The Chinook Center of Colorado Springs held a fundraiser and community barbeque on Sunday, July 19, at Van Diest Park. 

“The Chinook Center was originally conceived of as a space for social movement organizations and social change groups to come together and share a space,” said founding board member Jon Christiansen, “because there’s not a lot of places for people to use here that are progressive, leftist, social-change oriented.”

The funds raised at the event will help the Chinook Center secure a physical space to help activists in Colorado Springs. Since the group’s founding in March 2019 it’s been active in providing services and training to Southeast Colorado Springs.

“We’re really pushing hard this summer to get enough money to get into a space over in K-Land [the nickname for the area surrounding the former Kmart in 80910] that we’ve identified,” Christiansen said. “In the last year we’ve done People’s Groceries, which is free grocery distribution. We’ve done People’s College, which is a semester-long education series by different social change activists and scholars. 

“We’ve been helping out other groups as much as we can. We’ve been working a lot with DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] and Empowerment Solidarity Network to put together the Protest Support Fund, and we helped out last year with this community barbeque, getting permits and stuff like that. It’s helpful because we’re an official 501(c)3, where a lot of these smaller groups aren’t. We’ve been helping these lesser-resourced organizations get things they need.”

The organization has reached the limits of what it can accomplish without a physical space, and their fundraising efforts will help them expand services and programming. 

“Our programming costs nothing because we’re all volunteers. We usually get a lot of donated food and things like that,” noted Christiansen. “Most of our costs have been printing and paying speakers for some of the events.”

In addition to the fundraiser, which offered pulled-pork, chicken and a vegan option for a $5 donation, the Chinook Center also provided free groceries as part of the People’s Grocery. Bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as bags of free pet food, were available to members of the community. 

The free groceries were provided by Colorado Springs Food Rescue, a local non-profit that works to, “focus on fresh, healthy food to sustain a wholesome diet and prevent nutrition-related illnesses. Paired with educational opportunities, food rescue addresses immediate needs while building relationships and fostering a culture of empowered health,” according to its website. A team of volunteers picks up food that would otherwise be discarded and redistributes it to communities in need.

 “Colorado Springs Food Rescue was like ‘We have a lot of extra food that we’re not going to be giving out on Sunday, so if you want to do a free food handout on Turf Day that would be great,’” said Christiansen. “Today it’s all Colorado Springs Food Rescue’s excess food.”

A physical space for the Chinook Center will go a long way towards changing the political landscape of Colorado Springs, according to Christiansen. 

“It’s gonna really do a lot for the activists and organizing community in Colorado Springs because it’s so hard to have a space that we can really call our own,” he said. “The library is so hard to get space. For People’s College we’re booking it three months out and so many of the spaces we wanted to use were already booked, so it was just always hard to find a space. 

“It’s really hard when there’s no operating space for social movements where they can meet regularly, where they know they can meet safely. That’s what we’re trying to do is provide a safe place for people to meet and come together to have events where we feel like we really own this space. That’s the idea: that everybody will own it together, we’ll all be making decisions about it collectively.” 

Such progressive aspirations may seem paradoxical for Colorado Springs, which has long had a reputation as a conservative stronghold.

 “I lived here 12 years ago and it was definitely more conservative back then,” said Christiansen. “I just moved back about two years ago, and I think part of its reputation is because we don’t have that strong infrastructure as a left-wing community or a grass-roots community. We’ve never really had those strong places, so it’s sort of self-fulfilling you know? We need territory, that’s how movements grow. Once we have it, that’s really going to change the politics of Colorado Springs, at least I hope it is.”

Christiansen is hopeful for the future, and sees the support garnered so far as a good omen.

“Since about February I’ve so amazed,” he said. “This is what makes me feel like the Chinook Center is going to be successful, how much the community has come out and supported one another.

“First it was with the COVID-19 Crisis, and then with the protests that broke out. I feel like the community has just been there to support one another through all this, and we’ve been getting a lot of support. I’m really happy with the way Colorado Springs has showed up lately.”

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.