Most Monday nights when Denver City Council opens the floor for public comment, Jesse Parris has something to say and he usually prefaces his comments with an introduction.
This isn’t verbatim but it goes something like this: “My name is Jesse Parris and I’ll be the next mayor of Denver in 2023.”
Well, Parris is certainly in the running. He officially became a candidate last month, joining four other Denverites, including Ean Thomas Tafoya for the mayoral seat.
“I’ve been doing social justice work for over a decade now and I’ve been doing political work for over a decade now,” Parris said. “Our community has felt neglected for decades and there’s nobody standing up for us. There’s a void there and I feel the need to fill that void. Our needs are not being met and we need somebody that’s going to champion for us. So I’m throwing my hat in the ring to do that.”
Parris is a social justice activist, who previously ran for council’s at-large position in 2019. He earned a criminology and criminal justice degree from MSU Denver, where he said he also gained a passion for activism. That stems from his time unhoused.
Parris said he lost his housing in May 2012 during his last semester of college, around the same time the city enacted the urban camping ban. He received many trespassing tickets and said he was almost arrested in front of his significant other for trespassing in 2014.
Since then, Parris has worked with Occupy Denver and was a member of Denver Homeless Out Loud, advocating for those who are unhoused. In 2019, Parris said he worked with the group to spread the word on Initiative 300 — also known as the “Right to Survive” — which sought to end the camping ban. The initiative failed resoundingly, but Parris said the fight hasn’t ended.
Parris said his main concerns are advocating for Black and Brown people in Denver, ensuring housing for those who are unhoused, fixing Denver’s sidewalks and eventually abolishing police and replacing them with a more citizen-friendly, compassionate agency. He said Black Denverites, specifically, have been swept under the rug and he wants to bring “tangible” changes to Black communities.
He added that he also wants to get rid of “hostile structures” meant to deter the city’s unhoused and add more benches and public restrooms so everyone in Denver feels welcomed.
So, why does Parris show up every Monday for public comment at city council meetings? He said he got tired of complaining to himself.
“One day, I decided to participate,” Parris said. “I decided to do something. I didn’t overnight want to be a politician, or as I say, a public servant because really, we’re public servants, serving the will of the public. Get engaged. Get involved. You might not be into politics but politics is deep into you.”