Right-wing Populism Always Punches Down

Jonathan Smucker, on Medium:

“… despite its ostensible anti-elitism, right-wing populism always punches down, unifying ‘the people’ (some of them) by scapegoating a demonized other: blacks, Jews, homosexuals, immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims — take your pick — depending on the opportunities available to the particular demagogue in the given context.”


Waking the Sleeping Giant Update July 21, 2016


It’s wild to think that after two years of working on this film, yesterday we began editing.

Jon and I spent the previous five days holed up at camp (his cabin in upstate New York) cranking on the script. Kathryn is deep into campaign mode now (she makes a living running campaigns) and couldn’t join us, sadly, but we were able to confer with her along the way. We’ve now got a solid script for most of the film and will fill in the rest over the next few days as Brad works through the first couple of acts in Premier.

There’s still a fair bit of filming to do … some important interviews, a few follow-up interviews later in the fall, the conventions, GOTV and the election (and we’ve got a crew filming at the GOP convention in Cleveland – more on that later), etc. But after all this time planning and filming it’s really cool to actually be assembling the story that’s been slowly evolving in front of our eyes and our lenses.

It’s also a bit strange, since we are now editing before finishing all the filming, but that’s a necessity for hitting key festival submission deadlines and our end-of-December completion date. This is a film and a story that really need to launch into the world early in 2017 after the election. Over the next couple of months we’ll finish as complete and polished a version of the film as possible for the initial festival submissions, and then complete a final version in December after the election and our final post-election reflection interviews are done. But we’ve got a really good handle on the stories and the arcs and how they all fit together, and it’s exciting to see Brad Johanson, our editor, actually start cutting the pieces together.

And now that we’re starting to put sequences together, it’s also just really cool to the images and story flow together on the screen.

Sharing Trails: The “That Person is Working Way Harder Than You” Principle

One of Golden's most popular hiking, running, and mountain biking trails.

Chimney Gulch (one of Golden’s most popular hiking, running, and mountain biking trails).

The early morning light and long evening light lately has been awesome for getting out on the trails around Golden, but as the numbers go up the potential for conflict predictably goes up as well.

For years now, I think the mountain biking community has done a really good job of creating and enforcing a culture of responsible riding, at least in Jefferson County. The vast majority of riders I encounter when running are friendly and courteous, and pull over to let runners and hikers pass. The handful that barrel past, or don’t make room, or rip around blind corners (a few months ago I saw a couple of downhillers on Chimney Gulch take out a mountain biker going uphill), or are just otherwise rude still have a disproportionate impact on everyone else’s experience, which obviously fuels tension and controversy, so hats off to the community for continuing to do as much as they do to sustain that culture of respectful trail use.

I ride once in a while but mostly run, and in my experience the runners are usually friendly as well, but I’ve seen just as much rude behavior from runners toward mountain bikers as the other way around. Hopefully we runners can do just as a good job sustaining that same sort of respectful culture as the bikers do.

But even as a mostly-runner I disagree with Jeffco’s expectation that mountain bikers should always yield to everyone else. It makes sense to me that peds and bikers yield to horses, and on flats and uphills I for sure appreciate that bikers yield, but if I’m passing bikers heading uphill as I’m running downhill … I think it’s crazy to ask the bikers to yield. Uphill is tough whether you’re on foot or in the saddle, and the way I figure it the pedestrians and bikers traveling downhill should always yield to the pedestrians and bikers slogging their way uphill. That just seems like common sense.

If it were up to me I’d probably retain Jeffco’s approach with that one change. Call it the “Yield to the Sloggers” rule, or the “That Person is Working Way Harder Than You” principal, or maybe the “Be Kind to the Uphillers” mantra: if you’re heading downhill on a bike or on foot, make way for anyone heading the other way.


Jacob’s Golden Update: April 8, 2016

1) City Council Advances Plan for Large Annexation

2) Your Input Mattered: Street Giveaway Plans on Hold

3) A 2016 Election Endorsement: Ed Perlmutter for Congress

4) Golden Bike Library Arriving in June


1. City Council Advances Large Annexation Plan

At its February 25 meeting, City Council approved a resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement to annex more than 100 acres on the north side of town (the undeveloped land between Mountain Ridge and Golden Gate Canyon Road).

The point of annexation is to make it easier to develop a property by granting access to utilities and services the owners can’t easily access otherwise, so deciding whether to annex a property into the city limits is one of the more important decisions a City Council makes. And because annexation decisions are such a big deal, they deserve vigorous community input before the Council makes any decisions.

Instead, City Council seems to be doing exactly the opposite, formally expressing its support for this annexation without the benefit of a study session discussion, town hall meetings, discussion in the Informer, or taking advantage of our community email newsletters (like Judy Denison’s and mine) to solicit input.

This specific proposal would allow the property owners to build a few more houses clustered next to the existing homes while zoning the rest for agricultural use. That doesn’t sound so bad, except that the proposal includes no guarantees that the rest of the property won’t also get developed later. The owners of the property (the Brunel family) are friends, and when they say they don’t intend to develop the rest of the property I believe them.

The problem is that the annexation is permanent. If the Brunel family ever sells the land, or if some of the family members change their minds, or if new family members who want to sell and develop the land come into the picture, today’s promise of protected open space turns into the very thing I suspect most Golden residents oppose. All it takes is a development-happy City Council – at any point in the future – to change the zoning (and change the comprehensive plan if they feel they need to), and all of that property turns into houses or a strip mall. Much of Golden was agricultural, until it wasn’t.

I encourage City Council to make a serious, energetic effort to engage the community on this proposal, making sure to understand what our vision is for that part of town, and then making sure that if we do annex the property that it actually accomplishes that vision. I know there is some discussion about seeking permanent protection for the property by purchasing the development rights through a conservation easement after the city annexes it. A conservation easement is exactly the right strategy, since it will provide permanent protection, but doing the annexation and then attempting to the conservation easement makes little sense to me; the annexation will likely increase the property value, so the city would be negotiating with less leverage (after the property owner has already been annexed) for a property that would then be more expensive as a result.

Council’s formal support for the annexation is one step of several before the deal happens, and you still have an opportunity to weigh in. If you have any thoughts about Council’s declaration of support for this annexation, or the apparent lack of enthusiasm for soliciting community input, or the idea of requiring a conservation easement as part of the deal in the first place (as opposed to something we hope might happen later), I encourage you to email or call Council and express your views.


Kudos to councilors Saoirse Charis-Graves and Pamela Gould, incidentally. Both supported tabling the resolution to give the community some time to learn about the proposal and weigh in before the Council’s vote.


2. Your Input Mattered: Proposed City Street Giveaway on Hold

In my last newsletter (back in December), I wrote about a proposal for the city to give Arapahoe Street between 13th and 14th to the Calvary Church. Much like the annexation proposal above, street vacations involve the community permanently giving away an asset – one of our streets – to a private entity. I expressed two main concerns: a) maybe we shouldn’t be permanently giving away a street in downtown Golden, and b) that City Council was gearing up to give away this city street with barely any public input.

Well, a bunch of community members weighed in expressing their concerns, and before City Council got to the decision point Calvary Church withdrew its request. Your input – making a fuss about something that looked like it was about to go through without any real discussion – had a real impact on what happened in our community.

This proposal could return, and hopefully if it does City Council will make a more vigorous effort to let folks know it’s happening and to encourage input from community members.


3. A 2016 Election Endorsement: Ed Perlmutter for Congress

The Presidential election is getting all of the political buzz these days, and for good reason, but it’s worth remembering that the November ballot will include a bunch of other offices and issues. One person I’m proud to support early and enthusiastically is Golden’s long-time Congressman Ed Perlmutter.

Ed has always been thoughtful and fair, he’s always been a strong advocate for Golden, and he has always been straightforward with us about where he stands and why. He’s incredibly hard-working, genuinely friendly and accessible, and champions many of my own views and values: supporting public education and public schools, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, ensuring that veterans get the health care they deserve, and campaign finance reform (including reversing Citizens United).

I know there are some Bernie supporters mounting a primary challenge against Ed, and I admire their energy and commitment, but as a Bernie supporter myself I can say without qualification that Ed is the right guy for CD7.

4. Golden Bike Library Arriving in June

From the Department of ‘Hey, That’s Pretty Cool’ comes a new two-year pilot program set to launch in June: the Golden Bicycle Library. Thanks to grant funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation and Denver Regional Council of Governments, Golden residents and visitors will be able to check out one of 40 bikes from the Golden Visitor’s Center. In the second year of the program, the city plans to create an additional bike library location at Golden’s light rail station (at the Jefferson County building).

The Winding Road to the Revolution

When we started filming Waking the Sleeping Giant a year ago, our plan for a documentary film was based on a straightforward premise: there is something really important and potentially monumental happening out there across the country, a deep frustration at the way the game is rigged in favor of the wealthy and at the expense of ordinary working Americans.


My Waking the Sleeping Giant co-producer Jon Erickson passed through Golden over the weekend on an epic road trip from his home in Vermont. He’s now in Des Moines for a very long day of Iowa caucus filming.

When we started filming, the most exciting opportunities for movement building seemed to be around a growing economic populism on both sides of aisle. The left wing version was readily apparently in the political energy around people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but it was quite apparent on the right as well. Minimum wage ballot measures passing in red states and Republican presidential candidates opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership and rallying against the economic elite were just two of the most visible signs.

And there are people across the country that recognize the potential to build a new political movement rooted in this widespread political anger and love, to borrow a phrase from Zephyr Teachout. Bernie Sanders, for instance, explicitly called out the opportunity to create a political revolution by building alliances with strange bedfellows … working people on both sides of the partisan divide who understand how the billionaire class has taken over the political process and the American economy.

But a couple of interesting things happened on the way to the revolution. First, the terrorism/national security narrative has almost completely drowned out the economic fairness narrative on the right. GOP presidential candidates are saying very little now about these issues, and if there ever was the opportunity to transcend party lines with an appeal to taking on the billionaire and corporate class it is less clear now.

Second, a well-organized and highly motivated race-focused movement ran headlong into the class-focused campaigns of the left-wing standard bearers like Bernie. #Blacklivesmatter activists aggressively disrupted campaign Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley events, protests against police violence have forcefully intruded into the politics of large cities and of Democratic politics writ large, and now all three Democratic candidates are aggressively incorporating racism into their political critique and policy positions.

Bernie’s campaign has offered an object lesson in the success of race-focused activists to force a shift in priorities. Although Bernie has always taken strong pro-civil rights positions, his most consistent and vigorous prescription for tackling inequity of all kinds had been focused on jobs and economic fairness. In the face of intense pressure from #BlackLivesMatter and other race-focused activists, Bernie now explicitly acknowledges that job creation, stimulating the economy, and reducing the power of corporate America are insufficient; his political agenda now overtly and prominently includes a broad range of attacks on structural racism and race-based violence.

Although our film has from the beginning been a story about the effort to build a 21st century movement built around economic and political fairness, over the span of a nearly 2-year production schedule (not to mention the nine months prior in pre-production) the story itself is changing. It’s exhilarating and slightly terrifying at the same time. Something important is happening out there – a rejuvenated political movement is afoot – and we’ll follow it wherever the story takes us.

Bernie’s Socialism & the American Voter

One of the stories I find most interesting about the 2016 presidential race is Bernie Sanders’ head-on engagement with his self-described identity as a democratic socialist. Most rational observers would have predicted Bernie would distance himself from the label as he launched and then ramped up his presidential campaign last spring. But like nearly everything else about Bernie’s campaign, he defied expectations and did exactly the opposite, leaning in to the label, and even going so far as to give a high-profile speech devoted to defining what he means by the label.

Here’s the fascinating thing: across a huge swath of Bernie’s positions, his views align with the majority of Americans. In other words, while most Americans don’t identify as democratic socialists (as Bernie does), and while the label itself might sound radical, most Americans actually agree with Bernie on a wide range of issues.

To wit:

This is obviously a snapshot, and the story is much more complex and nuanced, but I think one of Bernie’s most important insights is that more Americans than not genuinely believe much of what he believes. This is an insight that has carried him over the years from low single digits in his early statewide races in Vermont to reelection in the U.S. Senate with more than 70% of the vote. The extent to which he can communicate this to enough voters (and overcome the power of the party establishment) to win the primary and then the general election remains to be seen (although he has so far shredded every prediction about his ability to draw crowds, raise money, and earn support among voters). But if his policy and political views sound radical I think it’s largely because there is a sizable gap between how far rightward electoral politics has shifted (and the way the media reports on American politics) and the things that Americans actually believe.

(Big h/t to Fusion for pulling a bunch of these links together.)

Jacob’s Golden Update – “Street Vacation & Sustainability” Edition: December 9, 2015

Hi everyone –

I’m still thinking through how best to use this email list, but I got a lot of positive feedback after my election-related emails, and once in a while community issues come up that I want to make sure folks know about, so my plan for now is to send out an email every now and again flagging issues I think community members may be interested in.

Here are two:

1. City Council Considers Giving Away a Portion of Arapahoe Street

On Thursday night, City Council is slated to make a decision about the proposal to give Arapahoe Street between 13th and 14th to the Calvary Church. I haven’t decided what I think about it yet, but it does seem like the sort of issue that the community should know about and have a chance to weigh in on, and I don’t have the sense that many folks know it’s happening.

As the staff memo explains, “Calvary Church is now returning with a new proposal, which is a request to vacate the entire block of Arapahoe Street between 13th and 14th Streets, but without a private drive or improvements to Miners Alley. Calvary’s stated intention is to create a pedestrian and plaza space that would serve the needs of their planned “campus” environment, as well as create amenities, such as seating and landscaping, that is open to the public and establishes a better pedestrian link between CSM to the south and downtown and Clear Creek to the north.“

Calvary has proposed variations of this street vacation for many years. Unlike their 2014 proposal, however, the current proposal would simply give Calvary that stretch of Arapahoe without making any vehicle and pedestrian improvements to Miner’s Alley. This is one of several concerns with the proposal.

Another concern is the uncertainty about what the community’s future mobility needs will be. Planning Commission voted 5-2 against the proposal for this reason, specifically because they weren’t convinced that the public right-of-way won’t ever again be “necessary for public use or convenience.”

I’m a fan of Calvary and deeply appreciate their many contributions to the Golden community. But even so, I’m skeptical about street vacations since they basically mean the city permanently hands over a community-owned asset to a private entity. They are definitely a big deal, in any case, and deserve a lot of thought and scrutiny.

If you are interested or concerned, I encourage you to weigh in with Council either by email before Thursday evening, or in person at their Council meeting on Thursday night (City Council Chambers, 911 10th St., 6:30pm). You can download the staff memo to City Council if you want more details.

2. Golden Sustainability Summit in the Works

City Council and the Sustainability Advisory Board (I think it’s on the board’s agenda tomorrow night) are talking about pulling together a sustainability summit this spring. I like the idea … if it’s done well it could be a great opportunity to re-engage community members in this ambitious community-wide effort, celebrate what we’ve accomplished so far, and identify where we are falling short and how we’re going to get there. I’d love to hear your ideas about what the summit might look like and how it could be organized to make sure we get strong community involvement and that we give the Golden Sustainability Initiative a good boost. You can email me at jacobzsmith@gmail.com. I’ll compile all the ideas folks send and pass them on to the board members and city staff. Or feel free to email Theresa Worsham (TWorsham@cityofgolden.net), who staffs the board for the city.

That’s what I’ve got this time. If you’ve got any thoughts about how I can best use this email list – still 1,000 folks strong – and provide info that’s useful to community members, please shoot me a note. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Happy holidays everyone –