Struggling in Rural New England

Struggling in Rural New England:

'Undercurrent of anxiety'

Emilie Poulin, a 32-year-old mother living in Marlboro, Vermont, says that the presidential race doesn't directly affect her much at all.


While traveling across New England to photograph and interview millennials this election season, an undercurrent of anxiety about the future came through in every interview.

Many people I spoke with saw home ownership or even raising children as an impossible dream. Real estate is too expensive, they said, and wages are too low. Many are starting their careers under a mountain of student debt.

Although most New England states reliably vote Democrat in presidential elections, the rural areas can be deeply conservative.  Young people are struggling to pay a constellation of bills and often feel politically marginalized. But some of them have found an escape: they have taken themselves out of the conversation.

During the presidential primary elections, part of the story was populist movements on both sides, epitomized by Trump and Sanders wins in largely-white Vermont and New Hampshire.  I focused on young white people from rural New England. Within this subset, I aimed for maximum diversity of opinion and experience, as well as gender parity.

I’m from the North Shore, a craggy fishing enclave north of Boston.  Unless your name is Baltimore, don’t talk to me about seafood.  We know seafood in Ipswich. Both of my parents had advanced degrees and voted as Democrats. That’s how I was raised.  I consider myself a product of my environment and indoctrination, so I don’t judge people for being a product of their own political upbringing.

Race and class are prominent components of this election season’s political rhetoric, and I was curious to see if this was a hot-button issue for young people there.  I didn’t hear much about race, but class grievances loomed large in some of the interviews.

Opiate addiction is also a huge issue in New England. A major CDC study published this year shows that opiate overdose deaths have increased among people 34 and younger, who represent more than 30 percent of those deaths.  New Hampshire has the third-highest rate of overdose deaths in the country.

I interviewed Brittany Kirvan, who works at an outreach center in Montpelier, Vermont, and she invited me to a biker rally the next day in Essex Junction. The rally, led by the Scorpions Motorcycle Club, was held to promote awareness of opiate treatment options in rural Vermont.

I met Maranda LaRose there, an 18-year-old recovering user who shared her challenges, hopes and frustrations with the world she knows.

“Politicians don’t care about junkies,” she said.  I told her politicians probably just think junkies don’t vote.  It’s hard to engage with what must seem like an abstract and arbitrary political process when you’re dealing with something as immediate and destructive as addiction.

I met young people like Emilie Poulin and Braelyn Gillespie, who have adapted to the high cost of housing and commodities by essentially living off the land.  Emilie built a yurt on a friend’s property in order to escape a cycle of expensive apartments and evictions, and grows a lot of her own food there.  Rising prices forced Braelyn out of her hometown of Stowe, Vermont, but she was able to make a homestead in the rural north country.

“I feel like being here in this community is like my safety zone. I feel safe here,” Braelyn said. “I always said to my friends, ‘This is my religion – the ground that I grow my food in.’”

It’s not my role as a reporter to debate people who are sharing their opinions with me.  But when my interview subject is not a professional spokesperson or public figure, I have an ethical responsibility to sift out their firmly-held beliefs from their nervous talking or idle braggadocio. When one young Trump supporter (who is not represented in this series) started railing against the greed and excess of the 1980s, I had to ask him if perhaps he could think of a political candidate who completely embodied those characteristics. “Reagan?” he asked.

I was really inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit that young people are using to face these challenges head on. But I was surprised and concerned that not a single young person I spoke with mentioned climate change, pollution or environmental issues as something they were very concerned about. I grew up in the 1990s, and everyone was talking to young people about conservation and pollution then. Are young people being taught about climate change with the same urgency and fervor that I was taught about recycling and littering?

Everyone wants to generalize about millennials, but it’s not a great idea.  People are still products of their environments, but when the environment turns hostile, they adapt in ingenious, inspiring ways.

Aaron Sawyer, 32, looks through a window from the Vermont Democratic Party headquarters in Bennington.

“When I was 25, I was homeless for 6 months in Vermont living out of my car. My initial introduction into politics was at a very low local level, our local select board was passing ordnance to basically ban panhandling.

I spoke at the select board meeting and talked about the idea of it being unconstitutional at best, contra-constitutional at worst, basically. At that point, I joined the local Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless as a board member under the premise that this is how I was going to give back to the community. It was time for me to stop saying that things don’t happen, it’s time to stop saying that things can’t happen and try to actually do something, and before I decide that nothing can be done.

A couple years after not being homeless anymore, I got married, had a son, and he’s amazing. I mean, you’re supposed to say that as a parent, but he is. He’s five now. When he was one and a half, he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder. It was to the point, the first year, while they were still trying to get it under control and put him on pharmaceuticals to help out with it, that he having seizures on a weekly basis. Not as bad as some people have them, but worse than some others too.”

What is it like when you see more radical politics becoming normative in this particular election season?

“I want to say it makes me angry because at first, it does. I think that’s the surface emotion about it though. It makes me sad. It makes me a lot of things that are, most of the time, opposite ends of the spectrum. But at the end of the day, it makes me more resolved as well. I’ve had my own volunteers even within this organization who look at Republicans as an enemy, and that is something that I’m trying hard to fight against myself. I may disagree idealistically with most Republican ideology, but I don’t see them as an enemy. The whole purpose of government and for people who want to be involved in politics is understanding that, at the end of the day, you’re not going to get your way. You’re going to get a compromise that works best for everyone.

I don’t want to force people to think the way that I do. I would rather every single person in Vermont voted, and my side lose, but everyone take part in the process. I don’t mind losing when it’s the majority that has decided something. I don’t like this idea, though, that people are like, ‘Well, liberals are running the media,’ or ‘conservatives are running the media,’ depending which side you’re on. You have to stop looking at people as though there’s a fight to be had everywhere. It’s not a fight. It’s a conversation, at the end of the day.”

Andrew Gagnon, 26, poses with his family in Seabrook.

“Right before I turned 20, I joined the Army. I wanted to be deployed. They told me, ‘All right, if you go National Guard, your unit is going to be deployed three weeks or so after you get back from basic training.’ They ended up going before I got back, so I missed out on that. At the time, I agreed with the reasoning behind the fighting and the war itself and, as I was experiencing it first hand and stuff, I didn’t really agree with the politics behind it.

My brother’s been over seven, eight times with the Marine Corps and I’ve heard a lot from the stuff that he’s dealt with and experienced.

That’s when I started thinking, ‘Why is this going on? Who’s behind it? Who’s the one that’s telling me what to do, and why are they telling me what to do?’ And that’s when I started really more paying attention to the government and politics in general.

Before I knew anything, I was like, ‘All right, yeah, kill people. Poor people stay poor. You want to make money, you got to earn it.’ And then as I got a little bit older and actually started working and living, I realized it’s not as easy as you think. When I have a problem, there’s no one there for me to go get help from.

My unit, the 237th MP Company, was in Lebanon, New Hampshire, which is two hours from here and I wasn’t getting paid for it. I did a couple months up in Gagetown, Canada. We were doing some cross-training with the Canadian MPs and I ended up only getting paid, I think, two weeks for that. And then, after that, that’s when I started just kind of not getting paid. Every month there was one issue or another.

There was nowhere to go. And where I was at, I wasn’t going to do anything while I was there. Why am I going to put all this work into it and get nothing out of it? And to top it off, not get paid?

After that, I was going to become a full-time cop since I had the training. Everyone I talked to said they didn’t want me, they said they never hired someone or can’t hire someone younger than 25. I was 21 at the time.

Is there a candidate who represents your interests at all?

“Not at all, really. I think there’s a bunch of things about Trump that I like the idea of, but I don’t trust him. I agree, for the most part, on his immigration plan. But I’m just not 100 percent sure if I believe that’s what his real opinion is or if that’s just what he’s saying.”

So, you have a Trump tattoo. Tell me about that.

“My wife works for Bob Holmes. He was in the news for giving away free Trump tattoos to anyone who wanted them. Bob is the kind of person who is like, ‘Sit here, you’re getting this,’ if you know him well enough.

Whatever, it’s a free tattoo. So actually, I’m working on getting it covered up because one of the guys I work with – one of my bosses – every single day, he says something about it. He hates it.”

Anthony Graves, 28, stands in front of an emergency vehicle at the Morristown Rescue Squad in Morristown, Vermont.

Anthony Graves, 28, stands in front of an emergency vehicle at the Morristown Rescue Squad in Morristown, Vermont.

“In 2010, I lost a really close friend of mine to cancer. She was two semesters shy of becoming an RN. My brother had already been an EMT for a few years before I lost Mackenzie, and that was the turning point for me – I wanted to do more for people. Before she died, she told me I would make a good provider.

When I worked in mental health and other jobs and the alarm went off in the morning, I dreaded it. When the alarm goes off for here, I’m excited to go to work. It doesn’t feel like I’m going to a job. When you see someone that’s on the brink of death and you’re able to intervene and bring them back and stabilize them, that’s a pretty good feeling.

I have been paying off my student loans for a few years now. I have upwards of $50,000 in student debt and my interest rates are close to 11 percent, which is outrageous. And I also don’t agree with the fact that the federal government profits off of students. If we’re spending that much money, then we should have a decent paying job. If you have a degree, you shouldn’t have to work three jobs and live at home to make ends meet.

The last two and a half years, I’ve lived at home, which has helped a lot. A lot of my friends are actually at home – even with degrees – because of the student debt. I think it comes down to priorities, though. So, the last two and a half years, I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve been to California, Florida, Mexico and Central America.

My supervisor asked me, ‘How are you not stressed? How do you not have not anxiety?’ I’ve seen real emergencies and I’ve worked with real emergencies. Stressing about it doesn’t change it. The only thing that changes is actions and actually doing something. That’s why I work 60 to 70 hours a week. You know, and its like, ‘Is there anxiety?’ Absolutely. I want to move out next year.

I want to move down south eventually, because the cost of living is so much cheaper. You’re away from your family and you know, are you going to be as happy? Honestly, happiness only goes so far. I haven’t paid a bill with happiness yet. Here, it’s about surviving. Financially, you’re never going to get ahead here. I don’t want to just survive. I want to actually enjoy my life.

Opiates started out as a quiet epidemic and now it’s everywhere. My brother graduated in 2004 and he’s lost six classmates. I’ve lost four and some of his was definitely substance related. I think that because we’re a small community, you see more of it. In bigger cities, you may not know what Joe Schmoe is doing down in the next alley.”

Braelyn Gillespie at home with her family in Craftsbury, VT.
Braelyn Gillespie, 31, poses with her children and her dogs at her home in Craftsbury, Vermont.

“I always laugh when people say they have certain life milestones that they need to hit first before they can have children. That’s just not how Ryan and I are. We just go for it. But we’re done at four, I promise.

My husband Ryan and I both grew up in the Stowe area and got married really young. I was pregnant with Ella and that’s when we really decided to think about where we were, what we wanted. Before we had kids, we said we would raise our children in Stowe, but as soon as I got pregnant, we were like, ‘We need to get out of here.’

We grew up on that mountain, since I was five years old, skiing at Stowe. You drive up there now and it’s not the mountain that you grew up on anymore. Now, they have coffee shops and VIP areas. It’s just to make people feel special who have a lot of money. So now all of these people like us, who have been raised on the mountain, have to get out because we don’t have money.

The kids started getting older and they wanted to raise their own pigs at the house. We slaughter, we butcher, process, smoke and cure all of our meat. During deer season, it’s really important for Ryan to get a deer. We expect – almost need – to have venison in the freezer for the winter.

When Bernie was running, I got a little excited. I might have had more interest in the election when he was running. But how is this going to pan out? Because I know how corrupt our system is and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t going to win, even though he really should’ve because of all the followers that he has. But that’s not how the system works.

It’s money – who has the most money and who is going to pay their way. We have a friend who came over for dinner and she’s like, ‘If Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada.’ And I think that’s how a lot of people feel.

I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. And my mom still is, and it’s really hard. I remember, in history class, I got exempt from writing a paper on politics because it was against our religion to get involved in politics. I probably would have failed the paper – politics have never been on my radar. Actually, I voted for the first time for Obama. And it sort of felt wrong doing it.

I feel like being here in this community is like my safety zone. I feel safe here. I always said to my friends, ‘This is my religion.’ The ground that I grow my food in – maybe it’s not religion, it’s more of a spiritual thing. Every night, I look at the stars. And it’s just crazy to me that more people don’t live like that. How can you not be in the moment? Just stop and look up.”

Brittany Kirvan at Petra Cliffs in Burlington, VT.
Brittany Kirvan, 27, hangs from rock climbing ropes at Petra Cliffs in Burlington, Vermont.

“I’m from Gloucester, just north of Boston. Growing up, the town had a lot of heroin problems. It affected my family – not me personally – but my father is in long-term recovery from heroin use and my stepmother is as well. I have a cousin who’s currently in Gloucester and dealing with substance use. So, my mom was a single parent, growing up.

I had a friend who went to school in Vermont and I went to visit him one day and I loved it. I was like, ‘I’m going to go to college in Vermont.’ And before I knew it, I’ve been in Vermont for nine years. It’s a hard place to leave.

I took a lot of loans. There weren’t many financing options. So, I have private loans that I will be paying for another 15 years. I’ve already been paying for five years and I only just got into the principal. When you’re 18 and you’re going off to college, you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, I can take these loans. I’m going to pay them when I’m done. I’m going to have a job.’

College affordability is very important because it’s like you do the right thing – you’re supposed to go to college.  I worked so hard during school to afford an apartment and feed myself. I was so burned out by the time I graduated that I decided not to get a ‘real job’ right away, so I worked at a local shoe store and a sandwich shop for a year and a half.

It’s a big stressor of everyday life. It’s already affected five years and I’ve still got 15 more years of feeling like I’m stuck in a bubble. I so much want to buy a house and kind of settle down and start a family, but when you have $1,000 of loan payments a month, that’s unrealistic.

I got involved in the drug recovery world of Vermont. I then met my current boss, who is the president of the Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery. He invited me to join the board. So, I was a board member for a little while and I jumped on staff to help them with some marketing work and technology.

A lot of people can’t afford treatment. Massachusetts doesn’t really support recovery and treatment like Vermont Medicaid does. Across the whole nation, equal healthcare is really important. Our nation’s failing us on that. I have health insurance from work, but I can’t go to the doctor because my co-pay is too high – that’s why I don’t go. I just eat vegetables.

I was definitely was excited about Bernie. I mean, I’ve met him in real life. He used to be a customer of mine at the sandwich shop I worked at. He’s just very realistic and believes we should be equal and we should have equal healthcare. I mean, there are a lot of bad things that happen every day in our country. People don’t love each other. There isn’t enough love. Bernie is 100 percent love and [believes] everybody should treat each other kindly, but he’s obviously not in the presidential election, so we have Hillary or Trump.

I still feel obligated to vote. I do vote, but I don’t know who I’ll vote for. Trump’s scary – definitely not a person whose ideals I believe in, but I feel like you can’t trust Hillary. Even though Trump is very scary, he has a more realistic approach in some of his beliefs – like Bernie does. Trump thinks he can just do a great job and he’s going to fix everything, which I don’t think is true, but he knows how the government’s corruption works.”

Chris Lassard with his GMC truck at the Wesfield Fair.
Chris Lassard, 21, leans against his GMC truck at the Westfield Fair.

“I think there should be more vocational schools. I had bad ADHD growing up, so I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do regular school 24/7. So, I like getting a hands-on education, because you learn a lot more than someone just throwing a book at you.

Politics are definitely going to affect the way you’re growing up. Politics definitely affected my dad’s access to work. He went to a bunch of school for a coal power job after the plant got a $50 million addition. Then, the politicians shut it down because it’s bad or whatever. I had to go to a new school so that took time off his work. Our new insurance doesn’t cover as much of our old insurance did. My parents are divorced. I live with my mom in a trailer park over by Gigi’s Pizza.

All my life, I’ve paid for my own vehicles and everything. I pay my own car insurance. I think my dad favors my brother because he bought him a $6,500 car. I think he just wanted to see me go a different way – just like being on your own, relying on yourself and paying your own bills.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to own my own house. It’s just the economy these days. Jobs aren’t paying enough, and it’s harder to get a job.

You get to stay on your parents’ health insurance now until you’re 26, which I’m definitely going to take advantage of. You got to plan out for one day at a time. And definitely paycheck-to-paycheck living – it’s hard.

I try and save as much as I can. It’s hard sometimes. I drive an old vehicle – I’d rather have an old vehicle I have to keep fixing than a monthly payment of $500 for a brand new vehicle. As long as it gets me from A to B, I don’t care what anybody else thinks.

Politicians, they say, ‘Oh, let’s get more jobs out there.’ Then they’ll take the toll booths away because they stop traffic. There’s gonna be traffic no matter where you go, but all those toll booth jobs are gone.

They’re building that casino in Springfield. They’re making more jobs, but I don’t know what that’s going to bring. All those construction jobs are just temporary. I think we need to bring factories back. That would be awesome.

I’m going to vote for Trump. I feel like he’ll offer more jobs. My dad votes Republican and he brought me up that way.”

David Bendiksen at his home, a former rectory, in Ware, Mass.
David Bendiksen, 28, at his home, a former rectory, in Ware, Massachusetts.

“I grew up down south, in Texas. I spent my whole life there before college. I met my wife, Megan, at undergrad in Carleton College in Minnesota. We prayed pretty hard and we both got into graduate programs at the same time, in the same place. In 2010, we came here, to UMass.

I think I’m pretty blessed to be in a program that’s floated me the whole time I’m here, and I know that’s not typical. I’d say I try to be aware of not building that ivory tower too high or too inaccessible. I like the idea of public intellectuals as academics who want to engage outside of an institution of higher learning in some way. I would gladly sacrifice being the top tier of academia for the sake of broadening its base a little further.

One way to engage publicly is through our communities. In church, we’ve got these small group events where you might have somebody come talk about what they do and why, what they believe. So you have a forum for engaging different worldviews outside of a specifically religious context, from within the community. We promote this engagement between Christian believers and how they perceive the Muslim world. When you’re self-selecting the media outlets that you engage with, it’s pretty hard to open your own mind. Whereas, when you sit with 18 other people from diverse backgrounds, it’s a lot easier.

Some of our missionaries come once a year back to our church, from all over the world. The family from the Middle East – he got up, and the first things he says was, “God loves Muslims, do you?” Then he said that he just moved his daughter into her college this past weekend, and [he] wore that on a T-shirt, and he got all these angry looks from people. And he said, ‘I’m so puzzled by that, what could possibly be offensive in that message of love?’

I think Trump’s a despicable human being. I could never imagine voting for such a person. It’s been interesting engaging with other individual Christians who would and hearing why – and trying to convince them otherwise. It’s pretty easy to argue on scriptural grounds, but it doesn’t mean you can convince them.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching a course on dystopian fiction so many times over now. Just a simple knowledge of a hundred years of history – look at the 20th century – this is just a bad idea.

So, yes, I’d say, on one hand, I’m frustrated by seeing people, who believe similarly as I do spiritually, be preparing themselves for a blunder politically. At the same time, I’m not entirely dismayed by that simply because of the way I believe God ordains authority over men. Specifically, yes, I find it distressing. But divinely, I’m reassured. This puts you in a strange state of being worried, but also being assured, at the same time.”

Emilie Poulin and her son Octavian on their farm in Marlboro, VT.
Emilie Poulin, 32, and her son, Octavian, sit on their farm in Marlboro, Vermont.

“Politics matter enough for me to argue with my dad to the point of tears, but they don’t matter in the sense that my life doesn’t change because of who’s president or governor. I don’t feel like my personal experience is affected by who is in charge.

I think that the way states are run is to try to touch everybody’s lives a little bit, but it doesn’t necessarily trickle down to me. I have intentionally taken myself out of that conversation – it is easier for me to take control of my situation, provide my own food, close the loops in my life on my own, without actually participating in the government.

I love yurt living and I love farming. It’s what I was meant to do. I don’t have a lot of bills here – my electric is solar, all my utilities are closed systems. I heat with wood and I still find it almost impossible to make ends meet sometime. I have to buy propane to cook food and it can be really challenging. Most of the food that we eat is food that I either grow or I get from work or I butcher chickens. Once a year, I do a goat or a pig up the hill.

When I spilt up with my son’s father, I was living in Worcester and wanted to get out of the city. I moved to this beautiful, idyllic cabin in Halifax, Vermont for almost 4 years. The landlord who was elderly, she had a family member take over the estates who promptly evicted me. And I, being a single parent in nursing school, was like, ‘What am I going to do?’

It wasn’t the first time I’d been evicted, but it was like, ‘This needs to be the last time I get evicted. I can’t do this anymore.’ You know, I’m thirty-something and I had a kid and I just needed a house forever. Always, you know? So I toyed with the idea of a tiny house or some kind of mobile house and I finally settled on a yurt because it’s a tiny house without really being tiny. It is one big room. We built it in an 8-hour day and we took a 2-hour break in the middle.

I came here with the yurt because my son’s friend Gloria has these awesome parents – I love Josh and Bonnie. They have become family and turned me on to the idea of communal living. It isn’t a commune per se, but we are two families coexisting in this environment. It is temporary that I am living here; I can’t stay here forever, but in my time of need, they were there. And they’ve allowed me to live on their land. It’s not just me and my kid and my dogs, it’s goats and chickens too.

For a long time, as a single mom, I was on food stamps to make ends meet and to get food in the house. And it’s crazy because it is not a lot of money. It is supposed to be supplemental, but if you make more money than what you have been approved for, they start taking them away. So they are like, ‘This supplements your income for food in your house, but to get food stamps, you need to make underneath this amount, which isn’t enough to pay rent.’ I have to pay rent and for a car and all the other things that you really require to live in Vermont.

So the anxiety is there, but I have found a way to separate myself from it. I know that, one day, I am going to have to leave here and find another piece of land, another group of people. I am going to have to buy land and that gives me anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. Where am I going to come up with 10 grand, 20 grand? It is sustainable, what I am doing, but it’s twice the work. All the water gets lugged in, all the water get lugged out. I would say that I am as far from the system as I can be but I can’t ever be actually out of it.

It’s an odd world we live in. It’s odd that I felt that I had to build a yurt in the woods. I mean, 20 years ago, if you had asked me if this is where I would end up I would have been like, ‘No way.’ I was totally caught up with living in the city and I had all these ideas about what life was going to be like, but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to survive – how hard it is to be a normal person in this day and age.”

Maranda LaRose at a Scorpions motorcycle rally for opiate addiction awareness in Essex Junction, VT.
Maranda LaRose, 18, poses at a Scorpions motorcycle rally for opiate addiction awareness in Essex Junction, Vermont.

“So, I ended up becoming addicted to hard drugs. I’ve always smoked weed since I was 13. I ended getting into hard drugs when I was 16 and I was with this guy who had a lot of money. Everything was going great and we both agreed that we’d do some Percocets. And then we ended up doing Percs and that went on for a little bit and then we got into Dilaudid.

I walked behind my school one time, because my boyfriend was being really sketchy and weird. I went down there and I caught him shooting up. And he’s like, ‘We’ve been sniffing dope, and I’m not getting high anymore.’ And I was like, ‘I’m not getting high either! I do three bags, I’m not getting high! If you’re going to get high, I’m not going to just sit here, I’m going to get high too.’

And then he gave it to me, and I scored it and then mixed it and my friend shot me up and then, two weeks later, I learned how to do it myself. And then, every time we’d shoot up, I would shoot him up and then shoot me up and then we decided to go to rehab. I was sick of it. And a lot of my friends have passed away from shooting up, six this year, actually.

I stopped drinking at 15 and there was a little point where I was doing really well, but I dropped down real hard. I’m still young and I’m an IV user, and I’ve been using for 3 years and I’m trying to get help. I’m genuinely trying to better my life. And it is a struggle.

I’ve never really been out of New England. So, to me, I think everywhere’s the same. When I was using, I always thought, ‘You live to die.’ I feel like there’s two types of lives. You can either not work, have kids, possibly be homeless and definitely poor. Or you might have a job and not see your kids, just work all the time and pay bills. I wanted to be in the middle, but I really think there’s no such thing as the middle.

So, I ended up going to rehab and then after I was trying to get inpatient treatment. I knew if I got back out, I’d relapse. So, I was physically detoxed but mentally, still I wanted to get high. All they could say was that I’m not a high enough risk, being my first time detoxing. I’m not a big enough risk. And that really crushed me when I was in rehab. Now, I’m trying to look for a rehab, but I don’t have enough money to cover it because my insurance doesn’t cover it.

Yesterday, I passed out 10 applications for jobs. I even tried to apply for a bank job, a teller job and, I’m just so excited now because I can get a job, I can work full time.

Tomorrow or tonight actually, after this, I’m probably going to go to the fitness center, get an application there so I can work out for my free time when I have nothing else to do. And then tonight I want to catch a (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting at 8pm, right next to my house. And go home, take my medicine and go to bed.

I don’t know about politics too much. I actually don’t even know who’s running – because of that I am not going to vote this year. But, I think somebody should definitely make [opiate addiction] a big issue. In Burlington, the new police chief has made it a really big thing.

If some politician can make it a bigger deal, I would love that. Making it either safer or to make it just not so easy. For me it’s just too easy to get.”

Mirralyn Hunt in Bennington, VT.
Mirralyn Hunt, 22, sits at a bench. She’s a Vermont Democratic Party Intern in Bennington.

“When I was younger, if you had told me that moving from a city to a rural area would move me to a place where people are actually more open-minded, I don’t think I would have agreed with that. The actual experience of living in a small town has presented me with people who genuinely care about other people – people who are more concerned with civil rights and human rights and are more concerned with their environment, are more concerned with animals and community.

I got slandered horrendously in an interview with this guy, Jesse Watters. I had always known that there were either political groups or politically-skewed news broadcasters that would try to present information or to ask questions in order to shape the way that somebody thinks or feels about something. And I think ever since I’ve really been very conscious of how the media works in reference to politics and it’s really scary.

I remember, after it happened, I was so upset about it and I was more upset because I couldn’t find the words to say how I felt about it – and to clearly represent like, why I thought it was wrong.

At my school, a group of students came together and made this video which basically picked apart the segment that he had created, and showed every single journalistic violation that he made. His use of bits from TV and movies and sound bites to humiliate and ridicule me.

I am concerned with our educational system. I am concerned with health care. I am very involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. I am concerned with our defense funding. People like to look at politics as a game, but it’s a game with extremely real consequences for everybody. Not even just the United States, it affects other areas of the world as well. If we lived in a system where everything was perfect it wouldn’t motivate me, it wouldn’t make me angry. Well, I am angry, and I think that it’s an important emotion. I’m going to use that anger.

My father passed away a year and half ago and that’s my rock, and for the last year and a half I’ve been pushing it uphill. I think that I have been given a perspective that those without anxiety or depression or other mental illnesses might not have. I have been given this perspective to be able to understand people’s hardships.

So, I remember starting this job where I wear a Democratic campaign t-shirt and I get publicly harassed by Republicans. They will come to me and say, ‘Democrats are ruining the country, and they need to get out.’ People would just come up to me on the street and make comments. I’ve had my own friends say don’t even talk to me about [politics].

I think people say these things to me because they are not looking at me as a human being; they are looking at me as the political party. And so people will take out a lot of stuff on me. I get a lot of stories and a lot of emotions directed at me because I have donned the T-shirts. Even if it is a figurative shirt, I am officially part of it.”

Stuart Soboleski in his workshop in Albany, VT.
Stuart Soboleski, 32, in his workshop in Albany, Vermont.

“I just followed the crackers that life dropped me to this place, one opportunity to another.

I grew up in Connecticut and studied Special Education at the University of Connecticut. I was the only deaf student at my school.  We had a patch of woods behind our house in the suburbs, so I spent all of my time in there, building bike trails, forts, damming brooks, and shooting bb guns at old glass bottles.

I am an ardent Bernie supporter and trying to figure out how to contribute to the revolution in my own way.  As a recent parent, I am very aware how paid maternity leave is crucial to well-being of young parents. We are coming to realize that our American nuclear family dream is failing us and the ecosystem. We need to involve children and elders more in our daily lives. There are not a lot of people up here so we really need each other.

I’ve been farming for several years, but I am winding down with it as I never really was able to find my groove business-wise, and I just had a baby 10 weeks ago. That was a big life-changing experience that is making me rethink what I want to do with my family in the future. Farming takes all of your time and energy, there is always something that needs to be done, which is pretty nice, but not great when you have a kid to spend time with and you have to skip out because some animals just broke through fencing.  So now I am focusing more on carpentry, which brings in money, and homesteading.  When the right opportunities arise, I would love to continue farming – perhaps in an educational capacity.

Anxiety is definitely pervasive and Trump seems to be playing and capitalizing on it. Dakota access protests on the other side of the coin shows how love can bring together tribes that have been warring for time immemorial against common enemies – global warming and white colonialism.  It seems to be quite an interesting year, lots of polarities and superlatives.

The system is stacked against our favor, especially living in such a rural community as a deaf couple. We don’t have the same access to communication as others, though everybody already has it tough.  It is wicked nice to sit back and chat with somebody fluidly in your native language.

Blair and I are trying to figure out how to make the best of our situation and how to save up money so we can have a small piece of land to call home.  As much as we love working with the land, past attempts have not been as fruitful as I’ve hoped, but we’ve always got by.  We will continue to pursue different ideas on how to make it work better.

I try to tell myself that the choices I am making right now as a parent, based on cooperation with the land, is creating a good foundation for my child to grow up on and hopefully other parents would like to join in the process and we can build something more cooperatively than the previous generations.  We cope with hope.”