If you've traveled to or through Colorado by air prior to June, you might have noticed that Denver International Airport was a little different than others. Along with food courts and newstands, the common space was open to canvassers. On the way to baggage claim, travelers often saw representatives from groups like Environment Colorado, Planned Parenthood or ACLU asking for a minute of their time.
Surely some found it a bother, but it was pretty great to see such a thriving marketplace of ideas right in the middle of a major hub of national travel. Sadly, in June DIA decided to ban canvassing. It was an unfortunate decision, but along the way it was great to see people who support canvassing stick up for the practice in the form of several public comments.
We came across one such comment from Ken Ward, who's been working for 30 years on environmental issues for several high-profile groups, including as deputy executive director for Greenpeace USA. Here's what he had to say (it's pretty great):
Dear Mr. Hagerty,
Among major US airports, there are really only a handful which stand out. If you aren't paying attention, it's possible to land at an O'Hare, Newark or Dallas-Forth Worth and find oneself walking down the concourse, passing GAPs and McDonalds, with only advertising to tell you where you are ("Phoenix: We Mean Business!").
But Denver is different. First, there's the mountains, of course. Then there's the astonishing design of Denver International, with its echos of the Rockies and pioneer tents; nifty in the day, spectacular at night. I might quibble a bit with the marketing decisions – Denver ought to follow Portland's lead, choosing local Powell's Used Books instead of one more Barnes and Noble – but the cool high speed people mover quickly reminds you it's Denver.
Now I'm not going to argue that I'm always looking forward to being hit up by some bushy-tailed college kid, eager to talk about saving the chub or some such, after a long and exhausting flight, and I'll be the first to say that I often wave 'em away without compunction. But here's the thing, the fact that Denver does have it's bushy-tailed, generally young, concerned folks out at the airport, means that Denver stands out from most all the rest of major metropolitan airports in the nation – in addition, of course, to its spectacular design and backdrop – by demonstrating an enthusiasm for civic action that is utterly absent elsewhere. It's possible to fly through most major airports and unless one troubles to buy the local paper, never receive a single impression that people live there. Whether you listen to their pitch or wave 'em away, the do-gooders greeting you in Denver let you know where you are: a place where community matters are debated, public mindedness is respected, and democracy remains vital.
I understand that Denver International Airport is considering regulations that would restrict such activity. Though I'm sure the arguments for doing so, in terms of security, comfort, cost and ease of travel, are strong, please consider the less obvious, but nonetheless powerful case that by treating its airport as the public space it truly is, Denver presents to travelers a robust civic spirit like no other major city.
I thank you for your attention.
We were sad to see those canvassers go, but what a great sentiment. And rest assured, those bushy-tailed concerned folks are still out there fighting the good fight.
Ken Ward is a climate campaigner and carpenter with thirty years of experience (jeez!). He is co-founder of the Jamaica Plain Green House and was recently hired as Director of the Apeiron Institute for Sustainability.