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Cortez climate march focuses on monuments, oil and gas

Local activists rally around monuments, environment

About 200 Cortez residents spoke up for local monuments and other environmental issues during the Climate Mobilization Rally on Saturday.

The event, which was scheduled to coincide with the nationwide People’s Climate March, drew several local politicians and activists, as well as many of the demonstrators who participated in previous Alliance for Unity marches. It started with a rally in City Park, where several speakers talked about local environmental issues such as the Bears Ears National Monument and oil and gas pollution. Then the crowd, led by members of the sponsoring Montezuma Alliance for Unity, walked through intermittent snowfall and a chilly breeze on their usual route along Montezuma Avenue and Main Street.

Overall, the event included more talking than marching. Several local groups set up booths in City Park and gave signs to people who didn’t bring any, and speakers addressed the crowd from a stage decorated with paintings, the People’s Climate March logo and other slogans. The Lindell family provided music before and after the march, but the main focus was on the speakers.

“To me, this signifies American democracy in action for the good of our country,” Tulli Kerstetter, president of the Alliance, said at the rally.

Like the Women’s March for Unity and the Women’s History March earlier this year, the event was organized by the Alliance, which is made up of about five nonprofit organizations in the county. But this time they also got some local schools involved. Read Brugger organized an essay contest for elementary students throughout April, asking them to write about what they could do to stop climate change, and at the rally their essays were put up for display on clotheslines between trees in City Park. Members of the alliance also read the three winning essays out loud, since none of their authors were able to attend.

The other speakers included Will Morris, pastor of United Methodist Church in Cortez; Pete Dronkers, of the environmental activist group Earthworks; and Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, former head councilwoman of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. Lopez-Whiteskunk spoke about the recent designation of Bears Ears National Monument, which she said was a great achievement for Native Americans and the public in general, and urged her audience to protect it in light of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order targeting monuments.

“I firmly believe in what our elders have always said,” she said. “Too much of something isn’t always a good thing. ... If we take something, we’ve got to leave something.”

During the march itself, several business owners and passing motorists cheered on the marchers, while others threw out less complimentary remarks. Participants held up signs with slogans like “There Is No Planet B” and “Climate Science, Not Climate Myth.” Kerstetter said pictures of many of the signs would be faxed to the offices of Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and other politicians for the next few weeks.

Angie Lowe, a teacher from Dolores, brought her two young daughters to the march and carried a sign they had made about practical steps to battle climate change.

“I just think it’s one of the most important issues,” Lowe said. “Everyone needs to do what they can to make a change.”

Barbara Stagg, of the Alliance for Unity, said at the start of the rally that she was pleased with the event’s enthusiasm but disappointed in the turnout. She speculated the number of events happening in Cortez on Saturday morning, including the Pueblo to Pueblo race and a citywide cleanup day, may have helped keep people away. The town also received almost an inch of snow the night before, according to local meteorologist Jim Andrus, and the high temperature was 49 degrees, about 18 degrees below normal for this time of year.

On Monday, Stagg said in an email that she was “thrilled at the final turnout.”

Montezuma Alliance for Unity was formed in the past year and is composed of the Montezuma County Democratic Party and Democratic Women, the local League of Women Voters, the Mancos Blues Ensemble and the Resource and Energy Action Plan of Montezuma County. It led the National Women’s History rally in March and the Women’s March for Unity on Jan. 21, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The January march drew about 500 people.

The Resource and Environmental Advocacy and Protection group (REAP), an activist group that focuses on environmental, land and energy issues, sponsored the rally portion of the event. The rally was conducted under the banner of the People’s Climate Movement, which led rallies across the country that coincided with Trump’s 100th day in office.

Stagg said her group doesn’t have another march planned in the near future.

“The next thing that everybody, hopefully, will do is make sure they’re registered to vote,” she said.

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