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Why Bernie? Why now? People share their reasons to hear Bernie Sanders

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Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd at the Charleston Municipal Auditorium on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017.

It was a sellout, according to Dan Carlisle, manager of Taylor Books in Charleston. All 2200 tickets to the lower level at the Charleston Municipal Auditorium were purchased days in advance for $27 each. “We low balled it. We could have sold more,” he said of the speech for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution,” where ticket purchases also came with a copy of the book.   For Carlisle, the high attendance was simple, “People are wounded. People want somebody to talk to them,” he said. We roamed the crowd to find out why people attended.

Anna Grueser, left, and Emily Metzer

Anna Grueser, 30, is a merchandising manager who works in Parkersburg, West Virginia and lives in Athens, Ohio. She’s at the event with Emily Metz, 25 of Dunbar, West Virginia.

Grueser: Just people turning out – if enough people are resisting it still sends a message. Bernie is still fighting – fighting for the environment, education and civil rights. He’s still a Senator. He’s still doing legislation and speaking in the Senate.

Lissa Lucas, left, and Mary Ann Claytor, right, were among the crowd at the Bernie Sanders rally before the event.

Lissa Lucas, of Ritchie County, West Virginia is a social media manager and blogger.

Lucas: Find the things you agree on instead of the things you disagree. I have a friend who voted for Trump and I think it was a terrible choice, but I still love my friend. I don’t blame them that they didn’t see the things I saw.

Mary Ann Claytor ran as a Democrat for the West Virginia state auditor in 2017. She lives in St. Albans, West Virginia and works in accounting.

Claytor: I just think it’s time we try to unite people. Bernie Sanders represents getting people’s voices heard.

Bill Howes and Lynn Sowers

Lynn Sowers, 58, Dental Hygienist and Bill “Bambo” Howes, 65, retired construction superintendent, traveled four hours from Elizabethton, Tennessee.

Sowers: I wanted to hear Bernie Sanders speak because he has inspired me with his message, ‘it’s up to us.’ I also like that he’s out here, talking and doing — trying to improve our government – he didn’t walk away from it.

Howes: I wanted to hear Bernie Sanders speak because he’s a unique voice of truth in American politics. He says things that seem obvious that nobody else talks about – that kids should be able to have healthcare and go to school.

Jason Von Kundra

Jason Von Kundra, 28, is a farm manager from Meadowview, Virginia.

Von Kundra: Our democratic system has failed us, so I am here to hear from Bernie Sanders as he continues to build a political alternative to our broken system. I think it’s especially important for me to be here from rural Appalachia. Our working class struggles here in rural communities are the same struggles that people of color face in the urban communities. As a farmer, I live in a community that’s down stream from the coalfields and water is essential to all life. We can’t live without it. We rely on the land – we need industry, we need jobs and we need to respect that dependence on the land.

Justin Richmond-Decker

Justin Richmond-Decker, 26, is a software engineer in Green Bank, West Virginia.

Richmond-Decker: I want to hear his perspective and how he suggests we proceed during these times. A lot of Americans, especially younger Americans, are struggling to deal with the new administration. We all want to do what we need to do to help.

Neil Perin, wearing the hat, showed up at 11 a.m. for the evening event. Lauren Miller, right, got her place in line at  2 p.m. to get a front row seat.

Neil Perin, 33, is a farmer from Athens, Ohio. Perin was among the first in line, arriving more than eight hours before the start of the event. Why did he feel the need to attend the event?

Perin: A sense of duty, patriotism and passion to engage in the political and social revolution as I am able, and to add my voice.

Lauren Miller, 34, is a doctor in Ashland, Kentucky. She lives in Huntington, West Virginia. Miller is very concerned about the Affordable Care Act.

Miller: When you get defeated, you need your battery re-charged. Bernie reminds us why it’s important to keep fighting. He’s reminding you to call and write. It’s easy to call up the people you voted for. But, you’ve also got to call the people you didn’t vote for.


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu.

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"Our Revolution"

Deep In Gun Country, Students Speak Out On Gun Violence

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Gun culture runs deep in much of the Ohio Valley, where hunting is a revered tradition and the majority of state lawmakers in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia boast “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association.

But even here the growing national student activism on gun safety is taking hold in the wake of recent school shootings. With some three dozen events in the region coinciding with the national March For Our Lives protest, more students from the region are deciding to speak out.

Marshall County High School, scene of a shooting that left two dead. Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

The Ohio Valley ReSource sampled some student viewpoints from around the region.

For two of these students, the issue became highly personal in January when their school, Marshall County High in west Kentucky, was added to the long list of school shootings. A fellow student is charged in the shooting that took the lives of two teens and left more than a dozen others injured. Seth Adams, 15, and Lela Free, 14, see their activism as part of a healing process and a much-needed community conversation.

Patrick Duffy, 17, attends Wheeling Central Catholic High School in West Virginia. He says his belief in Second Amendment rights puts him at odds with students joining marches and walkouts.

Click here to view the interactive map >>

Morgan Smith, 17, from Sherman High School in Boone County, West Virginia, loves her guns and her hunting traditions, but says she should be able to attend school free from fear of shootings.

Here, in their own words, are their thoughts on activism, gun control, and making schools safer.

On Activism

Lela Free: I will be participating in the March For Our Lives event because I feel like it’s a very important thing for our community. This march is not to bring divisiveness into our community. It’s really to bring awareness to the culture change that we need in the United States and in our county as well. For me, it’s going to bring some peace.

I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns. That’s not what we want to do at the rally. That’s not we wanted, that’s not what we wanna do here. A lot of people have accused Parkland survivors of just trying to push an agenda, that what they’re doing is just backed by the Democratic Party. Yes, some might have the same views as the Democrats, but they just want to be safe at school. I just want to be safe at school. Everyone does. And we know we need that because if we don’t have that stability in our minds, how can we ever learn anything?

Lela Free, a student at Marshall County H.S., where a school shooting claimed two lives. Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Seth Adams: To me, it’s just kind of a healing process. Just getting together with these people, putting together ideas, writing the speech, just coming together and being productive and doing this thing — no matter what it is — it feels like we’re returning to normalcy. And there’s a sense of unity.

At my own school in my community, my friends have discouraged me from protesting. They say it wouldn’t do anything. I think that sort of culture, that anti anti-protest sentiment is something that needs to be mended in this community, and in this part of the country. People hear about the protesters that disagree with your political views and they hide and try to shelter themselves in ways that I think are unhealthy.

Patrick Duffy: I will not be attending the March For Our Lives event. For me, the march is about gun control. It’s being pushed as a march to honor the lives of the victims of Parkland. But the real message is gun control.

Patrick Duffy, 17, attends Wheeling Central Catholic High School in West Virginia. Photo courtesy of Patrick Duffy

I feel like I wouldn’t be allowed to participate in it. A few days ago when all the schools had the walkouts, a couple conservatives came with signs saying “I support the Second Amendment” and they were actually asked to leave. So there’s definitely one message, one central message, being pushed, and it is gun control.

Lela Free: Do I feel safe at school? This one’s a little bit tricky, especially with what happened at my school. I do feel safe when I’m in class. When I’m around a large group of people, not particularly. In the mornings especially, I don’t feel safe because we stand in long lines to get our bags checked.

Seth Adams: We did use [school shooting lock-down drills] during the shooting. We came into the room and closed the door, the door was locked, turned off lights, filed into the corner and stayed quiet. I’ve been doing [lock-down drills] basically ever since I’ve been in school. It just feels like normal, every day. We do that sometimes. We sit in the corner in the dark and be quiet and I think that was one of the more surreal parts – the routine being actually applied to a real-life situation.

Marshall County H.S. student Seth Adams hopes the activism will help return a sense of normalcy to his school. Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Morgan Smith: I shouldn’t be afraid to go to school. I shouldn’t have to think about this getting up and going to school in the morning. I shouldn’t have to be worried about my friends who aren’t from the state or in other schools. I shouldn’t have to worry about them getting killed.

Lela Free:  What would make me feel safe? I don’t really think anything ever can make me feel the way I did before.

Patrick Duffy: I definitely feel very safe in my school. I actually would feel perfectly comfortable with teachers having concealed carries, if they’re properly trained and certified then I feel confident in their abilities and safe in their company.

Gun Control

Seth Adams: I think that there should be gun storage laws. There should be punishments incurred if your firearm is easily accessible and something is to happen with it.

Patrick Duffy: What I feel is important is for law enforcement to actually enforce laws. Also, I feel fine with restrictions on guns that prevent them from being fully automatic, such as bump stocks like we saw in the Las Vegas massacre.

Lela Free: I want our politicians to stop taking money from the NRA. I want people to lock up their guns correctly and I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns. That’s not what we want. We just want safe gun protection and we also want safe storage and that’s what we’re mainly advocating for.

Gun enthusiasts at the 2016 NRA convention in Louisville. Photo courtesy of J. Tyler Franklin.

Morgan Smith: If you’re walking at Walmart with a gun on your side, I see nothing wrong with that. It’s for self defense if something does go wrong because how crazy of a world we live in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-guns. I hunt on a regular basis and my family owns a lot of guns. But there are certain types of guns which I don’t think belong in anyone’s houses. And here you can pretty much legally get any type of weapon.

Lela Free: Everyone’s thoughts and prayers are so beautiful and I really appreciate them, but it’s not action. We need action. We need change. We need different things than what we’re doing right now.

These interviews were edited for length and comments organized by topic.

This story was originally published on Ohio Valley Resource.

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"Our Revolution"

Not Just Red vs Blue: What the Teacher Strike May Reveal About West Virginia’s Political Landscape

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Teachers hold a rally outside the Senate Chambers in the West Virginia Capitol Monday, March. 5, 2018 in Charleston, W.V. Hundreds of teachers from 55 counties are on strike for pay raises and better health benefits. Photo by Tyler Evert, the Associated Press.

 

The nine-day teachers’ strike in West Virginia made headlines across the country, and some are wondering what the events mean for state’s political landscape. How did a widespread labor strike, a practice normally associated with Democrats, happen in a state that voted so heavily for Donald Trump?

We wanted to take a step back to explore how politics have been changing here over the past generation. West Virginia has been dubbed the heart of Trump Country, but politics here are anything but straightforward.

The strike wasn’t organized solely by Democrats or Republicans, or even union bosses. But some, like Angela Nottingham, a seventh-grade social studies teacher from Cabell County, said the action changed how they plan to vote this year. Nottingham said she switched from Independent to Democrat after watching some Senate Republicans fight against the pay increase teachers were demanding.

“I know there are a lot of people out there that are Republican and kind of vote with their party. I think a lot of people are gonna look back at who supported them. And I really do think they, and the people around them, and the people they influence, will vote for the people who helped us out,” Nottingham said.

In 2016, President Trump received nearly 70 percent of votes cast in West Virginia.

Woman attending protests at state capitol on March 6 to rally for teacher raises in W.Va.
CREDIT KARA LOFTON/ WVPB

West Virginia has a Republican governor, and Republicans control both houses of the state Legislature.

And yet, more voters in the state are registered as Democrats than Republicans. In Wyoming County, for example, President Trump won 83 percent of votes, even though more than twice as many voters in this county are registered as Democrats, compared with Republicans.

Could Democrats gain back some ground in the Mountain State?

With the midterm election around the corner, we wanted to get a sense of where we’re headed, so West Virginia Public Broadcasting polled more than 900 teachers and school personnel in an anonymous, online survey. This was not a scientific poll designed by statisticians, but it did give us some interesting insights.

About half of the teachers we surveyed said they identify as Democrats, while nearly 30 percent said they are Republicans. A majority said they voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as their first choice for president in 2016.

A majority (36 percent) said they plan to re-elect U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. An overwhelming majority (97 percent) of those who live in the state’s Third Congressional District in southern West Virginia — the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, a Republican — said they plan to vote for Richard Ojeda.

Both Ojeda, who’s currently serving in the state Senate, and Manchin are Democrats. That is, West Virginia’s version of a Democrat.

A Different Kind of Democrat  

Democrats in West Virginia held the majority in the state Legislature for more than 80 years. More than half of our governors have been Democrats. But, as political science professor Rob Rupp explained, the Democrats in the Mountain State have traditionally been a populist party, pro-labor and socially conservative.

Rupp, a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, posited that three are three political parties in America: Republican, Democrat and West Virginia Democrat.

“And by that I mean you have kind of a hybrid party, a big tent where conservatives, moderates and liberals all joined,” unique to West Virginia.

Rupp has spent most of his career studying what he called “West Virginia’s slow-motion realignment towards the red” in this state, and he said that shift has been happening for a long time. But, he argued, it rose to the surface about 15 years ago. President Bill Clinton was fairly popular here, but Democrats on the national stage since have failed to resonate with voters in this pro-coal state.

“And now [Democrats] are realizing that to many West Virginia voters, the national Democratic Party is out of touch with the state voters,” Rupp said.

This shift didn’t happen overnight. Rupp and other political scientists said one reason for the change is the declining power of unions. Labor has had a strong influence on politics here since the 1930s, and labor unions have typically sided with Democrats.

But in West Virginia, Democrats are far more conservative than the national party: They’re pro-coal, and they usually side with conservatives on social issues, like gay rights, abortion and immigration.

Rupp said now we’re seeing the breakup of that hybrid, West Virginia-style Democrat, a change that could have national implications. West Virginia may be a bellwether for rural America, and for the national Democratic party.

“And now with the loss of power was seeing a struggle between, should the Democratic Party turn left or should it turn right, now that it suddenly finds himself in minority.”

But with the recent teachers’ strike, some people are wondering if the Democrats, could stand a chance of regaining power in West Virginia. And what kind of Democrats could get elected? Ones that lean progressive? Or will they need to look more like the West Virginia Democrats of the past?

One example of the traditional-style West Virginia Democrat is state Senator Richard Ojeda. He’s running for Congress in southern West Virginia and he says he voted for Trump, but he’s been disappointed by the President’s performance. He strongly supports labor unions, and was one of the teachers’ loudest supporters during the recent strike.

But if Democrats like Ojeda want to take back power in West Virginia and across Appalachia, they’ll have to figure out one big question: how to bring back jobs to coal country.

Former coal miner Nick Mullins, who blogs at The Thoughtful Coal Miner, said liberals haven’t done enough during the past decade to appeal to working class voters in Appalachia.

“To be frank and honest [Democrats] need to come off of their moral high horses and come back down to the level of the working class,” said Mullins, a registered Independent from southwest Virginia, who said he didn’t vote in the November 2016 election.

“The working class needs help. We’re facing longer hours or stagnant wages. People aren’t enjoying life right now because they’re having to work so hard and long to just have a little bit of happiness in their lives.”

This story was originally published on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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