A gorgeous and poignant short piece by Michael Ventura from the Austin Chronicle on the state of rural America.
These people are watching their towns die. Watching their way of life die. They are living the end of their dream, and they didn't believe that could happen. Like their ancestors, they've worked hard and hard and hard. They've played by the rules, believed the right things, worshipped the proper God, lived as they deeply felt life should be lived, and they're losing everything that matters to them. And there's nothing they can do about it except to keep working hard, because that's all they know. They're losing a way of life because of forces beyond their ken. Giant agribusiness, globalization, politicians selling them out, a tidal wave of history sweeping them away. Republicans and right-wing demagogues play to them, so they vote for Republicans. But it doesn't help. Liberals and Democrats rarely come to talk to them, and still more rarely talk with them – why, then, would they vote for liberals and Democrats? "Blue state" snobs make jokes about the stupid "red states." These rural people are not stupid. They're furious. Time has passed them by, and they don't know why. They've done and been everything that they were taught to do and be, and it's come to nothing. That's what liberals don't get. These people are furious, and they've got something to be furious about, however much their fury may be misdirected. They want somebody to blame – a useless but human need.You can't understand the rage and the reasons until you've spent some time in towns like these, talked to the people, and considered the widening gap between their dreams and their reality. Until then, it's all an intellectual exercise, the kind of abstraction that liberals pride themselves on.
So I walk into their Kansas diner, and in my differentness I become an instant symbol of what's pulling them down. Their kids are leaving town, their towns are dying, their leaders are failing them, they're helpless to stop it. They expected to live prosperously in these places for centuries – their courthouses were built to last centuries. They're losing it all, and there's no one to give a damn. They didn't believe this could happen – could not conceive that their time would be so short and that their toil would be futile and that their dreams would die so hard.
We're not going to be able to change anything until we start hearing the stories of these people and their vanishing places first-hand. Which reminds me: What are you doing with your summer vacation?