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Surviving the Winter

Do you believe that we are all in it together? Or do you believe that each of us is on this island alone?

We've lived here in Wyoming for long enough (several decades, for the record) that we've experienced the ways in which this essay, written about Alaska back in 2008 when Sarah Palin and AK spilled jointly onto the scene, pretty well sums up the Equality State, too:

"Wilderness has a bully pulpit all its own, and, back when we could still hear it over the cell phones and the four-stroke snow machines, it preached a repetitive sermon. 1) We don’t all have to agree about everything, 2) but we do all have to survive the winter."

So now you know: Clearly, we're of the belief that we're all in this thing together.

Fortunately for all of us, humans are hard wired for connection. (Please bear with us while we digress to prove that science agrees, before we return to the policy-related point at hand.)

According to the neuroscientist, VS Ramachandran, the human brain is actually designed not only to convey information but also to function interconnectedly. He says, “If somebody touches me, my hand, [a] neuron in the somatosensory cortex in the sensory region of the brain fires. But the same neuron...will fire when I simply watch another person being touched...In other words, you have dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings. There is no real independent self [apart] from other human beings.”

So what happens when the people creating public policy simply don't believe this? {We're back on topic now.}

What happens when our elected officials make policy decisions that reveal their own fears that we're all in it alone? What happens when that belief becomes so pervasive that they overlook or cannot see structural challenges and doggedly insist that each person must fend always and only for herself?

What happens to citizens on the receiving end of this forced isolation?

You get a Legislature too fearful of what-ifs, the faint possibility of fraud, and the (real or imagined) potential for being voted out of office to advance broad policy prescriptions that might invite each of us to participate for the good of all of us. An ongoing narrative that says that if you're failing, it must be your own fault. We see this in a regressive tax structure, a lower-than-the-federal minimum wage, few-to-no protections for workers, a wide gender wage gap and rampant skepticism about its very existence, a high worker death rate, a refusal to expand Medicaid, and a staggering rate of suicide.

Which means that Wyomingites continue to struggle to put food on the table, keep the lights on, pay the rent, and stay healthy. It means that their lives--and the lives of Wyoming women in particular--continue to be uncertain and unstable.

Yes, we believe that raising the minimum wage (49 states have higher wages) and expanding Medicaid (37 other states have done it) are both good for our state and our citizens. Yes, we believe that a suicide hotline (49 other states have one, note the part where the fact sheet says "of these calls *zero* were able to be answered in-state, there is no affiliated call center in Wyoming"), for example, might help save lives. Yes, we think that worker protections are good for workers *and* businesses (we rank 42nd on economy and 41st in "business-environment", in spite of what anti-tax groups will tell you). Yes, we have an evidence-based position, thoroughly researched and carefully annotated to back those opinions.

But we opened this piece talking about the interconnectedness of all people. (And even if that particular sentence sounded a little woo-woo, we know that you know what we mean.) There is power in presence. In bringing a casserole. Writing a letter. Making public comment. Answering a call. There is power in showing up. When we do that for each other, it all goes better and it all gets better.

We're here to tell you that we need to enshrine those values in our policies, too. Because it is not enough to say it and do it in our daily lives only to be undermined by the policies of our state. Policy is a collective commitment to our values.

So, as we head into the opening days of the Legislative Session, tell your family, tell your friends, tell your electeds: We don't all have to agree on everything, but we do all have to survive the winter.

We are in this together. Let's advance policy that reflects that.

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