The following is a transcript of the CheckIn interview conducted by GovSight Social Media Director Victoria Garcia and Business Strategist Anna Repp with West Virginia City Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum on her campaign victory, the importance of grassroot efforts and the recent changes to LGBTQIA+ protections. The interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Victoria Garcia: This week we’re checking in with Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum of Wheeling City, West Virginia. Thank you so much for being here.
Rosemary Ketchum: Thank you so much.
VG: Alright, so for our first question, can you talk a little bit about your platform and kind of what you hope to accomplish while you're on the city council?
RK: I have been a community organizer in the state of West Virginia for almost a decade now. And working on issues, including homelessness and poverty, opioid addiction, menstrual equity, LGBTQ+ equality — and I loved my work as a community organizer, I still do, I still consider myself an organizer. And I thought for the longest time, that's what I was going to do forever. And I kind of loved being kind of scrappy and underdog and, like, sticking it to the man. But then I realized soon enough that some of the biggest obstacles we were experiencing as organizers were not necessarily the, you know, structural and systemic issues that we face, although they're enormous obstacles. More often the obstacles were the elected officials that we were coming in contact with. And so we realized that, you know, we ought to, you know, replace them more often than we try to convince them. It's just easier that way. So we are — you know, we ran a campaign here in the city of Wheeling that was really focused on grassroots organizing on some issues that we find really underlie so many of the other issues. So, you know, homelessness, mental health, addiction, all of those, all of those kinds of things.
VG: Great, so you mentioned your work with the opioid crisis, like, when it comes to a local level. So do you think the momentum that stems — like, you know, personally, like whether you're affected from the opioid crisis or not, like, the momentum that comes from it — do you think it's going to be, more or less, enough to reach the federal level? Or do you think maybe there's already, like, an inkling of it that's already gonna be recognized as such?
RK: Yeah, I mean, the opioid crisis that we're experiencing now, and the solutions and the energy and the money that we're putting toward it, you know, really 30, 40 years too late. I mean, we had, you know, most people who are a little older than us might remember, you know, the crack epidemic in the 1980s. And how little we paid attention from a holistic healthcare perspective, you know, we punished, you know, the black and brown folks who were experiencing those traumatic times in the 1980s and 90s. We punish them through our criminal justice system. We did not provide healthcare resources. And so it's so important to acknowledge that now, in that white people are really experiencing the opioid epidemic in a way — perhaps they hadn't before — we're addressing it in more serious ways. We have a lot of work to do. And there are so many components to, you know, opioid addiction treatment.
You know, my family members who are in recovery and, you know, just for my own lived experience, I consider myself a mental health professional, and I've done the research and done the work, and it's still incredibly hard and I don't have all the answers. But what I do know is that we have to start from a mental health perspective. That is, I think, square one. If you know, you guys remember the kind of Maslow's hierarchy of needs — we can never get to the top of the pyramid unless we really focus on basic, basic needs and healthcare needs. So, we know one of the things that we do often in healthcare is, before somebody can even receive mental health treatment, they have to be stabilized, you know, they have to have, you know, medical intervention. And if a person is experiencing active addiction, there's really no way we can, you know, begin the kind of intensive mental health care treatment we need to [provide] until we, you know, really focus on that medical intervention. So it's incredibly complicated and this will require federal, state and local governments to work hand in hand, and we're seeing some of that — especially in West Virginia, we received a lot of money to work on this issue, but it's gonna really — we're gonna have to really set aside our egos here and and do this for our communities. Because people are literally dying every single day, so we can't afford to do anything less but our best.
VG: Definitely, thank you.
Anna Repp: Yeah, I think that would, I love the holistic approach idea. I think that's really awesome. So when it comes to, like, local government tackling these problems, how can the local government be used as a tool to influence the federal government? So you're talking about the opioid crisis, but in addition to that, like, these other racist and oppressive systems that people are talking about right now and hoping to dismantle, how do we use local government to then influence federal government, and is that the way to do it?
RK: Really great question. Yes, it is the way to do it. I honestly believe that we are seeing the beginning shifts, the beginning political shifts toward empowering local governments to really take control of building their own inclusive progressive cities. One of my favorite books is If Mayors Ruled the World. And it really, you know, kind of brings all of these issues that seem so massive and insurmountable. It brings them into a local municipal perspective. And it reminds me of the untapped power of local government — of course, the way our systems work, we need state and federal governments and the authority and implementation that they provide. But we have spent so long only focusing on, you know, the U.S. senators and the president and Congress and it's glacial. I mean, the folks that I've spoken to here in my own community, I've been knocking doors. When they talk about politics, they aren't inspired, they aren't engaged, they are pissed off and upset and apathetic, to be honest, because they're only really focusing on what happens at this federal enormous level. And I think as soon as we begin to focus on what happens in our local governments, you know, your mayor can make a decision on a Monday, they start to implement it on Wednesday, and you can see the results by Friday. That doesn't happen anywhere but in, you know, small towns and municipalities, you know, and city governments. So my hope is that we begin to see the political shift, you know, toward the empowerment of local government, and really not take for granted the positions that, you know, people can take to define their own communities. So, you know, for example, racial justice. You know, we — are we going to wait for the federal government to act, maybe? But we've been waiting for, you know, 50 years, longer in so many cases. We, I think, have an inherent responsibility as municipalities to really engage our community, build trust and dismantle, you know, racist structures that — whether we have built them or not — we are, you know, complicit, you know, by just existing within them. So, yes, to make a long story long. I think local government is really gonna see a kind of renaissance in the way people perceive it.
AR: That's awesome. And I think that's a really encouraging sentiment, too, is that even though federal government is so glacial, like you said, there is still hope and momentum within these local governments. I think that's awesome. So just to switch gears a little bit, this week has been a big one for different LGBT rights and ‘not rights.’
RK: Yeah, it's been really busy.
AR: So, so yeah, exactly. So I was just wondering, you know, we've seen the striking of LGBT protections from the Affordable Care Act, and then we've also kind of immediately seen employment protections for the community. How does that kind of whiplash impact the community, and do you have any thoughts on that?
RK: This has been the most convoluted pride month I've ever experienced. Uh, and I don't know what to think, you know, one day we are on top of the world and the next day, you know, we're scrambling to figure out what, you know, these new restrictions or rollbacks mean.You know, the ACA — the attack on the ACA did not surprise me. I mean, we had expected this for a long time, surprised that [it] didn't happen sooner. But angry nonetheless. I mean, it is absolutely cruel and unkind and unnecessary. I mean, this is not, you know — to take this kind of action during Pride Month on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting no less is just, I mean, horrendous. If it's not done on purpose, I can't even imagine — so, um, you know, in one breath, we have that and then in the next breath we have, you know, the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court in the land, you know, affirming that LGBTQ+people have a right to work, essentially have a right to to live and to work and and not fear that those things that we all take for granted could be ripped away from them because of who they love or how they dress. And what was most inspiring is that we have a conservative Court. I mean, Trump has had his fair share of appointments. And yet a Trump appointee, Justice Gorsuch, you know, wrote the majority opinion. And it was a 6-3 decision like, you know, that was inspiring, you know, if just in the smallest way. So, and, and I think, also, having the discussion of intersectionality during Pride Month has been really powerful. You know, on this interview I just did, we were talking about Black Lives Matter and how, you know, so many people are just having the discussion that all Black lives matter, and especially trans women of color, who have been so historically excommunicated from the conversations of, you know, Black lives. And, you know, defending, you know, trans people, that conversation of intersectionality is so powerful, and I think it's something people are just becoming comfortable, you know, talking about. So that I think has also been a win both for, you know, the Black community and for the LGBTQ+community. So it's hard to say I feel good because, I don't know — because everything seems to be on fire, literally and figuratively, but also I'm confident that we're moving in the right direction.
VG: Yeah, it's awesome. It's so easy to infer the world or literally everything is like a dumpster fire. And I think that's just like a, you know, it was a fitting image. But you mentioned how, I mean, it was the Court's decision and then you had the Affordable Care decision. So going into the next election cycle — when it comes to the primaries that have already been going on and, like, the presidential election coming on — do you have faith more or less in the Justice Department’s, you know, further decision-making when it comes to LGBT — like, you know — right issues? And even when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, like, the hypocrisy of, “You’re valuable as, you know, a worker contributing to, you know, the economy, but when it comes to the healthcare sector, not so much.” So, do you see faith going forward from this?
RK: I do, I am a national delegate for Joe Biden in this election and so we're going to have our DNC thing in Milwaukee unless it gets cancelled, we'll see. And, uh, you know, if I'm being honest, Biden was not my first choice. You know, I really, really loved the kind of, you know, inspired, engaged and fresh ideas that were coming out of the, you know, Democratic candidates during, you know, before the primary. And I'm hoping that, you know, Vice President Biden will take those to heart. I think he really will but we have a lot of work to do. And I'm not sure the current makeup of our Congress is ready to do that work, truthfully. And so what we really need to do is support candidates who are running on progressive platforms, and also run for office ourselves. You know, I didn't — I never planned to run for office, I thought that wasn't a space that was meant for me, the people who, you know, inhabit that space, they don't look like me, they don't live like me. But there is something inherently powerful about inhabiting a space that wasn't built for you and saying, you know what, we're here, we're gonna figure this out. I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed. And, you know, you move forward and you kind of work diligently to make some serious tangible changes. And so, again, I think that really starts at the grassroot level and because our federal level has just been so gridlocked, and it's almost now a trope to talk about, just — it just is. I think that we can only really, you know, get to the future we want to see when we are electing folks who are willing to be held accountable for their own, you know, prior beliefs and actions or whatever, but also who are unapologetic about their vision. And so I'm, I'm incredibly confident about that. I think that we've seen a pendulum, you know, experience in our presidential races and you know, you know, Senate majority control, and I'm really confident that the pendulum is now going to swing for the progressive end.
VG: Great thank you so much.
AR: That's awesome. So as a last question, we always ask, what first sparked your interest in community work and then politics and government and how can somebody who has that interest then get involved?
RK: Great question. Truthfully, I never felt connected to my community. And I never felt — and it wasn't my community's fault. I think it was my own insecurities and my own desires to make a difference and to be part of something bigger than myself. I knew I've always wanted to do that. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a journalist, I admired Ann Curry and Diane Sawyer, and I thought that's a dream job. That's what I want to do. And then I realized that, you know, journalism requires that you are incredibly unbiased and that you don't promote your opinions and, and I don't have that kind of self control. So I knew that wasn't for me, but the closest thing to that, for me, was community organizing. And I didn't get in because, you know, I was born into it or my parents were anything. I literally kind of just went to parties I wasn't invited to, spoke to people who intimidated me, and I tried to be as unapologetic about it as possible. Because honestly, I thought, what do I have to lose? This is the kind of work I want to do. And all of my fears — I say that fear is not the boss, because you know for me, it was. None of these scenarios that I built in my head ever happened to me, you know, people did not push me away or tell me that I couldn't do what I wanted. They only empowered me to do it. Because I showed up. And I think half the work is actually just showing up for the work you want to do. You know, I love social media, and I couldn't live without my phones, I have to have them, damn. But if you don't show up, you weren't there. And so that is, I think, the thing I take away from community organizing, and I always take that if I ever run for office again. You know, I call myself a community organizer before a politician. So I would, I would hope that other people are just as proud of that as I am.
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