Distressed that the national freefall in public civility had encroached even upon his sparsely populated state, Wyoming Rural Electric Association’s Shawn Taylor could no longer be a bystander.
Last summer, Taylor played a behind-the-scenes role in the aptly titled “High Noon in America,” a 20-minute pilot documentary on the role that face-to-face conversations can play in sparking positive change. One of the filmmakers, a Wyoming native like Taylor, knew him from a family connection and heard he’d be a good sounding board and source of contacts.
Taylor didn’t disappoint. And, what’s more, he offered co-ops as skilled facilitators at bringing people together to work in their communities’ best interests.
“I gave them a whole host of names inside and outside the cooperative world,” said Taylor, the executive director of the Cheyenne-based statewide association. “I thought it was a great project and a great concept on how we might bring that idea of stability to the co-op family, the community and the country. The co-op is a really good outlet to promote that.”
“High Noon” shows conversations between four state leaders on opposite sides of the political spectrum as they discuss major issues. The individuals—a law professor, a former member of Congress, a county commissioner and a state legislator—meet in pairs, over coffee, in a parlor in the governor’s mansion in Cheyenne. They don’t spar or trade insults. They take turns exchanging different points of view in measured, calm tones.
“We must have talked to 50 or 60 people before we tapped the four” stars in the film, said filmmaker Bobbie Birleffi, a Wyoming native. “And they had never met each other, believe it or not! It’s Wyoming and there are 500,000 people.”
The first screenings of “High Noon” took place in multiple locations in Wyoming last fall, and the film received good reviews. Now, Birleffi and Beverly Kopf, founders of TVGals Media, want to find producers in other parts of the country to continue their work.
Here, too, Taylor has been a valuable resource.
“With Shawn’s response and from others we’ve been able to further refine the idea…and maybe do things differently, like sharpen the urban-rural lens, so that an urban and rural person are talking to each other,” said Birleffi.
Taylor showed the film at a recent meeting of the Rural Electric Statewide Managers Association (RESMA) “with the hope that maybe other statewides would want to work with [Birleffi and Kopf] in similar projects in their states.”
“Co-ops have the pulse on their communities, we have the ranching communities and then we have the small communities,” said Taylor.
Co-ops are a good example of disparate interests collaborating for the good of a community, said NRECA Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Connor.
“There’s an adage…that co-ops aren’t in the electric business, but in the quality-of-life business. Part of that quality of life is how you engage constructively in political dialogues with your neighbors and within your community about how to make those next increments of improvement,” said Connor. “That’s really how broadband projects and other community investments get started.
“We have to be reminded every now and then that the forces that bind us [as] members of a community are stronger than our individual politics. And nowhere is that more apparent or easier to prove than in rural America where you have a great sense of community.”