Dave Gardner: Interview with an Activist, Part II

Dave Gardner is a man dedicated greener society, responsible resource use, and generating a happier, more balanced human experience. He’s a director, a maverick, a man who wears many hats, and he was great enough to give me an interview, of which this is the second installment. Click here to read “Dave Gardner: Interview with an Activist, Part 1.”

As I spoke with him, I realized that Dave Gardner’s activism has become a way of life for him. His tireless efforts might seem a bit extreme to some; for instance, he sacrifices material wealth to follow his dreams and work for a Colorado Springs and United States able to grow in a sustainable manner.

The mocha latte he’d made me at the beginning of the interview grew cooler, and I sipped it while wondering, still, where his energy really comes from. As I entered the second portion of the interview, Dave Gardner began describing his work with the Colorado Springs Community Radio Station KCMJ.

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Deen: So. How did the community radio station come into your vision? When did you feel like that was going to be something that we needed?

Gardner: Well, I discovered it about two years ago, but Dennis Apuan and other people had been working on this for a year already when I found out about it. But I jumped on it. I pounced when I found out that this group was working to launch a community radio station in this town. And that was because of my experience as an activist in Colorado Springs trying to awaken people and make sure that they’re informed about local issues.

I wanted people to understand that utility tap fees were being artificially depressed and that we are all paying higher utility rates so that real estate development got this free ride, but I couldn’t get that discussed in Colorado Springs. I couldn’t be a guest on a talk show on a corporate-owned, conservative radio station. They weren’t really interested in that.

Deen: No, and they probably would have just attacked you with logical fallacy after logical fallacy.

Gardner: Totally. So I was frustrated that it was really hard to get an engaged and informed public in this town, and this was an opportunity to possibly do that, so that was my personal motivation. but there’s also so many cool things going on in this town.

As I’ve become a greater and greater sustainability advocate and I’ve gotten plugged into the Transition Manitou Springs community, the permaculture community, the local food movement, and the Green Cities Coalition, there are a lot of good things going on where people are coming together and trying to make Colorado Springs a better place and to be better citizens of the planet and develop a healthy local economy that’s not based on growth. But you don’t read about them in the daily newspaper. You don’t hear about them on those corporate conservative radio stations.

So here’s what I thought. There’s a great service that community radio can do. We can make it easy for people who are doing good things in this community to spread the word about what they are doing. And a perfect example of this is–have you read about the launch of this community radio station, KCMJ, have you read about it in the daily newspaper?

Have you read a news story about it?

You would that might be kind of news-worthy that a bunch of citizens in Colorado Springs are coming together to launch a radio station that’s going to be owned by the People, run by the People.

Deen: Did the Indy (Colorado Springs Independent) write anything?

Gardner: The Independent has written a little bit. And the Gazette, one of our events got a little blurb, but not a news story. No reporter has come out and interviewed the people doing it. And that frustrated me, but it shouldn’t have surprised me because that’s the perfect example. Here’s a group of citizens trying to do something really good to make our town better, but no one is going to make a million dollars off of this, so it’s not news.

And on KCMJ, on our community radio station, that’s not going to be the criteria for what you hear. Something doesn’t have to make a million dollars to make it onto KCMJ. It just has to matter to people.

Deen: And that is what we really need because we don’t have it. We have the Colorado College Radio Station (KRCC). They do a decent job, but most of their radio is mainly from national producers.

Gardner: Yeah. We love KRCC, and they’re a great community asset, but they only have 24 hours in the day, seven days a week, and they don’t have time on their schedule to do the kind of things that a community radio station can do. And they can’t even be as bold or adventurous.

As a community radio station, we can take chances, make some mistakes, just give citizens a chance to experiment a little bit and see what works because millions of dollars aren’t going to be at stake, and it’s really just going to be about providing people who don’t have a voice, giving them a voice, having much more diversity in voices and perspectives and providing what’s currently missing in the media today.

Deen: And that’s brilliant because there’s a big need. There’s a big information gap, especially between people who are online looking up alternative news sources.

Gardner: Yeah, another huge gap here is local news. How do you get local news? Well, you get it through the daily paper, but if you compare the stories in that paper today to the stories in that paper 15 years ago, they’re shorter, and there’s less depth, and there’s even a little bit of newsroom bias there, in terms of what they select to cover and what they don’t, unfortunately. If you try to get your local news from the local television stations, well, I haven’t lately timed one of their stories, but they’re short, and I know I’ve heard this, that they try to make sure there that they have a story that will appeal to a 35-year-old soccer mom, I think. That’s their programming objective.

So it’s really hard to be a really fully informed citizen.

Now, for our community radio station that’s nonprofit, noncommercial, and volunteer run, it’s going to be very hard for us to really provide a lot of local news. It’s going to be challenging, but there is a real desire we’ve heard in the community for us to do that, so we’re exploring how that’s going to look and whether we can pull that off. It could be that could provide a really great opportunity for journalism students who can’t get a job because they don’t have any experience. Well, here’s the experience. Or it could be that we just have to limit ourselves to doing some real, deep stories but can’t ever begin to trying to cover everything that’s going on, and that might be what’ll happen, but there again, our mission there would be just to provide what’s missing. And we know that local stories, in-depth, are very hard to get and very few.

Deen: Yes. That’s very true. So, the radio station, KCMJ, your vision for it is to provide a space and a platform for people who are passionate about something, who want to run their own programming, or if they want to do a news piece on something, etc. Is it going to be pretty much open to the public and pretty much anyone can submit stuff?

Gardner: Very much open. In fact, today, someone can call or send us an email and say, “You know, I’d really like to hear this kind of show.” They can do that.

But my standard answer is, “Well, you know, there’s nobody sitting down here right now drawing a paycheck, twiddling their thumbs, waiting, for a program to produce. However, the good news is that we have the air time, and if you would like to make that show happen, then we would love for you to come into the fold and make it happen. In fact, we’ll all help you, provide you with training, so you can make it happen. If there’s something you want to hear on KCMJ, the best way to hear it is to come and make it happen.

And people are starting to do that.

Deen: That’s really awesome.

Gardner: It’s pretty exciting. You know, we have to be careful what we wish for. There will be a day when our program schedule will be so full that we’ll have to start being a little more particular about what programs. Today, we’re not just going to put anything on, but it’s a lot easier to get something on today than it will be two or three years because it’s not fully developed. It’s a perfect opportunity.

We’re actually doing a training class tomorrow at the C21 library, and they’re helping us to train citizen journalists, and we’re hoping to do a radio workshop in January where people can just drop by and meet us and learn a little about how the whole system works. They can sit down and talk to us about their program ideas. We want to be facilitators. We basically want to hand a mic. If you have a voice that wants to be heard, we’ll hand you a mic and find a way for you to be heard.

Deen: I love it. I’m already getting ten thousand ideas for shows and I’m saying, “No, Lindsay, stop it.” I’m just gonna have to find people who want to do those programs.

Gardner: That’s great. You can do that, too. There’s a place for all of those roles to be filled. In January, we’re going to be putting our studios together so there’s a place for people to learn how to run cables and do a little bit of carpentry to get involved. We still need to raise a significant amount of money, so if you know someone who is a good sales person or who has good contacts among the philanthropists, or like the wealthy real-estate developers who I’ve insulted completely already. There’s a role for a couple of fundraisers to do damage control on for what Dave Gardner said.

The cool thing is that, for a real estate developer or someone who’s worked for real-estate developers, has actually become a member of our radio station and is anxious to work on the station. This is somebody who I’ve found to be frequently on opposite sides of issues in Colorado Springs, yet we can both come together. We know we’re both involved in the radio project and we both believe that this is going to be really good for Colorado Springs. We’re happy to work together to make that happen.

Deen: I think that’s the most important thing. Even if you disagree with people’s outlooks or their contexts or wherever they’re coming from on specific issues, you can agree to disagree and put that aside and work together.

Gardner: Yeah. I’ve actually produced and facilitated a show that aired perspectives that I would say I only 50% agreed with, and I didn’t even have to think twice about doing it. I was glad to do it.

Deen: Because of freedom of speech.

Gardner: Yeah. It’s just great to have those voices.

Deen: It is. It’s great to have everybody’s voice, and that’s the beautiful thing about creating something like this is creating a space for people to say what they want to say and share what they want to share.

Gardner: Yep!

Deen: So, given your commitment to Colorado Springs and your involvement in the radio station and the creation, trying to shed some light on these issues of growth, where do you see us moving, and where do you think we need to adjust our movement to be a successful city in the future?

Gardner: Well, frankly, I don’t care because I’m moving to LA next week to take a high-paying job.

Deen: (laughter)

Gardner: Just kidding, just kidding. You know, it’s really hard to tell. My hope for Colorado Springs is that we will sooner rather than later come to really start focusing on what a healthy economy really is because the economy seems to occupy the headlines a lot. Everyone’s preoccupied with it. Certainly, people need to put groceries on the table, need a job, need to have their needs met. So that’s always going to be an issue.

So the real question in terms of having a successful town that people enjoy living in and where people aren’t starving while they’re living here, is to figure out [this]: what does a healthy local economy look like?

Right now, too many of us think that it’s a growing economy. Too many of us think that if we’re drilling for oil in our back yards and in the school yard playground, that creates jobs and then we’re going to have a healthy economy. Well, that’s not healthy. There’s nothing healthy about that. It’ll put doctors to work. Oncologists will have jobs.

But there’s gotta be a way. In the 21st century, a healthy local economy is going to look different than it did in the last century. In the last century, there was room to grow. This century, the planet’s full, so everyone’s going to be adjusting to figuring out what kind of system works that’s not based on growth.

Population growth is going to come to an end either because we’re going to be smart and continue to have small families or because we’re going to have catastrophes and people are going to starve to death because we outgrew the planet. Either way, population will stabilize and hopefully even be declining by the end of this century. Hopefully it will be declining in an elegant way because we were smart.

But if it is, then the places that are still betting on growth, those places aren’t going to be successful. So, I’d like to see us be ahead of the curve, figuring it out. What kind of economy is going to be healthy that isn’t going to be getting bigger and bigger every year. There are people working on some of that now, but they’re just not in the mainstream.

And actually, a community radio station can help move some of that thinking into the mainstream because more people will find out about it. And it’s really localization. I think this is going to be the century of localization where we just focus on: “How do we meet each others’ needs here in town instead of meeting each others’ needs by paying Wal-Mart.”

You know, if you buy something at Wal-Mart, that dollar is sucked out of town straight to Bentonville, Arkansas. A little bit of that dollar goes halfway around the world to China where the product was made, very little of it stays in town, and there’s this huge carbon footprint of getting the product here. Isn’t there someone in town who could be making that product? Isn’t there someone in town who could be repairing some of the things that right now, we’re throwing away and filling up the landfill with.

There’s a lot of opportunities for us to meet more and more of our needs locally. Food’s a great example. People are really working and doing a lot of wonderful things with that already, but the power structure in town has been slow to embrace that. So I’d like to see that accelerate.

Deen: Absolutely.

Gardner: If we accelerate that, if we embrace that, then I think that we could have a pretty good future here. Shoot, it’s a beautiful place. We haven’t destroyed it yet.

Deen: No, we haven’t. So what do you think it would really take for the average citizen, for all of us to have better, more healthy lives, and live in an economy that is stable?

Gardner: An alarm clock. Maybe every night I should just sneak around town and put an alarm clock next to everyone’s bed. I think they just need to wake up like I did. And I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not living a perfectly sustainable lifestyle, by a mile, yet. But I’m on that journey, and each day each week, I’m moving farther to both scale back my material life in a way that will leave something for my kids, and in the process, I’m discovering that gives me more space and more time to have more joy and to do the things that really matter.

We just have to find a way for more people to discover that. We just need to give people opportunities to wake up and discover: the office is not really where the joy is.

Deen: Pretty much, allow people to educate themselves because that’s really where it happens, right?

Gardner: Yeah, except for that whole thing about facts not always making a difference. It might be part education and part inspiration. Always looking for ways to inspire people so that they can get past the facts. The facts alone won’t always have people make major changes. And we’re talking about really fundamental changes in our system and in our individual lives.

Deen: Yes, thinking about the planet in a different way, being more contentious about our choices. That takes a lot, I think, in the beginning.

Gardner: Especially when you don’t have a lot of time. It’s too easy to miss it. So slow down, stop and smell the roses, think about whether you’re enjoying your life right now, today, or are you working your butt off with the idea that there’s going to be some reward somewhere down the road that you may not even live to enjoy? Live more in the moment and get rid of the baggage that keeps us chained to that desk, that system, that lifestyle, that isn’t providing the real happiness.

We grew up thinking that’s where happiness can be found. You know, three car garages with Lexus’s in it, lots of plane flights, a big trophy house–too many people are just slaves working to support all of that stuff that they’ve accumulated.

Deen: So, educate. And the people who have delved into these issues and understand it for themselves and see how sustainability can really make a positive change in their lives, all the people who are continuing to do that in our community, we can all just come together and continue to organize things like the community radio, help each other out, and make the Springs a better place.

Gardner: Yeah. I think it helps to hang out with people who reinforce the kind of thinking that you’re coming to embrace. That works for me. I really love hanging out with people who get it and people who are actually farther along on that journey than I am. It’s a lot of fun and it really does help me to move in that direction. Listening to the community radio station in Colorado Springs, I’m betting, will be one more good way people find out that there are groups of people  getting together, gathering to inform themselves better, and really just to give each other hugs and support each other on their own journeys to live a better life. The odds are pretty good.

Deen: I think so, too.

Gardner: I should probably put in a plug for the URL for the radio station. KCMJ.org. The station is actually happening today on the Internet at KCMJ.org. You can click on “listen” and get a sample of the kind of programming that we’re going to be doing more of. We don’t have a lot of local shows yet because we’re not into our studios, and people are just kind of finding out about it as we’re coming together, but that’s a good place to get plugged in. You can get on the email list so you can learn about new shows and there’s also a really important button on that website called “Join,” where you can become a member. It’s a member supported station. We’re just asking people to pitch in $25 a year to make an investment and see what community radio might be able to do for our town.

Deen: I think it’s going to give people a lot of opportunities to really express themselves in ways they’ve never or rarely been able to before.

Gardner: Yep. We’re already seeing that happen.

Deen: Thank you. This is Lindsay Deen, signing off for US Represented.

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As I ended the interview, I came to a sudden realization. Dave Gardner’s tireless movement into controversial issues, his lack of wealth, and what he gives up to have a smaller carbon footprint–these things truly are immaterial to him. He channels forth his energy directly from his passion.

I felt invigorated and full of energy myself, simply from an hour of his company. He walked me out, and I stopped and exclaimed as I noticed a doe bent over some grass in his yard. Across the road on the lawn, a majestic buck sat, king of his own domain but grudgingly willing to share with us. We watched the animals for a brief moment, and then I bid Dave farewell. As I drove away, I knew it was not a goodbye of forever. I know I’ll see him out in the community, creating conversation and change, and our paths will cross many times in the future.

Click here to read the first part of the interview.