There’s a civil rights struggle going on in Fort Collins, and you get
to have a voice.
Did you miss that one on the news? No, women aren’t being turned away from polling places, and, no, African-Americans aren’t being met by the National Guard at the enrollment office, but here in our own backyard, several thousand people are seeing their basic civil rights denied.
It takes a minute to explain, so bear with me. You see, unlike counties or states or nations, cities don’t have fixed boundaries. So while Colorado can’t suddenly decide that it’s going to take a bit out of Wyoming, Fort Collins can, by a majority vote of city council, “annex” a piece of land and make it a part of the city. Annexation means that residents pay city taxes, receive city services, and get to vote in city elections.
Usually, this isn’t terribly controversial. Often, people want to officially become part of a city in order to receive the associated benefits, so most annexations aren’t contested.
But, from time to time, the city sets its sights on annexing land against the will of those who own that land. That’s what’s happening now in southwest Fort Collins. Last fall, the City Council voted to annex several square miles known as the “southwest enclave,” an area south of Harmony Road with over 3,000 residents.
(Yes, it’s boring, I know. Yawn away. But this could happen to you someday.)
There’s a lot at stake for these folks. By becoming part of the city, the residents become subject to hundreds of new regulations, several new taxes, and changes in electrical, police and other services. Some of these changes could cost homeowners hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.
Upon learning about this, they got organized and laid out their complaints at citizensagainstforcedannexation.com.
They also gathered enough support from city residents to put the issue on the April city election ballot. (Yes, there’s an election in April. Are you registered to vote?)
That means this spring, residents of the city, including each of us, may decide the fate of our neighbors who live within the enclave.
But the residents of the enclave – the people most directly affected by the annexation – won’t be able to vote in that election.
That’s what makes it a civil rights issue: A few miles south of campus, thousands of our fellow citizens are being denied the right to vote – the right to have a say in their own future.
Imagine if student government voted to recommend increasing your tuition, but barred you from voting in ASCSU elections. Imagine if
Congress voted to draft you to fight in a war, but barred you from voting in Congressional elections. You’d be mad as hell.
That’s the situation that our neighbors in the southwest enclave are in. They’re mad as hell because the city has threatened to impose massive changes on them without letting them have a political say in the matter.
All the way from the Declaration of Independence, which declared that powers of government derive from the “consent of the governed,” to the women’s suffrage movement, to the civil rights movement – the right to vote has rightly been seen as central to the legitimacy of government.
It’s the principle, quite literally, that the American Revolution was fought over. The slogan “No taxation without representation” isn’t a historical footnote – it’s a very real issue here in Fort Collins.
Arguments have been made for and against the annexation, but without making enclave residents fully part of the decision, any vote will be fundamentally unfair and unjust.
Until then, on behalf of my neighbors to the south, who have made their opposition to becoming part of the city abundantly clear, I’ll be casting my vote against this annexation.
Seth Anthony is a chemistry masters student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.