actually doing so is much easier said than done.


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