Tales from Timnath: What is a Community Activist?

Phil Goldstein

Shortly after moving to Colorado in 1998, our homeowner’s association in Fort Collins sought volunteers for its board of directors. I ignored my wife Amy’s advice about letting others do that thankless job and served the HOA until we moved to Timnath in 2010. 

With Amy’s reminder fresh in my mind about the many times we board members almost came to blows over policy and practice disagreements, I attended my first meeting of our new HOA here in Timnath. I had promised her that I would definitely leave the governance to others this time, but when nobody else volunteered for an open seat on the board, my vow fell by the wayside. After learning that I had accepted the vacated seat of HOA president—the role charged with managing extensive day-to-day responsibilities—I went home and sheepishly reported, “I have bad news… and worse news.”

I then accepted a position on the town Planning Commission. Despite initially worrying about stepping outside of my comfort zone with more volunteer work, the experience has been uniquely rewarding.

Next, I added activist to my involvement indiscretion resume in order to remedy some unaddressed community issues. Again, Amy said it needn’t be my job. But some things have to be somebody’s job, and while those particular penances were more about clean-up and fix-up than curing festering socio-economic ills, that does raise the question of what exactly is a community activist?

To some people it’s a rabble rouser—a person who incites crowds to take action, often for political purposes. Synonyms include: agitator, troublemaker, instigator, insurgent, provocateur, and even revolutionary. To others it’s someone who’s a thorn in the side of public officials, often making unreasonable demands or not taking the time to understand the processes.

But isn’t a community activist also someone who has the best of intentions in mind for some common cause, perhaps holding the unaccountable, accountable, or rallying others for a beneficent purpose? Isn’t it a person whose efforts are praised by the majority of the populous, not frowned upon, as are the efforts of the aforementioned agitators, troublemakers, et al? In other words, can’t a community activist just be one who embraces a problem, large or small, and works to have it addressed when no one else can or will rectify it? 

In some of my earlier columns for North Forty News, I mentioned the importance of community service and the gratification it can bring you, to say nothing of those whom you serve. I also noted the value in not going along to get along or not leaving well enough alone when wrongs need righted. These will be continuing themes in some of my future NFN columns. 

Meanwhile, the more I became involved in community service, the more I wondered why more people don’t get involved themselves in causes and issues of mutual concern, whether it’s giving back or pushing back. I’ve even made this a topic of inquiry with some perceptive friends and acquaintances. The answers included: general apathy, rationalizing that it’s someone else’s job, not wanting to appear unable to afford some expense and, most intriguing of all, sycophantic conformity.

Before I tried retirement, I worked for 30 years in intercollegiate athletics administration. We had a profession-appropriate mantra that spoke to the unselfish teamwork that was necessary to do our best: “We don’t care who hits the home run as long as we win the game.” [We also often said, “We might not win the game, but we never lose the party,” but that didn’t seem appropriate for this column’s theme.]

Get involved in your community. Be the home run hitter in your neighborhood. 

Phil Goldstein writes Tales from Timnath periodically for North Forty News. Phil is a ten-year Timnath resident who serves the Town of Timnath as chair of the Timnath Planning Commission. Phil is finally using his journalism degree after getting sidetracked 47 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column or suggestions for future columns at [email protected].


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