Montezuma County, Colorado is isolated. But we’re not separate from national politics.

Austin Cope
4 min readApr 20, 2021


Downtown Cortez, Colo., the seat of Montezuma County, was the site of vehicle parades throughout the summer of 2020, some of which included displays of far-right and racist insignia. Photo taken by the author on July 25, 2020.

In early March, a national newspaper published an op-ed article entitled “Out here, red or blue politics doesn’t matter as much as how you treat your animals.” The author, a local writer who described herself as coming to a “red” part of the state six years ago with a “blue” political perspective, explained how local issues — like wildfires, water rights, or land management — matter more to people here than national politics.

I grew up in Montezuma County, and currently live here as well. I found the article heartfelt and original, and I’m proud to see national-level representations of this unique (and picturesque) part of the country. However, I think the author missed some important points in her portrayal of what it means to live “out here” in rural southwestern Colorado–especially when it comes to politics.

While it’s true that this region is geographically isolated– we’re about eight hours’ drive from the state capitol and 250 miles from the nearest metropolitan area — our isolation doesn’t mean we are homogeneous, politically or otherwise. As of 2019 estimates, around 15 percent of the county identified as American Indian and another 12 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino. The county encompasses sovereign Ute Mountain Ute land and borders the Navajo Nation, and the history of white settlement in the region only goes back a few generations. And although it’s true that almost two thirds of the county voted for Donald Trump in the last election, that doesn’t mean that conversations about national issues aren’t happening.

Last summer, a small group of local activists, faith leaders, and retirees began a weekly “Walk for Justice and Peace” in the county seat of Cortez. Every Saturday, they stood in silence along Main Street, holding signs advocating for racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and Indigenous land acknowledgement. Around the same time, a local restaurant owner mobilized a group of “Patriots’’ to drive through downtown in trucks and cars flying oversize American flags, Trump signs, and insignia representing far-right ideologies like QAnon or the Three-Percent Movement. In several instances, vehicles with Confederate flags joined in. As the rallies continued into the fall, misinformation and rumors whirled around social media. The mayor pleaded for unity, but city-council-led discussions about the rallies highlighted profound political divisions. Even after the 2020 election, right-wing protestors shouted insults and obscenities at the peace and justice activists on Main Street. The harassment and tensions have since died down, but the rallies showed that national issues of politics and racial justice do indeed matter here.

The political impacts didn’t only occur downtown. The conservative Board of County Commissioners railed against statewide Covid-19-related lockdowns, mask mandates, and other public health measures, though others in the community supported the restrictions. In February 2021, despite opposition from local progressives and free speech advocates, a school board member faced a successful recall vote due to his social media activity. His critics targeted him for publicly supporting LGBTQ+ student groups or progressive causes like police reform and anti-fascism on his social media pages. Even now, more than five months since the presidential election, Trump signs still dot the county roads and yellow Gadsden flags fly from smoky, loud pickups. The pro-police “Thin Blue Line” flag, flown by many conservatives but seen by some Americans as a symbol of white supremacy, is commonplace on houses and on vehicles.

These symbols — plus the events over the past year — make it clear that national politics do impact Montezuma County. And while it’s true that local issues like wildfires, land or water management, and broadband access can prompt unity in ways they might not elsewhere, that doesn’t mean that “red and blue” politics don’t matter. It just means that local issues are just as tangible here as in the rest of the country.

Perceiving places like Montezuma County as separate from broader national discussions risks tokenizing the rural western United States as a place where quaint centrism replaces robust and timely debates about race, identity, and local history. Such perceptions risk erasing minority views, some of which support more nuanced and critical conversations around racial justice, tribal sovereignty, and the impacts of settler colonialism. They can also allow local white, conservative, Christian majorities to perpetuate the myth that the “true American West” looks and thinks like they do, and that any “outsiders” should learn to adapt.

For folks who are white, educated, and have access to land and capital, it can be easy to remain insulated from local or national political discussions. However, some in the community can’t turn their heads so easily. Discrimination, housing insecurity, and poverty have many faces here, and although it may be tempting for people from more populated parts of the U.S. to come seek refuge in the magnificent natural landscapes, they should remember that this part of the country is not an apolitical utopia.

Instead of choosing not to confront difficult issues related to politics, identity, or inequality with our neighbors because we know they don’t share our views, I believe it’s better to build and establish the trust, vocabulary, and courage to do so — both at an individual and a community level. I know from experience that it’s incredibly difficult — now more than ever, raising these topics with neighbors, coworkers, or former classmates is challenging at many levels. But such conversations are crucial, and I think the local level is as good a place to start as any.

Correction, April 20, 2021: A previous version of this piece misidentified the author of the national op-ed article as a local rancher. The reference has been changed to “local writer”.



Austin Cope

Writer and audio producer from southwestern Colorado. Loves baking sourdough bread and watching swifts fly over the desert.