Running for a seat on the local school board used to be an entry point for those considering a career in politics. Or it was a good way to have a voice, represent others like you and serve your community while your kids were in school.
My, how times have changed. Today, it must feel like you need a Kevlar vest, instead of a laptop computer or three-ring binder, to survive the monthly meetings.
And forget about having a peaceful existence online. If you so much as utter a word of support for children wearing masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus or encourage teachers to run their classrooms as they see fit, your email inbox is sure to fill up with hateful messages, and your social media feeds will become the target of those looking to oust you at the first possible opportunity.
Of course, back in more innocent times – say, before 2008 – people were more civil to one another, especially here in Wyoming. National politics was barely a blip on our daily radar, and those who lived and worked in D.C. didn’t have such an outsized influence on the way we lived our daily lives.
It certainly didn’t impact they we treat our neighbors here at home.
But, here in the Equality State – as in other parts of the country – things are different now. We think it started when Barack Obama ran for and was elected president. Wyomingites became more divided, largely over ideological issues, but possibly – whispered in gym locker rooms, rather than said out loud in public forums – over racial lines, too.
Jump ahead to 2015-16, when a Democrat-turned-Republican reality TV host named Donald Trump entered the national political scene. For some reason, Wyomingites of all stripes got behind him, giving him his largest margins of victory in both 2016 and 2020, even though our measly three electoral votes didn’t matter much either time, and weren’t enough to help him win a second term in the White House.
Maybe it was his brashness, his willingness to say whatever was on his mind, no matter how politically incorrect it was, that appealed to so many people. Maybe it was his “America First” approach. Or maybe it was simply the fact that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden.
Whatever it was, we survived it and came out the other side. But the war wounds linger. If you don’t believe us, try attending a Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees meeting or watching a recording on the district’s YouTube page.
Instead of concerned citizens expressing their disagreements with district policy in a calm, civil manner, you’ll see people shouting and applauding over the top of one another. You’ll see the mild-mannered board chair repeatedly calling for order and threatening to close the meeting’s public comment period.
You’ll see parents threatening to call the Wyoming Department of Family Services and file child abuse charges against teachers and other staff members who are trying to do what they’ve always done – protect and educate the students in their care in the safest way possible.
Unfortunately, this kind of disrespect rears its ugly head in a variety of other venues across our great state, as well. In Campbell County, it’s at county commission meetings, where residents demand librarians face criminal charges because they dare to allow certain books on their shelves. In Fremont County, it’s at a meeting designed to take input on the once-a-decade redistricting process. And it’s in the hallowed chambers of our state Capitol during special session debates over vaccine mandates.
Then there’s the cesspool known as the internet. Whether by email or on social media, politicians say things to and about other politicians and residents that they’d never say to their face (or maybe they would, given how over-the-top some of these people have become). Men call women the C-word and suggest they kill themselves by email, then their supporters blame the victim for making the message public; far-right lawmakers “jokingly” call for people to plant bayonets “deep in the third rib” at school board meetings; and a congressional candidate posts a meme on his campaign Facebook page suggesting that the country’s top medical adviser is a liar and that he be executed.
Wyoming’s majority party Central Committee even votes to disavow the state’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives because she dared to challenge their hero for inciting a riot inside the nation’s Capitol. (We never thought we’d see the day when Dick Cheney’s daughter would be ostracized in this way, but, again, times have changed.)
As we prepare to enter another election year, it’s time for reasonable, well-intentioned people of all political parties, ideologies, religious beliefs and gender identities to stand up and make their voices heard. It’s time to remove the bullies from positions of authority and replace them with good people with the best interests of Wyoming and her people at heart.
It’s time to reject those who fail to follow the rules and spend our time listening to those who can make their points in a respectful manner. We won’t always agree, but at least we’ll have a more productive dialog and have a better chance of meeting each other halfway than in the current conflict-riddled environment.
It’s time to reward politicians who show a genuine desire to work across the aisle to get things done for the people who elected them. If you’re one of those people, we strongly encourage you to consider running for political office in 2022. We need more people like you to change the system from within, whether it’s as a precinct committee member, a school board member, a city or town councilor or a state legislator.
If you’re an average citizen, you need to resist the temptation to get sucked into the rhetoric. Stop sharing hurtful social media posts and memes.
If you’re a voter (and if you’re not, you should be), you need to take time in the coming year to get to know more about the people you’re voting for, then support people who will do what’s best for their constituents, not just those who belong to a certain political party. You need to contribute money, volunteer time and then vote for the good people who aren’t in it for themselves and their long-term political aspirations, (especially in the August primary, where many Wyoming races are decided).
Will it be easy? No, but nothing worth doing ever is. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. Because the alternative is more of the same, and, frankly, we’re tired of it. Aren’t you?