Riding slow, climbing high

I’ve been riding my bike more slowly lately.

I used to race my bike. Leaving with just enough time to get where I was going, and hoping I hit every light green to make it on time. Not since November 9.

I’ve been riding slowly lately. Feeling the road beneath my tires. The slip of the pedals under my Vans, their soles worn almost smooth. I have to concentrate as I push the crank, pulling the chain through from the rear gearset to the front.

I’ve been riding slowly and somehow still get places on time. Slowing down, you see the city in a different way. The drivers are more human, the architecture more apparent, and the streets quieter.

My buddy Nate and I went up to Leadville this weekend. Leadville is the highest incorporate city in the USA, and the second highest municipality.

Based on the name, you might think Leadville was a lead mining town, but prospectors were there for gold originally. While looking for gold, miners found deposits of cerussite, a lead carbonate that was used in lead paint and contained high amounts of silver.

The “Unsinkable” Molly Brown — who surivied the Titanic — lived in Leadville. Oscar Wilde came through the swanky Tabor Opera House on a lecture circuit in 1882. There are giant Victorian style buildings all over town. With their art deco facades and spectacular turrets. It’s hard to imagine looking at it today, but Leadville was a boomtown.

Today, Leadville has a lot of coffee shops for a city of fewer than 3,000 people, a brewery, the old saloon, a slammin antiques store, and a handful of bars along the main drag. Walking around the city this past Saturday reminded of Escanaba, MI, a town that wears its former great lakes shipping glory on it’s sleeve, and inspired me on our way through two summers ago.

A lot of what keeps these towns kicking these days is tourism. Mining is still the major employer in Leadville, but they employ fewer than 500 people, and the population has been declining steadily since the WWII, when the military had a ski warfare training base, Camp Hale, near Leadville.

There’s also a place called Melanzana, a clothing company that makes all their goods by hand, in Leadville.Melanzana was founded in 2003 and has had a mission to make durable outdoor gear in Leadville ever since. A brewery called Periodic Brewing Company, which, in addition to having good beer, has the most clever name of any brewery in the state: Pb, the chemical symbol for lead. The pizza place, High Mountain Pies, has some of the best pizza I’ve had since moving here. Colorado Mountain College teaches a curriculum not found at most institutions of higher learning. Courses specific to the needs of mountainous places with programs in forest firefighting, avalanche technician, natural resource management.

It’s easy to look at a place like Leadville and only see the decay, to see it as what it once was, it’s former greatness, and ignore its beauty, and dream of its potential. While it’s hard to imagine 14,000 people will want to live in the highest city in the continent, where the average summer high barely cracks the mid 70s, and annual snowfall clocks in a nearly 300", it’s not hard to imagine a second life for the town that doesn’t depend on the local ski resorts or bringing back some former glory.

This is a consistent hangup for me on the mantra of making America great again. One thing that makes America persistently great is that it’s built on dreaming of the future and creating opportunity. Talk about “clean coal” and opening up our natural areas for mining and exploitation isn’t talk about creating opportunity and lifting people up, it’s clinging to the past and shouting loud enough to drown out dissent.

Riding my bike more slowly gives me control over what to think about, and how to think about it. It allows me to wonder what the future holds for myself, my family, and the communities we inhabit. It gives me peace amidst the chaos of road traffic; peace in a tumultuous world of violence in place of understanding; peace in an turbulent era of victimizing in place of the pursuit of justice. Peace in Donald Trump’s America.

Donald Trump, public service, and me

If you’ve read this blog or follow me on social media you might already know that I wasn’t a Trump supporter. I was raised to be suspicious of people who lied, cheated, and stole their way to the top. I was disgusted and terrified by the words he chose to use when talking about my fellow Americans from marginalized communities: People of color, LGBT people, the disabled, women, and especially Muslims. To me, most of his policy statements, in the rare event he gave one, rang as flippant and rooted in racist ideas about people’s motives. What makes me most nervous is that we have no idea what to expect from him other than making America great again. We learned on the campaign trail that we can’t trust the sincerity of anything he says. If he says something racist, he’s just joking. If he says something sexist like how he “grabs [women] by the pussy,” it’s “just locker room talk.” So is he serious about the wall? About banning Muslims from entering the country? About making immigrants walk around with special ID cards? We have no idea. I wasn’t a Romney or McCain supporter in the last two elections, but at least we know what we were in for if they won.

I’ve been ruminating about what all of this unease means for me, my job, and my family these last few days. I think back on the first day I sat down in the event center at 1800 F Street to take my oath of office, and the pride I felt saying those words:

I, Gregory Boone, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

I never really thought I’d be able to serve the federal government. I’m not a scientist or engineer or a lawyer and the jobs I did qualify for seemed out of reach. Once I was there, despite feeling really lucky and proud to walk past his portrait every morning, I didn’t really think of my job in terms of being an Obama Administration official but a US government official. There were plenty of things I thought Obama was wrong about. Trade policy, abuse of intelligence agencies, even, to some extent, healthcare. This nuance of working for the executive branch but not the administration is important and difficult to grasp to those of us who are new to it. I’ve been leaning on the wisdom of others these last few days in attempt to gain some perspective.

Susan Hennessey in the Lawfare blog talks about the ethics of serving in Trump’s National Security Agency. She served for several years and strongly believes that “an empowered intelligence community makes the world safer for people and ideas,” and “whoever the President may be, it is a critical authority necessary to keep Americans safe.” There are limits and bounds on that mission that are important for the health of our republic and we are part of the system of checks and balances. Therefore:

“It is the duty of rational, reasonable experts to serve their country in a Trump administration, even at the political level, if asked. If he will accept it, Trump must have wise and informed counsel. Americans will be served by principled individuals in government defending our Constitution and role in the world. Those who stay home to satisfy ideals of personal integrity will not make our world safer.”

This cuts at the core of the oath of office. We public servants are the front line between the government and the people of this country. We were hired to put our skill and expertise to work for the American people and the Constitution.

As Jen Pahlka, CEO of Code for America, wrote this week, we need to continue to “do everything they can to serve [our] real bosses: the American public.” Jen’s thoughts, and my colleague Noah Kunin’s, touched closer to the work we we do at 18F. Even if some of us came to 18F because they were inspired by President Obama, we ultimately came driven by the principle that the government should work better for it’s people.

At 18F we like to say we’re taking back the term “good enough for government work,” reclaiming it to mean we strive for the highest possible quality in everything we do. We can disagree with politicians about what government should be doing, and those politicians will certainly tell us what that answer is for the next 4 years, but we’re here to do. We’re here to do well and do good.

So, like Noah Kunin, I’m staying. I’m staying because Jen Pahlka is right, this is a movement happening at every level of government here in the US and around the world. We get nowhere if we don’t show up. I hoped I could serve the US government beyond my term, and I continue to hope for that.

I’m staying. I’m finishing my coffee.