The Chinook Center

A grand opening celebration was held Sunday for the Chinook Center, a nonprofit organization and community space that will support those working for social, economic and environmental justice in the Pikes Peak region. Remy Yarbrough plays with some toys at the center near a mural that includes De’Von Bailey and state Rep. Tony Exum Sr. Every Sunday, the center will have a free grocery giveaway for those in need. The center is at 2551 Airport Road off South Circle Drive.

Leftist activist groups in Colorado Springs for the first time have a centralized location to meet, hold events and cohesively promote like-minded social, economic and environmental causes.

“The progressive community has never really had the infrastructure here — we’ll be able to organize more efficiently now,” said Jonathan Christiansen, a founding board member of The Chinook Center.

The nonprofit organization formed a year and a half ago and in recent weeks achieved its goal of securing a building to house various groups under one roof.

Organizers held an open house last weekend at the new center, a former church at 2551 Airport Road off South Circle Drive in what's known by locals as “K-Land,” after a Kmart that had been a staple for the city’s southeast neighborhood for decades closed.

“I’m optimistic it’s going to expand the capacity of progressive social-change organizations,” Christiansen said. “Not only will groups have access to resources, but we’ll be able to build a stronger sense of community among left-wing activists in town.”

The Chinook Center researched about 20 local groups and asked if they would be interested in locating their efforts at the hub. Nine groups have signed on as members of the center, Christiansen said, and several others are considering joining.

Member groups include the local branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Empowerment Solidarity Network, providing education and leadership to address social inequities, the SouthSide Alliance, which recently formed out of the Black Lives Matter protests, and others.

Most have been operating out of homes, reserving space at libraries for gatherings and using copy stores for office needs, Christiansen said.

At the center, they have access to a large grand room, a stage and a conference room for meetings and events, as well as a kitchen, copiers and printers, a sound system for protests and other resources.

“Members of activist groups have to continually hustle to get resources,” Christiansen said. “Colorado Springs really needs something like this.”

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A regular weekly event kicked off at the open house, People’s Grocery — a free food distribution from noon to 2 p.m. every Sunday at the center.

Not many organizations provide food giveaways on Sundays, Christiansen said, so the center is filling a community need, primarily using Colorado Springs Food Rescue supplies. The distribution is modeled after the Black Panther Party’s grocery giveaways and is no-questions-asked, with free food for anyone who shows up.

A monthly People’s Potluck and new courses from People’s College also are being planned.

Residents and workers in the neighborhood volunteered to help remodel the building before the center opened, Christiansen said.

Local artist Shanah Cooley painted a three-panel mural inside honoring De’Von Bailey, a 19-year-old Colorado Springs resident who police shot and killed in August 2019 while investigating a robbery.

Curious passers-by are stopping to discuss democratic policies, strategies and tactics going forward, Christiansen said.

Two grants and small donations are funding the costs of the operation, Christiansen said, adding that organizers haven’t attracted any big donors like prominent democratic ideals backer George Soros.

Christiansen, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a doctoral candidate, anticipates plenty of local support.

A fundraising appeal to help people who had been arrested during Black Lives Matter protests pay for bail, fines and attorney fees raised more than $10,000 in just two weeks, he said.

The new center aims to challenge the city's long history of Republican policymaking. 

“It’s going to change the arithmetic of politics here,” Christiansen said.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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