Jackson Demonstrates for Reproductive Rights
A few dozen people gathered at the Jackson Town Square Tuesday to protest a draft Supreme Court opinion that was recently leaked suggesting that Roe vs. Wade could be overturned. This landmark decision from 1973 established abortion as a constitutional right, but a string of pro-life judges appointed by President Donald Trump now appears to have tipped the balance away from the pro-choice side.
“I knew it was coming someday. And I guess today is the day,” said local resident Victoria Cagle.
Demonstrators chanted, “my body, my choice” as cars passing by honked and hollered in support of their message. Others held signs depicting coat hangers, that read, “never going back.” Cagle pointed out that about a quarter of women will have an abortion by the age of 45, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.
“So someone you love has had one,” she said. “People are very quiet about it because there’s so much shame surrounding it. But someone, you know, maybe even your mom or your grandma, has had one.”
Jackson is currently the only location in Wyoming where you can get an abortion procedure, though a clinic is also being built in Casper. But should this opinion go through, a “trigger ban” passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor this year would go into effect, which would outlaw all abortions in Wyoming with a few exceptions. Idaho’s laws would be even more strict.
Demonstrator Alex Bell-Johnson grew up in Colorado in a family with two moms. He said he showed up after seeing the reaction from the women in his life, and wants to remain supportive in the right way.
“When you see the reaction that it has, it’s hard not to feel called to it,” Bell-Johnson said. “I think that was a big thing was just listen, vote and I think show up in presence, but not in a leadership position necessarily. And I think that just ties back into listening.”
Protests also broke out over the leaked opinion in Laramie and Lander, and women’s rights organizations across the state say they plan to use this moment to gather energy for future elections and lobbying at the legislative level. Polling from the New York Times suggests that a slim majority of Wyomingites oppose legal abortion.
Protest Brings Awareness for MMIW
May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. More than 700 indigenous people went missing in Wyoming in the 2010s, according to a state report. One-fifth of those victims weren’t found for at least a month. And just 18% of indigenous female homicide victims in the past decade received any newspaper coverage, compared to 51% of white people. Cereescia Sandoval is a local educator and member of the San Felipe Pueblo tribe from New Mexico. She organized a protest on the town square last week to try give the issues native women face more visibility. She held up a sign that read, “No more stolen sisters.”
“Jackson is a place where a lot of indigenous people have been displaced from and you can walk around the stores and you can look at the different galleries and there’s tons of pictures of Indigenous people and, you know, really focusing on the culture, but not enough attention to what Indigenous people are facing today. And right now,” she said.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, following activism from community leaders on the Wind River Indian Reservation, created a missing and murdered indigenous person’s task force in 2019. The goal is to hone in on the scope of the high rates of violence among native communities, especially for women and girls, and to try and come up with some solutions.
Childcare Organizations Ask for Feedback
Like many organizations around the valley, Teton County’s early childcare providers are struggling to keep staff. Burnout, limited housing and low compensation are all well-documented issues in the industry, and Executive Director for the Teton Literacy Center Laura Soltau said that’s coming at a time when many kids have struggled to overcome tectonic shifts in education and health due to COVID-19.
“Whether they’ve been away for six months or two years for the pandemic, you know, there’s a huge gap and the skill set and the socialization of our youth,” Soltau said. “And I think we really need to be aware of that. We really need to understand what the repercussions are going to be long term if we don’t find some solutions and find some, you know, amplified access for early childhood.”
That’s why the Teton Literacy Center, Children’s Learning Center and Jackson Hole Children’s Museum are launching a joint community survey that aims to find solutions to staff retention and recruiting challenges. Collectively, these three nonprofits benefit nine in 10 local children, and Soltau said the goal is to get broad feedback from families about what’s needed in Teton County before creating a systematic plan for sustainable childcare in Jackson Hole. The brief survey is available in English and Spanish and can be found at championsforchildrenjh.com.
Officials Push Property Tax Refund Programs
Many Jackson Hole residents saw a major increase in their property tax bill this year as real estate values continue to rise. To offset that cost, the state has set aside a pot of money for a refund program for the first time since 2019. Katie Smits is Teton County Treasurer. She said plenty of longtime locals qualify for reimbursements of up to 50% of their property tax bill.
“We cannot change any of the rules. But this property tax refund program does help a lot,” she said. “I mean, I talk to people on the phone. Their property taxes went up 50%. That’s 20% of their annual income because they’re on a fixed income. I mean, that really pulls at your heartstrings.”
Mental Health Providers Seek Community Investment
May is mental health awareness month, and since the pandemic, several human services organizations in town have seen major increases in demand for crisis-level care. Adrian Croke is Director of Education and Prevention at the Community Safety network, which provides support for those affected by sexual assault and domestic violence. She said calls to her helpline doubled in the past two years.
“So during the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about gender-based violence and people being stuck at home with their abusers. And yes, that is very real. Also, what we saw in terms of clients seeking our support were just all of these compounding stressors that affect us all but add on to that victimization or healing from an abusive relationship,” Croke said.
That’s why Croke stresses the importance of prevention care, or investing in mental health before things escalate to something more serious or dangerous. The Community Safety Network is partnering with Teton Youth and Family Services to jointly fundraise in early intervention methods, which Croke said can save this community money and prevent tragedy.
Read more about that effort here.
Legacy Lodge Plan Passes Initial Vote
Teton County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to allow workforce housing rentals at the former Legacy Lodge Living Center in Rafter J. But a lot of details, including another vote from elected officials, need to be hashed out. The commissioners argue that apartments for the local workforce are needed and fast, and current plans will provide lodging for up to 132 people. All this is contingent on the developers following a few conditions, like making a transportation plan and parking for residents, adding kitchens to units and maintaining stringent workforce requirements.
Discussions surrounding this complex will continue later this month, and electeds have expressed their desires for better communication between the owners of the property and Rafter J residents, who have largely opposed the new use of Legacy Lodge.
Officials Plan for State Land Proposals
Local officials representing Jackson Hole on the county and state level met Monday morning to discuss a few parcels of open land owned by the Wyoming government. In an effort to raise revenue, the state is currently looking into development proposals near Teton Village, Kelly and Munger Mountain, and Rep. Andy Schwartz (D-Jackson) said electeds from the rest of the state see this area as a goldmine.
“The push is to get bajillions of dollars,” he said. “It’s not just the Teton Village Road parcel. It’s all state lands in Teton County.”
Currently on the table for decision-making in the next few months are some storage facilities and a so-called “glamping site,” neither of which are incredibly popular from the county’s perspective. Schwartz said meaningful communication, long-term planning and finding proposals for the land use that are financially viable are the keys for the county having some say for the future of these valuable acres in their backyard.
FITM Passes Temporarily
The Fire in the Mountains Music Festival is a go after a long, drawn-out deliberation process from the Teton County Commissioners. The heavy metal event will take place in late July, but is only approved for this year and includes a number of environmental conditions. The 3-1 vote came after much public concern over disturbance and land degradation from citizens in the Buffalo Valley area, where the festival is being held. Those in favor of Fire in the Mountains point to its uniqueness in the valley in terms of its culture, as well as the attention to detail from the event’s founder.
The decision is a compromise, as the applicants wanted a permit in perpetuity but only got one temporarily, and at least one commissioner has said he won’t be approving the same plan next year.