To “be Colorado” means to live and let live, to accept or at least tolerate diverse lifestyles, to seek greater understanding of others’ points of view, and to refrain from needlessly interfering in others’ lives. Yes, I’m just making that up. But the sentiment is consistent with what I see as the dominant cultural trend here.
To highlight some history: Colorado was founded in 1876, the centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the greatest tribute to the live and let live philosophy of all time. Colorado was one of the first states to embrace women’s suffrage with an 1893 referendum. Governor Ralph Carr fought against Japanese-American internment here during WWII, as Adam Schrager details in his biography.
Today, Colorado is home to robust school choice, legal marijuana, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, liberal concealed gun carry laws, strong civil-rights organizations on both left and right, a still-strong press corps despite financial troubles, and top journalists and lawyers who enthusiastically sue over open records and police abuses.
Colorado also has had its dark moments. In 1880, a Denver mob, enraged by Chinese job competition, rioted in the city’s Chinatown and murdered a man. Colorado was an early leader in the disastrous era of Prohibition. And, for a time in the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan dominated government in Denver and in the state.
My claim, then, is not that Colorado is some sort of liberty utopia. Rather, it is that in its dominant themes Colorado is a live and let live place, and we should embrace the attitude “be Colorado” as a way to celebrate and strengthen that heritage. Don’t be mean, don’t hurt or harass people; be Colorado.
It is painfully easy to illustrate what I mean by negative example. The following people definitely were not being Colorado: A person who defaced yard signs of a political candidate with homophobic stickers, white supremacists who harassed a local journalist and his family, and political ralliers who shouted at journalists things like “lock them up,” “hang them all,” and “electric chair.” That kind of behavior is the opposite of Colorado, and real Coloradans stand against it.
Denver City Councilmember Candi CdeBaca strayed from the Colorado way when she Tweeted approvingly of people with coronavirus attending Trump rallies to sicken people there. Yet I’m happy to take her at her word that she was being sarcastic and didn’t really wish harm on anyone. Far worse than her remarks are horrid messages that some people sent her wishing harm on her and her family.
Coloradans won’t always agree on where to draw the lines. When I saw Congressman Ken Buck’s video telling Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke that, if they want to take people’s AR-15 rifles, they can start with his, I thought it was campy and humorous, though I cringed at Buck waiving the gun at the person behind the camera.
David Pourshoushtari, communications director for Colorado Democrats, was not amused. He wondered if Buck was threatening the lives of Biden and O’Rourke. I think Pourshoushtari overreacted to Buck’s stunt to roughly the same extent that Republican leaders overreacted to CdeBaca’s (they called for her resignation). We should give people some wiggle room, interpret their motives generously, give people a chance to explain, and not jump prematurely to condemnations.
Things can get tricker when it comes to policy. Political policies have real-life implications, and ultimately all laws are backed up by armed government agents. So advocating any law that regulates behavior is, ultimately, threatening the use of force. By my lights, what Biden and O’Rourke are doing precisely is threatening to send heavily armed government agents after peaceable owners of politically incorrect semi-automatic rifles, bust down their doors if necessary, confiscate their property, and kill them if they resist.
At the same time, Buck really was invoking the widespread sentiment that armed resistance to unjust laws is sometimes justified and that at some point gun owners may defend their rights by force.
So what does it mean to “be Colorado” in this context? Some will say that it means to peaceably give up your guns if the federal government insists that you do. I would counter that it is to refrain from threatening to send armed federal agents to forcibly take guns from peaceable people.
One thing that took me by surprise was seeing dozens of Tweets mocking Buck over the alleged size of his penis. Maybe I’m confused by the Rules of Wokeness, but I thought people on the left generally condemned body shaming. The idea here is that gun owners allegedly are compensating for some physical or mental deficiency. Treating select groups as dehumanized “others” and spuriously ascribing to them dark psychological motives is how bigots think, and it is definitely not being Colorado.
I have not always met the highest Colorado standards in my own words and deeds, although I’ve tried to continually improve. And I realize that we’ll sometimes disagree about what “be Colorado” means. But maybe we can agree that civilly engaging good-willed people and fostering a live and let live attitude are key ways to be Colorado.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.
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