If there’s one lesson we can all learn from the political debates, rallies and rhetoric during this political season, it’s this: It pays to separate people based on their race, their economic status, their religion, their “other-ness.”
It’s what Donald Trump stakes his presidential run on — tapping into people’s fears and economic uncertainties to paint those who are different as somehow the enemy of us all.
Colorado Springs isn’t immune. Late last year, City Council passed an ordinance banning resting on streets downtown and in Old Colorado City, essentially criminalizing poverty by giving people who have few options even fewer choices about where they can go.
Now we have Councilor Andy Pico’s suggested resolution to ban Syrian refugees from Colorado Springs, something the city does not have the authority to do — and in spite of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s announcement that Colorado could become home to some refugees fleeing inhumane, unbearable, terrifying lives in their home nation.
At the time, Hickenlooper told the Denver Post: “We can protect our security and provide a place where the world’s most vulnerable can rebuild their lives.”
To many longtime residents, the moves to discriminate against specific groups are all too familiar. Colorado Springs was the birthplace of Amendment 2, the 1990s ballot issue that allowed discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. It’s the place where former Mayor Lionel Rivera came out against $43 million in federal funding for jobs in 2010, telling a Denver Post columnist, “Some people want to be homeless.” He earned a spot on MSNBC’s “worst person in the world” list for that comment.
Rivera also refused to welcome an atheist group to Colorado Springs, earning more negative national attention for the city.
To some, it’s business as usual in Colorado Springs. Our city has a national reputation as an intolerant bully, a place where government spending is welcome for defense contractors, but not to help lift people out of poverty. Where gun rights receive support, but civil liberties can be denied to LGBT residents.
This time, though, it’s different.
While leadership in the Springs seems hopelessly stuck in the 1990s rut of “us versus them,” residents are speaking out against the “pedestrian access” ordinance and the proposed ban on Syrian refugees. Council heard from some of those people Tuesday during citizens’ comments at the group’s regular bimonthly session. They heard them again as people protested Pico’s proposed resolution and supported the plight of the Syrians.
The public refusal to accept the resolution shows that many residents in Colorado Springs have moved past the city’s divisive roots. It shows we’re tired of the litany of negative national news stories about the city’s intolerance. And that’s good for business.
Tolerance doesn’t make us weak; it makes us stronger.
Colorado Springs needs to attract outside business — the city needs outside companies to fuel growth, as well as homegrown businesses to continue to thrive.
An economically vibrant city requires diversity. We need different opinions, different thoughts, different religions, different ages.
Tolerance doesn’t make us weak; it makes us stronger. All of us are smarter than one of us. Different backgrounds bring in different experiences and new perspectives.
After the Planned Parenthood shootings last November, The Guardian wrote a piece about the Springs as a playground of intolerance.
It wasn’t true then, and the city’s leaders should work hard to make sure it doesn’t become true now.
To even consider banning Syrian refugees is to announce to the world that nothing’s changed in Colorado Springs. It’s to invite more negative headlines, driving new business to other cities without the baggage and fear.
Most Syrian refugees are trying to escape the self-proclaimed Islamic State, viewing ISIS with the same horror as the rest of us. Their homes have been destroyed, their lives upended and they’ve risked death trying to get families to safety.
Syrian refugees do not pose a threat to Colorado Springs. The United States has an extensive vetting system to ensure people who move here aren’t terrorists, but are refugees of a failed nation.
While GOP presidential candidates suggest waterboarding and turning Muslim neighborhoods into police states in the wake of the Brussels attacks earlier this week, Colorado Springs’ elected leaders should take a deep breath and realize these people aren’t our enemies — they are our potential allies.
By giving Syrian refugees a safe place to live and worship, we are fulfilling our Founding Fathers’ values.
People fleeing religious persecution were among the first settlers in this country, and that shouldn’t be forgotten — on the national stage or in local politics.