Taking a Stand! History of Protests in Boulder
Boulder has been known for quite some time for being the ‘cradle of the hippie’, known for its dedication to nature and the environment, liberal ideologies, and a place for both artists and intellectuals to gather in a friendly, local space. In light of the recent holiday, and some of the protests we have seen around town, I thought it would be interesting to take a trip through history and remember some of the past protests in Boulder that has helped shape the city.
In the 1950’s the Rocky Flat Plant was established in Denver, CO to manufacture and produce nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Towards the end of the decade a plutonium fire broke out and caused a large contamination of one of the buildings. Later, barrels of radioactive waste were discovered leaking in an open field and contaminating the nearby atmosphere. Shockingly, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that these findings were made known to the public. In the 70’s, intending to halt production, an activist group formed in Boulder, Co called the Rocky Flats Truth Force, and protested at the Plant. This group was arrested for civil disobedience and it wasn’t until a year later, after the three mile island incident in Pennsylvania, with a protest numbering over 15,000, that the EPA and FBI began to seriously look into the plant. In 1982, a documentary entitled, “Dark Circle”, was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Prize and an Emmy. It focused on the plutonium contamination on the nearby environment and the costs to the public. In 1989, the FBI initiated a raid on the Plant, finding numerous violations and environmental crimes, and fined the Plant what was then the largest environmental penalty ever received. A clean-up ensued and the Plant was eventually shut down in 1992.
Giving credit to the idea that one person can change the world, Josephine Roche represents a staunch individual who helped changed labor laws in Colorado. In 1927, Josephine inherited the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, a coal mining company which her father had directed. She enacted a number of pro-labor policies, hoping to increase the safety of her employees, and invited the Union Mine Workers of America to return to Colorado and unionize her mines. Roche was the first woman to own a major coal mine and ensured safe worker conditions in an age when most mine owners were deliberately denying workers’ rights.
Finally, (but certainly not all), in 1967 Boulder was the first city to vote a sales tax for the purpose of purchasing, maintaining, and managing open space. It was called the Open Space Tax and the charter included preserving and restoring natural areas, preserving water resources, preserving land for recreational use, limiting urban sprawl and city growth into protected land, and preserving land for its aesthetic value. The Boulder Parks and Recreation which helped initiate these provisions, has this as their mission statement: “To provide a broad spectrum of opportunities to renew, restore, refresh, and recreate, balancing often stressful lifestyles.” Which seems like an apt mission statement for the city of Boulder as well.