Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Flobots' Jamie Laurie raps Boulder for turning down Palestinian sister city

Jamie Laurie makes music -- and also political and social change. A founder of the Flobots, he was raised in Denver, where he grew from a comic-loving kid to an East High teacher sharing rap with students. Although still based here, Laurie promotes global issues through the nonprofit And so it was no surprise that he weighed in on the recent proposal for Boulder to adopt Nablus as a Palestinian sister city. But on Monday night, the Boulder City Council rejected that proposal, 6-3.

This despite the fact that the mission of the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project is "to foster relationships based on cultural, educational, information and trade exchanges, creating lifelong friendships that support prosperity and peace through person-to-person 'citizen diplomacy.'" That's the term that President Dwight Eisenhower used when he created the concept of sister cities more than fifty years ago -- but the citizens of Boulder haven't been very diplomatic in their criticism of the proposal.

The city council's denial also came despite moving testimony, including this plea from Laurie (submitted as a letter, because the Flobots are on tour):

I am writing to thank you for considering a sister-city relationship with the city of Nablus, and to urge you to make the idea a reality. I see 3 compelling reasons.

First, sister cities benefit our young people by encouraging global thinking. I know from experience. At age 15 I participated in the Denver-Takayama Sister City program. Twenty years later I am still in regular contact with the family I met during that summer. The experience deepened my passion for languages, inspired me to study abroad in college, and taught me to see myself as a global citizen.

Second, sister cities are valuable precisely because they allow us to transcend ideology and focus on relationships with real people. Several years ago I had the privilege of spending two weeks living with a host family and studying Mandarin in Denver's sister city of Kunming, China, where several friends from Denver had gravitated because of sister city connections. I'm grateful that there was no ideological litmus test pre-emptively preventing these relationships, as I think that would have been a loss.

Finally, a sister-city relationship with a city in the West Bank would be an asset to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In 2011 I spent 10 days in Israel and the West Bank, meeting with a variety of peace organizations. Again and again, Israelis and Palestinians pointed to the importance of relationship-building as a crucial step to building a future together.

They also pointed to the unique leadership role that the US Government plays in political negotiations in the region. Given the role of our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to increase our understanding of the lives of real people in the region. Therefore, relationship-building is needed not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but between both peoples and the people in the United States. I can think of no better tool for doing this than sister cities.

I urge you to embrace and celebrate the efforts of the Boulder community members who have brought this proposal forward and vote in favor the Boulder Nablus Sister City Program.

I regret that I cannot be there in person as I am on tour, and I would like to express my gratitude to all of those present today for their work on this project.

Thank you so much for your time,

Sincerely, James A. Laurie (aka Jonny 5) Flobots

For a comprehensive look at Boulder's history with sister cities -- and some sharp criticism of Boulder City Council's vote -- read Rob Prince's blog here.

More from the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "John Elway and Michael Hancock showering together and other tales from Elway's DIA."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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