The Value of Peacemakers

“We could have never done that by ourselves. We wouldn’t have known how.”

A story appearing in the New York Times about the town of Silverton, Colorado and the value that mediators bring to bear on communities caught my eye.  I began my career in the practice of law in Colorado and visited Silverton in 1984 on a motorcycle trip shortly after taking the bar exam. My visit to Silverton is particularly memorable because of how I got there. I had headed southwest out of Denver and got down to Creede, Colorado but wanted to turn west. I showed a couple of old guys in a bar a map, and asked how I might proceed on my motorcycle trip without having to either travel much farther to the south or retrace part of my trip to make that turn.

Their advice assured me I could take my road bike over Engineer Pass, a four-wheel drive only route and one of the highest altitude roads in Colorado. It was spectacularly beautiful, but took me most of the day to cover its 27 miles, rarely getting past second gear as I picked my way over the rocky, unpaved road. I finished that day in Silverton.

The Times story focuses on Silverton’s unfortunate social tensions, but ends on a positive note, emphasizing the essential role of peacemakers such as mediators.

Like many old mining towns, Silverton had always had very distinct social classes with wealthy landowners on one end of the spectrum and mine workers and others at the opposite end. The small town relies on tourism today and had, until recently, lived with the social disparities with only minor and infrequent disruptions.

Even seemingly small changes can have big impacts

Unfortunately, the tensions of this class divide set the conditions for a serious blow-up in 2020. The mayoral election chose a young, liberal lawyer returning to his home state from a career in finance in New York by a narrow margin. His efforts underscored one of the central, long-simmering clashes between those in the town that liked things as they were, and those who wanted Silverton to grow and prosper by leveraging tourism and the spectacular beauty of the region.

The young mayor made a seemingly small decision to not recite the Pledge of Allegiance at town council meetings in deference to one town trustee’s views opposing nationalism as divisive, and the alleged threats he had received for declining to participate. That became the spark in the preexisting tinder that set the town ablaze. Set in the context of rising national partisanship, the Pledge of Allegiance decision became grist for a Fox & Friends report on national news. The small town divided sharply and angrily along political lines.

Fortunately, the town had previously hired Community Builders of Glenwood Springs. Community Builders provides support for towns and communities engaged in development efforts of all kinds. Their work combines knowledge of economic development mixed with many of the same skills required of mediators in listening, building trust and training others to improve their positive communication skills. They knew to find common ground on the basics, by asking residents questions like, “Why do you love to live here?” and probing their hopes and fears for the future of the town. They led a painstaking process of rebuilding relationships among the citizens of Silverton.

By April, 2022 their tenacious efforts had brought the town back together and produced a 77-page master plan for the future of Silverton. DeAnne Gallegos, the head of tourism outreach is quoted in the NYT article saying, “We were desperate. We could have never done that by ourselves. We wouldn’t have known how.”

That quote is really powerful. It sums up the essential value that mediators and other dispute resolution professionals bring to bear in their practice every day. Without you, your clients may never reach peaceful, workable solutions. They simply wouldn’t know how.

We at ADR Notable are proud to support you in this essential work whether it’s repairing a family, a commercial relationship or a whole community.  To learn more about how ADR Notable supports community mediation organizations, sign up for a demo and Sydney can show you how we can help.

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