On Tuesday night, Wilmot Collins (D-MT) became the first black mayor of Helena, Montana in the city’s history after upsetting the incumbent, Jim Smith (R-MT). In the era of Donald Trump and the alt-right, Collins’ win inspires hope for several different reasons.
Wow. Meet the first black mayor in the ENTIRE HISTORY of Montana.
Wilmot Collins, who arrived in the US as a refugee from civil war in Liberia, was elected Mayor in Helena, Montana. PROGRESS! pic.twitter.com/hhuzpEsIfp
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) November 8, 2017
The new mayor of Montana is a Liberian refugee who came to the U.S. in 1994. He campaigned on platform of addressing poverty and inclusiveness.
Collins’ win came along with a Democratic gain in the city commission, where three other progressive candidates were elected. What those wins, and particularly Collins’ win, means in the current political climate of populism and the alt-right ideology can only be a positive response to the racist beliefs of white nationalists who support Trump.
Collins’ political opponent ran on a platform supporting many of Donald Trump’s ideals. In a city that is 93 percent white, Trump won the county of Lewis and Clark, which includes Helena, in 2016. Smith promised voters not to allow refugees into the city as Trump tried to institute an executive order that banned refugees from eight countries from entering the United States. He fought against the removal of Confederate statues from publicly-funded grounds as Trump ranted in press conferences and on Twitter against their removal.
Smith has also spoken at and attended meetings of a political organization called ACT for America, a group who organized neo-Nazi protest rallies following the Charlottesville protests where one woman, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, when a member of one of the hate groups ran his car into a group of counter-protesters. One of ACT’s members, Tim Ravndal, posted a photo of the two at a meeting on his Facebook page.
That member, Tim Ravndal, seen in the photo with Smith, was kicked out of the Montana Tea Party for homophobic slurs he posted on social media. Smith’s association with him undergirds an anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ stance that once bode well for him in a state that voted for Donald Trump.
Instead, his seat was taken by a refugee who was able to come to Helena, starving and dehydrated, and build a life for himself and his family. The new mayor promised during his campaign that refugees would be welcome in the city with him as mayor.
‘I will tell them that you have to have thick skin. There will be people that will say things that aren’t true about you. But there are more decent people in this state than there are bigots. There are more decent people in this state than there are racists.’
Collins election is one of many noted for their indications that voters are choosing diversity and inclusiveness over hate and nationalism. Danica Roem (D-VA), who identifies as a transgender woman, beat the incumbent Bob Marshall (R-VA) in a race for the state legislature. Marshall sponsored a bill requiring trans citizens to use public bathroom coordinating with their gender at birth instead of their gender of identity. Other trans candidates as well racially diverse candidates won their elections in what can only be seen as a push against the emboldening of racist and sexist ideologies that align with Trump’s most adoring supporters.
For more on Collins and his experiences as a refugee, see video below:
Featured image screengrab via YouTube