Last Monday, Billings City Council voted to replace a resigning member with Roy Neese, upholding the 80-percent male gender imbalance currently in place. This isn’t a criticism of the details surrounding that decision, but rather a broader expression of disappointment that Billings leadership continues not to represent the demographics it serves. And the way to change this, I believe, is for citizens from under-represented communities to begin stepping forward in record numbers.
For this Ward 2 seat, only two women applied; there were no applicants of color. That is hardly a huge, diverse pool from which to draw. We must find ways to encourage more historically marginalized people in Billings to run for office, because representation matters. It matters because groups traditionally lacking power — such as women and people of color — have a pivotal role to play. We come to the table from wildly different backgrounds, and the obstacles we face in society are often very different from those faced by our male counterparts. All of this informs and shapes our governance and policy. If we are not represented at the table in numbers equal to our proportion in society, issues affecting over 50 percent of society often go unaddressed.
City Council elections are next fall in 2019 and my hope is that Billings can elect leadership representative of the city’s racial and gender demographics. That’s the goal. But for that to happen, we need pretty much every woman and person of color reading this to either run themselves, or support a campaign.
Kendra Langford Shaw