Kansas

When I was younger all I wanted was to get out of Kansas.

I was going to do big things. I was going to live in a big city. (Despite my inability to ever know where I am going). I was going to travel. I was going to see the world.

Small minds. Small towns. Small people. That’s how I saw the Sunflower State. I was ashamed that we were often the laughing stock of the nation — whether it was rejecting evolution or being the last to catch on to the latest fashion trend, Kansas always seemed to be behind. And I wanted to be ahead.

I applied for jobs all over the country when I graduated in 2011. The only place I got an offer, however, was for an internship. In Kansas. I still thought I would get out. It just might take longer than previously anticipated.

That summer I also visited a friend of mine who had recently moved to New York City. I had been dreaming of visiting NYC for years, and I was totally pumped for the trip. I knew I was going to fall in love. I was worried I would become very jealous of my friend, and upset that I did not live there as well. I was prepared to be heart broken upon my arrival back in that fly-over state.

NYC

But then, that actually didn’t happen at all.

Maybe it was because I was in love with a Kansas boy, and I just missed his company. Maybe it was my extreme lack of direction, and the overwhelming rush and bustle of the city. Maybe it was how expensive everything was, and how I didn’t anticipate spending so much money. (Which, duh, I should have). For whatever reason, I was relieved and happy to come home.

Not that I didn’t have a good time. I did. And I did indeed fall in love. So much to see, so much to do, the city was literally alive. I heard more languages spoken in a day than I had in my entire life. Contrary to popular belief, the people were quite friendly and interesting. My friend introduced me to all of her favorite spots, and of course, I loved them too. It was exactly like Alicia Keys said it would be, “These streets will make you feel brand new, these lights will inspire you! Let’s hear it for New York! New York! New York!” Hahaha

I would love to visit again, and maybe with a lot of practice and guidance in reading maps and subway schedules, I could handle a smaller “big” city…. say Chicago or something.

NYC2

But when I sat foot back in Kansas again, I felt like I could breathe. In fact, I’m pretty sure I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with all those great allergens (Kansas is the worst place in the country for pollen and ragweed allergies, by the way). There was something about only seeing buildings everywhere I turned in NYC that made me feel trapped. The only grass I saw was in parks or in small patches occasionally interspersed along sidewalks. I mean duh, hello, of course I wasn’t going to see prairies in NYC, but I guess I had never known the feeling. I didn’t know life without prairies. I felt constricted.

And then, well, I developed a whole new appreciation for my lovely state. I mean, I haven’t been everywhere, obviously, but I would be willing to bet that Kansas has the best sunsets of anywhere in the country. Sure, you might say it’s flat, but a quick drive through the Flint Hills would prove otherwise. (Or hey, just visit KU’s campus.) There’s something about feeling the grass between your toes, and the wind in your hair. There’s something about driving down a dirt road with the windows down and the radio up. There’s something about watching a summer evening fade into night, and counting every star you see. Man, that’s living. To me, that’s Kansas. That’s home. 

Sunset
You won’t find this in New York City!

Sometimes Kansas still embarrasses me. Actually, almost daily now during the legislative session. But I try to remember my state’s very real progressive roots. Kansas was founded by abolitionists and women’s rights activists. Kansas was the first state in the nation to elect a woman mayor, and an early state to pass the women’s suffrage amendment. Kansas is really made up of moderates — not extremists — and for the most part, not religious nuts (although they do continue to get elected to the state legislature).

Again, I haven’t been everywhere, but I doubt I could find more hard-working, sensible, compassionate, and determined people than Kansans. We are farmers, public servants, small business owners, doctors and lawyers. We are neighbors, family members and friends. We are each our brother’s keeper, and should you find yourself stranded on the side of the road, or short a few cents in the check-out line, I promise you, a fellow Kansan will help you out. These are the values I was raised with, and no I actually don’t think they are just “Kansas values”, “small-town values”, or “family values.” No, these are human values.

One semester in college, when I was back in Wichita visiting my family, I had a conversation with my dad about my frustrations with this state and with this country. I talked about moving to Denmark, Norway or Switzerland. I explained how fed up I was with all the problems in this place and — what seemed to me — a public refusal to address them. 

Well, you could do that, and I wouldn’t blame you,” my dad told me. “But you could also stay and work to make things better.”

I think there has to be a reason I ended up here. Partly choice, but also partly chance. Sure, I could leave, we could all leave. We have the freedom to migrate to places that are most agreeable to us. But, sometimes I feel like…..well maybe that’s actually just taking the easy way. I’m not about the easy way. I’m about the right way.

And so I feel a duty to stay, and work for a Kansas future that honors its progressive beginnings. I feel I owe it to future generations. I care about my state, my neighbors and my friends. I care about making a difference.

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If you’re with me, and you want to see Kansas be the best it can be, then please, I urge you, get and stay informed about what is going on in Topeka. The state legislature is more extreme now than, well, I think it’s safe to say, ever. Kansas has always been red, but that Republican domination has been mostly moderate with the desire to work with Democrats to get things done. Public education, for instance, is now under attack, and I’m pretty dang sure the majority of Kansans disagree with that nonsense. Trust me, those in power will not stop until public education is privatized so they can profit off of it. 

There’s a lot going on. And just about everything deserves its own post entirely. Maybe I’ll get to it. Most likely I won’t, BUT I will give you some helpful links, should you not know where to start:

Our Kansas Voice —a blog by former Republican State Senator Jean Schodorf and former Republican State Senator Dick Kelsey. After being defeated in the 2012 August primary by a conservative (pretty much ousted by her own party), Schodorf recently changed her party affiliation to Democrat. (I interviewed her last year about her decision to leave the Republican Party). There’s a lot of good stuff on this blog.

What’s the Matter in Kansas — a blog devoted to state politics by KU law student, Tyler Holmes. Straight-forward, nonpartisan analysis. Excellent stuff here.

Paul Davis — If you haven’t already, you should really check out Paul Davis’ Facebook page and give it a “like.” Davis is the House Minority Leader, and is excellent about keeping folks up to date via social media. I especially love this speech of his. It gives a great overview of the current political climate in Kansas.

Kansas Health Institute — An excellent source for facts and figures about health care in Kansas, as well as a great source for news and commentary. (This recent blog about Medicaid Expansion is a great example.)

And then of course, local news, especially newspapers. There have been a lot of great editorials and news stories about the legislature this session. I am particularly impressed with analysis like this from The Wichita Eagle, especially given the smaller staffs many newspapers have to work with.

You can also follow legislators and organizations on Twitter or Facebook. This is a great way to stay informed if you’re on social media a lot. (What? Me?)

Get informed. Stay informed. Act. Democracy!

Because we certainly have the freedom to leave. Or we can stay. And work.

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“Life will be hard, politics will be mean, money will be scarce, bluster will be plentiful. Yet somehow good will be done.” — Anna Quindlen

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