Grace Peck and Heather DeVine are both new moms. Peck’s son just turned 1, and DeVine’s son is 6 months old. That’s why images of crying children separated from their families at the border hit them hard.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch the news, to read any articles. It’s just something we wanted to speak out against,” DeVine said.
Pained by the Trump administration’s policy of separating kids and parents attempting to cross the country’s southern border, they decided to launch a letter writing campaign for Teton County residents to write to the Wyoming congressional delegation, urging action.
“This is not about politics,” Peck said. “I wish that we could just take that out of it and say this is about humanity.”
Peck owns Roam, a boutique store downtown, and provided the venue for the gathering. DeVine is the founder of nonprofit People Spread Love, which typically writes notes to people facing adversity, so she supplied the letter-writing materials.
For People Spread Love, writing letters to Congress was a little different, and more political, approach.
“I didn’t go crazy with all my supplies like I usually do,” DeVine said.
Still, she wanted to encourage self-expression and creativity: The table set up in the center of the store was strewn with bright, multicolored stationery for letter writers to choose from.
On June 20 President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the family-separation policy. But DeVine and Peck still felt the letter writing campaign was necessary.
“This gives us an opportunity to be a part of something and feel like we’re having our voices heard,” DeVine said.
And they weren’t alone.
“I am just so upset,” Jan Clark said, shaking her head as she walked through Roam’s door last Friday.
Clark said as a descendent of Czechoslovakian immigrants, she couldn’t idly stand by.
“You don’t treat people like this,” she said. “I don’t care who they are.”
Clark sat down at the table, grabbed a pen and went to work.
Peck wrote to legislators about the need to expedite the reunions of the separated kids with their parents. She also expressed support for an easier, more welcoming process for families seeking asylum in the United States.
“I think about my family, I look at my son, and what it would take for me to pick up and leave my home,” Peck said. “We’re talking about families who don’t feel safe, who feel like they might be killed, who are threatened by violence.”
A mother-daughter tourist pair from Florida stumbled into the letter writing event while stopping by Roam to shop, grabbing handouts and stationery to write letters to their representatives later.
Peck said she was especially happy that a few local families came by together.
“It was amazing to have kids in our midst, and I think letters from children themselves might be the most poignant letters of all and have the capability to make the most difference,” Peck said.
Caitlin Shea was one of the 20 to 25 total attendees who showed up. She said her letter called for more humane border policies and an end to family separation.
“I think it’s really important for people from small towns to speak up about what they believe in, because there are fewer people messaging and emailing and calling our senators than, say, senators from California,” Shea said.
The space provided not only an opportunity for civic engagement, but also a chance to find support and solidarity among other people disturbed by immigration policies. Discussion circulated around the table about news reports people had heard and immigration reform.
“When you have a whole group of people coming together, you feel like there’s more of an impact,” Clark said.
“You know your voice isn’t alone,” said Mike Yin, another letter writer.
To emphasize that point, Peck and DeVine plan to package 52 total letters together and send them to D.C. as a package.