In this post, Rocky Mountain Wolf Project volunteer and Steering Committee member Rhonda Dern gives us a behind-the-scenes look at an amazing effort to take the 2020 campaign for wolves to the streets. Faced with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Rhonda and her intrepid group of volunteers had to get creative to ensure that as many voters as possible saw the grassroots energy that served as the foundation of the campaign—and they succeeded beyond all expectations.

RMWP: So, Rhonda, how’d your grassroots work all come about?

Rhonda: Once the Secretary of State certified Prop 114 for the ballot, we got to work. A small group of us started meeting weekly to strategize how we could help wolves win in November 2020. Tara Russell, Debra Taylor, Karin Mahuna, Rose Pray, Darlene Kobobel and I knew we needed to reach out to as many Coloradans as possible.  We expected COVID-19 would probably rage throughout 2020, so our work would require us to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

RMWP: What ideas rose to the top for you?

Rhonda: We came up with a plan to wave signs and banners at high visibility outdoor locations. To maximize our impact as close to the election as possible, we chose October as our target month. Many people would have heard about proposition 114 by then. We also decided that we would do a march in Denver in October as well.

RMWP: Sounds like you had a solid strategy. How did all the logistics come together?

Rhonda: First, we researched areas where we could reach the most people while maintaining a safe distance. After we’d decided on our primary banner display locations, it really came down to getting creative on a shoestring budget.

“We saved cardboard boxes for months and cut them down to poster size for hand-held signs. We scheduled sign and banner making days at parks so we could be six feet apart. We used paints we had at home to create our artistic masterpieces! Debra, Tara and I made posters and banners at a park in Denver and Darlene and her staff made signs at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. We even made banners from clear shower curtains, we stapled two together for each banner. Clever, right?!”

“Darlene owns the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, and she offered to organize sign wavers in and around Divide, Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. Karin lives in Colorado Springs and organized sign waving in that area. She waved signs with the CWWC crew as well.”

“Debra lives in Denver and she organized sign waving there.”

“Tara lives in Arvada and she traveled to all areas where volunteers were needed.”

“I live in Evergreen and took charge of the Floyd Hill -I-70 overpass.”

RMWP: Can you estimate how many people saw your signs and banners during the campaign?

Rhonda: A bunch! It’s a really hard thing to estimate, but we can use our I-70 overpass campaign as one gauge. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, around 33,089 cars go through the tunnel daily in October.  We can assume that many of these vehicles have more than one occupant. Our shifts at the I-70 overpass ran from 3 to 5 pm on Fridays and Sundays during October, so it’s clear that thousands of people saw our signs each time we were out!!

RMWP: What was the public reaction to your signs and banners?

Rhonda: Most of the response was very positive, with folks honking and giving us the “thumbs-up” as they drove by. Of course, there were a few middle fingers thrown in there too, which was not so fun! Nonetheless, our not-so-scientific analysis was always that, “We got more thumbs up today than fingers, right?” The answer was always “Howl Yes!”

RMWP: October is a pretty marginal month to be standing outside for hours at a time. You all must’ve been pretty cold by the end of your shifts.

Rhonda: We survived days of howling wind almost blowing us and our banners off the bridges, and we had some frozen fingers. We also had to be careful about how much liquid we consumed before and during our shifts, because usually there were no bathrooms nearby.

RMWP: How did the March for Wolves go?

Rhonda: Unfortunately, the pandemic forced us to alter our plans for the march significantly. Cancelling this uplifting event we’d planned with our friends Diana Tomback and Delia Malone bummed us out, but we are an intrepid bunch, so we came up with “Plan B” to save the day.

Darlene and Debra agreed to organize two mini (pandemic safe) marches, one near the Capitol and a march around City Park and the Zoo, both on October 4th, following the “Blessing of the Wolf “ ceremony at The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.

Both mini marches were pandemic safe and fabulous!! A volunteer from the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center brought her wolf hybrid to march with us around City Park and the Zoo. It was heartwarming to see how folks reacted to this animal, and it provided an opportunity to talk about how wolves and wolf-hybrids don’t make great pets.

RMWP: You must be very proud of your intrepid band of wolf huggers!

Rhonda: We are all very proud! Our banner and sign waving was very successful. We even inspired Darlene at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center to purchase a billboard in Colorado Springs; thousands of Coloradans drove by it daily during the last weeks of the campaign!

RMWP: Any final thoughts?

Rhonda: Volunteers will always find creative ways to get the word out. They absolutely are the heart and soul of every campaign.

Debra, Karin, Darlene, Tara, Rose and I would like to thank all the volunteers that waved signs, banners and marched with us, for the wolves!!!