After President Donald Trump was inaugurated, marches and protests were held in cities around the world, and in communities around Wyoming. Cheyenne, Casper, Rock Springs, Jackson, Cody, Lander, and Pinedale all hosted marches and thousands of Wyomingites participated. Now, many of them are asking themselves what comes next.
For the Wyoming Art Party, an organization run by three Laramie artists, the answer was to continue opening its doors to the public. Ever since President Trump was elected in November, their studios have been a meeting place for people upset by the results of the election. They held workshops where people could make signs for the Women’s March, and on the day of the march they organized a caravan to Cheyenne in decorated cars.
But when that was over, the women who run the Wyoming Art Party didn’t feel finished.
“I think the marches were really, really positive on Saturday. But it’s now ‘How do we move forward, how do we do this better?’ The tricky part now is going to be harnessing that energy,” said artist June Glasson.
So now the artists are venturing into the uncharted territory of activism.
On a recent weeknight, people filtered into the studio after school and work, and artist Glasson introduced herself to a newcomer. She pointed out the idea board, where people could write down the issues they most want to work on, and a stack of blank postcards for writing to elected representatives.
About fifty people, mostly women, showed up. The focus of the meeting was a little all over the place, and it was clear that, while individuals had strong reasons for coming, there wasn’t any kind of definite platform yet.
While Glasson said they are not a political organization and are simply advocating for human rights, the agenda definitely skews progressive, with concerns about abortion rights, concealed carry laws, and LGBT discrimination. The mood in the room wasn’t angry, but these people were fired up and ready to work.
Dakota Metzger decorated a postcard with her cell phone close by. She works at the Albany County SAFE project and was on call that night.
“I’m here because I want to fight for The Violence Against Women Act. It’s one of the many things proposed by Donald Trump to cut funding towards,” said Metzger.
Across the state in Pinedale, Kendra Cross participated for similar reasons in that town’s Women’s and Allies March.
“I personally have experience of people around me experiencing domestic violence, suicide. My own mother, after she divorced from my father, married into a very abusive relationship and ended up shooting herself,” she said.
Cross said she felt apprehensive about marching in the first place, since Pinedale is a small, conservative town, and Sublette County went 77 percent for Donald Trump in the last election. She was surprised when more than 100 people came out to the march there, and many people driving by honked in support.
Not everyone was happy about it, though.
“There was a sheriff that drove by and thumbs downed the parade,” said Cross. “And I have heard stories of one woman said that her neighbor used to plow the snow in front of her house, and the day after the march everything else was plowed except her driveway.”
Still, Cross she says she won’t back down.
“We’re here too, and it’s okay if we think differently than you,” Cross said. “We have ideas and we have value to bring to this community, and we’d love to have conversations about it. So it is sticking your neck out there, but at the same time it’s standing up and saying ‘This is who I am and I belong here. This is where we live, too.”
Cross is helping organize get-togethers in Pinedale similar to the ones in Laramie to figure out what to do next. She said her first meeting drew a pretty big crowd.
“30 people showed up to our meeting, which was pretty incredible. I kind of planned for 10 or 15 but for 30 people to show up was pretty exciting,” Cross said.
With the help of social media, similar efforts are popping up in communities around the state. Groups in Casper, Lander, Cody, Rock Springs and Jackson are all taking similar action by writing letters, making phone calls, and lobbying for specific issues during the legislative session.
State Senator Chris Rothfuss of Laramie said he hasn’t necessarily noticed an uptick in the amount of feedback he’s gotten this legislative session. But he says that his constituents’ input this year has been especially thoughtful, and that factors into how he votes.
“The quality of that I think has been excellent this year in terms of receiving personal viewpoints, individually written. These are not just carbon copy emails all of the time sent out to every legislator they can find, which are honestly not very effective,” said Rothfuss.
At the Wyoming Art Party meeting, June Glasson said they are still trying to figure out what is the most effective.
“I think the biggest concern is with this many people and this many issues and concerns it’s hard to figure how to organize and structure this sort of thing. And when I say this kind of thing I’m not sure what it is exactly, yet,” said Glasson.
The Wyoming Art Party’s meetings are getting more focused, though; their next one will be on how the state legislature works and will feature a guest speaker. And the next big march in the state already has a date: April 15.