BY MELANIE ULLE
You tone your body at the gym, and you strengthen your brain with the Calm app on your phone, but what do you do when you need a solid civics workout? You go straight to Warm Cookies of the Revolution, your local Civic Health Club.
Just the name will make you cozy up to the very idea of civic engagement. While knocking on doors and engaging in a budget meeting doesn’t sound fun, cookies always do.
How does one successfully tie delicious cookies to civic engagement? Just ask Evan Weissman, the founder of Warm Cookies of the Revolution (and a Buntport Theater Company alum). When you’re a playwright, director, designer, and actor you’re twenty times more likely to figure out weird ways to make boring civics more fun.
Tens of thousands of residents have participated in Warm Cookies of the Revolution’s programs. The group has cracked the code on active participation and is successfully engaging real folks in public policy discussions that directly impact their communities. Conversations include racial justice, tax reform, education, the media and more. Safe spaces are created for people from differing backgrounds to come together with the promise of cookies, or pie, or Sin Tax Bingo.
Events and programming have included Tax Day Carnival, Civic Stitch n’ Bitch, Stupid Questions, How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse and Let’s Eat Pie and Talk About Money among other riveting and curious topics.
This Machine Has a Soul! was a Warm Cookies of the Revolution community project combining participatory budgeting with art and experiences inspired by Rube Goldberg Machines. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist and engineer who was well-known for drawing cartoons with complicated contraptions designed to complete very simple tasks.
So, a Rube Goldberg Machine solves an easy problem in the most inefficient manner possible… clearly, applying this model to policymaking or bureaucracy is a no-brainer. Designing budgets for public programs is a complex process which can be overwhelming for the average citizen.
In the process of participatory budgeting, communities come together to propose ideas for using funds to improve their neighborhoods, design project proposals, and vote to determine which projects should be implemented and alas, put the soul back into the machine.
Over two years, residents, students, artists, and local community groups worked in partnership to bring two participatory budgeting processes to Denver. In both processes participants working together decided how to spend $30,000 on community-produced projects and created plans for implementation.
By pairing the ridiculous with the practical, citizens can tear down the perceived barriers to participation. Arming the community with real funds, artistic collaboration, creative approaches and practical budgeting ideas for program development and a sense of opportunity breaks down our jaded skepticism about a process that was never meant to feel inclusive. Warm Cookies opens the door to allow the human spirit to infiltrate the machine.
If you feel overwhelmed or discouraged with the state of civil discourse, public policy and citizen participation in this country, Warm Cookies of the Revolution should give you a tasty slice of hope. If you don’t know how to dip your toe into complicated conversations you’ve found a great place to start.
As a bonus, the organization has created some excellent sturdy cardboard books (like the ones a baby chews on instead of reading, because babies can’t read) to whet your appetite for the larger program. Vote Every Day explores what it means to be civic and how regular people can use their power to create the communities they want. We Trust Our Wings features photography from Juan Fuentes, and an incredible poem about the beauty and power of community from Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre. Both books are available online with a “pay what you can” price structure.
On December 11th the group will celebrate their 10th Anniversary at the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park. Enjoy food, a screening of their Community Almanac focusing on Housing and Roots, updates about current and upcoming work, and Warm Cookies swag. To learn more visit warmcookiesoftherevolution.org.