The Political Face of Boulder: A Post-Hippie Residue


By Lauren Snelgrove Unigo Campus Rep at CU-Boulder Oct. 24, 2008 Springtime in Boulder, Colorado, never fails to produce an abundance of fresh buds on the University of Colorado campus—marijuana buds, that is. April 20th calls for the annual congregation of nearly 10,000 students on the Norlin Library Quad, casually and unitarily puff, puff passing along what may just be what upholds Boulder’s left-wing reputation. Five months later, with the presidential elections arriving, students have been speculating on the true political values of the campus. Despite Boulder’s liberal-chic tendencies, the amount of students sporting Obama t-shirts from Urban Outfitters seems to rival the amount that actually know the candidate’s political platform. “[CU] definitely sells itself as a left-wing community, but I don’t find it to be an altogether active one,” said Michael Flatt, a CU graduate student. Flatt currently works for Environment Colorado, an environmental ethics group, as well as volunteers with the Colorado Democrats in neighboring counties. “The only political things I’ve seen in any sort of volume [on campus] is voter registration, which is happening everywhere right now,” said Flatt.” “I canvas door-to-door for…Barack Obama,” said Flatt, who also noted that the general community of Boulder is very different than that of the campus. Boulder County itself retains an active liberalism that often shadows that of the campus. In the 1960’s, the University Memorial Center was a hub for student activism, hosting everything from boycotts and love-ins, to sit-ins and walk-outs. Famous beatniks Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman dwelled in the city, helping found the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at nearby Naropa University. This four-year Buddhist university is the lesser-known educational institution in town, but has nonetheless had a huge role in constructing a freethinking reputation for the town. Today, it seems what is left on campus from this freekthinking, bygone era is nothing more than a liberal residue. For CU students today, liberalism foremost prevails as a trendy lifestyle. The lack of political activism does not erase the validity of Boulder’s following, but rather redefines it. In order to understand this present-day liberal masquerade, it helps to delve into the past. Liberalism does not require activism. Boulder retains its free spirited culture but is deficient of the operative political progressiveness associated with it. This is not to say it is altogether nonexistent; groups like Students for Peace and Justice have an impressive compilation of organized political movements. SPJ has, according to Gustavo Oliveira, “mostly focused on organizing opposition to the war in Iraq, the use of mercenaries, and we also worked in the protests against the DNC.” Yet even with the presence of this proactive political awareness on campus, CU as a whole does not reflect activism. “CU students (in general) suffer from unreasonably low political awareness, or interest,” said Oliveira. “Student movements are definitely at a weak point.” Strangely, other students insist that CU is just the opposite. Political science major Gregory Carlson, an active Republican, stands as an exception to the expected Boulder stereotype. Carlson is involved in rallies, voting efforts, and political internships, and was recently featured on BBC in preparation for the Republican National Convention for his notable Republican activity in a notoriously liberal area. “I am trying to get the Republicans more active and involved on campus,” said Carlson, “But unfortunately, despite the fact that Democrats feel that we should include all viewpoints and respect all people, the Republicans on campus are often a target of discrimination and harassment, which might contribute to them being less active.” Carlson ‘s involvement seems to never end, which may explain the rose-colored glasses of which he views CU’s political activism. He is a member of the university’s Presidential Leadership Class, an academic organization in which students are constantly “breaking down the issues,” as Carlson put it, and are flooded with opportunities to become politically involved. With Denver just an hour away from CU, select politically inclined students like Carlson easily find ways to get a deeper involvement in the elections. As for the masses, it seems that whether or not many students are initiating action, general political awareness has heightened as of late. Thousands of students made their way to Farrand Field on the CU campus Oct. 1 to see Michelle Obama speak. A similar number turned out for a march led by Obama’s campaign on Monday, Oct. 20, to the recreational center on campus where early absentee voting was conducted. As convenient as this kind of attention to the elections as been for students, Flatt points out that in such a likeminded place, students should leave the area to do political work.  “Students that are proactive need to get into outlying counties where things are contested,” said Flatt. “Arapahoe County is one of the most important counties in the country. If someone is really wanting to make a difference they need to start knocking on doors where the votes really matter most.“ Arapahoe County has the third highest populace of all the counties in Colorado, bearing a heavy weight of importance to the polls. Like Flatt says, by just traveling a short distance, CU students who are politically inclined can make a real political difference. It is nearly impossible to generalize a student population as large as Boulder’s. With over 26,000 students and an apparent liberal culture, recent political activism at CU has been only a result of the peaking interest in the presidential elections common to most all college campuses. Junior Jeremy Gelman, an American Political Leadership major at CU, elucidates this point. “I think everyone recognizes how pivotal this particular election is going to be, not only nationally but for the state and our local communities,” said Gelman. “It’s extraordinary to see how students [at CU] are organizing to support the issues and candidates they most care about, from the presidential race to individual referendums on the ballot.”

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