Amanda Sandoval

Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval makes a point about narrowly focused public concern during a Feb. 10 City Council meeting.

Freedom is rarely whispered, but it’s hard to say exactly how we’re supposed to redress our grievances anymore.

The old rules of engagement in the public square are blurred beyond recognition, based on what I’m seeing these days in the headlines, at the state Capitol or over at the City and County Building in Denver.

Conflict overshadows conversation. I question what we're accomplishing, beyond hot-winded fussing and constant electioneering. 

Hearings go on practically till daybreak sometimes at the Capitol, with one witness after another saying the same thing 20 others did before them, or accusing somebody of something that's such nonsense I dare not perpetuate with examples. The Denver City Council meetings feature a regular cast of speakers and revolving guest stars every Monday night, though usually the vacant wooden benches present a monument to civic malaise.

I attend meetings for a living and have throughout my 30-odd years on the beat. From Wallace to Polis, I’ve seen a lot change and heard every way you can think of presenting an argument, from switching off lights in Alabama to taking off clothes in Boulder. Then on Super Tuesday, a vegan activist bum-rushed presidential candidate Joe Biden in California to defend the rights of dairy cows.

A big problem is shorter civic attention spans for public concerns, which change with the speed of a news cycle. Where I grew up, people were happy to chew on a civic outrage for weeks. We didn’t have cable TV.

Last month, during a hearing on a city rule to ease up on pit bulls, Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval called out a narrow, but passionate focus of concern on pit bulls, one that filled the council chamber.

She wanted to hear from constituents about dogs, she said, because her mind had been on zoning, homelessness, education and transportation. 

“What I ask all of you is give those things as much attention as you have given this, honestly,” she said, looking over the crowded room. “Because if I come up here and I sit up here and we’re talking about repealing the (homeless) camping ban and all of you are not in those seats, I’m going to get really frustrated.

“Because I believe those issues are just as important as our dogs.”

The world is run by those who show up, we’ve long been told.

The council overturned the ban, and Mayor Michael Hancock overturned them, then ultimately there weren't enough members of the council willing to join Sandoval to overturn the mayor.

Under the gold dome up the hill, we fool ourselves into thinking people outside the place are as invested as we are in the work we do, like ants serving a disinterested queen. They aren't.

Hundreds of needs and problems are fixed or created during every four-month legislative session, Most of Colorado could care less, except for that occasional bit of government that splashes back on them.

The heightened conflict and rhetoric seem so destructive, even in the same cause. The most damage that’s been done so far to the U.S. Senate hopes of former Gov. John Hickenlooper was when environmental activists who back the Green New Deal cornered him and appeared to get under his skin at a Latinx forum in Longmont a few weeks back.

Everyone involved was on the political left. The best chance Donald Trump and Cory Gardner have in November is the divide-and-conquer Democrats, so things are going splendidly.

Bernie Sanders' supporters are hankering for a revolution, even as they lose ground. In the process, they're ready to take down their own party. Politico reported:

The night before the Nevada caucuses, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party called police after several supporters of Bernie Sanders gathered outside his home at 11 p.m. with a bullhorn to issue a warning about the next day’s election.

“I want assurances that there isn’t going to be any shenanigans going on tomorrow. The Democratic Party does not control what happens,” Maria Estrada, a self-described “Berner” from Los Angeles, said into the bullhorn, according to a Facebook Live video she streamed on her personal page. She repeatedly said she didn’t want to see a repeat of the 2016 election, which she insinuated was rigged against Sanders.

At least three other times in recent days, Estrada led a group of Sanders supporters who gathered late at night outside the homes of Democratic Party officials and California lawmakers, including those of Secretary of State Alex Padilla and state Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks. Police were called at least twice.

Amid all this hullabaloo and cynicism, there’s Steven Woodrow, the environmentally minded business lawyer and Denver Democrat who is the new representative in state House District 6, appointed to a vacancy when Chris Hansen was promoted to one in the Senate.

He said he wanted to “quickly write and say that it’s an honor” it was to serve “House District 6 — the fightin’ 6th!” He talked about the issues he cares about.

“The House of Representatives is the People’s House. It’s yours, and we work for you,” Woodrow wrote. “Please don’t be shy letting us know about any ideas you have or bills that you feel strongly about.

“My phone is on, and the door is always open.”

He’ll probably leave the light on for ya.

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