America is at a crossroads, and so is Wyoming. Wyoming’s challenges are large and complex—a pandemic, an economic and fiscal crisis, significant social changes. To address these problems, Wyoming’s communities must be able to come together, work through differences of opinion, and find innovative solutions. This is not easy, but this is what democracy is about.
A healthy democracy requires an engaged and civil citizenry. Although there are many bright spots in Wyoming’s civic engagement, recently there have been troubling incidents. On November 2nd a Natrona County Commissioners health outreach session was interrupted and eventually ended by a cabal of loud hecklers. Several weeks ago, sheriffs in Teton County were harassed for trying to encourage mask wearing. Black Lives Matter parades have pitted placard-wielding protesters against weapons-wielding people not just in Seattle and Portland, but in Sheridan, Laramie and Jackson.
From newspaper reports and social media, it would appear that we are a nation so deeply polarized that our democracy is at risk. And yet, according to research by Professor Jennifer Wolak, author of Compromise in an Age of Party Polarization, “voters like compromise.” A stunning 80 to 90% of voters believe compromise is necessary for the functioning of civil society. Wyoming Humanities (WYH) believes the residents of our state can find common ground, especially at the community level, to address our many challenges. To do so requires trust, respect, engagement and commitment.
Susan McCarthy, board chair of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, recently stated that, “The humanities provide much-needed context to understand the roles and impact, today and historically, of the American electoral process and the societal conditions and institutions that help shape civic participation.”
Wyoming Humanities has received a grant from the Federation of State Humanities Councils, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. With this grant, Wyoming Humanities is going to explore the state of Wyoming’s civic engagement. Through assessments and storytelling, we want to ascertain what is working and where there are trouble spots in local civic engagement.
Toward this end, Wyoming Humanities will provide ten $2,000 grants to Wyoming print or on-line news outlets (profit or non-profit) to report on local challenges, opportunities and successes in coming together to solve problems. (As a non-profit institution, WYH does not fund partisan political activities or programs.)
Reports must include interviews with a wide cross-section of the local community: voters, non-voters, children, young adults, underserved populations, and various other demographic groups. Recognizing capacity constraints with smaller news outlets, we encourage news organizations across the state to partner together.
We will create a simple application form and applications will be reviewed by the Grants Committee of the WYH Board of Directors. After grantees are identified, we will enter into a grant agreement and disperse funds and the reporting can begin.
• Reports must be published by March 1, 2021
• Articles must include an acknowledgment: “Reporting is made possible through a grant from Wyoming Humanities funded by the “Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.”
• Wyoming Humanities will have no editorial rights, but we will have rights to all products and photos resulting from the grant.
• There is no match requirement, but applicants must demonstrate resources necessary to complete the project.
• Applications will be evaluated on partnerships and creative approaches to the topic, as well as diversity in reaching out to disparate demographics.
Journalists will ask questions about how their community can find common ground on difficult subjects. Below is a sample list of questions to consider, but we will give creative license to explore the topics of trust, how to agree on facts and information, and how we can better engage civilly for the future of our communities.
• What are the challenges and strengths in your community for people to come together to talk and solve problems?
• Do you feel your voice and vote matters? Do you feel you are heard?
• What is your sense of civic duty beyond voting?
• Do you trust your elected officials, government agencies, even your neighbors?
• What conversations are important to have in your local community, and what are ways to make sure these happen.
• How effective do you feel our democracy is and what would you do to improve it?
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