Episode 3 features billy barr
[ By Kendra Walker ]
Former Crested Butte Community School student Benjamin Swift, who was the driving force behind the plastic bag ban that was enacted in Crested Butte in 2018, is now taking his interest in activism to a new level with his podcast, People Place Power.
Swift is a senior at Colorado College in Colorado Springs studying sociology, and was first inspired to start the podcast with his friend Tricia Mukherjee during the pandemic last year.
“After high school I took a gap year and traveled in South America,” he says. Swift met Mukherjee through the travel abroad program Where There Be Dragons, where they traveled to Bolivia and Peru for several months. “When COVID hit we started reminiscing about how we met and how much we enjoyed traveling, and how that was something we really couldn’t do anymore,” says Swift.
Both avid podcast listeners they had the idea to create a travel podcast, but it soon evolved into something bigger than just travel. “What we realized from traveling was what most interested us, what we most took away from the experience was people’s stories, rather than the act of traveling itself,” he says. “It always came back to activists and the people really pushing and shaping their community. A lot of times when people look at stories in the global south and underrepresented communities, they see change as coming from people from outside. We wanted to highlight that there’s people within these communities that know them best that are making changes themselves.”
So in October 2020, Mukherjee joined Swift in Crested Butte and they started putting together a podcast that would highlight activism through the eyes of underreported changemakers around the world. And People Place Power was born.
They started reaching out to people they were interested in, some who had been guest speakers in their Colorado College classes, like Native American comedian Adrianne Chalepah who is featured in Episode 1. Others they never dreamed would reply, like musician Joy Oladokun in Episode 6. “Tricia and I were listening to Joy’s music and thought, wow what if we reached out to her, that would be crazy…but we should try!” recalls Swift. “We reached out to her agent and it worked! We were shocked with how many people got back to us and how many dream interviews we could make happen.”
But they also looked at the connections they already had. “We were brainstorming people that were close to home, or people we knew personally,” says Swift. “That was one of the reasons we started with billy.”
That’s right, the one and only billy barr. In Episode 3, People Place Power highlights how barr’s 48 years of citizen science as the sole permanent resident of Gothic has shaped climate research and fundamentally shaped our understanding of climate change.
Swift had previously worked at RMBL (Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory) and has known billy for years, so it felt like the perfect fit for the podcast. “It’s because of his patient and secluded lifestyle that he’s had such a profound impact on climate science,” says Swift, of billy’s meticulous daily routine that involves measuring snow heights and water content, maximum and minimum temperatures, storms and avalanches, and how the animal populations fluctuate as the seasons change.
And while the majority of their podcast interviews have been conducted remotely over Zoom or the phone, Swift had home field advantage and got to do billy’s interviews in person, along with interviews with RMBL scientists David Inouye and Bobbi Peckarsky.
Swift admits that billy’s episode is different from the rest of the episodes, which highlight women and people of color, but the message still remains the same. “billy’s story added a different take to the podcast, living in nature and being removed from the rest of the world,” says Swift. “billy is so fundamentally grounded and in-tune with his place – with the weather and animal fluctuations in Gothic – just as others are deeply rooted in their community. That’s what allows all of them to be effectively making change in their communities. That’s been our guiding star in all of these stories and is a central part of this project, to build solidarity through storytelling.”
Each episode also includes information on how to donate or get involved with the featured person’s cause or related organizations.
Together, Swift and Mukherjee have racked up hundreds of hours putting Season 1 together, which is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. And their recording studio when they first started out? Swift’s parent’s closet. “We really dialed in how to get high quality audio without being in a fancy studio,” laughs Swift.
They’ve now moved on from Crested Butte closets to recording in their rooms back at Colorado College, and they are looking ahead to a possible Season 2.
“So far the response to the podcast has been really positive. We’d love to do a second season and have it possibly picked up by a network,” says Swift. “We’d love to continue it, but it is hard to do when it’s not your full-time gig and you’re in school. The goal is to pitch it to a station like iHeartMedia that could pick us up and then we could dig into more episodes.”
Swift is excited about the possibilities ahead as he nears graduation. “I honestly didn’t really expect this podcast thing to be something I would be doing. But what I really like about this process is how engaging it is to create these stories – forming the idea, deciding who to talk to, interviewing them, and then figuring how we want to form their story, then writing it out and editing. It always keeps you on your toes and I’m constantly learning new things.”
Swift is also taking some filmmaking classes and says he would love to get into documentaries after graduation. “I’m really interested in looking at the intersection of sociology and environmental issues combined with storytelling.”
He notes that it all points back to his CB plastic free activism days. “I always saw myself doing those things like the bag ban or community engagement or working for a non-profit, but in a way that’s what we’re doing with the podcast. We’re showing how those communities can build their own power and make change on their own. It’s activism through storytelling.”
To listen to the podcast and learn more about People Place Power, visit peopleplacepower.com or listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.