by Amelia Howe
As I approached the doors of the temporary Wyoming State Capitol building, I expected to feel fearful and intimidated about talking to my representatives. What do I, a 23-year-old constituent of Teton County, have to offer our senators? I don’t have a law degree, work in politics, or sit on a local board. I am just another person who gets fired up about political decision-making, who decided to get involved with the public process rather than writing an op-ed that never actualizes. The truth is, if I approached that building one year ago, my thoughts of inadequacy would have likely prevailed; I would have walked away from the Jonah Building and headed straight for Target.
Fortunately, this Target scenario didn’t happen. Thanks to my training with the Conservation Leadership Institute and SHAPE Wyoming, I now consider myself armed with the knowledge needed to make a difference in this state. I am empowered, confident, and ready to speak with representatives about the bills they support that I agree with, and more importantly, I am ready to express my concern with the bills I do not agree with. I am a citizen lobbyist, and you should be too!
Last summer, a climbing injury led me to twelve weeks of crutches and minimal hiking opportunities. In search of something productive to do with my non-weight bearing summer, I discovered the Conservation Alliance’s Conservation Leadership Institute (CLI). During the twelve week, intensive course, the Alliance delivered a meaningful curriculum that explored the political climate in Wyoming through the lens of conservation. The course drew a diverse group of community m
embers looking to explore the political process, lobby for their own issues, and make a difference in Teton County and the state. The course kicked off with a section that, in my opinion, is the most critical piece: the art of purpose driven storytelling through the public narrative. Sharing your public narrative becomes the cornerstone of lobbying efforts. How can my personal life story motivate action in others? It’s a tool that can be used in many different capacities, but when you have five minutes with your senator to discuss the importance of wildlife crossings, what better way to express your stance on the issue, and why they should share that stance, than with a powerful, two minute personal narrative?
Throughout the remainder of the course, we were visited by a myriad of guest speakers and local influences. From the mayor to the director of the Jackson Hole Housing Authority, we had the chance to network with key players in Jackson Hole’s local political field and learn how we can interact with different scales of government. Additionally, our cohort learned countless leadership skills such as facilitating effective meetings, fundraising, the structure of local government, and how to lobby effectively. We even had the opportunity to put knowledge to practice and create our own campaigns, which we advocated for throughout the three month course. When graduation day arrived, I felt fully prepared to pitch my group’s project to a room of community members, through the use of a powerful public narrative and well-thought-out campaign plan.
After the course was complete I continued my involvement with the Conservation Alliance and received word of a one-day intensive workshop in Cheyenne. SHAPE Wyoming is a citizen lobbyist training with the goal of empowering Wyoming residents through increased knowledge of and access to the Wyoming State Legislature hosted by the Equality State Policy Center. It teaches everyday residents the importance of advocating for issues that impact them on a day-to-day basis as well as the power of citizen engagement. The participants of SHAPE ranged from college students from Laramie, to ACLU representatives, and various women and men from all over our state. Together, we spent the day studying the legislative process, learned how to create a meaningful narrative, gained tools to make our voices heard when advocating at the state or local level, and finally put knowledge to practice. After the lecture portion of the course, we grouped up based on our interest of certain bills or issues and practiced lobbying our fellow course members. Once we felt confident in our message, we headed straight to the Capitol to pull our senators out of session and chat with them about our cause.
Whether you are living in Jackson for a season or this place is your forever home, it is important to be an active member of this community. If you find yourself frustrated or impassioned or excited about something, talk to your fellow community members and see if they feel the same, or better yet, if they know how you can get involved to make change happen. Find an organization whose mission aligns with your values and volunteer. Write in letters to the editor. Go to a town council meeting or two. Call or write to a senator. With resources like CLI and SHAPE Wyoming we all have the opportunity to be empowered citizen lobbyists and community champions.