By Rachel Hunter
I am Rachel and My Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment took place in Owensboro, Kentucky in Kelsey’s house. For this meal, we all agreed that my mom and I would bake a pot pie and bring it over and Carol and Kelsey would bake dessert. My mom, Kelsey, and Carol were there. Carol is Kelsey’s mom and a friend of my mom. Both my mom and Carol work in the lunchroom at a local high school. Carol and my mother are both middle aged and have lived in Kentucky their whole lives. Neither have travelled outside of the country. Although they have lived in Kentucky, which is known for its rural areas, both have always lived in a decent sized city. Carol comes from a lower middle-class family while my mom comes from an upper middle-class to upper-class family. When asked, my mom and Carol identified as Republicans while Kelsey and I identified as Democrats.
Carol is recently divorced with a younger son still in high school. She currently is living with her mother to take care of her. Her family is very important to her and she has done everything in her power to ensure they all stay together. She is the assistant manager in the lunchroom at the local high school and she really enjoys her job. She likes being around the kids everyday but she also likes that she is the boss.
My mom has never been married and has operated as a single parent from the beginning. She has always had at least two jobs if not three on occasion. She herself has claimed to be primarily a one issue voter; that issue being abortion. Her views on this topic stem primarily from her religion, but also simply from how she was raised. Her parents were very strict about what was and what was not socially acceptable and many of these lessons have stuck with her despite the changing social climate.
Kelsey recently moved back to Owensboro from Florida to have her baby boy, Jaxton. Kelsey is a server at Red Lobster. She is a very brave young woman. She picked up and moved to Florida to go to college and didn’t know a soul down there. After that experience, she really came to appreciate her ability to travel and to explore new places on her own. While in college, she studied abroad in England for 3 weeks over the summer. She has also gone on several spontaneous road trips by herself when the mood has struck her. Her freedom of mobility is the right that she holds most important.
As a new mother, Kelsey mentioned that it was really important to her to live in a safe and friendly neighborhood. They recently had some trouble with the next-door neighbors because of Kelsey’s dog. She has a Pitbull who is one of the sweetest dogs in the world, Naya; however, Naya thinks she is the size of a lap dog. The way Kelsey’s house is set up, she lets Naya out of the side door so that she can go into the backyard. Naya has been trained to go straight there, but one day the neighbor’s Chihuahua was outside when Naya was let out. Naya tried to play with the dog and unintentionally hurt it. The neighbors called animal control and had Naya picked up and sent to what is essentially doggy jail. In order to get Naya back, Kelsey had to pay an $800 fine, pay the vet bills for the dog next door, and enroll Naya in obedience classes. Naya is also not allowed outside of the house without a leash. If Kelsey were to get caught letting Naya out without a leash, she would be fined another $200. As a single mother who is working as a server, this was a big hit to her financially. It’s also inconvenient for her to let Naya out now since she has to drop everything to walk Naya to the fenced in area of the backyard. As a result of this situation, Kelsey touched on how she would appreciate having neighbors who are tolerant of those around them. Kelsey said she always liked her neighbors and she would have been more than willing to work with them but the rigid fines and requirements have soured the neighborly love.
The general question of what it means to be a citizen was raised while we were eating. Carol mentioned how when she was younger she thought it was just paying taxes and obeying laws. Now that as she is older, she feels more of an obligation towards her fellow citizens to help where she can such as volunteering and donating to causes she supports. Kelsey disagreed that there wasn’t any obligation to those around her. To her, citizenship is the ability to live freely and make her own choices without the government becoming domineering. My mom felt that being a citizen meant volunteering and voting in local elections. She made it clear, however, that she does not vote in presidential elections because she adamantly opposes the electoral college system. She feels that the popular vote should win in such cases because gerrymandering silences many voters. This topic lead to a pretty heated debate between Carol and my mom. Carol claimed anyone who did not vote in presidential elections did not have a right to complain about the president. My mom, however, explained why she felt her vote would not affect the outcome simply because of the ratio of voter parties in our district. After the explanation Carol admitted that she hadn’t considered things from that perspective.
Another topic that was brought up was the legalization of marijuana. Carol’s son smokes because it helps him with his anxiety. Carol explained that there are rules that her son has to follow such as he is not allowed to drive anywhere while under the influence and he isn’t allowed to smoke more than three times a week. He also has to have his own job to pay for it. My mom admitted that she didn’t think it would be terrible if it were to be legalized but that she would never actively support its legalization. Both Kelsey and I expressed hesitancy about its legalization. Kelsey and I both talked about how we know some people in college who would use it to excess and miss their classes and even drop out because it stripped them of their motivation. My mom, however, pointed out that same thing could happen with alcohol. Kelsey and I both agreed that although my mom had a valid point we still didn’t feel it would be in best interest of our communities to make marijuana more easily accessible.
The last thing we talked about was religion and if it’s related to being a good person or good citizen. There was a general consensus that one’s religion was not an indicator of whether someone is a good person. My mom pointed out specifically that she has known some very religious people who have also not been the nicest people. She said it doesn’t matter what religion someone prescribes to, everyone has the same capacity of good and bad. Kelsey said that although being religious was obviously not required to be a good person, she felt the values her religion instilled in her helped her to be kinder towards others. Carol also felt the same way but mentioned that she has also known some people who preach one thing but practice another. I said that although my religion plays a part in how I treat people, I do not allow it to affect my citizenship. To clarify, I do not vote based on my religious views. I feel that if I were to cast my vote in accordance with my religion, I would be in some way forcing my religion on those around me. Just because my religion holds that something is wrong, it does not mean it is wrong for those around me. I firmly believe there should be a separation between church and state regarding political views in order to be a good citizen. My mom did not agree with me, but Carol and Kelsey took what I said into consideration.
During this dinner, I learned that it’s okay to have differing opinions. Even people from the same family can have opposing viewpoints and still get along with one another. I can honestly say I know more about the gerrymandering of districts now than I ever had. I was aware there was a problem, but was unaware of the extent of that problem. I also learned that my own mother doesn’t vote in national elections, but she defended her stance well. On some level, I agree with my mom. It really made me ask myself, “what good will my vote do if I’m surrounded by those who will vote the other way?” It makes me question the value of the electoral college. After the dinner, I actually looked into national elections where the electoral college produced different results than the popular vote and found that in more recent years there have been two: Gore v. Bush and Trump v. Clinton. The margin of difference in the popular vote actually increased between these two elections suggesting the electoral college may be on its way to becoming an outdated system. Overall, this dinner exposed me to differing opinions on some touchy subjects; however, it was encouraging to see that some form of deliberation can take place around a common dinner table. This relates to the Wicked Problems reading because in order to solve a wicked problem it must first be talked about at a local level. It also relates to the central question of “how can we live better together?” because in order to live in a successful community there must be communication and the dinner table is a great place to start the conversation.