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The Danville Dilemma

Erica Marney, Danville, Pennsylvania

 

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One day in English class, we discussed animal cruelty and vegan diets. Mrs. Filipelli posed the simple question: “Why is being vegan so important?” I piped up, explaining “Consuming animal products only aids animal cruelty; vegans are trying to end animal cruelty by following a conscientious diet.” Five others joined me in the debate, agreeing with me and helping our teacher understand our viewpoint. We frequently had thought-provoking discussions, including typical Monday seminars. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, we spent time discussing immigration, LGBT+ rights, violent protests, and finding peace across the world.

 

The school I attended was a college prep school in Johns Creek, Georgia, an affluent suburb outside of Atlanta. With a population of 1,500 across all 4 grades, I was able to fit in with the mostly left-leaning, activist student body.

 

My school organized peace picnics, stand-ins, and protests and when the presidential election came up, I could not name one person who supported Donald Trump; most favored either Hillary or Bernie. Although most of us were not of age to vote, we rallied and spoke out to encourage those who could vote in the election, preferably for Hillary/Bernie.

 

However, before the now infamous 2016 election, I had the privilege of moving to Danville, Pennsylvania to start my junior year of high school. I walked into the new school, wearing pinstripe bondage pants, an old thrifted shirt full of holes, and black Doc Martens with one white lace and one red lace. I was greeted by Trump shirts and cowboy boots.

 

Instead of driving through town and seeing Hillary signs on lawns, I saw Trump insignia plastering billboards, shirts, and on distinctly shaped hats that supporters wore with pride. Instead of walking through the halls of the local high school and seeing a shirt that said ‘WOMEN ARE THE FUTURE,’ I saw a cap that said ‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’. Suffices to say, I was utterly shocked by the culture of Danville.

 

My new school has only 600 students, most of whom come from farming communities that have lived there for generations. Everyday leading up to the presidential election, a student yelled “Send Hillary to jail!” in the hallways. However, with the strong support of Trump, there was no discussion to match. Classes did not discuss the latest political turmoil or interesting social issues. Unlike my peers in Johns Creek, most students accepted the simple answer and did not question it.

 

The night of the presidential election I stayed up until 4am, waiting for the results. When they were released, I stayed up another 2 hours. My friends back home were sobbing, calling one another to find support, and tweeting ‘#notmypresident.’ The kids I knew in Danville were rejoicing, partying, and tweeting “liberals, get over it.”

 

When the results of the election were announced, it was official: my bubble had been burst. I never thought Trump had even a minuscule chance of becoming our next president. I never met anyone who strongly supported his campaign; I didn’t believe they actually existed, until I moved to Danville. My previous worldview was shaped by the people I was surrounded by. I wasn’t surrounded by farmers, coal-miners, and the white working class. I wasn’t surrounded by people who were impacted by the decline in American manufacturing. I wasn’t surrounded by students who grew up without cultural diversity and college-educated parents. Children in Johns Creek were expected to study hard and attend an Ivy League school. Children in Danville were expected to graduate high school and carry on the family tradition of working on the farm.

 

Most importantly, experiencing this new perspective jumpstarted my involvement in activism. Before, my participation was mostly casual; my friends and I agreed on most issues, but our activism was mostly just a social statement, not actually putting in effort to make a difference. Now, my activism is personal; I am fighting for positions on issues that are directly opposed by a majority of my community. It is now more important than ever for my activism to make an impact on issues I see directly affecting my peers.

 

Recently, I took a 3 hour bus ride into New York City and participated in the Women’s March alongside 400,000 other passionate activists. Coming face-to-face with new perspectives, I learned to understand the other side and found my intense motivation to directly influence my community. This is just the start of a long journey and moving to Danville, Pennsylvania gave me the push I needed into the world of activism.

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