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Faith in Vermont: Riding for Home: Thoughts on Election Day

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Posted on November 4, 2014 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Because this column will run on Election Day, I feel compelled to write about local politics.

I typed that sentence, and then spent five minutes staring at my computer screen. The truth is, I'm terrified to write about politics.

The reason for my terror has to do with insecurity: I'm afraid that I don't know enough to have opinions, that I'm not educated fully on the issues. And that's true: I'm not educated fully, because I've chosen not to be. I'm certainly not the voice of my generation -- those of us who came of legal voting age in the 1990s -- but I'd venture to say that, like many in my generation, I've long been disenchanted with politics. We came of age along with CNN, the first generation to whom 24-hour political coverage was available. More information is not always a good thing. In this case, we saw hour upon hour of polarized bickering. We saw the careers of numerous public figures torn apart because of misbehavior in their private lives. We saw that "principle" was often code for "the interests of whomever has me in their pocket," or "blind loyalty to the party line." We saw human lives sacrificed in wars, the necessity of which were later called into question.

Much has been made of my generation's political shallowness, the fact that many of us get our "news" from comedy shows like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." To which I say: Many of us find those shows more trustworthy than any mainstream "news" that's currently available. At least with the comedy shows, you know where you stand -- you know that the host is playing a role. And it's nice to at least get a chuckle out of all the frustrating ineffectiveness that's being reported. If the actual political landscape seems laughable, then a comedy show is a good way of making it palatable.

Insecurity aside, I'm probably as educated and involved -- if not more so -- as the average American. I vote. I read the paper and listen to VPR (and watch "The Daily Show" whenever possible.) But there are only so many hours in the day, and most of those hours are occupied by things like getting the kids off to school and putting dinner on the table. Using any time that remains to bone up on politics seems like... a waste of precious time.

Last week, a friend invited me to her house one evening for a "Meet & Greet" with a local candidate for the Vermont House of Representatives. I'd never done anything like this before, but I went -- mostly because I love and respect my friend, because I was thrilled to be invited to something that wasn't kid-related, and because my husband offered to stay home with our daughters.

Four people attended the event, plus the hostess and the candidate. Over tea and cookies in the living room, we had a relaxed conversation about the issues that were foremost in our minds. These included: the solar farms popping up everywhere, the proposed natural gas pipeline and its environmental risks, economic development that doesn't compromise community values, health care, income inequality, and the rise of homelessness and opiate abuse.

It was a good, informative conversation. Driving home, I felt my political ice thawing a little. I even pondered joining a committee...in the future.

My two oldest daughters started horseback riding lessons this year. Usually I drop them off at the barn and pick them up when their lesson ends, but the last Saturday in October I returned early to walk alongside them on a trail ride. It was a clear, sunny morning after five straight days of rain, one of the final warm days before winter. We walked out along a dirt road, then turned to go back to the barn. And my daughters' instructor said, "Do you feel the difference in your horses? They know they're riding home, to where their friends and food are. You always have to rein in your horse a little more on the ride back home."

Vermont is the first place I've lived where I've felt that, no matter how far out I've traveled, there's always an extra spring in my step when I know I'm headed back home. Truth be told, I haven't traveled far in the four years that I've lived here, because I don't feel the need. This is home.

And that, I think, is why I feel more interest in local politics here. It's also another reason why I think members of my generation tend to be politically ambivalent; because elections have to do with issues and decisions that affect your home, and most of us Generation X-ers don't have much sense of home. We grew up in places where our parents had moved away from their families, and often those places were planned suburban communities with no identity. Then we moved -- for school, for work -- and kept moving, and who really cared who represented us or what decisions they made, because where was home?

It's hard to feel invested in a place you don't love, and it's hard to love places that are temporary stopping-off points, places where you have no roots, and -- not that it's impossible -- it's hard to love cookie-cutter suburbs.

Vermont is a special place, if you didn't know already. There are good things here that are being lost elsewhere in our country; at the "Meet & Greet" we summed it up as: local pride, a sense of community, and a love of the outdoors. However you vote today, I hope you agree that those are things worth preserving.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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