I have no clue where I am from.
I was born in Vermont. When I was seven, my parents divorced and I moved to Maine. Then, at 14, my mom got a new job in Boston, and we moved to Massachusetts. By that point, I’d had enough of New England and the West called. I went to college in Walla Walla, WA. After WA, I moved to Colorado for a year to ski and work. Then, I moved back to MA for graduate school only to find myself in France not long after that. And six years ago, I moved to West Virginia.
Perhaps that is in part why I study moving. How does moving affect kids and why? (If curious to find out what my research shows, check out my Google Scholar profile.)
Perhaps that is also why I was recently very offended by a stunt by three of our outgoing city councilors in Morgantown, WV. At a recent city council meeting, three (of the seven) councilors wore “Born and Raised” t-shirts. (Somehow, this was front page news in our town. Yes, above the fold.) One of them, Ron Bane, claimed it wasn’t made as offense. It was just funny that none of the incoming councilors was born in WV. Claiming that being “proud to be from West Virginia” is sufficient reason enough to wear the t-shirts, they argued that no one could be offended as it was not intended. Classic! But I don’t think so.
I am offended.
Let’s think about this first from the perspective of a child. I never chose to move. My parents moved me. So what if I moved to ME then MA. Did that mean I had no right to participate in my school council? That I didn’t have the benefits from that state because I wasn’t born there?
Moreover, why is it “funny” that I wasn’t born here? Am I a second class citizen? Does that mean my children aren’t real WVians, and that they haven’t known the words to Country Roads since they were 3? Do I not care about my community and feel passionate about improved infrastructure, roads, and community development? Do I need a birth certificate for a say in my town?
My friend Catherine Tall and I (among over 20 others) were spurred to action and wrote the letter to the editor below. We were not born here. We are West Virginians by choice. That was not always an easy decision. Before moving to WV, I admit to thinking of some of the stereotypes. Rural. Backwater. No teeth. Of course, that is not the West Virginia I know. Having lived here for 6 years (almost more than my “home” state of Vermont), I of course know the beauty, kindness, and struggles of our state. I also come to WV with skills. I am a professor of education. I bring expertise that I want to use to benefit the state and region. Do I know better than West Virginians? Absolutely not. I don’t have visions of remaking our state in the image of New England or of telling people here how things should work. But I also chose to move here with my family. I am young, highly educated and skilled in a state with an aging population. I am an asset.
And I have just as much right to have a say, represent my community, and commit to making it better place for us all. To quote the last words of our letter to the editor: Place of birth is not a qualification for such a commitment.
The mentality of these three (soon to be former) councilors represents where we are as a nation. Trump and Republicans are trying to make us into a nation of tribes. Where states have to make individual climate-saving treaties; where skin color defines you and can shorten your lifespan; where we build walls; where our text books downplay the roles of women, minorities, and slavery in our nation’s history.
This mentality will hold us back, and I believe will ultimately lead to a degradation of what we have spent over two centuries building. I listened to the Comey hearings today. I heard him speak of that shining city on a hill. We cannot be that city if we fear one another and don’t let others become what we are. Let’s remember what we were and still can be.
I close with Comey’s comments to a question by Senator Manchin (D-WV).
The reason [Russian election interference] is such a big deal is we have this big messy wonderful country where we fight with each other all the time, but nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, what to vote for except other Americans. And that’s wonderful and often painful. But we’re talking about a foreign government using technical intrusion and lots of other methods tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal. And people need to recognize it. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. They’re coming after America, which I hope we all love equally. They want to undermine our credibility in the face of the world. They think that this great experiment of ours is a threat to them, and so they’re going to try to run it down and dirty it up as much as possible.
That’s what this is about. They will be back, because we remain, as difficult as we can be with each other, we remain that shining city on the hill, and they don’t like it.
-James Comey, June 8, 2017
Country over party. Community over tribe.