Why do I still live here? It’s a question I’ve asked over the course of my entire life, but especially since the election of Trump. I live in a rural Minnesota town that went heavily for the Republican in the last election, and was forced to endure a barrage of Trump yard signs every day as I ran errands and drove to work.
I’m liberal, about as hardcore a progressive as one can get without falling completely into Marxism. And it’s hard to be surrounded everyday by people who think my ideas are repugnant and try to simply shut me up. One by one, I’ve watched friends succumb to the pressure and move away to cities so they can be surrounded by “their people.” Every day, I hear more considering the same. And I don’t blame them. It’s tempting. I’d love to raise my kids in a place with more acceptance, less hate and more diversity.
And yet I stay.
And after spending some time pondering the reasons, this is what I’ve come up with.
I stay because this is my home. I was raised here. I spent most of my youth wanting to leave, as most kids do, and for a while I did escape to Minneapolis and loved it. But for a variety of reasons I eventually found myself back home. And after getting married and having two sons, I realized that I’m comfortable here. It’s familiar. My kids are surrounded by family and wonderful neighbors and friends. My memories are here, and I have more memories everyday with my kids.
I stay because this is where I’m needed. My voice and talents would be drowned out in a larger city full of like-minded people. But here, I can have an impact. In a town where not much happens, something as simple as speaking out at a County Commission meeting imploring them to reinstate the policy of allowing the Public Health Department to distribute condoms to their clients will be noticed. It will make the front page of the local paper. It’ll get people talking about it and encourage them to take action themselves. It might get them to re-evaluate their stance on such matters.
I stay because of friends. I really do have the greatest friends. Everyone says that, but it’s true in my case. I’ll fight you over it. These are passionate, engaged people who want to make the world a better place, and they know that starts in their own community. They not only speak up, they show up. They put their jobs, relationships, and reputations on the line, and it’s a wonderful sight to behold. They volunteer in all sorts of ways to make this community a better place to live, and their never-ending well of optimism is an inspiration.
I stay because we need more liberals in rural areas. If we all jumped ship and moved to somewhere that made us more comfortable, who would be left to fight the battles that need fighting? Who would stand up for the queer kids just trying to get through the school day in one piece? Who would open a community run reproductive health clinic for all of the people who have nowhere else to turn? Who would show up at the school board meetings to insist that Of Mice and Men not be pulled from the 10th-grade reading list due to its blasphemous use of the term “Jesus Christ?”
I stay because I have a right to, goddamn it. This is my town too. And as long as I have a breath left in my body I’ll fight to make it better, kinder, more successful, less dogmatic, and more welcoming to everyone who has a genuine desire to be part of this community. I won’t sit by and watch my home be a haven for bullies and bad ideas. I’ll vote, speak up, and use my time to teach my kids that a good community is worth fighting for. That the risk of being looked down at is worth it if it makes another person feel safer, more supported, and more valued. I may not always win, but I’m here.