“The agreement an Indian makes to a United States treaty is like the agreement a buffalo makes with his hunters when pierced with arrows.” — Chief Ouray (1)
Resistance to capitalism in the Pikes Peak region is not new. The area was home to the Ute Tribe when large numbers of white people arrived during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of the mid-19th Century. Miners from Georgia led the capitalist invasion, the same gold-seeking Georgians who only a few years before had dispossessed the Cherokee of their land. Policy from Washington gave the Utes only two options: integrate into capitalist society — called civilization — or be exterminated (2). The Utes chose to fight the invaders in a series of battles and massacres.
The Meeker Massacre on the White River, 1879
The miners’ fortunes were linked with those of two Philadelphia scions and tycoons. One was Brigadier General and railroad owner William Jackson Palmer, founder of the Colorado Springs Company who attracted wealthy investors from the East Coast and Europe. They built a city that “existed for consumers seeking the gracious amenities and genteel qualities of an elite city, and the primitive, sublime wilderness of its environs” (3). The other magnate was Spencer Penrose, owner of a mine in Cripple Creek and later an ore processing company, who built the Broadmoor Hotel, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Will Rogers Shrine, and other local landmarks.
Prospectors in the Pikes Peak Region, ca. 1858
The invading miners eventually turned against their capitalist bosses. William “Big Bill” Haywood and others organized unions and fought a class struggle during the Colorado Labor Wars, the most violent series of labor confrontations in US history (4). Penrose and the other bosses weren’t about to compromise their millions: “As soon as you give in to a union, you are gone … Finally the mine owners took a stand and beat them” (5). The class conflict of the period led Haywood and other labor leaders to found the Industrial Workers of the World, believing that the “Universal economic evils afflicting the working class can be eradicated only by a universal working class movement” (6).
Labor action in Colorado was suppressed during World War I. The Industrial Workers of the World were accused of being an ally of Germany and labor unrest the result of German agitation. Though many German-Americans in Colorado made public statements of loyalty, a general climate of hysteria prevailed. German-Americans and union members were accused of being German agents, subjected to physical abuse, and fired from jobs. Rumours spread that Mexican migrant workers and Indigenous people were part of the “Hun plot,” that they were going to poison the local water supply, and that the Germans had a wireless station on one of Colorado’s highest mountains (7).
With labor subdued, the capitalist state greatly increased its presence in Colorado Springs in the wake of World War II, The city now hosts numerous military bases, including NORAD, Fort Carson, and the Air Force Academy, and it has one of the largest military populations in the country (8), with the attendant problem of violent crimes by soldiers (9).
Military Training at Colorado College, 1918
Not everyone in the Springs has been silent about the rampant militarism; protests broke out during the Vietnam War (10), Iraq War (11), and others. During the Vietnam War, Colorado College, which for decades had been a very conservative institution and the site of training for the US military, took the unusual step of allowing students to skip class to protest the war (12). Before the Iraq War, thousands of protestors shut down Academy Boulevard for a time, provoking a heavy-handed police response involving pepper spray, tear gas, stun guns, and rubber bullets. Protesters frequently faced suppression of free speech and surveillance by law enforcement, including the FBI (13).
Air Force Academy Cadets and Chapel, 2009
Once a frontier culture of roughnecks and oligarchs, by the late 20th Century Colorado Springs appeared more a middle class Christian Mecca. With help from Billy Graham, a pivotal mid-century minister whose televised sermons merged “neo-evangelicalism into the culture of consumption” (14), the city became a center of fundamentalist Protestantism and home to over one hundred evangelical organizations (15). Collectively, those organizations are a lobbying powerhouse in Washington (16) and a pro-market political force (17). Local resistance to the Christian superstructure has taken the form of groups such as Citizens Project, Ground Zero, the Gill Foundation, and the ACLU; petitioning for state intervention (18); and occasional performance art known as church kicking (19).
Church Kicker, ca. 2004
Racism has a rich history in Colorado. In addition to persecution of Indigenous people and migrant Mexicans, the Chinese were a frequent target. In one spectacular episode in 1880, part of a national wave of anti-Chinese riots, Chinatown in Denver was burned to the ground. Just emerging from the Depression of the 1870s, white workers feared Chinese immigration would mean that “white men would starve and women would be forced into prostitution” (21). Republicans associated the mob with the Democratic Party and blamed the Democratic press for its “communistic utterances” (22).
Colorado Springs is a very white city (23) with its own history of racism, including the events portrayed in the recent film BlacKkKlansman by Spike Lee. Colorado Springs also has a history of people fighting for integration. Fannie Mae Duncan, grandchild of slaves, opened the first integrated business in Colorado Springs, a place called the Cotton Club. She brought in music legends such as Duke Ellington, BB King, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holliday and Fats Domino. She converted her home into a hostel, since the musicians couldn’t stay in the town’s hotels (24). Despite improvements, the Springs remains highly segregated today (25).
Fannie Mae Duncan, ca. 1955
The ghosts of Palmer and Penrose still haunt the institutions, places, and statues bearing their names; the mythology of the frontier still weighs on people’s minds. But Colorado Springs continues to grow rapidly (26) and to reflect ongoing changes in capitalism. The effects of libertarian policies in municipal government during the Neoliberal Era and the economic downturn of the Great Recession combined to create austerity and hardship in Colorado Springs (27). Though the local economy outperformed the national average, the city saw spikes in unemployment, poverty, crime (28), and suicide (29).
As historian and sociologist Karl Polanyi pointed out, when capitalism is in protracted crisis, it produces fascism (30), and the Springs is definitely a fascist hotbed, experiencing recent spikes in right-wing extremism (31). The city is home to a large and growing number of neo-Nazi, KKK, and anti-Queer groups, bringing a surge of hate crime (32) and anti-abortion violence (33).
Capitalist crisis also creates its own opposition — or gravediggers as Karl Marx put it (34). Nationally, the number of people identifying as socialist jumped in recent years (35). Though data on socialists in Colorado Springs is hard to come by, one indication is the existence of any radical groups at all in this citadel of conservatism. The cyclical waves of protest in recent decades — Anti-Globalization, Anti-War, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Ferguson, Metoo, Socialism — have all sent their ripples through the Springs, and the city now has groups such as Black Lives Matter, Colorado Springs Antifa, Pikes Peak Womxn for Liberation, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Empowerment Solidarity, and radical blogs such as Not My Tribe. Related groups include Pikes Peak Justice and Peace, Blackbird Outreach, and Coalition for Compassion and Action. Other nearby groups — such as Pueblo Socialists and For the People – Pueblo — also formed recently.
Another Springs radical group, Colorado Springs Socialists (CSS), is organizing residents and fomenting change (36). Founded in 2016, the organization at first consisted mainly of students from the University of Colorado and is still composed mainly of Millenials.
The group reached public attention during the Trial of the Socialist Six (37). After a protest by and arrest of CSS members, a scandal revealed that an armed law enforcement officer had infiltrated the group and committed acts of agitation. The charges against the CSS members were eventually dismissed or dropped.
CSS returned to the spotlight in November 2018 by hosting a national convention for twenty-four independent Marxist groups (38). CSS kicked off the convention with a public screening of the film, Sorry to Bother You, and a question-and-answer session with director Boots Riley (39).
CSS has several programs. The Tenant Union identifies target landlords, builds relationships, educates tenants, and facilitates collective action. The labor committee has been conducting a series of workplace organizing workshops with experienced union organizers, and it plans to target specific workplaces for salting and collective action. Other CSS programs include a May Day march, Pride presence, reading groups, and student group organizing.
The old cry of resistance returns, and Colorado Springs Socialists promises to continue the confrontation with capitalism. The group is committed to building a socialist society, to empowering the working class, to creating full equality and liberation for all people, and to building an international revolutionary party.
CSS Members and the CSPD, 2017
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
- The Ute Campaign of 1879:
A Study in the Use
of the Military Instrument
- Uniting Mountain and Plain by Kathleen A. Brosnan
- Colorado’s Role in the American Labor Struggle
- A Pikes Peak Partnership
- Industrial Union Manifesto
- The Ordeal of Colorado’s Germans during World War 1
- America’s Military Cities
- The Fort Carson Murder Spree
- Public Protests, 1965 – 72
- Crowd Control
- “We Will Remember Them”
- Local anti-war activists persist through decades of intimidation and repression
- Billy Graham’s Crusades in the 1950s: Neo-Evangelicalism between Civil Religion, Media, and Consumerism
- Billy Graham has shaped evangelical life in Colorado Springs, world
- Focus on the Family affiliates high on list of big-spending lobbying groups
- Gods and Profits
- The Dirty and Dangerous Secrets of The Classical Academy of Colorado Springs
- Post-Poetry, Part 2: Outpost/Outland
- Racism and the Logic of Capitalism
- Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riot
- Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riot, 1880
- United State Census Bureau
- Quality of Life Indicators
- Where the races live in Colorado Springs
- Honoring Fannie Mae Duncan
- The Short, Unhappy Life of a Libertarian Paradise
- Quality of Life Indicators
- Teen suicide capital: El Paso County’s ‘heart-wrenching’ problem tops in the state
- The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi
- Number of hate groups in Colorado ticks up after holding steady since 2011
- Hate crimes nearly doubled in Colorado Springs over the past year
- Attack in Colorado Springs Part of an Ongoing Campaign of Threats and Violence
- Manifesto of the Communist Party
- More Americans joining socialist groups under Trump
- Colorado Springs Socialists
- Trial of the Socialist Six
- Building Revolution in the USA: Notes on Marxist Center Conference, 2018
- Hip-Hop radical Boots Riley plans Colorado Springs coup
- The Last War Trail
- Sidelights of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, 1858-59
- Pourtales, Penrose, and the “Broadmoor City” Dream
- Old Colorado City Historical Society
- Colorado Geological Survey
- The Contradictions of Western American Manhood as Seen through 1858-1866 Immigration to Pikes Peak
- The Rise and Fall of Unions:
The Public Sector and the Private
- The Preliminaries to the Labor War in Colorado
- The Colorado Indian War
- The Ute Mode of War in the Conflict of 1865-1868
- The Enemy in Colorado: German Prisoners of War, 1943-46
- Colorado College’s Wartime History