On a different topic than artmaking, but relevant to my work since government attention to issues is refocusing and I am reacting to those actions by being informed.
I have not been in Civics class or Social Studies since 1973 but I attended a session today. Senator Joe Manchin was invited by the Hampshire High School DECA and Social Studies department to a town hall format presentation at the school. Since I am not involved with a family member in the school system, I would have missed this opportunity if we did not subscribe to the Senator’s October 24, 2017 newsletter which listed the event as a public affair. After verifying with the news staff at Hampshire Review (our local weekly media outlet) I decided to attend. He was coming barely 20 miles from my home after all.
Pulling onto the grounds of the school there were several students at the “check-in” station, I asked if I needed to verify purpose and was directed to the main office to sign-in. Come to find out the event was in the Auditorium accessed from the back parking area and no sign-in was necessary. The space filled with chatting students (some with breakfast in bags although a sign said no food or drink and I had not brought my coffee in recalling such restrictions in my youth). Some received a listing of the questions the class had agreed would be asked, to act as presenters during the session. The press was represented, Board of Education members, Commissioners, Economic Development Director, state official and school staff along with many fellow public citizens.
Just a few minutes after the 9:00 am scheduled start, the US and WV state flags were processed by FFA members, the Pledge of Allegiance said by the audience and the Senator was introduced by a Hampshire High Senior who holds office in a local and state organization.
I am going to say my reasons for attending were to confront the Senator with an issue about rescinding the clean power plan guidelines and listen for comments which I could interpret as not representing the progressive, open United States I picture for 2017 (a defensive attitude). I realized at the end of the hour and half that there is a place in our lives for encouragement, support, acceptance, and assistance not divided by party affiliation, economic or social status and certainly not divided by religious beliefs or media bias. The social internet rabbit hole that sucks so many down with emotional buttons and quick captions is not LIFE. Conversation and compromising to achieve change is better than bickering.
Senator Manchin knew the profile of his audience and spoke with encouragement, challenges and lessons for the juniors and seniors just starting out in the world and hit home to even this “senior”. He related stories from high school days as a football player and visiting Romney four years staying with two families who he continues to keep in touch with. How an injury in college changed the path of a football career and having to knuckle down and study for his degree.
The student’s questions ranged from asking how and why he entered politics…he wanted to help beyond his own community. What does he like and dislike about being a Senator? The responsibility to be part of helping WV, the US and realizing those actions reverberate around the world is an honor; negative – the politics of saying the other side is wrong because they are the “other side”.
What can be done about poverty? Federal government has fought “the war on poverty” since President Johnson, but are we giving money out or training/educating people for the skills needed in jobs today? In the 1930’s President Roosevelt instituted the Rural Electrification Act and everyone got electricity. Now in 2017 Manchin has discussed with the President the need for Rural Connectivity….updating the internet access in our state and many others to equalize the opportunity for broader education, business, communication while staying in our communities.
The opioid epidemic needs to be funded and addressed as an illness, not a felony. More treatment centers, education of medical personnel to not prescribe as easily, and a minimal tax on each pill made paid by pharmaceuticals to fund these avenues should be parts of the program the President has recently announced.
The wall, the 2nd Amendment, health care, medicare, arts funding, environment, LGBTQ acceptance were all topics explained, or at least addressed in a courteous question and answer format.
Senator Manchin’s overall message was a pep talk to the students: You live in a country that allows you to do whatever you want. You just need to decide what that is, figure out how to achieve it with finances, education, opportunity and act. Nothing should be a barrier, inviting students to contact his office for guidance. The students must be educated, clean (of drugs), and prepared to enter the next phase of life. Every child should expect five elements: a person to trust, a support system, a safe place, to develop skills, and then to give back to others. We all can think of how to fill these needs for children/people in our community.
I left energized, actually emotional as I recalled the exciting challenging debates in my Social Studies class those many years ago, and optimistic that the next generation of Hampshire High students will contribute to their community near and far. I hope you meet some of them along the way.