img_2957On the Road to DC: Bowling Green, KY — At the University of Western Kentucky I met with three students who, like those at the University of Pittsburgh, are involved with FeelGood: a non-profit youth movement committed to ending extreme poverty by 2030.

(Two students shared the same name. I refer to them as Lauren 1 and Lauren 2. Lauren 2 is a grad student, and spent two years in Madagascar with the Peace Corps as part of her graduate school training.)

How are you feeling about our country these days?

Bridget: I grew up in northern Kentucky, and that’s a pretty conservative area…and my parents were both pro-Trump. I wasn’t and neither was my brother. But I kind of didn’t think [Trump] was extreme… I guess because of my parents…and just being in that environment.

But, I’ve heard from my friends in Brazil and others outside of the country and [they’re] kind of scared about what will happen. So that kind of makes me even more concerned, seeing it from an outside perspective.

Lauren 1: My whole family are Trump supporters, except for me. So even within my own house I’m seeing the tension that I also see when you get on twitter and you read stuff.

I was trying to be optimistic, but news comes out, actions get put into place, and I get more and more nervous about the state of our country and what’s going to happen in the next four years or eight years or who even knows how long.

Lauren 2: I was abroad [in Madagascar] from the whole time Trump started and I thought it was a joke for the longest time…some funny joke that’s going to go away.

And then people in Madagascar started asking me about Trump. And I thought, they barely know about what’s going on in their capital, and so they’re telling me about what’s going on in my capital? So I thought I should pay attention to this, something serious is happening there. So I was really nervous when I got back to the US actually.

Is there anything in particular that makes you nervous?

Lauren 1: Watching the Muslim ban start to become a thing, and dismissing EPA requirements, is like really concerning to me because those are things very important to me. And so to watch them just get thrown out the window is like ‘oh gosh, what’s going to happen to the country I’ve grown up in?’

Lauren 2: On the flip side of that, since the inauguration and all of this push that’s been happening around the Women’s March—and I got to go to the one in Nashville, which was amazing—and now there’s a plan for a Science March and all of the scientists are like banding together…it’s just making my heart feel so full and awesome. I now, finally, have been feeling more hopeful, but it’s a scary time.

How do you explain the divide in this country?
What’s at the root of it?

Lauren 1: I think in my family it was a lack of communication and just like a little bit of difference in values and where you place respect.

I was at a dinner with my cousin who I knew was a pretty hard core Trump supporter and I was just kind of trying to avoid that situation. I was like, ‘I don’t want this right now.’ And he kinda just started messing with me and it was getting really heated.

And then we managed to calm it down, and we kind of like shared beliefs, and it was like they were similar, like we both want to secure our country but we wanted to do it in different ways…it was a really nice conversation to have.

If people sat down and talked, I think we’d realize we want to kind of do similar things. But its so easy to get into that shouting match, like ‘how could you vote for such a racist man?, ‘Well how could you vote for someone who put our national security at risk?’ and like back and forth…but if you calm down there’s a lot less tension.

Bridget: I think some of it is just tradition. In the Catholic Church you’re brought up be anti-abortion, and the Republican Party is mostly that, so that’s the issue that you’re most likely to focus on. So a Republican candidate is pretty much who they’re going to vote for. I don’t think they’re ever going to vote Democratic. So I think just Trump being part of the party now, they focus on that.

And they also watch different coverage than me, probably.

Lauren 2: My experience is that a lot of the alignment is with the party more than the person. One of my best friend’s parents were really hard core Trump supporters, and I never would have expected it because they’re probably some of the sweetest people I know.

But their thought was, they like the Republican ideals. They’re conservative in that way, and they didn’t see Trump as being part of that party really. He was just kind of the front man that was stuck up there, and once they got into office, he wasn’t really going to be an issue anymore and then Republicans would have control.

But I can’t separate those two. I can’t do that.

What needs to happen if we’re going to have a future we feel better about?

Lauren 2: Conversations like this. Like you said, when you get people in a room and actually talking about the things they care about, you get to that different level where people aren’t as concerned with which party they’re aligned with and who the person is, but actually what they really want. Down to those basic issues.

Bridget: People showing more alignment with the protests, like the Women’s March, and just showing what their values are, and calling their representatives and really showing where their interests lie.

When your parents said ‘here are all our reasons for voting for Trump.’ What were their reasons?

Lauren 1: My mom’s explanation was always like, Democrats just give away money, that’s all they do, while Republicans boost [people] up and find them jobs. She’s told me that at least twice a year, since I was like five years old.

And I was like, ‘then why are Republicans against free college education?’ But she didn’t have an answer. She just kind of dismissed it.

Bridget: For my parents it was about sticking with Republican values. It was also kind of money, too. Just not spending it on “give outs.” That’s what they call it. Homeless people that are given handouts will just take advantage of that and kind of rely on that and they won’t develop out of that. So that was one thing that they brought up a lot.

Do you think this attitude toward “hand outs” is based on experience, or just a belief about human nature?

Lauren 2: Part of it is the story that keeps getting told over and over, and if you don’t have experience with it not being true, you just assume that it is. That happens a lot.

I feel like both parties, the Republicans and Democrats are going through some changes right now, and if those parties do change, how will that shift those people’s viewpoints? If you’re not just completely locked into a party, if the party doesn’t exist anymore the way it did, is that going to change how they think about things or relate to things?

It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. If they don’t have this idea of this ‘perfect party’ anymore, will they be more open to listening to different ideas? Or gather more information instead of just relying on what they’re told by one party? I don’t know if that’s true, but I hope so.

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