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GUEST COLUMN: Changing city is finally growing up

By: Evan Wedsworth
February 5, 2017 Updated: February 8, 2017 at 4:09 pm
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On Saturday, Jan. 21, I attended a political protest for the first time. Although I'm less politically conscious than the next guy, the Trump maelstrom still swept me up. It was impossible to resist - anyone feeling, like me, politically complacent for the past eight years has now had their tree shaken but good. So I made my way downtown for the local Women's March, expecting to find a small group lost against a larger, indifferent background. But the march was enormous, and as I stood in the crowd, something shifted in my view of myself and Colorado Springs. I felt like we've both grown up a little.

Part of my wishy-washy attitude toward politics stems from underestimating my own role. It's easy to be cynical about voting or protesting given the numbers involved - what's the probability of my voice actually tipping those huge scales? But recently I've realized underestimation isn't a unique, personal trait. For those of us who grew up here, it's hereditary.

Underestimation is familiar to the Springs. Our town isn't known well outside the state, and if we are, our reputation is pretty one-dimensional (for years on the East Coast, revealing my hometown prompted the exact same question, "So, you're religious?"). No one in Kentucky has heard that there are great trails here, or a renowned five-star hotel, or a mountainside zoo, or a quirky hippie oasis just up the way. Whatever richness we have is entirely self-contained and usually overshadowed by our more sophisticated sisters up the road. In the Great Hypothetical City Mixer, Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins are all standing around looking cool and chatting up Vail and Aspen, while Colorado Springs lurks in the background, drink in hand, feeling a bit out of place. We're uncool and we know it, as summed up nicely in the Leechpit's meta-ironic motto "Keep Colorado Springs Lame."

Maybe the problem is the culture here or its patchwork feel. For most of my life, there hasn't been any one condensing point - like its geographical sprawl, whatever "Springshood" we each possess seems diffuse and tribal. Cultural touchstones change with the cardinal directions; south-to-north military blue-collar independence gives way to Briargate chic. And sure, every city has its power struggles, but the Springs has historically taken this feudalism a step further: Beyond antagonism and straight to apathy. Gleneagle doesn't concern itself with Old Colorado City in the same way that San Francisco doesn't concern itself with Missoula. My friends who live downtown have a strict prohibition against ever venturing east of Academy.

Or maybe it's a generational problem - my third decade is perilously close. Perhaps it's emblematic of millennials, but leaving your 20s feels daunting and not at all like a step forward. For many of us, there is the sense of a deeply-drawn breath, a waiting and taking stock while the other shoe hangs somewhere out on the horizon. The twin drives toward happiness and accomplishment are being overhauled - is this, here and now, really where I want to be? Marriage, career, children, or just the freedom to live in an old van . whatever take-backsies we had feel used up. It may be moving at glacier speeds, but commitment (whatever that beast actually is) is still bearing down on us.

Colorado Springs has, in a way, also been facing the same choice. The city has finally left the 2008 slump behind, and there's something almost . cosmopolitan in the air. In a hearteningly comprehensive study from US News, Colorado Springs was awarded 5th Best City to Live in the country (everyone I mentioned this to said, "I know!" in that high, surprised tone you use when discussing a particularly slow cousin who just made it into Harvard - more evidence of our communal self-deprecation). US News cited stuff like access to the outdoors (duh), low unemployment, decent compensation (a median salary, nationally speaking), similarly decent housing and a growing economy. Reading the survey, I had the tiniest frisson of hometown pride when I realized that, against expectations, I recognized our city in the praise. We're growing out of our awkward teenage years.

And a week ago, I saw this newfound adulthood morph into action as the local Women's March coalesced into the largest political demonstration we've ever had. Over 7,000 people were downtown, filling Tejon sidewalk to sidewalk as they marched in waves. And of course the protest was a worldwide event, stretching even into Antarctica. That afternoon, we plugged ourselves into a larger network of equal-rights activists, and, for a few hours, transcended our resident, feudal boundaries. Colorado Springs had an equal place with dozens of other cities across the country and globe. And I realize that a crowd of 7,000 does not a city make, but standing among everyone with the knowledge that this was simultaneously a local and a global phenomenon dissolved my inborn cynicism and sparked a bizarre upswell of pride and faith in my fellow Springsians.

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Evan Wedsworth is a longtime resident of Colorado Springs.

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