The Urban Citizen Program
Contact: Instructor Harv Bishop, 303-556-6244
It is important that education intertwine with societal and technological changes. In order for this to occur, there must be relationships among students, community and the university. The Urban Citizen Program creates these special relationships each semester. As an Urban Citizen student, you have an opportunity to work within an urban environment while going to school. Your experience in the Urban Citizen course will be unique, because you will be working within urban communities on different projects. You will make lasting contributions to your community, and you will make a difference. You will take away amazing experiences that will prevail considerably longer than most of your undergraduate experiences!
The Urban Citizen projects focus particularly on the most challenging and recurring problems in American communities: poverty, housing issues, crime, people with disabilities, homelessness, "throwaway kids," and the under-educating of American children. The Urban Citizen creates a way for students to get involved with our community partners on these issues. This course develops constructive and creative thinking, as well as potential leadership positions.
Here is a sampling of the kinds of projects engaged in by past Urban Citizen students:
The Immigrant Day Laborer Organizing Project
Every day, dozens of immigrant day laborers gather at a downtown streetcorner seeking daily work in construction, landscaping and other such fields. These workers are easily exploited by their employers (they are often not paid, for example), they lack access to an indoor gathering space, they lack homes and sanitation facilities, and the police constantly arrest them for loitering and the like. The Day Laborer Organizing Project is working to build a powerful union of day laborers, and to advocate on their behalf with City Council members, the Denver Police Department, and exploitive employers. We are bringing workers' wage claims to court and building cultural activities and the like for day laborers on the street. Students wishing to join this project would be part of a team, including leadership from El Centro Humanitario. Students could serve as field organizers joining other staff in morning visits to the streetcorner, as research assistants gathering important data to support workers' claims, as translators, or as paralegals helping bring wage claims in front of small claims court).
The Save Our Section 8 Tenant Organizing Project
Hundreds of low-income Section 8 housing units are disappearing in Colorado. Many building owners are choosing not to renew their contract with the government to provide long-term, low-income housing units to the elderly, disabled or impoverished, and are instead opting to convert their low-income apartment building into upscale condos, lofts or luxury apartments. Hundreds of vulnerable citizens risk eviction. Hundreds more low-income tenants face management harassment, poor housing conditions, and abuse from exploitive landlords. The Save Our Section 8 Coalition (SOS8) is a project to build strong tenant associations in various downtown housing complexes, and unite these coalitions into city-wide tenant group that can defend tenants' rights against abusive landlords, and that can compel changes in Denver housing options. The SOS8 coalition has passed housing preservation legislation through City Council, has helped build a low-income housing trust fund, and was instrumental in saving the low-income East Village housing complex from upscale redevelopment by Post Properties. Students interested in working with this coalition serve as field organizers attending coalition meetings and helping other staff reach out to additional buildings, educating tenants, etc.; as newsletter editors/producers; or as fundraisers, helping to write a grant or solicit local donations.
The La Alma/Lincoln Park Neighborhood Organizing Project
La Alma/Lincoln Park is a historically low-income neighborhood, one of Denver's oldest, and home to one of Denver's vibrant and politically active Latino populations. But the community is being gentrified and housing prices are rising fast. Recently, residents have organized a strong neighborhood planning group that is trying to build the political power necessary to defend neighborhood interests against gentrification or against negative institutional encroachment (like a new jail). This planning group was instrumental in persuading voters to reject the plans for a new jail in their neighborhood several years ago. Students wishing to learn how neighborhood politics works at the grassroots level could join the planning group by acting as technical consultants helping to build a Web site and regular newsletter for the group; a volunteer assistant to the neighborhood beautification campaign helping to plan neighborhood cleanup and youth art days; a research assistant gathering important neighborhood data and examining progressive planning efforts in other cities; or field organizer working on a chosen local campaign by canvassing the community, educating city officials, etc.
The Hangout Resource Center Project
The Hangout Resource Center is a small, grassroots organization built and led by survivors of brain injuries. The center allows brain injury survivors to gather on a regular basis to plan social events, network with each other, engage in educational programs, and the like. This organization would love to have a short promotion/education video about their program. Already previous Urban Citizen students have gathered much of the footage (of meetings, interviews, etc.). Any student wishing to produce a short promotional video could use the media lab of the Westside Outreach Center, receive short tutorials on how to use the equipment, and could then finish the Hangout Resource Center video. Students would have access to training and equipment, and would start with a good deal of footage already.
For more information on the Urban Citizen Project, see: