Guest Opinion: Bursting Jackson’s Bubble

By on April 25, 2018

To spur political change in Wyoming, Jacksonites must look beyond the Tetons

JACKSON HOLE, WY – As Jackson residents know—albeit grudgingly—they are part of Wyoming. 

Sure, it is easy to think of Jackson as a place unto itself. For one, it is literally sheltered in a hole. Its connection with Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, its lifeblood, runs deeper than its alliance to the humbler rectangular state in which it sits. 

Standing on downtown Jackson’s charming wooden boardwalks, Jacksonites might feel a continent away from provincial places like coal-mining Gillette or downtrodden desert towns like Rawlins.

It’s not hard to see why. Politically, Jackson is a “blue dot” in a sea of red. It is relatively forward-looking when it comes to issues like transit, public lands and the environment. And Teton County is the only county in Wyoming that went for Hillary in 2016, affirming Jackson’s identity as a “liberal bubble.”

Well, I’m here to burst your bubble.

When I think of Jackson’s perception of itself, I’m reminded of Buenos Aires. I briefly lived in the Argentine capital a decade ago. When I first arrived there, a longtime resident explained to me some of the city’s complexities. She said that Buenos Aires prides itself on a sense of sophistication derived from European influence—its architecture mimics Paris, its vernacular is shot through with Italian phrases, and indeed many of its upper-crust residents descend from Western Europe.

People like to say that Buenos Aires is a European capital in Latin America.

But, my friend told me, don’t be fooled: “For every one characteristic, someone can point out in Buenos Aires that’s European, I can point to 10 that are Latin American.” 

Jackson’s relationship with Wyoming is something like that. Sure, y’all have a fancy arts center, upscale restaurants, and Tesla plug-ins at the grocery store. But the culture remains inextricably linked to the cowboy and Western mythologies that shape the rest of Wyoming.

While mass-tourism is less ecologically damaging than, say, fracking, Jackson’s economy nevertheless relies on monetizing the landscape, like the rest of the state. And, crucially, Jackson’s citizens are governed by laws written in Cheyenne.

As a political entity, Jackson will only ever be able to progress as far as Wyoming allows it. It may have elected a progressive mayor, arrived at the precipice of a nondiscrimination ordinance, and taken a few enlightened steps toward addressing housing and transportation crises. But the Good Ole Boys in the Wyoming State Legislature ultimately hold sway over Jackson’s laws, and their ideologies tend to be antithetical to Jackson values.

But Jackson residents are not the only ones who are against criminal punishments for marijuana possession, cutting public education funding, weakening unions, blocking people from healthcare access, filling our prisons, exacerbating our gender wage gap, and threatening our public lands.

While running Better Wyoming, a communications hub for progressive politics centered on tax reform, education funding, and criminal justice, to name a few, I’ve found there are more folks hungry for change in Wyoming than you might think. 

For this fact to matter, however, we need to break down the barriers between us.

From my vantage in Laramie, I look out across Wyoming and see potential. I know there’s progress to be made, power to be seized, and ways to create meaningful political change.

Jackson holds some of the greatest untapped potential. Its residents are deeply engaged in local politics, but rarely, it seems, does their advocacy extend beyond the Hole’s walls.

In my new column for Planet Jackson Hole, I aim to convince the citizens of Jackson to join folks in the far-flung reaches of Wyoming and work together on statewide political change. 

Nate Martin is the director of Better Wyoming.

About Nate Martin

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