Thursday, July 18, 2024

News and Ideas Worth Sharing

Who we are: Profile of a Berkshire non-voter

I am a white male. Things aren’t gonna change for me. I’m worried about everyone else … I’m not going to vote in November, because I’m not educated enough. I don’t pay attention that well. I don’t think my vote would be too valid.

Five times over the past two and a half years I have interviewed my former student, whom I will call “Matt.” His family has deep roots in the hilltowns of Berkshire County. We have talked, among other things, about his hopes and dreams, high school experience, love of travel and political opinions.

We do not belong to the same generation, economic class, gender, religion or political party, but we respect and admire each other. Matt has provided me with insights — “Build the wall!” was once chanted at a local party, it is very hard to join the Marines, firearms in cars need to be secured separately from ammunition  — I would not otherwise have.

During the time of our first two conversations, Matt was renting a room in his friend’s house.

July, 2016

M: I’m 20. I’ve become the head landscaper [at a local wedding venue] and I manage a bussing crew of my friends. So I’ve kind of found my niche there, but it’s a dead-end job….I’m trying to enlist in the Marine Corps, so I can get out of Dodge and eventually go to college.

S: What is that process?

M: You have to go to MEPS, which is the Military Entrance Program, you do tests, and they do a bunch of physical rigmarole and swear an oath and you get enlisted. On the East Coast, everyone goes to Parris Island for boot camp for 12 weeks and from there you go to your Military Operation Specialty school. I’ve always wanted to be a Marine because they are the most elite fighting force. They are like the President’s warriors.

S: It sounds like you’ve done your research.

M: I went through the process when I was 17, and right before I swore an oath my girlfriend’s grandfather, who I was living with, his Parkinson’s got so severe that he needed someone to be there constantly, and I was the only one strong enough to pick him up off the floor. So I backed out of it. But I don’t live with him anymore and he’s since passed away. I have to start the whole process over again.

S: …so in your ideal scenario, you’d be headed out when?

M: Next fall. It takes about a year …

S: Your goal is to get out of Dodge and not come back?

M: Maybe I’ll come back and visit, but I don’t want to stick around …it’s depressing to be my age and just be in the same area you grew up in, you know, watching people get old and not meeting new people, feeling stagnant…..It’s a boring place unless you’re 60 and you’re coming to visit Stockbridge and go to the Norman Rockwell Museum….nothing new to do, a bunch of kids have fires and get drunk, jump off cliffs, that’s it….

Aug 8, 2016

M: I quit doing weddings, now I just do the landscaping. I got a second job cooking. I don’t have a day off anymore, but that’s good for me, because I’m making a lot of money and not running around doing stupid things that could get me in trouble…. I got a car. It’s a Buick.

S: Excellent! … When you talked about high school, you mentioned that the best thing you got out of it was sports. What skills were transferable to the work world?

M: Walking into a fourteen-hour shift with a lot of stress, not even having a second of wavering, like, “Do I want to do this?” It’s “I HAVE to do this.” This is your here and there, this is what is on your plate. Eat it. With sports you can’t just stop conditioning, can’t just drop and say you’re done.

S: How many hours are you working per week now?

M: I’m working twice as much…three days a week I do 16 hour days..

S: 16 hours?? So that’s 48 hours…

M: Yeah, then the other two days I do 12 hours, and the others I do 6 hours.

Voters cast ballots in the Great Barrington Fire Station during mid-term elections.

S: You work 72 hours a week. With no days off……What do you think about politics these days?

M: I’m not going to vote in this [2106 Presidential] election. I think Trump’s there to break up the Republican Party and ensure she wins. The demographics that he’s purposefully excluding are African-Americans, women, Hispanics. All the votes she needs. I don’t think she has bad intentions, but at the same time she’s such an establishment person

I don’t think a vote really counts anymore. The Electoral College blows me away. We do things like that and call it a democracy? I was at a party in Otis in some field the other day and all of a sudden everybody was chanting, “Build a wall! Build a wall!” I thought, is this a Trump rally?

February 6, 2017:

S: So what do you think now of our national situation?

M: Banning people because of their national identity, where they’re from? It’s the most un-American thing you can do.

S: Do you argue about this stuff with your friends?

M: I don’t have intelligent enough friends to argue with about it.

S: You didn’t vote, right?

M: No, I did. I voted for Hillary.

S: You did vote for Hillary?

M: Even though I’m a Republican, I voted for Hillary.

October 2, 2017

[One day before Matt finally embarked on a long-awaited road trip with his girlfriend.]

M: My girlfriend’s dad works for a New Yorker who’s not often here. She has a couple cottages, and lets us stay in one of them for free. So we’ve saved up money for our trip.

S: You were hoping to be gone [to boot camp] by now, but the medical stuff has slowed you up?

M: Yeah. Once we come back for Thanksgiving, I should be able to enlist. Tomorrow, we head to Niagara Falls. The mission is Colorado, and I want to go through Montana, up to Washington, see Seattle, come down to California. We’d like to camp as much as we can. There’s a website called or something.

S: Is it still your goal for the military to be your entree to college?

M: Yeah, I definitely want to go to college.

S: For what?

M: I’ve been battling around with it. I want to learn business, but I also want to go to school for agriculture.

In the hilltown of Becket a quarry is a local swimming hole. Photo: Cailin Burke
March 7, 2018

S: Tell me about your trip.

M: It was really good. We went to seven national parks, got the pass, went to Niagara Falls and camped. Went to Tennessee, camped where Meriwether Lewis died. Arkansas. Once we hit El Paso, the plan was to go north to Colorado. But it was snowing. We put 9,000 on my girlfriend’s car.

S: What’s your latest?

M: Just got my physical done last week. The paperwork should be getting back to me within this month, he [recruiter] said.

S: The delays were health insurance related?

M: Some of it was, and some of it is their shit takes so long to process. There have been two or three mistakes they’ve made that have pushed me back weeks. The wrong header on paperwork, like that.

Windsor Congregational Church.

S: You’ve been working on this for five years.

M: Yeah, it’s been awhile. Also, I’ve got an ingrown toenail that got infected. So I had surgery on that and had to wait like six weeks….but I’m super excited. It finally seems like it’s all coming together….Hopefully I’ll be leaving  June at the latest.

….The president can send the Marine Corps anywhere for ninety days before Congress approves it.

S: That doesn’t concern you?

M: I’m not really worried about it. I hope we go to war with North Korea.

S: You hope?

M: We need to liberate all those poor people.

S: Don’t you feel bad for us, living under a dictator?

M: I’m glad we don’t live under a dictator.

S: He’s trying.

M: At least he’s not trying….I don’t want to get into it.

Oct 20, 2018

[He’s still waiting on a third toe surgery.]
M: I do everything they [doctors] say, cut it, soak it…

S: You are supposed to be leaving [for basic training] December 10?

M: Yeah, I might have to push it back to February or March. I finally got fully enlisted a couple months ago. I just had to pick a ship date and be healthy.

October Mountain State Forest.

S: How do you feel about living here?

M: I still wanna get out. It sucks being held back so many times. Like being put on hold. My goal is to have a farm and then a restaurant, and grow the majority of the food. I would love to buy a beautiful piece of land and have a wedding venue/ restaurant. It’s not easy, but it’s not out of my reach to achieve.

S: Are there any issues you feel tuned into around here?

M: The kid who got shot on October Mountain, that’s just crazy news I’ve been following. My sister used to hang out up there.

S: Do you have a gun?

M: Yeah, I’m a gun owner. Two pistols, a hunting rifle, a training rifle, and a pistol caliber rifle, semi-automatic. And a shotgun. I’m going to use the shotgun this year for hunting deer. Other than that I just target shoot. I took an eight-hour course talking about gun safety and laws. Then you have to submit your certification to the Police, and if they know something about you, they can deny you. They approved me no problem.

S: What do you think about semi-automatic rifles?

M: I understand that a lot of these tragedies were done by legal gun owners, and I think obviously there needs to be proper mental health vetting…

S:  …and people are always going to be able to fall through the cracks.

M: Yeah, but I also think, if you were to stop selling semi-automatic weapons, there are millions of them already. So if I have one, now I’m a criminal?

S: So what else can we do, apart from mental health screenings?

M: I’m not opposed to there being an armed guard at schools. But I think it’s ridiculous, if there are ten bad people and millions of others who like having guns for their lifestyle…

S: Right, but there are lots of things in the US that are illegal. You’re not allowed to import little chocolate eggs. So why should you be allowed to have this one particular kind of weapon that you like but has proven to be so dangerous in the larger culture?

M: I don’t know. I think about the truck attack in Nice, France, that killed 50 people. Are you gonna outlaw trucks now?……

S: What are your updated thoughts on politics?

M:  Did vote last time, but I’m not going to vote in November, because I’m not educated enough. I don’t pay attention that well. I don’t think my vote would be too valid. I guess I could sit down and do my homework for the next month, and then …but I don’t want to spend my time doing that.

S: What reason, if you were arguing with yourself, what would the person on this shoulder be saying, “You really should vote, because this impacts your life”?

M: I am a white male. Things aren’t gonna change for me. I’m worried about everyone else.

S: Really? You don’t think white males have it hard?

M: We do have it hard because everyone loves to point a finger at us, you know? But that doesn’t bother me.

S: You have a “Don’t tread on me” hat on.

M: That’s ‘cause I love our country! It’s one of the original flags that was drawn up before Betsy Ross did her version of the flag. “Don’t fucking step on me, or else you’re gonna get bit.” I like that attitude. Leave a snake alone, it’s not going to bother you. But go ahead and step on it, you’re gonna know you stepped on it.

S: What would it look like if somebody stepped on you?

M: If someone tried to silence my freedom of speech, or freedom of religion.… If someone looks at me and assumes that I’m wearing a “Don’t tread on me” hat and I’m a white guy then assumes that I’m sexist or racist, or a conservative, that’s them pre-judging me, and that’s their issue. On social media, I’m always seeing people say stuff. All these “white males,” “white privilege males,” it’s in everything I read.


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