Originally published by Westword Oct 09, 2003
©2003 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.
Om, Om on the Range
In 1492, Columbus started a controversy that isn't through.
BY PATRICIA CALHOUN
"Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an Initiated Ordinance to require the city to help ensure public safety by increasing peacefulness -- that is, by defusing political, religious and ethnic tensions, both locally and globally -- through the identification and implementation of any systematic, stress-reducing techniques or programs, whether mental, physical, etc., that are (1) scientifically shown to reduce society-wide stress, as measured by reduced crime, accidents, warfare and terrorism, and also (2) shown to be of net financial benefit for the city."
If Jeff Peckman hadn't put his "Safety Through Peace" initiative on hold for a year, Denver might not be so stressed out this week. The weekend's Columbus Day activities would be a virtual lovefest, with the Four Directions All Nations March and the Columbus Day Parade converging in one giant group hug on the streets of downtown.
But Peckman didn't turn in his 2,462 validated signatures until this summer, so Denver residents won't be voting on Initiative 101 until November 4 (or whenever they break out of their meditative trances to fill out their mail-in ballots). And in the meantime, there's another Columbus Day weekend to get through.
Another Columbus Day weekend that could give image-conscious Denver another black eye, to match the one it's gotten from people around the country, around the world, laughing themselves silly over Peckman's Safety Through Peace proposal. (The Daily Show was here last week filming Peckman and his chief nemesis on Denver City Council, quotable curmudgeon Charlie Brown; once he's done with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jon Stewart should have lots of fun at our expense.)
But that's a very unenlightened view.
"I think they're going to be very delightfully surprised when this is over," says Peckman of his detractors. "This will be the beginning of Denver having the very best image."
If 101 were already in place, would there be peace this weekend?
"I'm sure you'd find that there's a more cordial, cooperative environment in which things could be resolved," Peckman replies. "Removing the tension would make it softer..."
So how does the city regard the possibility of safety through peace?
"I'm for peace through strength," responds Lucia Guzman, the city's brand-new director of Human Rights/Community Relations. "I've been doing breathing lessons."
Guzman wasn't publicly named to her position by Mayor John Hickenlooper until Tuesday, but she hit the ground running. On Monday, she sat in on the mayor's meeting with both sides of the Columbus Day controversy, which has a long, long history in Colorado. In 1907, this was the first state to create a holiday in honor of Columbus; eight decades later, Denver's parade had become a target of Native American anger. Thousands of protesters jammed the streets during the 1991 parade, a vehement turnout that inspired the last-minute cancellation of 1992's incarnation (which would have marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage). The parade didn't return to Denver until 2000, when the New Generation lodge brought it back.
That was the first group to meet with the mayor. Guzman has known many of its members, like organizer George Vendegnia, for years; Lucia's Casa de Cafe, her coffee shop at 33rd Avenue and Tejon Street, is in the heart of that evolving neighborhood that was once home to Italian immigrants and today is largely Hispanic. "I'll bet you're wondering why I'm here," she said, which is how the Italians became the first community to learn that Guzman, former pastor at Berkeley United Methodist Church, former executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, current school-board member and coffee-shop owner, was now officially in charge of helping all communities relate.
An hour later, she joined in the mayor's meeting with representatives of the American Indian community, the Transform Columbus Day alliance. "I literally knew every one of them," she says. "It was old home week there, too."
She listened as both sides talked about what they wanted out of this weekend, "why this is important to them, and what their parameters are going to be." The Italians want to be safe, want to have their parade -- and want to honor Columbus. And while the Transform Columbus Day alliance has some very specific requests, including cutting down on the number of police (police overtime alone last year cost the city $51,000), "they were also describing, in a very profound way, their pain over the name 'Columbus.'"
Columbus, who did not discover America. Columbus, who enslaved -- and killed -- the people he found in this new land that was not new to them. "If they would just recognize what a painful name this is, if they would just remove that," Guzman says, "the Native Americans would honor the parade. They would honor Italian heritage. There would be a true burying of the hatchet."
But it won't happen this year. The city tried that back in 2000, when the Justice Department attempted to broker a deal that would turn the Columbus Day Parade into a march for "Italian pride." Vendegnia's group refused the compromise then and refuses it now.
One hundred twenty-seven people were arrested in 2000 for trying to block the march. Although the charges were later dropped, most of those people found their way into the infamous spy files, files that the Denver Police Department Intelligence Bureau kept on a few suspected criminals -- and a lot of citizens exercising their right to free speech. (Thanks to computer glitches, there were even a couple of people honored by the DPD in there.)
The spy files are gone now, purged from the department as part of the city's settlement of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several individuals and highly suspicious groups -- the American Friends Service Committee, for example, whose Nobel Peace Prize wasn't enough to keep it out of Denver's spy files.
"We don't have those files anymore," says DPD lieutenant Judy Will, who's working to make sure the bureau follows the settlement's agreed-upon procedures in any future intelligence-gathering. (The first audit of the bureau's compliance is set for November 11.) "The computers are blank, the drawers are empty." And while the DPD will be out in force this weekend -- just how much force, Chief Gerry Whitman won't say -- "unless it's criminal activity, we won't care," Will says.
Last October, when the spy-files controversy was raging and many of the usual suspects were stopping by DPD headquarters to see if they rated a file, the city made only seven arrests. This year, the police are hoping for even fewer. "We have to maintain the integrity of the parade route," says Whitman.
Guzman didn't bother to see if she had a spy file. But given her role in the community, she says, "I'm sure that I had one."
Until two months ago, though, she "hadn't even dreamed of working for the city. When I walk into the City and County Building, sometimes my stomach hurts, because on that lower floor there, you see people in chains. As a pastor, I remember walking through, trying to help."
On Tuesday, she was in the mayor's third-floor office for the announcement of her appointment to a job that netted her an eleventh-floor office in the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building. "I have all those levels in mind," she says.
And so Guzman's taking a long view on Columbus Day. "I don't see this as a terrible thing I have to deal with," she says. "In a way, even though it's very painful for both sides, I see it as one of the greatest challenges to this city -- the challenge to move into the profound, painful history of both of these peoples, to uncover the current-day perspectives that are running into this history that's real for some and unjust and dishonest for others.
"It's going to take time, but it will come in time."
And it will come with or without transcendental meditation, Peckman's suggested means for reducing stress. But only suggested. Should 101 pass, the city will have six months to see who -- or what -- can satisfy the proposal. "It's really a competition of ideas," he says, "like an architectural competition." The city's stress-reducing tactics could be art. Or better meals for kids at school. Or yoga. Or the end of stubborn cell phones -- "my stress," Peckman says.
Or just having Guzman as part of the administration.
"I'm going to have to be very grounded," she says. "I'll have to pray a lot."