THE BUZZ 2: Equality State Warriors

By on August 2, 2016

Teton County delegates stand up for progressive values at the Democratic National Convention.

Teton County delegates Jessica Sell Chambers (left) and Shelby Read helped send the nation a new message about Wyoming.

Teton County delegates Jessica Sell Chambers (left) and Shelby Read helped send the nation a new message about Wyoming.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Wyoming made history last week, all the way in Philadelphia.

The Cowboy State sent 15 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and on Tuesday, July 26, those delegates wore coordinated T-shirts that put the Equality State on the map in a whole new way.

Their black T-shirts were printed with the statement: “Black lives matter in the Equality State.” And in smaller lettering: “Stay progressive, my friends.”

“We wore the shirts because we knew Mothers of the Movement were speaking that night,” Teton County delegate Shelby Read explained. “It just so happened that Tuesday was roll call night. We did not think of that ahead of time.”

Roll call night is a big night for delegates, when they are acknowledged publicly. All across the nation, viewers did a double take: Wyoming is standing up for what?

It’s not news that Wyoming has one of the smallest populations of African Americans in the nation. According to Read, the T-shirts turned a lot of heads. “Delegates from all over and of all colors thanked us for wearing these shirts,” she said.

The T-shirt was inspired by Mothers of the Movement, a group of mothers of black sons and daughters who have been killed by police and gun violence. The group has endorsed Hillary Clinton and spoke in support of her.

The black community has not always had an easy relationship with Clinton. Many young black people today fault her for supporting her husband Bill Clinton’s ‘Tough on Crime’ legislation of the 90s that unfairly penalized black people.

Read, who happens to be black, says that Hillary Clinton has been working for racial justice all along. She cites Clinton’s work on a national health care system and on children’s health care initiatives. She says Hillary has spoken with regret about the damage caused by the criminal justice policies of the past.

“I see that she has true and sincere relationships with people in the black community,” Read said.

Read has been a strong supporter of Clinton since the beginning of the campaign. She traveled to Philadelphia with fellow Teton County delegate Jessica Chambers, an outspoken Bernie Sanders supporter. Just as the Wyoming delegation found unity in support of BLM, so too did they eventually arrive at unity in support of Clinton.

“In the big picture this was a small defeat,” Chambers said about Sanders giving way to Clinton. “But a narcissistic sociopath as the leader of our country … would be an irreconcilable defeat, sure to make the most vulnerable among us suffer extremely.”

Amy Rathke said the delegation’s unity was part and parcel of being a Democrat in Wyoming. Rathke lives in Lander and traveled with the delegation as a page.

“Being a Democrat in Wyoming already pulls you together in solidarity,” Rathke said. “If we don’t stand together—blues in a red state—we are all islands.”

According to Rathke, the Wyoming delegation quickly saw that its goal was unifying the Democratic effort in Wyoming without letting presidential politics get in the way.

Read said there were difficult discussions regarding Clinton versus Sanders, but, in the end, they came together.

“There were a lot of talks and tears,” Read said. “Our delegation understood the broader perspective that not supporting Hillary could have implications for the whole system.”

When it finally came time for the official nomination, Read, Rathke, and Chambers said they experienced a range of emotions.

“I did not realize what it would mean to see a woman nominated,” Rathke said. “I grew up with this idea that I could do anything, but I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how real glass ceilings are. To be there for the historic moment was different than rationally knowing it could happen. It was powerful.”

Because she had been pulling for Sanders for so long, Chambers says she hadn’t let herself imagine what it would feel like to see the first woman ever be nominated as a presidential candidate.

“Sometime in the lead-up to the convention I started to feel excited for my fellow women and myself” Chambers said. “‘I’m with her’ feels pretty cool to say when you think about all it means. But I also think we should hang onto ‘not her, us’ as a reminder of all that’s at stake.”

The overall experience shifted Read’s views of the Democratic party. “I went in viewing the DNC as these power players—an elite group of people. I left knowing and seeing that the DNC is thousands of people who are doing phenomenal work in their communities,” she said.

Regardless of a person’s party affiliation or lack thereof, Read encourages other people to get involved in local and state politics, and to try to become a delegate. “There’s something about the power of being able to see it happen and to voice your opinion.”

Locally she is directing her enthusiasm toward working for two campaigns: Mike Gireau for House District 16, and encumbent Natalia Macker for Teton County commissioner.

Rathke says she’s also energized from the convention. “I’m excited for the next 100 days to see what we can do here in Wyoming,” she said.

For Chambers, who is running for Jackson’s town council, being in a room of politicians at every level—local, state and national—was affirming.

“My favorite part was realizing as I sat and listened to many of the speakers that I am embarking on their journey,” she said. “It personalized things for me because I was able to relate to the beginnings in politics and the life struggles; the inspiration, motivation, and sense of duty derived from the people who entrust their stories with me.” PJH

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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