Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Denver Frets over Antistress Ballot Initiative ; One Man's Long-Shot Proposal Has Prompted a Mile-High Debate over How to Tackle Day-to-Day Pressure

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Denver Frets over Antistress Ballot Initiative ; One Man's Long-Shot Proposal Has Prompted a Mile-High Debate over How to Tackle Day-to-Day Pressure

Article excerpt

All he is saying is, give peace a chance.

That's what Denver activist Jeff Peckman serenely replies to the critics and naysayers who blast his singular scheme for reducing stress in Denver: He wants to require the city to implement communitywide stress-reduction measures - such as mass meditation sessions, piping soothing music into public buildings, and serving natural foods in school cafeterias. And he's gathered enough signatures to put the proposal to a public vote on Nov. 4.

Entitled "Safety Through Peace," Initiative 101 ambitiously claims that by employing techniques proven to reduce stress, the city will "help ensure public safety by increasing peacefulness." Moreover, it declares that reducing Denver citizens' stress levels would result in "reduced war and terrorism," plus a net financial gain for the city.

With promised benefits like that, who wouldn't vote for it? In fact, that's exactly the feedback Mr. Peckman says he got when collecting the 2,462 signatures required to get the initiative onto the ballot. "The response was, 'Who would be opposed to this?' People saw that it was needed, and that there was no risk," he says.

Talk of the town, and elsewhere

Somewhere along the way, the tide apparently turned; the upcoming vote has become imbued with something of the air of a sideshow. And thanks to the proposal's "say what?" factor, it's shot quickly into the orbit of worldwide media attention, with headlines blaring from Hungary to Taiwan.

Commentator George Will jeered that Denver is "competing with California to be the capital of low political comedy" - and soon may be passing out incense on city buses. Even Rush Limbaugh weighed in (none too kindly). Meanwhile, some of the most outspoken opponents of the proposal are Denver's own City Council members - who would be charged with implementing the ordinance. Their biggest gripe? The whole thing is stressing them out.

"I think it's an embarrassing thing for the City and County of Denver when you have a Looney Tunes initiative like this around," rants City Councilman Charlie Brown. "This is a waste of our time when we have serious issues to deal with."

Offers Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriquez: "I think stress is clearly a significant issue in this country. But I think that anyone's stress issue is a personal journey, and outside the purview of government."

And heck, "some people thrive on stress," she says.

Put another way, one person's plan for stress-reduction may be the recipe for another's bad day. Or, it could be that having to field yet another phone call from an intrigued journalist has outworn council members' tolerance for far-out citizen-initiated ordinances.

"This isn't California; this is Denver, Colorado. If people want fantasy, they can go to Disneyland," exclaims Councilman Brown. "I live in the real world. …

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