Civic League leader to speak |

Civic League leader to speak

A nationally known lecturer on civic and political affairs will be the opening guest of Aspen’s renewed community-sponsored speaker series, which kicks off Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House.

Chris Gates, president of the National Civic League, will give a talk on “America’s Evolving Democracy” starting at 7:15 p.m. at the Wheeler. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Gates is a “leading advocate for citizen democracy, an expert on state and local governance structures,” according to a packet of material issued by the Civic League.

Calling Gates “a clear thinker who can diagnose what is broken about our political system,” the packet notes that he was a founder of the Colorado Institute for Leadership Training and has been involved in several Leadership Aspen events.

In fact, Gates said in a telephone interview from his office in Denver, he is planning to lecture at the current Leadership Aspen seminar the day after his talk at the Wheeler.

He said the Civic League, a 105-year-old organization, is “a think tank on issues of community and democracy” and a platform for examining changes in the American political scene.

“It’s really about how the theory of social change has evolved in this country,” he continued. “It’s about the state or our democracy, and how it’s changing, and how social change occurred in the past and might occur in the future.”

His talk will highlight, among other things, his belief that the United States’ political system has evolved from a benevolent, paternalistic, from-the-top framework for creating national policy, to much more of a grass-roots system. Where decisions once were made by a trusted hierarchy of elected leadership, Gates believes, today’s political climate is more rooted in populism and activism.

“Everybody has an opinion about what’s right and what’s not right,” he said. “Everybody has a role to play in making things better.”

Examples, he said, are in the role of the Neighborhood Watch network in the reduction of crime around the nation, as well as the concept of “community policing” that is intended to bring law enforcement officials in closer, more intimate contact with the citizenry.

Another example, he said, is the fact that campaign-finance reform is taking place much more quickly at the state and local level than it is at the national level.

While Congress stalls campaign-finance reform laws, he said, state legislatures and local governments are taking steps aimed at “limiting the amount of money in politics and the way campaigns are run.”

He said he is hoping to stimulate some response from his audience at the Wheeler, and is planning a question-and-answer session after his talk.

The lectures, called the Aspen Community Lecture Series, are sponsored by the city, Hines Aspen Highlands Village, the Community Forum of the Aspen Institute, Leadership Aspen, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Wheeler Opera House board of directors.

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