Get Smart about Michael Rendon and Civic Engagement

by DGO Web Administrator

Don’t worry. We hear you ranting about government corruption, and how screwed the environment is (congrats on making it through your freshman year at the Fort, by the way). Let former City Councilor and Mayor Michael Rendon tell you about what you can do about it.

How did civic engagement start for you?You start by caring about the world. The people around you, the environment, about justice, the future. Look around you. If there’s something going on that you don’t like, start asking questions about why it exists. I tend to think that if I don’t do something to change it, it’s not going to change. Taking personal responsibility is a big one, the idea that you’re part of the problem until you become part of the solution.

How much of a time commitment is there?The great thing about community involvement is that you can put as little or as much time into it as you want. There’s no shortage of nonprofits in Durango, so if you wanted to volunteer at the homeless shelter, with kids, or animals, or old people, whatever your thing is, if you volunteer an hour a week, the organization will be more than willing to work with you to use your hour. Or if you want to get into something like City Council, it’s going to be more like 10 to 20 hours a week.

You’re involved in some emotionally-taxing causes, what keeps you going?I get a big sense of fulfillment seeing justice be corrected, seeing discrimination end, seeing the world be a better place because of the actions I’ve done. That’s very fulfilling for me. The other thing is that volunteering is good for you … especially if you’re working for the benefit of someone else. I don’t know the exact psychology of it, but it’s fulfilling. There’s something about putting in a day of work for something that you believe in, for something that’s really hard, but doing it because it’s the right thing to do; that’s really satisfying.

So working for the betterment of your community contributes to your happiness?Absolutely. I think it’s completely fair to say that I’m a happier person because I volunteer and give back to my community. It’s meaningful. What’s the point of life? We could just do things for ourselves all day long, and that’s OK, I just think that we’re here for something bigger, and I feel like it’s a much more enjoyable and meaningful life to work towards the betterment of your community. It makes me feel better about myself, it makes me feel that the community is on a better path. And generally, the people that you get to work with are amazing people who care about the same issues you care about. It’s fun.

What sort of sacrifices do you make because of your civic engagement?Relationships, sometimes. When I ran for City Council, I talked with my partner ahead of time, and we talked about how I’d be gone for these nights and these things. As long you have that conversation ahead of time and you’re conscious of what goes into it, then it works out fine. But it could be a problem if those issues aren’t talked about. I’ve seen it strain people’s relationships. I think it doesn’t have to if you know yourself and if you communicate with those you care about.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?I strongly believe in a quote from Ed Abbey which basically says that half your life should be spent defending the natural world and trying to protect it, and the other half should be spent enjoying it, enjoying life. My life as far as work and volunteer stuff has always been about making change, making a difference; but I’ve also equally been enjoying life, too. Generally what I’ve done is I’ll work three or four years – environment, politics, social issues, justice – and then I quit everything and go travel or have some weird experience that I’ve always wanted to have until I run out of money. Then I come back and do something else. I’ve had a good balance of doing the volunteer stuff, but also doing stuff for myself. I’ve been up most of the mountains around here, been on a ton of the trails. I guess the question is: what do you want to spend your time doing? I mean, I guess I could look at porn every night, or watch movies – people do that, right? I have friends who tell me that they play video games all night. There’s nothing really wrong with that, or watching movies or doing whatever you do, but you’re only on this earth for a very short period of time. You could sit around and play video games all night, that’d be okay. But don’t you want to see the world? Travel? Make a difference in your community? That’s what I enjoy doing. Half the time is spent making change and the other half is, I don’t know if selfish is the right word, but doing the things I love and that make me happy, so that I can have the energy to work the crisis center or push for policy change.

Cyle Talley talked to Michael Rendon for an hour and dearly wishes he could share the entire interview with you, as Rendon’s quite the fellow. If there’s anything you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at: [email protected]


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