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October 2014 • Online Edition
 

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Creativity + Activism = Weissman’s Recipe For Civic Change | Print |  E-mail

by Susan Dugan

Evan Weissman credits his Jewish heritage with inspiring him to help leave the world a better place.

EVAN WEISSMAN HAS BLENDED HIS LOVE OF CREATIVE PURSUITS AND HIS COMMITMENT to social justice in his first love, Buntport Theater, as well as Warm Cookies of the Revolution, his latest effort to create community and stimulate consideration of relevant social issues.

“Judaism places a value on trying to heal and transform, that kind of sunk in,” he says. Born in Washington, D.C., the co-founder of Buntport Theater and community organizer attended Colorado College where he earned a degree in politics and also studied theater before completing a fellowship in philanthropy in Indiana.

Returning to Colorado Springs, he briefly launched a concert venue there along with friends. “I had booked bands in college but realized very quickly that it sounds much more exciting than it actually is. You’re up to 4a.m., people on the East Coast start calling really early, and it’s just a horrible lifestyle.”

He moved on to Denver to help launch Buntport, a local ensemble company now in its 12th season (at 717 Lipan St.), along with five other college friends. “It’s been a marvelous experience. We’ve had wonderful support from the community and we get to create our own work. It’s very non-hierarchical; all of us write and build sets and clean toilets and whatnot. We do have spheres of influence – I end up doing a fair amount of grant writing and community outreach – but I also act and write. I do not sew and I’m not very good at lighting, so luckily there are other people who have those skills.”

In his spare time Weissman has been expressing his strong social consciousness through a longtime commitment to nonviolence and anti-war efforts, and helping to found the Front Range Jewish Voice for Peace. The desire to combine his two greatest passions – creativity and political activism – led to his most recent venture/adventure: Warm Cookies of the Revolution, a civic health club.

And what exactly is a civic health club, you might ask? Weissman envisions a venue in which people can gather to engage their civic muscles and, as in physical health clubs, feel better for it. “If I ask you about your physical, psychological, or emotional health, you have an answer – and you also have places where you can exercise. With civic health, there isn’t such a place. But if I invite you to a lecture or discussion on the city budget or how to welcome people released from prison back into the community, you’re probably not going to come. People who are working all day, or have to get a babysitter and are short on money do things that are necessary – or fun – so the idea with the civic health club is to try to make civic participation necessary and fun.”

He also sees the club as a welcome alternative to the isolation of online experience. “It can be an antidote to the loneliness of a lot of the social interactions we engage in on the internet. I’ve noticed people craving community, wanting to go to a lot of cultural and entertainment events. I think it’s a symptom of wanting to really connect. I think there’s a real need for a place where people can meet, enjoy themselves, and talk about relevant issues.”

And what’s up with that name, Warm Cookies of the Revolution? “I mean the name to be very fun and inviting. If people could actively participate and have a say in decisions that affect their lives, that would be revolutionary. The warm cookies soften the blow of that word revolution. So, it’s about nourishment, and even though cookies aren’t necessarily the healthiest thing, they feel good and harken back to a bit of your childhood and dreams about doing things differently.”

Engaging people, Weissman believes, comes down to the old adage that sugar catches more flies than vinegar. “You need to meet people where they are and you don’t change any minds by berating them. If I can get the dudes I watch football with at the bar involved in a civic conversation, that’s huge, and I think helps dispel the idea that the problems in our community are really complex and we should let people who are trained and knowledgeable deal with them.”

Weissman calls that a poisonous notion, based on the misguided perception that people are dumb. “These guys I watch football with know it’s the fourth quarter, third down and 12 on the 27th. They know every stat, every player, where each went to college, what each coach does. What if we could watch Monday Night Football together and also talk about things like issues of masculinity, labor, and civil rights? Why is that stadium there? Who used to live there, who paid for it, and why do we sing the national anthem? I think if you meet people in something they’re already interested in, you’re going to have much more of an effect than if it were someone like me going into a bar where they’re watching football and trying to talk about why it’s important to save whales.”

Warm Cookies of the Revolution plans to open a permanent space near the Esquire Theatre (6th Ave. & Downing) toward the end of the year. Plans include a storefront offering cookies, ice cream, and soup on a pay-as-you-can basis; event space; and space for community groups to meet. “There are a lot of great organizations doing wonderful things. We’ll be encouraging other individuals and groups to come up with their own programming and there will be a community kitchen people can use. It will also be a space for people to come and meet during the day.”

In the meantime, Warm Cookies has been hosting events at Buntport and other venues around town. The idea for the meet-ups was launched with a board game night attended by 100 people. A letter-writing party invited participants to come and write a letter or two to anyone, but also encouraged writing letters on civic topics.

“Claire Martin from the Denver Post talked about writing letters to the editor and an aide to a city councilwoman talked about the efficacy of writing to elected officials. We had someone from a group that does letters to prisoners and also talked about a workers justice campaign for tomato pickers in Florida. And then, of course, there’s always the cookies and milk.”

Another popular event – “Bring your own government” – invited attendees to hear three pitches on ideal governments presented in 15 minutes or less. “Comedian Andrew Orvedahl, State Senator Morgan Carroll, and Thomas Wolf (former mayoral candidate and fiscal conservative) all gave their pitches and then received audience feedback, followed by a lightning round where anyone could stand up and describe in one minute an idea for a government program or the way they have influenced governmental change. The best part was that not everyone agreed, and that was great!” As for the fun part? “Everyone was invited to build a LEGO city together,” Weissman says.

Ideas for future topics include gentrification, the Dream Act, gun control, legal pot, the budget, and job creation. “So far the results have been beyond my expectations. We want people to participate and we know that no one’s going to go to everything and that’s not really the point. It’s kind of a get-in-where-you-fit-in thing. We’re also very open to suggestions. If people have civic topics they’d like to meet around, they should let us know and maybe we can help put the fun in it.”

For more information about Warm Cookies of the Revolution, “like” or sign up for email updates on their Facebook page, go to warmcookiesoftherevolution.org, or email Evan at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  

 
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