Wait: Why Aren’t I Writing; Politics in Appalachia

Annotation 2019-10-13 003910

Hey, how are you?

It’s strange: I look back at the most recent posts placed on this seemingly posthumous post-pulp of permissive postings and I don’t feel like that same writer or person any longer.

Gee, it’s almost like four years have passed or something. Crazy.

I’m going to skip the grand agonizing over big ideas and wanting to write more and searching for my feelings. Here are the facts: I’m in a strange writing slump that, at best as turned out some of my best work in years and at worst has made me think about quitting the profession altogether.

But that doesn’t help anybody. So, instead, we’re going back to basics and getting back to the thing I haven’t done: Writing.

I want Backlog to turn into something more, but to do that I need to actually do the thing. So, we’re going to start that. Now. This moment.

So, let’s start by talking about politics and something currently caught up in my crawl, as they say back in Texas.

This story. 

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The piece in question is from Jason Williams at the Cincinnati Enquirer, a newspaper that, at best has been a Republican mouthpiece and, at worst, has given white, middle-class voters in southern Ohio their talking points about how they voted for Trump in 2016 simply because they hated Hillary Clinton and not necessarily because they wanted Trump — but then, we never get the thing we actually want, do we?

The piece in question, titled ‘I went back home to Ohio’s Trump country. In Appalachia, honest people have hope again’ is yet another attempt by the confused white men of journalism to mill the midwest and Appalachia for authenticity and paint the story of an area that isn’t xenophobic, racist, or any of those things. Golly, no: They’re just economically anxious and focused on job growth, darn it.

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The twist, in this case, is that Jason Williams is a Gallipolis, Ohio native. My home town. I probably know the guy, if not know six people who know him. It’s a small town, after all. So, consider my shock and surprise to find that this piece wasn’t a thoughtful look into an area that’s been trying to find the right answer to a bad situation for decades, but instead yet another piece written to give the illusion of some kind of folksy wisdom and create the concept that no, actually, Trump is really good for Appalachia and small-town America.

Excuse me while I go vomit over in the corner, because I smell shit, Jason Williams.

The piece is every single one of these feature profiles set in a small town that’s been written since the 2016 presidential election, except for the fact that Williams clearly thinks Gallipolis is some sort of valley in the mist; a hidden source of untapped knowledge on why things are the way they are.

In multiple paragraphs, he waxed on about how Gallipolis is a simple town of simple folk who simply voted for the lesser of two evils, but now have come to see that Donald Trump is actually good for them — without ever stating why exactly that is, of course.

After pulling the “I can’t be racist I have a black friend” card by interviewing a supposed Democrat-registered, black resident, he goes off on a tangent about the county’s complete decline since 1996, which Williams attempts to attach to the election of Bill Clinton as president. Smattered throughout are anecdotes about Gallipolis being the birthplace of Bob Evans — both the restaurant and the real person who died in 2007 — before going back to talking about the economic state of Gallia, providing this gem of a graf:

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I gotta say, it takes a lot of moxy from a writer to essentially write “People here think that Trump is to thank for this thing, even though there’s no actual proof.”

Williams ends by trailing off on some weak connection to factory jobs and a downhome attempt at relatability by talking about off-roading in his dad’s truck.

You know, for an article that started off shaming the general public for stereotyping Appalachians as idiots, Williams certainly did no favors by framing Gallipolis, it’s residents, and even himself and his own family as rubes who don’t actually know why they voted for Trump but, danged if they aren’t all just some good ole’ country folk so let’s hop in the truck and get this thing stuck.

First things first: Without knowing a damn thing about Jason Williams, I know for a fact that I know him. He grew up squarely middle-class in an area and county where there isn’t really a middle-class. He was never challenged by his upbringing, his political opinions were probably shaped (and I assume they still are) by his parent’s opinions, and is now blind to the fact that a majority of Gallia’s problems (and the problems of almost all small, defunct areas like it across the country) are because government funding, growth, and assistance long ago abandoned them.

Image result for Gallipolis, Ohio race statistics
In other words: I could have been Jason Williams. Hell, that description above is basically one of an 18 year-old Will Harrison. I even voted for Bush.

But, here’s the thing, and it’s the thing that people who say stuff like “Well, when you’re older you’ll be conservative/get smarter/realize how the world works” as an excuse for not growing up past your learned impressions of the world. I got better. I got out into the world. I challenged myself. I grew up. I realized that far too many people are being forgotten and left behind by our government and by the very people that stay in places like Gallipolis, Ohio and never leave or change or try.

It’s the same people that decry having to pay local taxes on things like school levies and infrastructure improvements. Because why should they, a 50-year-old couple with no children in the public school systems have to pay more in taxes for something they don’t use? Well, they don’t know anyone who is poor or disabled or in need of assistance, so why should they pay for it?

It’s this very mindset that hurts places like Gallipolis and leads to decades of decline, almost to the brink of non-existence. And I’m here to tell you: Republicans aren’t here to save you. After all, Williams even points out in his piece that it’s been solidly Republican since the ’90s. Time and again the Ohio GOP has had chances to look at counties like Vinton, Meigs, Athens, and Gallia and do something to help the people who need it most, bring in new businesses, and find a way to revitalize the area.

Time and again they’ve said and done nothing.

Image result for Gallipolis, Ohio race statistics

There’s a reason why Holzer and Kyger are the only two job options in Gallia: The area was stagnated from growth by the old guard, and even now lifelong, unchallenged politicians like Harold Montgomery fight to keep things the way they are. You want actual hope, and not a journalist mining his sad hometown for credibility points in a political firestorm? The reason Gallipolis has hope is that my generation came back after the Recession and decided they were tired of the town dying.

You know, the millennials that everyone likes to throw stones at for going back home and living with their parents because the Recession ruined an entire generation? Those same kids went back home to Gallipolis and have spent the last decade attempting to turn their town into something worth keeping. Businesses like Next Level Gaming Center, River City Leather, Colony Club, the multiple restaurants that have opened — they are all the real reason to have hope in a place that seems hopeless. Hope isn’t a bunch of retirees waiting to die in their quiet village in the mists, talking about how they voted for the lesser of two evils and ignoring all the pain, anguish, economic and sociopolitical damage that has been done by Donald Trump and his presidency.

Hope is challenging yourself and others. Jason Williams challenged nothing, he offers no hope, and he deserves a blind eye and a deaf ear for a piece that is nothing more than propaganda to convince scared, white conservatives that they didn’t open Pandora’s Box on the world.

Or, so he hopes.

Editor’s Note: I’ve included below a link to a series of tweets I sent out this morning with a bit more context on the story, as well as my initial reactions. Enjoy!

Will Harrison is a writer and columnist living in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Contact him on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison or via email at BackLogAdventures@gmail.com 

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