by Paul Kashmann
form of government we have chosen to establish and to enforce the laws under
which we shall live is best defined as a representative democracy.
individuals charged with putting forth our interests when laws are written, and
other decisions are made that may affect our promised path to life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness.
we give to our representatives are defined on the larger scale by that most
hallowed of documents, the U.S. Constitution. The general format by which
representatives are chosen, how laws are written, how war is waged and how our
government is structured is locked down by constitutional mandate, so that
people can tinker with details but not affect the prime directives that guide
our ship of state without going through a whole passel of fits and starts.
A direct democracy requires that decisions are made by a vote of all the people. It can work in
situations where the population is of manageable size and the decisions to be
made are not too numerous. But to involve the entire nation of electors in
every governmental decision would be impossibly unwieldy. Hence, every American
has two state senators and a varied number of congressfolk
(based on state population) charged with looking after their best interests in
the U.S. Congress.
On a more local level, we elect city council
representatives, aldermen or the like to watch after our civic concerns, and
school board representatives to guide our public education system,
theoretically with constituent will guiding their efforts.
Therein lies the rub. Constituent will. As
most decisions are not black and white, good or bad, opinions on how our
representatives should vote can vary from household to household. Thus, it is
not always easy for our elected officials to clearly determine the majority or
consensus will, of those they would serve. This leads to somebody being
disappointed in most decisions that are made. As has been said, “You can please
all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but
you can’t please all the people, all of the time.”
So, as nice as it would be to simply sit
back knowing your wishes were guiding the rule of law, I’m afraid that would be
a foolish assumption. You need to be sure first your representative knows your
wishes, and then do what you can to see that your will becomes that of a
majority of your peers.
You probably don’t need to fight the good
fight on every bill that comes before city council, the state legislature or
Congress, because a lot of what they do are simple housekeeping measures that
are of little concern. But when it’s a matter you hold dear, when it’s a hill
on which you’re willing to die, you’ve really got to step forward if you want
to be counted.
The game doesn’t stop after the votes are
tallied and your representatives are sworn in. And your ability to effect
change does not stop when a decision is handed down from those who have taken
office. The opportunity and obligation to insert individual conscience into the
middle of representative government is a concept that applies to us all.
A couple of months back, Denver City Council
voted unanimously to approve a proposal allowing construction of a 7-story high
rise on the site of the old post office building at 245 Columbine St. in Cherry
In advance of the vote, a large and active group
of residents had attempted to convince Council that the development in question
was too large for the context in which it would be placed, and was in conflict
with the guidelines of a white paper that city staff, residents and local
business owners had drafted to guide development in the area until a new Cherry
Creek Area Plan is approved.
Not satisfied with the decision passed down,
the Cherry Creek North Neigh-borhood Association has
filed suit under Rule 106 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedures, which
provides a course of appeal when citizens are unhappy with the decisions passed
down by their representatives.
Profile went to press, the matter
was winding its way through the legal system, with no indication of when or how
things might unfold.
Similarly, parks advocates citywide have
expressed outrage at Council’s decision to approve a land swap with Denver
Public Schools exchanging some nine acres of open space attached to Hentzell Park in southeast Denver for a DPS-owned office
building at 13th Ave. and Fox St.
The school district plans to build an
elementary school on the land it has received, while the city will use its new
office building as a center for victims of domestic violence.
The anti-swap contingent complains that
selling even a tiny piece of Denver’s limited parkland for anything to anybody
is in violation of the city charter, which demands a vote of the people must
take place to consummate such transactions. While the open space in question
has been “designated” as parkland, it has never been formally “dedicated” as
such, and thus can be sold on the authority of the Manager of Denver Parks and
A grassroots organization, Friends of Denver
Parks, Inc. has begun circulating petitions to get a measure on the November
ballot that would deed the parkland back to the city. Denver’s City Clerk has
rejected similar petitions in the past, asserting City Council acted within the
scope of its authorization. The opponent’s attorney, John Case, disagrees with
the city’s interpretation of the charter, and is looking forward to stating his
case in court if necessary.
In most cases, when a citizens’ group rises
up in protest of a government action, or that engineered by a private company,
those individuals are out-financed and outmanned by teams of staff attorneys.
But belief in the privilege of self governance has
inspired many Davids to rise up in opposition to the
heavy-handed actions of far too many Goliaths.
In some cases citizens have emerged
victorious, and in others their objections have failed to win the day. But they
spoke their minds and fought the good fight. And whatever the odds of success,
or the eventual outcome of the battle, we would urge you to hold dear the words
of Margaret Mead, that have inspired so many to stand strong against all odds:
“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”