Not at home in the hills
I got a phone call the other day from a woman who is struggling with her feelings about living in this region. She was born and raised here, but she is seriously considering moving somewhere else. Her reasons had nothing to do with jobs, entertainment and recreational opportunities, poverty levels, broadband access, the quality of education or affordable housing. She didn’t even mention the substance abuse epidemic or healthcare options. (Our little corner of Appalachia has its share of struggle, particularly in the more rural pockets.)
No, her concern was something more intangible. She just doesn’t feel as though she belongs here, anymore. She is disheartened by what seems to her to be an intentional grasping at conspiracy theories and strenuous avoidance of facts. In a region where teachers already struggled to get some families to value and support their children’s education, there is now a renewal of the idea that someone who has learned more than you must believe he or she is “better than” you are. Therefore, knowing or believing anything that person does — especially if you have the sneaking suspicious that person’s social and political leanings are also different from yours — is simply not an option.
Worse, for far too many people it must also mean you are free to behave hatefully toward that person. And, again, in all this truth is not part of the equation.
For the woman who called me, it means she no longer feels at home here. The voices of those who would love to go barreling as hard as possible back to the socio-cultural and political norms of about 200 years ago are drowning out reasonable, compassionate people who understand “progress” isn’t a dirty word, and education is invaluable. Facts are important. The truth is neither right nor left, conservative nor liberal. Doing the right thing for the human beings around us and acknowledging when we’ve done wrong (or when we’ve justified and perpetuated past wrongs) has nothing to do with a political party.
I can hear some of you right now. “Well, if she wants to leave, let her! Why would we want (insert derogatory term for anyone who isn’t clawing to be on the far right) to stick around here? Good riddance.”
It’s certainly what too many West Virginia lawmakers were saying during the last legislative session, after their leadership had made it plain they wanted to work to attract and retain residents, rather than repel them. In fact, a few seemed to take pleasure in introducing measures that would send folks running. It was a game to them.
If enough people join in, West Virginia has little hope of reaching its potential. This wild, wonderful slice of Almost Heaven will be one of the few places in this country where children are being left with less than what their parents and grandparents had — and continue trying to escape as quickly as possible.
It doesn’t have to happen that way, of course. Though the worst voices seem loudest, it does not mean there are more of them than there are of thoughtful, reasonable residents who very much love their home state and want to see it thrive rather than withering away in bitterness.
I hope the woman who called me hangs on. I hope she convinces others they are not alone, and that there is hope, if they stay. We may be quieter, but we can make a difference … if we stick around.
Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com