Jade Bahr: Progressive Indigenous Woman Running for State Assembly in Montana
Native woman endorsed by Democratic Socialists of America, unions, and environmentalists is running for State Assembly in Billings, Montana
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us, as always.
As we lead up to the election on November the 6th, we continue our conversations with progressive candidates from around the country. We’re not just focusing on those running for governor or senator or congressperson. We’ve been looking down ballot a lot, as they say at the critical races where long-term change will take place in people’s communities. Today, we traveled out to Montana. Native women are running for office in this country as never before. Two indigenous women may end up in Congress. Others, like our guest on the program today, are running for State Assembly seats.
Jade Bahr was born on the Crow Reservation 27 years ago. She’s an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne. She was raised in Billings but spent her summers on the rez with her grandparents, and she’s been a vocal activist in her community and in her life ever since and continues to be that. She was attacked by her Republican opponent as a socialist whose values don’t match the people of Montana. In fact, she was endorsed by the Democrats Socialists of America and the AFL-CIO and the Montana Conservation Voters, Carol’s List and many other bodies of citizens. It seems she’s very much in touch with the pulse of her people, the people of Billings and of Montana. And Jade Barr joins us now.
Welcome, Jade Bahr, to The Real News. Good to have you with us.
JADE BAHR: Thank you for having me.
MARC STEINER: So let’s talk about what motivated you to run in District 50. And tell us a bit about District 50. What is District 50, who lives there, where is it?
JADE BAHR: Well, it could be considered the central area of Billings City. It’s around a population of 10,000 people and it’s made up from low income to middle income people.
MARC STEINER: So what pushed you to run? Why did you decide to run for the State Assembly?
JADE BAHR: I’ve had a lot of time to think about that because it’s been over a year and a half. It was the first Women’s March, the night before that, that I decided to run. And my friend asked me, she had just won her Senate seat. She’s like, “Well, I feel like you are someone, your perspective, your experience we could use the legislature. Would you run?” And I thought about it in that brief moment, I said, “You know what, yeah, I would like to see someone who’s been through what I’ve been through and be in office.” And so I said yes, and I just never went back from that. And that’s the number one question people, candidates, are usually asked, is what motivated you to run?
So when I think about it, it really just had to do I think a lot with being born on the reservation and growing up low-income and being raised by a single mom. And also, when I was three, my mother moved my brother and us up to Billings because the Crow Reservation is about 45 minutes away from here. And there was just no opportunities for her to really provide a life she wanted for us. So she came up to continue her education, and when we came up here we depended on Food Stamps and Medicaid and Housing Authority. And so, I know immediately off the bat, I was able to see that not all of us are born equal. And then I was able to know about racism very early on, so that was a consciousness.
And just having the dichotomy of spending my summers on the reservation and then coming up here on the city I was able to see how, I guess, both halves live. And it was just kind of something I always thought about. And I always kind of felt a little bit like I almost didn’t know where I belonged. And then when I graduated high school, I decided to go to college and major in sociology. And that was kind of what opened my eyes into this whole study of race and class and gender. And it was just these topics that had been thinking about all my life, and I just had no idea that they were actually a whole study. So it was really exciting to come upon that.
And I went two years here and then I finished out my degree at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana, and then decided to come back here and start working in a day treatment for youth that were living in group homes and living in or had gotten kicked out of school. And I always kind of chose those jobs, jobs to where I was working with kids. Ever since I graduated high school I wanted to work among kids because I could see how much of an impact an individual could make on their lives and being a positive role model for them was something I felt I could be good at. And so about six years I worked in different fields with youth in group homes, day treatments, after school programs and things like that.
MARC STEINER: So as a progressive, someone who is aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America, as a Native Woman running in Billings in Montana, I’m curious how you see that political dynamic working. I mean, you see the battle that Jon Tester is in running for the Senate. I mean, there’s a lot of very conservative thinking in Montana, there’s also a lot of progressive Montanans, which people don’t really realize. So I’m curious about your campaign, how you speak to people and what your thrust is around your campaign. Because you don’t often think of somebody running on a progressive agenda backed by the DSA, by the AFL-CIO, by all these other groups, as having a chance. But clearly, you do.
JADE BAHR: I think the whole Bernie Sanders movement had a lot to do with igniting people’s ideas about how our standard of living should look. I think even Tester has been called a socialist, which is kind of far from the whole thing. So how much validity that really has I’m not sure. But I had a close friend just worried about me being associated with the DSA. But for me, I just felt like these are the things that I can agree with. And if people aren’t gonna like that, then they must not be ready for that. And that’s just the case. And so we’ll see how it goes.
And it has turned out well, because it’s not that I’m out there being like, “I’m a socialist,” and that’s what I’m trying to say. It’s more about, “These are the issues that I see are affecting the people.” I grew up working class. My friends are working class. Most come from poverty and really stressful situations of growing up. And so, when I’m seeing all this, then that’s what I’m going to be talking about. Because I see that a lot of times those voices aren’t really heard know the Democratic Socialist platform points that out as well.
MARC STEINER: So let’s say, for argument’s sake, there are two things I want to ask you before we roll here. One of them is, let’s say, for argument’s sake, you win this election and you serve District 50 from Montana in the State Legislature. So, tell me what effect you think you’re can have. What’s the political makeup of that State Legislature in Montana and where do you fit into all that? And what would be the battles that you would push, the fights you would make?
JADE BAHR: I think there’s a fair amount of people in our legislature that stand for progress and for making sure people’s needs are being met. I don’t know really what I might be in for and how many fights I’m going to pick, but I know that if there’s a voice that needs to be heard, you can’t bet that you can talk to me and I’m going to do my best to relay it to the Congress there, our State Congress.
MARC STEINER: But it does say a lot right now that we’re in a world where so many native people are actually running for seats. And not just running for seats that are connected to the rez, but are actually running for seats in other areas, for Congress in Kansas, Sharice Davis, or in New Mexico and other places. I mean, there’s a shift going on, and I wonder what you think that shift is.
JADE BAHR: Well, I would say the it’s just probably a sort of consciousness. I think society has the ability to look at itself and see where we are lacking and what voices need more of a platform. I know that Standing Rock was huge, and I think a historic moment and there was a lot of support behind it. And so I know that that inspired a lot of folks to run. I feel very, very humbled to be part of the movement. When I read these articles of these Native Americans, especially women, running for office, I’ve cried because it’s very beautiful to see. And also, it brings about that feeling of “finally,” you know, “finally we have a voice,” or more of a voice. Because that’s not to say that there hasn’t been Native Women who have run, but it just seems like it has become more of a movement now.
And since I was raised by a very strong, independent woman, mother, she’s of course my biggest role model. And it was her perseverance and her strength, and especially because she – being Native born, she lived her life, until she was about 23, on the reservation. So seeing her be able to overcome so many obstacles, that’s what’s really inspirational. So when I see these women, that’s what I see in them. I see their strength and their perseverance, and I know that we’re making such a strong impact for future generations. So it’s just so humbling to be a part of that. When I was mentioned and Mark Trahant’s article, I felt so honored to be in the same paragraph, as I had my name mentioned with Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids. And for me, I’m just this 29 year old neighborhood gal, that’s just like, “Hey, I’m going to stand up for the folks.”
MARC STEINER: It was interesting because they had that picture of you in the article, we’ll show here, of you in this red beret, and then explaining what the hammer and sickle meant. That was a fairly bold move on your part, to do something like that, since you’re running for office. You really attacked for that. I mean, your Republican opponent came after you about that.
JADE BAHR: Yeah, and my Republican opponent hasn’t even been campaigning until, I guess, maybe the months before the election. And the first thing he puts out is this photo of me that I had made, because I had made it through Instagram’s instant stories that you can view for like 30 seconds. And then I posted it on my Facebook story. And when I posted it, I was like, “I know someone could potentially use this against me,” but I was trying to maybe provide some insight into what the original meaning of the sickle and hammer meant and the relevance that it has today. And so I guess it was easy to take that photo and portray me as a communist.
MARC STEINER: As opposed to a Native Woman from the rez who’s trying to make a difference in your community.
JADE BAHR: Right, right.
MARC STEINER: So it’s been a pleasure to talk with you and we’ll look forward to talking to you after the election and the coming days and hopefully celebrate with you. And we’ll look forward to talking to you on the campaign trail and past the campaign trail.
JADE BAHR: Yeah, definitely. And I look forward to talking with you too and continuing to talk with the people.
And I’m Marc Steiner, here for The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us, we’ll be covering more races. Take care.