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May 1, 2021

A Voice from Boulder: This is Not Who We Are.

Let me tell you about Boulder: this is not who we are.

I moved to Boulder in 2010 after living most of my life in big cities. Colorado is my seventh state, and I’ve lived in California and New York twice each.

I pretty much always felt unsafe before moving here, whether as an urbanite in Boston, San Francisco, or Philadelphia, or living in the Cleveland, Oakland, or New Jersey suburbs. My routines always involved iron grates, police locks, alarm systems, and violent neighbors—in any variety of combinations. I always walked at night with my keys laced between my fingers, always slightly turned my head when I walked in the dark, listening for anyone behind or around me.

My family home in Ohio was burgled one Thanksgiving weekend when I was home from grad school. My friends were mugged and my Boston apartment robbed as we moved me out of it one Labor Day. My car was broken into everywhere, until they finally made car stereos removable. None of these were so-called “bad neighborhoods.” I’ve lived alone for many years, walked alone at night, and traveled the world, and despite never feeling fully safe, managed, somehow, to escape criminal bodily harm.

When I moved to Boulder, most crime was against bicycles, and community vigilance meant debates about bear-proof trash cans and looking out for bobcats and mountain lions. Boulder has been described as “a bubble” since before anyone knew what that really meant. It’s been called “27 square miles surrounded by reality.” It’s been a community of hippies, athletes, seekers, academics, entrepreneurs, scientists, and outdoor enthusiasts. Ski culture is fairly big, but dog culture’s bigger. You can’t swing a reusable grocery bag without hitting a yoga teacher or therapist, and we have every type imaginable of both. It’s been a place loosely fettered by typical work hours, and while Boulderites may work hard, they play in earnest: going for a bike ride is considered adequate reason to reschedule a business appointment.

It’s a place where BE LOVE and coexist bumper stickers are commonplace, and you might well hear people saying “I love you” to their neighbors, pharmacists, and baristas as freely as they say hello and thank you. Even as the demographics shift, I’d wager Boulder has more pacifists per capita than any place that’s not a religious order, based on all the decorative peace signs.

While I may roll my eyes at the Boulder clichés of the perpetual-motion yoga moms and helicoptering dads-with-a-bike-trailer, many of them still don’t think twice about leaving their homes unlocked, and still can’t get it through their heads that your car was not in fact “broken into” if it wasn’t locked in the first place.

This is not Boulder.

Boulder has changed in the decade I have lived here, and I can’t say it’s improved. When I arrived, the cars of choice were Subarus and Priuses. Now those are being eclipsed by Teslas and Audis. Housing costs have gotten ridiculous. In the past five years, our sweet downtown and cherished mountain creek have been invaded by meth-addicted transients who terrify even the fiercest of our longtime homeless. Crime is up, as the meth addicts are willing to “work” if that means stealing and chopping up bikes under an overpass. The problems that have plagued San Francisco, Seattle, and other much larger cities, have come to roost in beautiful Boulder, where a perhaps overly indulgent City Council and generally friendly climate dovetail nicely to support transient encampments.

And yet, despite these changes, despite these real, thorny problems, I can say unequivocally that Boulder is still far and away the best place I’ve lived. I can still get around with startling speed and ease, and Boulder remains a smart, charming town with great restaurants, breathtaking scenery, and understanding neighbors. And for the first time in my adult life, over these last 10-1/2 years, I have felt safe where I live.

If mass murder can shatter the peace in this progressive, educated, kind-hearted little town, I assure you: there is nowhere safe in America.

How can this be who we are?

I lay the responsibility for this catastrophic loss of life and ravaging of a community squarely at the feet of lawmakers who simpered and caved, selling out to the NRA. We tried here, we did: 10 days before the massacre, a higher court deemed unenforceable an assault weapons ban passed in 2018 by the City of Boulder. If we are prevented from enacting the “personal responsibility” so touted by the right, then Washington has got to take responsibility and act for us. Grocery stores—and schools, and theaters, and even massage parlors—should be indisputable demilitarized zones.

And if you defend and protect the right to assault weapons, then it’s time to admit that you want to legalize murder. That’s what it means—they are one and the same. These weapons are made for the sole purpose of ending as much life as quickly as possible. Requiring no skill, no training, and no precision, they are weapons of laziness and cowardice, enabling anyone, regardless of mental state, to freely massacre with minimal effort. There is no reason for civilians, nor even police to have them. One might make the moral argument they have no place in any hands in the year 2021. Unless we admit we want to legalize mass murder.

I also place responsibility for these endless mass tragedies at the feet of Hollywood, for its continued and persistent glorification, and even pornographizing, of the use of these weapons. In how many movies do we see both bad guys and good wielding weapons of war with what can only be described as masturbatory fervor? I’m a “Downton Abbey” and “Bridgerton” kind of gal, yet have seen enough of those scenes to be deeply disturbed at how especially men get off with these guns. Yet young Americans grow up grooving on these movies, digging the power, craving the chance to feel that rush themselves.

In America, we clutch our pearls and gasp over film scenes in which consenting adults touch each other nicely, yet thick-necked psychopaths and superheroes alike can mow down crowds without the censors flicking an eyelash. And only in America, people who imprinted on such scenes can easily obtain these weapons to act out their most disturbed, deranged fantasies virtually unchecked. Hollywood must come to face its culpability in making mass murder appear heroic.

Else, no one will be left to claim that this is not who we are.

I came to Boulder lured by the magic of its landscape and softly-paced college town. Discovering it was a bastion of progressive beliefs was as much a surprise as the triathletes and over-the-top white people. Despite its flaws, it’s been deeply easy to live here after decades of big cities stressing me out.

This is the place where I got to set down my chronic urban anger and find my way back to my best-natured self. Boulder is a place that cultivates this sort of growth and open-heartedness, and for so many Boulderites, especially those of us who came from elsewhere, there is no going back to other ways of living.

To have this peace so violently and senselessly breached where so many found healing and tranquility, is exceptionally shocking and devastating. This community is horror- and grief-stricken, stupefied that everything we stand for could be so subverted in a matter of moments.

Our enchanted bubble has been burst, and we have lost 10 people whose offerings to the world are now permanently silenced. We share the anguish and sorrow that will forever burden their loved ones.

But this community will fight back against our values being redefined. Our fence of flowers marks our grief and outrage, and also our boundless love, sense of community, and passion for social justice. We will not stop calling out the forces—political and celebrity—who failed us and have the blood of 10 more decent people on their hands.

No person anywhere should ever find their community so violently shattered and heartbroken—not here, not anywhere. Never again.

We will not be told that this is who we are.


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