The Task Force submitted questions to each of the candidates in the upcoming election. Here's the reply from Shelby Rognstad, candidate for Sandpoint mayor (incumbent).
1. The mission of the BCHRTF is to affirm the American principles and ideals of the inviolable dignity and worth of each human being. Who do you think experiences the most discrimination in our community? Is it discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status or disability (including mental illness)?
I don’t think it's helpful or even possible to compare one person’s discrimination to another. What I think is important is to recognize that on the large scale white nationalism is on the rise. It has a history in our community and there have been serious threats recently through the racist robocall and flyer campaigns over the last several years. I recall when a visitor was threatened by someone brandishing a gun on 1st Avenue this summer, I recall when a local business owner was threatened with hate mail. There are instances large and small that happen to people all the time that have an impact on our sense of safety and security in Sandpoint.
It is important to recognize it, acknowledge it and condemn it when we see hateful, discriminatory behavior. It is also important to recognize that we have come a long way to improve our community by driving out hate groups and their leadership when they have threatened our community. This community has a lot to be proud of standing up to hate and bigotry but there is still a lot of work to do. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes for Martin Luther King Jr.,”The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
2. The BCHRTF was established in 1992 to confront the growing challenges of white supremacist organizations and activities in our around Bonner County. To what extent do you think that challenge exists today? Is this still a challenge—or should the TF say ‘mission accomplished?
Discrimination has been around for as long as human civilization. We have come so far and progress toward greater equity and justice continues today. Those that are opposed to equity and social justice initiatives see this historical progress as proof that discrimination and injustice no longer exist. Modern forms of discrimination and injustice are more discreet and nuanced that what we experienced historically. Those that recognize social inequity today are compelled to continue to work toward an increasingly just society. I imagine this work will never end and seems to get increasingly complex the closer we come toward the ideal.
3. What do you think can be done to counter the reputation that North Idaho has, nationwide, as a haven for racists and white nationalists?
We can start by not providing haven for racism and white nationalism. That means standing up when we witness acts of hate, calling it out and saying this is not acceptable in our town.
We can support groups, organizations, businesses and leaders that are making positive change in the community to support a culture that is loving, kind, inclusive and supports social equity and justice. The Task Force is one of these organizations.
I was moved last year on Martin Luther King Junior Day when Sandpoint Property Management put on display at their downtown business storefront famous quotes and photos from Dr. King that shared many of his powerful messages for the public to witness and learn from. This was a great example of something that a small business can do to strengthen human rights education and support in our community. Schools celebrate human rights through education. Community organizations celebrate human rights through public gatherings. These are community driven campaigns that create a culture that values human rights and their progress.
We can clearly state our value of human rights and social equity as a consistent message that is shared by all. If we are collectively focused on this value and include it in our mission, our goals, our outreach and our policies, we can support a culture that is more inclusive.
This also includes challenging those who promote hate in our community. North Idaho has had success in driving out hate groups and their leaders in the past thanks to overwhelming community support and leadership from groups like the Task Forces of Kootenai, Bonner and Boundary Counties.
4. How does this reputation affect the lives of those of us who live here? How does this reputation affect our community’s ability to attract potential employees and visitors?
It’s unfortunate that North Idaho has this label. The overwhelming majority of people here value human rights, social equity and justice. Many work hard to demonstrate this value and improve our society.
For many in our community it feels less safe. It feels uncomfortable and is emotionally and psychologically unhealthy for those who are discriminated against and for those who are sympathetic. It impacts community engagement reducing the overall benefit to communities from individual participation. It reduces overall quality of life and sense of community pride.
How does this reputation affect our community’s ability to attract potential employees and visitors?
This reputation also keeps some people away, impacting tourism, job growth and overall economic health and vitality. When a community feels like it is unsafe, unhealthy, or having a lower quality of life due to its reputation, real or perceived, it is less attractive to potential customers and workforce. This affects everyone through less economic activity, less human activity.
5. How important do you think it is to work toward making Sandpoint a community where everyone feels valued, everyone feels safe and everyone can thrive?
It is critical. It should be a core, fundamental value of Sandpoint that we are a community that is safe and inclusive for everyone. We shouldn’t want any member of our community or any visitor to feel threatened or unwelcome.
6. Do you feel that has been achieved, and if not, what stands in the way?
We have significant success. The city passed the first legislation in Idaho protecting LGBTQIA+ rights in employment and residence. I, along with other leaders in the community, have consistently stood up for human rights and dignity whenever it has been challenged. When I first entered office I proposed a resolution affirming Sandpoint as a welcoming community to all people. I recently proposed an inclusion initiative to ensure equity in the workplace. Neither of these proposals were supported by my opponent, the councilwoman, in this race. My other opponent, Mr. Lawrence, kicked off his campaign attending the Freedom Festival, validating extremist speakers promoting intolerant rhetoric.
7. If you are elected, what is the first step you would take toward making the above vision a reality?
I will continue to stand up for human rights and equity. I will support those in my community that share this value. I will work to ensure that the City is following best practices as it relates to fair and equal employment. Through example, the city can provide leadership and support for other organizations who share this value and aspire to make Sandpoint a safer, healthier, happier more vibrant community.