In December, I attended Supervisor Joe Simitian’s talk, “Listening to Trump’s America.” As the founder of United and Together (unitedandtogether.com), an organization created to help heal the divide in our nation through listening and understanding, I knew I had to attend. During the months of February through June, Mr. Simitian visited three counties: Robeson County, North Carolina; Cambria County, Pennsylvania, and Macomb County, Michigan. The reason for his visit was to find out why these three counties who had previously voted mostly Democratic, including voting for President Obama, now flipped and voted for President Trump.
What I loved most about Mr. Simitian’s talk was that he consistently repeated that he went to do three things: listen, learn, and understand.
And that’s what he did. He listened. And he just kept listening. He didn’t debate, he didn’t tell anyone they were wrong to feel the way they did, and although he is a Democrat, he didn’t defend the Democratic campaign. He listened.
While I cannot give a thorough report of all of his findings, and I would encourage everyone to attend if he is giving another talk, I can say that by listening he often got at the heart of what people were feeling and WHY they felt the way they did. Many of these folks felt like the Democratic campaign had no interest in addressing issues that were crucial to them. For example, in North Carolina, 25 years ago a hard-working person with a high school diploma could work in the local textile plant and make 60-65 thousand dollars a year. Which easily supported their family, helped send their children to college, and saved toward retirement. That textile plant closed in 2001 and the jobs went overseas. Now that same high school graduate makes 20-25 thousand dollars per year with what they often term low pay, no say jobs. They work longer hours, at less fulfilling jobs, for 1/3 of the pay. So when the Democratic campaign kept focusing on social and special group issues like LGBTQ issues, gender rights, etc. with no mention of how it planned to help these communities that are going under financially, they felt unheard and not represented in the plan. They were not against these special issues being represented, they just felt their personal financial issues were completely ignored.
In all 3 counties, in almost every one of the conversations he had, people felt our system is failing them, that no one represents them, and nobody cares about them. A common remark from almost everyone was that no one was listening to them. Now that Mr. Simitian has completed his mission of listening, learning, and understanding, he feels our mission now is to take this understanding and help where we can.
In his closing remarks, before taking questions from the audience, Mr. Simitian advised that we need to have a deeper understanding of what’s happening across the country. Too many Americans are facing economic hardships and often those hardships are accompanied by a loss of dignity and hope. He said, “Until we provide meaningful work at a livable wage and then educate American workers to do it, we have no hope of pulling together as one nation united by what was once a common vision and value, which is opportunity for all.”
Ending on a very optimistic note, Mr. Simitian feels if we can create decent jobs, with training where needed, providing a livable wage for all Americans, we can bring back the dignity and hope each individual deserves and we can bridge the divide.