Aspen Princess: An unfair attack on the brave Mitzi Rapkin
The Aspen Princess
On Monday, I went for a walk with my friend Mitzi Rapkin to talk to her about what it feels like to be front-page news.
The Aspen Times had published a story that morning about Mitzi’s efforts to organize an online fundraising campaign to raise $18,000 to pay for a full-page ad in The Denver Post calling out Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner for not serving his constituents. She posted the proposed ad on GoFundMe.com and suggested people spend no more than $10 in an effort to get as many people as possible involved.
The story was about a potential conflict of interest for a city employee “weighing in publicly on national politics.” The headline read, “Aspen city spokeswoman gets political, takes on Sen. Cory Gardner.”
Mitzi works for the city of Aspen as the community relations director, and one of her many duties according to the city’s website is to “serve as a spokesperson for the city.” In the eyes of the newspaper media, she’s considered a public figure.
I understand all that on a professional and intellectual level, but I had an almost visceral response to the story.
In my mind, the story should have been about Mitzi’s efforts, about a local girl who spoke out, a brave woman from right here in our own community who stood up for what she believed in, a person who seized upon her right to free speech, her belief in democracy and her desire to express her dissatisfaction with a public official; a little person who had the courage to stand up to the big boys in Washington.
Instead, the article focused on the city’s ethics policy, which states that she is permitted to “privately and publicly express an opinion on political subjects and candidates … that includes being a member of a political party, signing petitions and donating to campaigns, among other political functions.”
The article also quoted City Attorney Jim True, who said, “She’s doing it on her time, and our rules say very clearly what people can do on their own time.”
So if it’s clear she hadn’t broken any rules, then what’s the story?
It’s kind of like the president saying, “Look what’s happening in Sweden” when there is nothing happening in Sweden.
Or maybe it’s just the sociopolitical climate we find ourselves in that has me all fired up.
I’m still reeling from headlines about Hillary Clinton’s emails and the silencing of Elizabeth Warren. Witnessing people chant “lock her up” at Donald Trump’s rallies were among the events I found most rattling about this election. Clinton was treated like a criminal, far from the respect deserved of a person who served as secretary of state and senator. It made me think people are afraid of powerful women. Despite his terrifying rhetoric and abhorrent behavior, Trump is still more familiar to the minority of people who voted for him.
Is that why I felt so protective of my friend?
“This is a political climate where dissent is not just unwelcome but casts a shadow of fear over the dissenter,” Mitzi told me. “If I’m a white, privileged woman living in Aspen and I’m getting called out for my own personal views, how is a Muslim or a gay person going to be able to speak out?”
In an email obtained by The Aspen Princess, Rick Carroll wrote, “I would have written an article about this whether it was Mitzi or Joe Six-Pack. However, since it is Mitzi who is on this fundraising mission, I would be remiss not to bring up her role as a city spokeswoman and whether this is legit.”
I totally believe Carroll when he says he would have written the story about a man, but maybe that’s not the point. We’re living in a climate of fear, and feeling powerless, and trying to do something about it, and then finding out what happens when you do. If the anger at town hall meetings across the nation this week is any indication, I’m not the only one feeling angry and frustrated with Congress right now.
Speaking of which, in Mitzi’s defense, the idea to run the ad began with the Facebook group “Indivisible Roaring Fork” which was created on behalf of local community members to organize against the current administration.
I am a member of that group, and when Mitzi began posting about the idea to run the ad, other members of the group encouraged her. It felt to me like very much a collaborative effort.
When Mitzi was discouraged by the cost of a full-page ad, I wrote, “That’s a drop in the bucket by Aspen standards. You could probably raise that in a day.” If we can cough up 65 million bucks for an art museum, we can afford our little ad. It’s virtually pennies on the dollar.
While Mitzi spearheaded the campaign, it wasn’t for her or about her. The city of Aspen is not mentioned anywhere in the ad, nor is Mitzi’s name. The ad is from “We the People of Colorado” who made donations to pay for the ad. Period.
I told Mitzi, “Don’t worry. There’s no such thing as bad press. This is going to bring much wanted attention to your cause.”
And I was right. The Denver Post picked up the story and the campaign met its goal, with over $14,000 rolling in overnight.
It could have just as easily been me who put the fundraiser together, but I’m too lazy and too obsessed with my gorgeous baby to get into all that. But calling out our senator made sense. I donated $30 to the campaign and would have given more if I could, but I already spent the rest of my slush fund at Free People (Dude, I bought a pair of overalls. It’s 1995 all over again).
Talk about the emperor’s new clothes — let’s just try to avoid looking up her skirt.
The Princess is all fired up. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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