In a way, Joanne Kron's political problem-solving began in high school. It was there, at the Denver Center For International Studies, that the future executive director of ProgressNow Colorado got her subtle start in activism and advocacy through the combination of Model United Nations and something called World Affairs Challenge. The goal, she recalls, was to take a world problem, break it down and work in teams toward a solution. That's a focus she has maintained ever since.
"The style of education there really opened my eyes to the need for people to tackle these issues," Kron says. "Now that I work inside the communications field in such depth, I work with a lot of the same ideas I developed then: research, communication, public education. I have to be incredibly organized, nimble and flexible about my list of priorities."
For the past eight years, the Denver native's outlet for her energies has been the Gill Foundation, where she helped bridge the gap between the LGBT rights organization's philanthropic and political agendas with the creation of Gill Action in 2005. With Gill Action, Kron's role as managing director focused on building communication between advocacy groups and politicians to pass and protect legislature focused on LGBT equality in the political sphere. And when she discusses that work, it is the second word -- equality -- that she stresses.
"I'm most interested in the equality of rights across the board," Kron says of her life pursuit. "My goals center on leveling the playing field and providing equal access to opportunity for all groups, creating protection for families and individuals, and working to support laws and policies that do the same thing."
Kron's post-high school transition from the restaurant-service industry to the realm of politics was a short one. Although her focus on communications meant she traveled frequently in her position as Gill Action's managing director, Kron never left Colorado to pursue her career. Between earning a bachelor's and a masters' in international studies at the University of Denver, she worked at the Center for Intermodal Transportation and with a program to encourage students at Denver's West High School to attend college.
"Our test was always to go in and ask how many people were thinking about college, and there was always like one hand," Kron remembers. "By the time we finished, we had almost a whole classroom of hands in the air. In politics, we always need more hands."
At Gill, her most difficult duty has always been communicating with people who don't agree with Gill's stance on advancing LGBT issues. Even as her job changes, this issue doesn't. But it comes with its rewards: In 2009, Kron watched as the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously backed gay marriage -- and the decision's proponents reveled in the news.
"When I started at Gill in 2003 and 2004, there was this huge wave of bans," Kron says. "At that time, we weren't even talking about marriage; we were talking about basic non-discrimination rights against hate crimes and things like that. People didn't even know any gay people."
As the Gill Foundation developed, she says, so did the need for it to develop a more firmly political status. When Tim Gill founded Gill Action in 2005, Kron was asked to translate her efforts to a more blatantly political role, and she admits it was a move she had been waiting for. "Working in politics is constantly busy, important and impactful," Kron says. "This was the direction I wanted to move all along, and it means that I got to work directly with issues like relationship recognition and campaign education."
But her transition was not over: Several weeks ago, Kron was asked to apply for the empty position of executive editor at ProgressNow Colorado. She did so because she was interested in focusing specifically on Colorado, rather than the handful of states where Gill oversees LGBT agendas, and to work with a broader spectrum of political issues.
Her departure was made easier, she says, by the fact that her time at Gill Action has left no holes. During the application process, Kron remained transparent about the details with all of her coworkers, who soon found out they will lose her with the new year.
Kron begins her career at ProgressNow on January 1. In the meantime, she's reticent to outline too many of her plans. Her first three months will target peer-to-peer communication with board members, stakeholders and politicians as she asks them about their own values. From there, her job will develop quickly into a series of active strategies for the political year. The key -- and it's a heavy one -- is prioritizing.
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"It's going to be an enormous year for politics in 2012, and the big piece of this puzzle as we move forward is just figuring out where to focus and where we can actually make the most effort," Kron says. Although she isn't comfortable outlining a list, she notes that public education media campaigns, which she calls one of ProgressNow's greatest strengths, will remain a large focus.
"I want to spend a lot of time talking to them about what they hope to see and get out of the movement, but in the end I'll have to boil all of that down and make it happen in the years to come," she says. "It's a tall order."
Our time with Joanne Kron is the first in a series of profiles Westword has planned with local political activists. Can you think of anyone we should be chatting with? E-mail suggestions to email@example.com.
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