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What is democracy? We asked Coloradans ahead of the November election

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What does democracy mean to you? What do people with different views from yours get wrong about you? What does your community need? 

Three questions posed and answered by Coloradans around the state ahead of midterm election day in an effort to start a conversation about our democracy. We want those around Colorado to understand their neighbors, with the hope is that our community will learn something new and gain some empathy for someone with a different view or experience than them.

Watch Colorado Voices: Our Democracy now on our YouTube.

The Q & As were edited for clarity and length.

Perla Rodriguez | Fort Morgan

Community organizer for the Center for Health Progress.

Q. What does “democracy,” mean to you?

A. For Rodriguez, democracy is about civic engagement without barriers, which she said still does not exist for many Americans. Immigrants, those who do not speak English and those without financial resources are still underrepresented in politics, Rodriguez added.

“Unfortunately, our country does not make that engagement equitable for everybody,” Rodriguez said. “I believe that if you are living in this country and you are contributing economically, you should be allowed to have a say in who represents you.” 

Q. What do those with different beliefs get wrong about you?

A. Rodriguez said her political beliefs lean left, but they do not align with what one might believe about everyone with left-leaning beliefs.

“A lot of people might think that my way of doing things is very leftist, or that I don't believe that there should be laws or policies embedded in our systems or countries,” Rodriguez said. “I definitely do believe in laws and policies. I just recognize that a lot of the laws and policies that we have in our Constitution right now are, you know, very racist.”

Q. What does your community need?

A. As a Latina in Fort Morgan, Rodriguez said her city and state need representation from other Latino community members, as they make up a large swatch of Fort Morgan.

“I think it's important that our voices are heard. It's important that we're represented,” Rodriguez said. “And it's important that little kids can see people that look like them and that speak like them, representing them and wanting to make changes that are going to be more inclusive for people in the community and the culture that they belong to.”

Kristy Milligan| Colorado Springs

CEO of Westside Cares, a social services organization in El Paso County.

Q. What do people not understand about those experiencing homelessness and poverty?

A. Milligan said many misconceptions float around about those in poverty and homelessness.

“My experience has been that people experiencing poverty and homelessness are the most generous, kind, talented, thoughtful people,” Milligan said. “So many of them came from circumstances just like you or me, and had one significant, life-altering event that just created this downward spiral out of which it's impossible to reach up.”

Q. What does democracy mean to you?

A. To Milligan, democracy is about holding onto ideals of a fair society in which everyone has an equal say.

“We've established ideals, and we have formative documents that talk about democracy as the cornerstone for our society,” Milligan said. “Right to assembly, right to personal property. Right to have a voice even with elected representatives, the right to be a part of the decisions that are being made on your behalf as a citizen of this country.”

Q. How does Colorado Springs relate to democracy?

A. Milligan believes Colorado Springs can serve as a model for the rest of the country about how democracy should run, though the city still has room for improvement.

“I think that there are big growth opportunities for Colorado Springs, particularly as it relates to the development and implementation of policies that affect the marginalized among us,” Milligan said. “Engaging in democracy is not convenient. It is messy. It's non-linear. And sometimes it requires a lot of extra effort.” 

Penn Street | Estes Park

A visually-impaired runner with the YMCA of the Rockies.

Q. What does "democracy," mean to you?

A. Street said democracy is about everyone having equal access to the same freedoms and privileges. “To me, democracy is that everybody is allowed to have a voice,” Street said. “Everybody is allowed to have their opinions.”

Q. What might someone with different beliefs than yours get wrong about you?

A. Street said existing around those with opposing views is one benefit she sees in being an American. “And even though you disagree with somebody's political belief or religious belief, we're still all here,” Street said. “We're all one humankind”

Q. What does your community need?

A. Street said the visually-impaired community needs more representation and legal assistance. “The previous administrations have tried to gut the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that scares me to death because to me, we've come a long way with ADA, but we have so much more to go,” Street said. “And so if we're going backwards with it, what's going to happen to the next generation of people with disabilities?” 

John Rodriguez | Pueblo

Former communications director for the City of Pueblo and former publisher of PULP Colorado, a magazine based in Pueblo.

Q. What does "democracy" mean to you?

A. For Rodriguez, the future of democracy rests in the hands of the media tasked with sharing stories of the underserved.

“Who's watching the people that are there to protect us and to make decisions on behalf of the community?” Rodriguez asked. “The first real hit is that journalism and the people that are supposed to be watching a community are the ones that are in a survival mode and not doing a great job, I believe, for Pueblo.”

Q. What are examples of democracy, in your mind?

A. Rodriguez pointed to Pueblo and its shifting demographics – from predominantly white to predominantly Hispanic – as illustrations of democracy. Rodriguez said Latino community members are now being given the opportunity to voice their concerns and have more of an impact than ever before.

“What we're seeing now is how do (Latinos) relate into a modern, multicultural world, apart from being the immigrant that was really looked down upon to now those that are the decision makers,” Rodriguez said. “So in the next decade, they will get to decide on what their community looks like.”

Q. In general, what do you think Pueblo’s relationship is to Colorado as it relates to democracy?

A. Rodriguez believes Pueblo is often written off by those in Colorado who live elsewhere. 

“Pueblo is a still town trying to find itself in a modern world,” Rodriguez said. “It's struggling to move past this idea that we were only a manufacturing town, where a high school education and a job at the mill was really the epitome of American life and the American dream.”

Q. What does your community need?

A. Rodriguez believes Pueblo needs a revamped image – one of culture and hope – rather than violence and tragedy.

“We are a community that gets made fun of by the rest of the state. We are 'memeified,'” Rodriguez said. “People are afraid to be proud of Pueblo. We'll put the slogan on a refrigerator, but we won't fight back when people put us down.”

Mary McGuire | Fruita

Retired school teacher

Q. What does "democracy" mean to you?

A. McGuire said democracy rests on community members supporting each other to reach solutions.

“I feel like it's a community that comes together to support causes,” McGuire said. “Sometimes, when I hear on the radio of all the different events that are happening to benefit this, that or the other, I'm always amazed.”

Q. What might those with different political beliefs than your own get wrong about you?

A. McGuire warned that some with different beliefs could see her views as more extreme than they actually are.

“They might think that I'm an anarchist or like the dreaded socialist, which I'm not either of those,” McGuire said. “They might think that I can't or wouldn't compromise on anything. I personally believe that it's human nature to want to find a compromise that allows for a way forward. I really don't believe that it's human nature for us to be as combative and as divided as we are right now.”

Q. What does your community need?

A. McGuire believes the United States as a whole needs more compromise and understanding of each other.

“The ability to think very differently from someone, but love them very, very, very much, very deeply and care about them very deeply,” McGuire said. “It doesn't take that much to establish that, but it takes certain things like giving someone time, listening, maybe putting yourself in their shoes for a little bit, but really looking beyond the words and the labels to the individual.”

Jim Jackson | Fruita

Retired National Park Service law enforcement officer.

Q. What does “democracy,” mean to you?

A. From his 25 years in law enforcement, Jackson believes democracy is about equal treatment under the law.

“One interesting aspect of being in a national park is they are a place people can go to express their First Amendment rights,” Jackson said. “And that became a very important part of my job, making sure people who felt they had something to say could do so in a safe environment. It could be groups that I agreed with. It could be groups that I disagreed with, but we treated them all the same.”

Q. What might someone with different beliefs than yours get wrong about you?

A. Jackson said his views differ at many points along the traditional political spectrum. He supports some traditionally conservative views as well as traditionally liberal ones.

“If you ask me about my Second Amendment beliefs, (I have) very strong beliefs. All the way out there on the right,” Jackson said. “When I say I vote the Second Amendment and people hear me say that, I think they put me in the far-right against same-sex marriage, against immigration. I very much support the LGBTQ community and immigration.”

Jeff Campbell | Denver

Guerrilla storyteller, creative director and founder of Emancipation Theater Company.

Q. What does “democracy” mean to you?

A. To Campbell, democracy is about equal representation of the people it claims to represent in office. Campbell said the purest form of democracy could come to fruition if those with more money did not have unequal sway over law and policy.

“Democracy means to me a government of the people ruled by the people. Our voice is the most important voice in terms of how we legislate and how we govern,” Campbell said. “I think democracy is not as complicated as we make it, but when money enters the chat, when money comes into play, that's when things start to get complicated and muddled.”

Q. What might people with differing positions than yours get wrong about you?

A. Campbell said those who believe differently from him may see him as angry or race-obsessed, though that is not the case.

“I believe, first and foremost, that my personal life choices are the number one factor in the quality of life that I experience,” Campbell said. “And I also believe that there are structures, institutions and systems within our society that were built on bias.”

Q. What does your community need?

A. Campbell said his community needs more empathy from its government officials.

“What often happens is that we're looking at statistics, we're looking at charts, we're looking at graphs,” Campbell said. “When we sit down and listen to people and begin to see ourselves within one another, that's when we begin to understand the why and the how and those are the places where we can change.” 

Ruby Lopez | Boulder 

Queer and Trans People of Color Program Coordinator and Spanish Access Coordinator at Out Boulder County

Q. What does the word "democracy," mean to you?

A. To Lopez, democracy is “one vote per person and collectively coming together to make informed decisions as a community.” Lopez believes in a perfect world, democracy would mean every vote carries equal weight, regardless of financial status of the person casting the vote. “I think there's a certain understanding that the game is kind of rigged in a sense, since there's so much money and power and influence that can sway decision making in this country,” Lopez

Q. What do you wish those with different political beliefs than yours knew about you?

A. As a left-leaning person, Lopez believes many who disagree with her beliefs may look at her and those like her as lazy. But Lopez – who is transgender and Latina – feels cards are stacked against marginalized groups.

“A lot of us are just tired of settling and compromising for less than what any human being should be afforded,” Lopez said. “It's not that there's laziness.”

Q. What does your community need?

A. As a Latina, transgender woman, Lopez said her communities need more representation in government to create equitable laws with her communities in mind. As transgender people and people of color continue to face attacks from politicians, Lopez said having a representative sharing her lived experiences would benefit those like her.

“What is my community… needs just a little bit of protection, visibility and awareness and honoring the fact that, yes, we are a small part of the population,” Lopez said. “Despite that, we still deserve to have rights and be protected.”

Alison Berg is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

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