On the Road to DC: Pittsburgh, PA — At the University of Pittsburgh we met with a group of students involved with FeelGood, a non-profit youth movement committed to ending extreme poverty by 2030. The students’ responses are insightful and often inspiring.
What do you think created the divide in the current US political environment?
“I think it’s partly a blue-collar backlash. All those jobs that could be done by people are being done by machines.
“I was talking to my roommate and she said it’s kind of like the whole existence of humanity has been ‘do this work, make this thing, give it to someone else for this other thing’, and that’s how we live. That’s what work is.
“But now, when we don’t have to work to make things—we can just make them with machines—we don’t know what to do. How do we give people money for doing nothing? It’s like we as a human race just don’t know what to do.”
“Before I moved to Pittsburgh for college I lived in a log cabin in West Virginia, in the middle of coal country. So I think I’ve been very well versed in Trump supporters and their ideology.
“There are certain areas on the coast and in urban hubs that are doing relatively well, but then you have places like where I’m from where the population is decreasing rapidly because there’s no work. And I think a lot of people there saw Donald Trump as sort of their savior in a way, like he was just going to come and magically restore the coal industry to what it was back in the 70s. But I don’t think that they understand the details of that and the repercussions of that.
“I also think that Trump represents everything they aspire to be. Regardless of his privilege and regardless of his previous wealth, they think of him as a self-made man, and they think, ‘well I can do that too, and I want a person like that to look after me because he will help me get to where he is.'”
“I think also part of it is a cultural thing. In cities there’s not this idea of self-sufficiency like there is more rural areas.
“I think about my aunt a lot. She lives in a small town in West Virginia, and she had to pay the government to pave her road. The state wouldn’t pave her road until all of the people in her neighborhood took up a collection to pay for it. And that was normal! If that happened in a city, we’d be shocked and appalled because that’s a thing that governments DO! They’re there to fix your potholes and there’s a number you can call to ask to get your pothole fixed. But my aunt had to take up this collection for like $3000 to get the city to send out a crew to pave their road.
“That idea of self-sufficiency…it’s a much more rural mindset. And it’s so at odds with the urban mindset we have.
“I don’t know. I think about that pothole a lot.”
The dynamics of this election caught a lot of people off guard. How did we lose connection with our fellow Americans?
“In the kind of urban environment we live in, the pace we go at is like ‘bam-bam-bam-bam.’ There’s no time to think about what’s going on outside of our urban bubble. And when things are changing so quickly it’s either keep up or get left behind. And so I think a lot of people just chose to leave behind whoever couldn’t keep up….”
“There’s a lot of things people don’t talk about because they know it will cause conflict because people feel very strongly on both sides, so just no one talks about anything. And that’s kind of an example of how that disconnect can happen.”
How are you are feeling about your future?
“I feel oddly optimistic, because while I think this election was definitely not a positive thing, it brought to light a lot of issues that have really been ignored or haven’t been thought of as important.”
“I’d say I feel uncertain. With what he’s already done in his first week of his presidency, it’s already shocking. So I’m unsure of what the future holds and what else he plans to do.”
“I think a lot of people feel like they have to match this presidency with the best people they can possibly be, so that’s why I’m hopeful and energized.”