125 Years of Dissent: An Alternative History of the Grand Valley
###from the Red Pill's upcoming issue Vol. 5 No. 11###
Though Grand Junction has long had a reputation as a conservative town, since its inception in 1882 there has been a minority that have actively dissented against that status quo and agitated for a better more equitable future. From Railroad strikes, to underground newspapers, to Blacklisted Dalton Trumbo and from anti-nuke protests in the Ô60s to antiwar protest in the 1990Õs and the 2000Õs Grand Junction and its surrounding region has a rich history of dissent and citizen activism.
From the 1880’s through the 1920’s Grand Junction was very much a union town.
In 1885 Denver and Rio Grand Railroad workers go on strike, and nine local strikers are arrested. The next year the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers local #488 is organized. The International Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen was first organized in 1891. The order of Railway Conductors was organized in 1897.
In 1908, there was an extended strike on the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad. The Daily Sentinel’s headline of March 16th 1908 read: “Hundreds Quit Work: Today Fifteen Hundred Machinist and Other employees of the Denver & Rio Grand quit work, Refusing to Accept the New Order of Things--Strike may Spread Over Entire Gould System--A Long and Bitter Struggle Seems Certain.” The 1908 strike was for the most part peaceful, though there were at least three reported fist-fights between strikers and ‘scabs,’ one striker was arrested. Almost two months after the strike started, a train on the Gunnison line was suspiciously dynamited.
In those early years of the 20th century The Daily Sentinel had a special section in its paper called “Union Labor Notes” which was edited by Frank A. Hoisington, the Secretary of the Grand Junction Trades and Labor Assembly.
Also in 1908, Eugene V. Debs, the popular Socialist presidential candidate came to Grand Junction and spoke to a huge audience.
The prominence and popularity of socialist and labor movements in Grand Junction’s early days can be verified by, John Otto, the so-called Father of the Colorado National Monument, who in 1913 felt compelled to write a letter to the editor of the Daily Sentinel stating that “Grand Junction is not a Socialist town; that it never really was, and that it never shall be.
What is certain is that the small town of Nucla in the West-End of Montrose County was formed by Socialist. The Colorado Cooperative Ditch Company was formed by ten socialist, nine men and one woman in 1894. A Daily Sentinel article from Dec. 21,1975, states that, “Colonists recruited had to be 18 years old, have enough money to buy at least one share of stock, and be willing to cooperate in a collective society which could ‘reach the highest condition of social and intellectual attainment and material equality.’” The collective town then called ‘Pinyon,’ at its height had; 232 people, a newspaper, “The Altrurin,” a Brass Band, a theater group, community speakers and classes in the town hall, and had built the tallest and longest irrigation flume in the world at that time. In the end the collective fell apart over the issue of private land ownership. The Altrurin in April 26, 1899 stated: “The individual ownership of land is fundamentally wrong...The only thing that is his, is the value of improvements he has put upon the land and his right to the land exists only as long as he uses it.” As the water first flowed through the ditch in 1904, after ten years of labor, the communal sprit faded in favor of private holdings, now that their forty acres of former desert was now worth something.
During the Colorado Coal Strike of 1913-1914, Walter Walker via The Daily Sentinel’s editorial page pleaded for a peaceful resolution. Walter Walker ran a scathing editorial in the April 23, 1914 Sentinel entitled “Women and Children,” which placed blame for the recent massacre of women and children in the strike camp at Ludlow, Colorado on “The Mine guards and the militia [Colorado State Militia] are not alone to blame, however…there is no excuse to be offered for their action and the blood on innocents is upon their heads.” The next day Walker ran a front page editorial calling “upon Gov. Ammons to make a request for Federal Troops for service in the blood-soaked strike district of Colorado.” Another one of Walker’s editorials is poignant and short enough to be quoted at length:
The manner in which the Rockefellers, father and son, turned down the appeal from President Wilson, asking them, as the biggest owners, to do all they could to end the labor war in Colorado, shows how cold blooded is this family. The lives of men, women and children are as nothing to these money grabbers when their private interests are concerned.”
During the 1920’s the labor movement continued to grow national and locally. The Labor Hall stood at 435 Main St. and local unions included: Barbers Union, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Brotherhood of Decorators and Paperhangers, Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, Brotherhood of Railway trainmen, Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, Musicians’ Union, Order of Railway Conductors, Typographical Union, and United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
Novelist and Screenplay writer, Dalton Trumbo, is hands down the most famous dissident Grand Junction has ever produced. Born in Montrose in 1905, Trumbo grew up in Grand Junction and wrote for The Daily Sentinel briefly before heading to the University of Colorado in 1924.
In 1939, Trumbo wrote the novel, Johnny Got His Gun, a National Book Award winning antiwar story whose protagonist a World War One causality, Joe, who in the novel, “had no legs and no arms and no eyes and no ears and no nose and no mouth and no tongue. What a hell of a dream. It must be a dream. Of course sweet god it's a dream. He'd have to wake up or he'd go to nuts. Nobody could live like that.” Joe is finally able to communicate by tapping out Morse code with his head, and what he communicated was a plea for death.
Trumbo joined the Communist Party in 1943, and was active in supporting union rights. In 1947 Trumbo refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and become one of the “Hollywood 10.” Trumbo was convicted of Contempt of Congress and spent 11 months in prison and was blacklisted and unable to work openly in Hollywood. Trumbo went on to write another 30 screenplays under different pseudonyms, including The Brave One, which won an Oscar for best screenplay.
In the early seventies Trumbo tried his hand at directing when he adapted his Novel Johnny Got His Gun into a motion picture by the same name, but for a whole new war.
THE 1960’s AND 70’s
While the nation was being rocked by student protests against the War in Vietnam, Grand Junction was strangely quite. The Red Pill’s research has been unable to turn up any information about anti-vietnam war activism or protest activity, if you know of any let us know firstname.lastname@example.org.
But there was a flurry of citizen activism related to Project Rullison, an Atomic Energy Commission, underground nuclear bomb test designed to recover natural gas from Doghead Mountain, just above Battlement Mesa. The 44 Kiloton explosion, which shook the Western Slope on September 10, 1969, brought protests from around the region. The Daily Sentinel from September 11, 1969 reported a “hippie chase a few minutes before the detonation.” Air Force crew told the Sentinel that “There’s more up there that we couldn’t get off,” as they air-lifted two protestors out of the detonation zone. Yeah, that’s right they set off a nuclear bomb with protesters in the blast zone…
Parachute Colorado local, Chester Mcqueary, wrote in an article for High Country News about the “hippie chase” that:
“On Wednesday, Sept. 10, the go-ahead was given, and we scattered over the mountain in twos and threes, so that we could not all be removed in one fell swoop by authorities. We listened on portable radios to the countdown for the blast being broadcast on Rifle’s KWSR.
At 30 minutes before blast time, we set off smoke flares to confirm for AEC officials that we were still on the mountain and inside the quarantine zone. A blue, twin-rotor Air Force helicopter soon hovered 50 feet above the aspen clearing where Margaret Puls and I stood. Men in the open door gestured and shouted inaudibly at us. They could not land on the steep slope safely, and we had no intention of being passively taken off the mountain so the AEC could then claim that they had lived up to their word regarding a human-free quarantine zone. Since they’d known of our presence on the mountain for nearly a week, we wondered if some sort of special forces might suddenly slide down ropes from the helicopter doors.”
In 1971, workers at Grand Junction Steel went on strike over “compulsory overtime..sick pay, additional holidays and additional health insurance,” according to a Jan. 16, 1971 Sentinel article.
In 1975, The Daily Sentinel ran an article featuring ‘Shantosha’ a intentional community and a “well know commune.” Located on 150 acres on Redlands Mesa, Shantosha, was comprised on eleven adults and one child with the goal of becoming “self-supporting.” The commune had its own chickens, 12 goats for milk, ten beehives, and a sawmill. All the produce was grown organically and any surplus was sold by the group for cooking oil and salt and other staples. Started in 1971, the residents of the Shantosha, the Hindu-Sanskrit word for contentment, came to rural Colorado to gain independence. “Here, you don’t even need money. You see the product of your labors,” said Willie.
THE 1980’s AND 90’s
“In the 80’s Grand Junction was more or less a monoculture. Everybody thought that same.” said Tom Pipe, Coeditor/founder of the Anti-Crit, an underground mimeographed newspaper that put out two issues per semester at Mesa State during the 1982-83 school year. “We were there to shake things up,” said Pipe, “our cartoon with the Young Republican wearing a swastika, got people going.” “Dissent was what we were all about, one of our mottos was: At least we’re saying something.”
“An angry brand of conformity ruled then,” said Frank Rich, editor of Modern Drunkard Magazine out of Denver, and former co-owner of ‘The Maal Underground,’ GJ’s first punk rock night club. The Maal Underground opened December 7, 1985, and quickly became a place free speech and thought said Rich in an email interview with The Red Pill. “It was the only place that punks could go to and be in their element. They didn’t have to watch their words there. And once it caught on, it spread rapidly. Kids would come in one day with a norm haircut one week and the next they’d be sporting a Mohawk, probably much to their parent’s horror.” According to Rich, the Maal was sometimes subject to harassment and intimidation: “Cops would come in and shake us down. Rednecks invaded the club a couple of time, but the tribe united and drove them out.”
Maal Underground is having a reunion this summer, if you were there check it out at www.myspace.com/MAALundergroundreunion
Also “Localized citizen groups across Western Colorado sprouted up in the late 1970’s in response to environmental threats to their local communities. In 1980, these groups banded together to form Western Colorado Congress, which has “maintained its commitments to organizing citizens on issues that directly affect their lives,” over the last 27 years, according to their website.
In 1986, and nuclear disarmament group, PRO-peace, organized a nine-month march from Los Angeles to Washington DC. The Daily Sentinel reported two locals were going to participate in the 3235 mile journey, and that the march was going to pass through Grand Junction. Local WWII veteran, Larry Burns, then 65 joined the march along with local Leslie Renquist. The march ran into trouble early on but was able to regroup and complete the journey, and walked into Washington DC with about 15,000 people in November of that year.
The first Gulf War is often thought of as widely supported by the public, but even here in conservative Grand Junction citizens organized and protested against the coming war in the Gulf. “We were actually out there a year before any of the, you know, action,” said Retired Father John Kiernan. A large peace march with 100 people in attendance marched through downtown Grand Junction on New Years Day 1991. Jan Emmons, a 17-year-old organizer said to the Sentinel “Today is a good day to stand up.”
“We were out there every Friday,” said Kiernan. “It was sort of an impromptu group.” The group, latter known as Citizens Action for Peace, held numerous vigils, protests, and worked closely with the Grand Junction faith community to pray for peace.
The 90’s also saw Grand Junctions Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered community begin organizing; the following is from Western Equality’s website:
“Western Equality (WE) was originally formed as the Common Decency Coalition (CDC) following the November 1992 voter approval of Amendment 2 in Colorado. The mission at that time was to foster grassroots education and organization to repeal Amendment 2. In its early years CDC focused its activities on voter education, community mobilization, and influencing public policy through the publication of a newsletter, public forums, and communication with elected officials, advertising, candlelight vigils, and educational presentations. It also engaged in fundraising activities including the solicitation of memberships and activity-based fundraisers.”
From 1993 to 1996 workers at City Market went on strike numerous time, but organized labor as a whole was much weaker than it was 70 years prior. By 1997 local unions only included: Colorado Association of Public Employees, Communications Workers of America, International Union of Operating Engineers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Plumbers and Pipefitters, and Union Food and Commercial Workers.
Dissent and citizen activism has always been a part of Grand Junction, but our current decade has experienced widespread dissent on a scale never scene in this city.
Today, A Voice of Reason is organizing for peace, Western Equality is working GLBT rights, Western Colorado Congress is protecting our water and open spaces, Western Slope Justice for Immigrants is organizing for humane immigration reform, Grand Junction Underground Action Alliance is actively engaged in counter recruitment, and Grand Junction Alternative Media is producing community news that hasn’t been filtered through a corporate lens.
In 2003, Grand Junction Bill of Rights Committee brought together conservatives and liberals together in support of the Constitution, and opposition to Bush’s PATRIOT ACT.
In 2004, two veteran of the war in Iraq and former Grand Junction residents Garrett Rappehagen and Jeff Englehart start publishing FTSsoliderblog from the frontlines “I could be at war, in combat, then in fifteen minutes later, be writing about it on the internet. It was amazing.” Both Rappenhagen and Englehart went public about the U.S. Militaries use of white phosphorus (a WMD) during the battle of Falluja. Garrett and Jeff are both still active with the national group Iraq Vet For Peace. See The Red Pill Vol. 4 No 3 & No. 5.
From August of 2005 till October of 2006, The Confluence Collective operated as an open house to any and all. The collective stood on the corner of 15th and Elm and held a weekly potluck, operated a “free-store,” operated a community lending library, put on punk rock shows in the basement, ran a community bike-shop, and cooperative garden. The Confluence was nonhierarchical, antiauthoritarian, and dedicated to providing the tools and resources to promote revolutionary change.
On April 10, 2006 Western Slope Justice for Immigrants organized the largest political march in Grand Junction’s history when 4000+ people marched from Sherwood Park to Lincoln Park via North Avenue.
In October of 2002, Bev Goodrich organized the first antiwar gathering of the current war. The group that formed as a result became A Voice of Reason (AVOR) in the run up to war in Iraq the group held weekly vigil’s in front of the Federal Building. AVOR’s first big march coincided with an international day of protests for peace on February 15th 2003. “We were so happy to see large crowds forming,” said Karen Sjoberg. Close to 300 people marched for peace that day in Grand Junction’s largest antiwar demonstration ever. “To me dissent is especially important here in Grand Junction, because it’s so comfortable and conservative, it how to make ourselves heard,” said Sjoberg. AVOR has held organized numerous speakers, documentary screenings and protests on issues as varied as nuclear waste, CAFTA, and of course the illegal war in Iraq.
###We at the Red Pill are trying to further fill in the holes of Grand Junction's Alternative History if you have any leads get a hold of us email@example.com###