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This being the last column I have the privilege to write for The Durango Herald, there’s a certain pressure I feel to pen a magnum opus of sorts.

Let me pour some cold water on that thought. No brilliant summation is forthcoming, primarily because such brilliance and the transformative power we believe it holds is a myth. Power yields only to sustained pressure.

Leaders come and go. Speeches are given and forgotten. Columns (and more columns) are written and, well, forgotten, too.

Movements overcome not through brilliance or bright flashes of action, but by people slowly grinding through the tedious work of change, day after day after day.

The myth of brilliance is like the myth of the American Dream: While it claims to inspire, the brightness of its light blinds people to the actual mechanics at play. Rather than doing our dull part as if our dull part was the only part that mattered, we look for heroes and exalt in imaginary decisive battles.

Bollocks. I’d like to share a simple observation. Our community is made and remade by people who show up. Period.

There are a hundred reasons not to show up. The job, the kids, the house, and when that’s all done – can’t I just get a moment to myself?

Fair enough.

Here, though, are a few really good reasons to show up. 1) Our world is in a bad way and people are hurting. 2) The future is looking kind of dim. 3) You have a role to play in helping fix this mess. Really.

I didn’t grow up in a family that engaged much in civics (though I do remember that my 5-foot-tall mother could cut a fierce figure on the nurse’s picket line with that Irish brogue. Go unions.)

That lack of modeling truly left me unaware that civic participation was a thing. Although this is an oversimplification, the story goes: and then I got a job at the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

I excel at being woefully inexperienced for jobs I surreptitiously land, and my start at the Alliance was no exception. There was, however, something very different about this organization.

You see, San Juan Citizens Alliance was born out of regular folks’ desire to make their community a better place. No special skills. No high-minded ideology or polished spokespeople. Just neighbors who cared and felt an obstinate need to be counted.

Thirty-years and a handful of paid staff later, the same spirit moves through the organization today.

If you have ever wanted to engage in civic life but wondered where to start, join the Alliance. We’re not flashy. The work we do? It’s kind of hard, but it’s the non-flashy hard work that gets people connected locally and gets things done.

When you think of Charlie Chaplin, you probably don’t think of high drama. Let me change that perception. In 1940, Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, scored and starred in his first sound film, a satire of fascism titled “The Great Dictator.” The movie’s final monologue is perhaps one of cinema’s greatest, and they are the words I’ll leave you with.

If we all show up, I hope they’ll ring true.

“To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”

This content first published in The Durango Herald’s Thinking Green Column here.

Dan Olson, former executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, is now a proud, dues-paying member. Email him at

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