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In The Deeply Divided Community Of Gillette, A Diverse Group Shares Food, Tears And Dreams

As part of our series, “I Respectfully Disagree,” Wyoming Public Radio’s Melodie Edwards journeyed into the heart of Wyoming’s coal country to the city of Gillette up in the northeast corner. Recently, it’s become an intensely divided community. In the last election, Wyoming went in greater percentage to Donald Trump than any other state, but Campbell County was one of the counties that supported Trump more than any other in Wyoming.

That has a lot to do with the bust in the coal industry.

“It became really tough, really scary,” remembered coal miner Alec Laub, “and everybody was really worried about their jobs. It was time to either make drastic changes to your life or find something else.”

Laub was one of two coal miners who joined us for a civil dialogue to get opposing views out in the open and off of social media. While Laub’s a Trump supporter, the other miner who came, Lynne Huskinson, was emphatically not.

But a lot of other kinds of people assembled too, ten altogether, all of them community leaders in one way or another: faith leaders, politicians, social workers.

Everyone piled up plates of Italian food and poured glasses of pink lemonade. It’s a small town so many of these folks knew each other. We came together at the Rockpile Museum. Historic pioneer wagons sat nearby, a display of old rifles, another of quiles and a mannequin in a coal miner’s uniform. 

Then, we all sat down to eat together.

First things first, Melodie reminded everyone of the four ground rules for civil discourse (adapted from the Department of Justice model).

1.    To share speaking time equitably

2.    To listen carefully and not interrupt

3.    To keep an open mind

4.    To be respectful even if you don't respect someone's views.

After that came introductions. The chairman of the Campbell County Republicans started things off…

Watch The Full Unedited Group Discussion 

Group members: Douglas Gerard, Louise Carter-King, Alec Laub, Leah Vader, Lynne Huskinson, Rev. Tom Fiske, Jessica Diaz, Jenny Nell Hartung, Mark Englert, Senator Michael Von Flatern, and Melodie Edwards

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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