FREE SPEECH: Ms. Appropriate

By on April 11, 2017

Grassroots campaign will subscribe Wyoming lawmakers to a feminist education.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – After attending the Women’s March in Washington D.C. in January, Pinedale artist Isabel Rucker was determined not to let her momentum wane.

A longtime community organizer, Rucker turned her sights from the national to the state level. “I’ve been looking at state level legislation and how we have the lowest number of women in any state legislature,” Rucker said. “I feel like our lawmakers are lacking knowledge about women’s issues.”

According to the nonprofit Wyoming Women Rise, women in Wyoming make up only 11 percent of state senators and state representatives combined, the lowest representation in the nation. The male dominated legislature is tone deaf to women’s issues, women’s advocates say. When Rucker contacted her two district representatives, both who happen to be men, to ask what they were doing for women in the state, they each answered: “I don’t know.”

“I was shocked,” Rucker said. “If I had asked what they planned to do for ranching or for energy, they would have had a laundry list response.”

So Rucker teamed up with other Wyoming women she met through the Women’s March and started a nonpartisan, grassroots campaign to better educate Wyoming lawmakers about women’s issues.

The campaign, “Ms. magazine for Wyoming,” will raise $3,000 to subscribe every member of the legislature to two years of Ms. magazine, the iconic feminist publication reporting exclusively on issues of importance to women.

The crowdfunding campaign is hosted on GoFundMe.com and accepts donations of any amount. As of press time, the campaign had raised $2,175. Rucker said that any additional money raised above the $3,000 goal would be reinvested in the campaign, or donated to another women’s organization.

In addition to donating, Wyoming residents are encouraged to sign a letter of intent that will be mailed to each Wyoming legislator explaining the subscription.

The letter begins:

“We write as a group of Wyoming women interested in starting a conversation about equality in the state. To begin, we are sending you a two-year subscription to Ms. magazine. The magazine will provide you with an important perspective on the issues faced by women in the nation and state today. We are concerned that Wyoming legislators have too often ignored women. We ask you to write and support better legislation to improve the lives of half our population, half of your constituents.”

One issue the campaign organizers want addressed is Wyoming’s pernicious wage gap, the worst in the nation. Wyoming women make a mere $.64 to a man’s dollar, $.16 below the national average, which is still a full $.20 below what men earn. How will Wyoming make itself attractive to women workers if it doesn’t live up to its “Equality State” name, Rucker asked.

“The governor is asking for suggestions for a 20-year roadmap for Wyoming and there is a lot of concern for the state’s economy,” Rucker said. “Women can help our economy. Of the population entering the workforce nationwide, women are earning the most college degrees and adding high value to their communities.”

Rucker invited Wyoming Women Rise founder Samantha Case to be part of the Ms. for Wyoming campaign. Wyoming Women Rise is raising awareness about low female representation in public office in Wyoming and to train and encourage women to run for office. Case gladly offered her support based on the similarities she saw between her organization and the magazine campaign. “I hope the campaign will begin a more in-depth discussion on women’s issues in the state,” Case said.

In addition to Rucker and Case, the Ms. magazine for Wyoming campaign includes several more organizers from across the state. Co-organizer Rachel Martinez, a higher education advocate based in Cheyenne, said the campaign is about more than just sending out magazine subscriptions. “This is the beginning of conscious conversations we will have with our elected officials,” she said.

Martinez wants lawmakers to listen to many sides of issues. “The actual voices and experiences of Wyoming residents are critical right now,” she said. “Let’s get women to the table when we are talking about reproductive rights, healthcare and education. We have to have a seat at the table to make a difference.”

Native rights advocate and Wind River Reservation resident Cherokee Brown joined the campaign in order to elevate the importance of women’s voices and perspectives.

“Women are a silent majority,” she said. “It’s time our voices were heard. We want better pay, better jobs, and better education. We want to be equal.”

Brown was born and raised on the Wind River Reservation. She moved to Lawrence, Kansas, at the end of the 1990s, and returned in 2014. She said she was shocked to see how few advancements had been made for Native people compared to the relative parity she found in Lawrence. “When I came home it seemed the same as when I left. The healthcare, the education … we need more equality.”

Brown says lawmakers must understand Native issues as not separate from Wyoming issues. The same principle holds true when it comes to women’s issues, she says. “We need our lawmakers to help us. Our problems are their problems, because we all live together. Something that affects us is going to affect them.”

To learn more about the Ms. magazine for Wyoming campaign, check gofundme.com/msmagforwyo. PJH

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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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