Sunday, June 26, 2011

It's no accident that the Wyoming State Seal features "Equal Rights" front and center

A colorful rendering of the Wyoming State Seal is being embedded in the new plaza in front of the State Capitol Building. On Friday, I stopped to watch the installation. Joe from southwestern Virginia and Joe from Cheyenne were supervising the work. From afar, the seal looks magnificent. During the legislative session, I had seen an artists's rendering of the finished project.

This is a major improvement over the aging plaza that was in place this time last year. In Cheyenne, we always measure time by Cheyenne Frontier Days -- "The Daddy of 'Em All." It's our version of the New Year's celebration. The year ends or begins with CFD -- not quite sure which. Anyway, the construction barriers and construction crews and the big box surrounding the Chief Washakie statue will all be removed by July 22 to make way for the influx of tourists.

What they will see is instructive. The plaza will be flanked by statues of Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first woman governor of a U.S. state, and Chief Washakie, the legendary leader of the Shoshones. Wyoming may be the only U.S. state to celebrate the contributions of a suffragist and a Native American chief in front of its Capitol Building. You might call this a concrete representation of the stat'e slogan, "Equal Rights," that also is part of the state seal. Has Wyoming lived up to this clarion call for justice? No. Shoshone and Arapaho youth on the sprawling Wind River Reservation continue to commit suicide at alarming rates. The dropout stats for Rez youth are the worst in the state and the unemployment rate is 70 percent. Women nationally earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In Wyoming, women earn 67 cents for every dollar paid to guys (such as me). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported these figures in May.

But the state seal sounds the call for justice. Here's a description of the state seal from the official State of Wyoming site:
The Great Seal of the State of Wyoming was adopted by the second legislature in 1893, revised by the sixteenth legislature in 1921. The two dates on the Great Seal, 1869 and 1890 commemorate the organization of the Territorial government and Wyoming's admission to the Union. The draped figure in the center holds a staff from which flows a banner bearing the words, "Equal Rights," and symbolizes the political status women have always enjoyed in Wyoming. The male figures typify the livestock and mining industries of the state. The number 44 on the five-pointed star signifies that Wyoming was the 44th state admitted to the Union. On top of the pillars rest lamps from which burn the Light of Knowledge. Scrolls encircling the two pillars bear the words, Oil, Mines, Livestock, and Grain, four of Wyoming's major industries.
No mention of the area's original inhabitants, but we'll work on that. The "draped figure" is obviously a woman. The two men flanking the "Equal Rights" figure are a miner and a herder or a cowboy. It celebrates Wyoming's status as the 44th state admitted to The Union. It celebrates knowledge. It celebrates industry, farming and ranching. It celebrates working people.

The miniscule photo above doesn't do it justice, especially when compared to the large state seal that will be the centerpiece of the plaza. 

As I talked to Joe and Joe at the Capitol, the Tea Party was holding a rally on the publicly-funded and maintained Capitol grass. The Tea Party doesn't believe in taxes except for war-making. Not sure what they think of the Capitol renovation. This is just the first stage of a major overhaul of the historic structure, inside and out. Tea Partiers maintain that they pay too many taxes. Most of them drove to the rally public roadways, although some may have beamed in from Planet Tea Party. Many of them are Medicare-eligible, judging by their ages, although maybe they are doctrinaire enough to refuse those benefits which they contributed to all their lives. Some Tea Partiers want to revoke the 10th and 14 amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Some even go so far as to advocate secession.

But the part of the state seal that seems to rankle them the most concerns "equal rights." The Tea Party crowd hates those "illegal aliens," such as the ones that Sen. John McCain says started the Arizona wildfires. The Tea Party crowd loves Arizona's racist SB1070 law and wants Wyoming to have one just like it. There was one proposed in the most recent legislature but it went down in flames. HB94, according to the Equality State Policy Center, "would have led to racial profiling, split up Wyoming families with documented and undocumented members, and hamper police by drawing off resources to enforce federal immigration law." The measure was killed in committee. The Legislative Management Council rejected a move to fund an interim study on the immigration issue. Since the Republicans control all legislative business, it is safe to assume that some Republicans take our "Equality State" motto seriously.

That also applies to the same-sex marriage issue. Live-and-let-live Republicans killed HB74 -- the "Validity of Marriages" bill. This happened only after pressure by live-and-let-live Wyomingites, gay and straight.

The next Tea Party rally will probably be on the completed plaza. It's a public space, and publicly-funded at that. Protesters will stand right on the state seal that promotes equal rights and justice for all (A-L-L) and education and the Union and workers and they will promulgate ideas antithetical to those things we hold dear.

Thanks, Joe and Joe and all the Joes and Janes who continue to build Wyoming and make it a great place to live. It takes hard work and eternal vigilance to keep it that way. 

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