Brenna’s KKT: Kitchen Table in The Capital

kkt

By Brenna

On Friday, April 13th, I traveled to my hometown Frankfort for my Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment. I had invited my mother’s group of close-knit work friends that I had only met a few times before. I brought my close friend Nathaniel with me so I did not have to make the drive alone. All together my house held nine people and two dogs. My mother insisted on cooking a southern comfort meal for all of us. She is experiencing empty nest syndrome and has missed cooking throughout the week. She fried chicken, cooked green beans, made cornbread, and baked macaroni and cheese. It was five-star meal compared to what I usually get at Fresh. Despite the bad juju surrounding the day, being Friday the 13th and all, the meal was a success.

My mother’s friends all work in some department of Kentucky’s state government. Therefore, our choice of background noise was the KET live-stream of the Kentucky Chambers during this crazy legislative session. Growing up in the state’s capital, this was a familiar scene in my household. My mother has worked for the state in various capacities. She is currently serving as one of three, also the only female, Public Service Commissioner. She is fiscally conservative, but she thinks “everyone should mind their own business about everyone else’s bedrooms and bodies.” I could not have said it better myself.

Eileen is an opinionated woman who has learned to love life. She works an office job but finds herself traveling across the country on a Harley during the summers with her husband. Karen is an eccentric friend that my mother has known for many years; they worked together under Fletcher. An avid UK fan and fellow political science student.  Aron is one of the only males accepted into this gang of women. Aron is a tremendously intelligent young man with an extremely analytical mind. He was able to work abroad for the government because he is fluent in Chinese. Kenya is actually a WKU Alum, and a very proud one at that. She is enthusiastic and lots of fun to be around. She has an adorable daughter that I’ll be babysitting this summer. Shiela was the only friend I had not met before. She is quieter than the others but just as opinionated and wise. Scott was Aron’s friend that tagged along. He was very timid, but this group of brash women can be intimidating. My friend Nathaniel is a fellow Hilltopper and took Honors 251 in the Fall 17 semester but his professor did not require a Kentucky Kitchen Table project. My dogs, Misty and Buttercup, were the life of the party and expressed their moderate political views by barking at certain legislators on the television.

Overall, the group was fiscally conservative. However, they have many different views on things such as environmental issues, social issues, and Kentucky issues. We spoke on the pension bill and budget that was making its way through the House that day. It was evident that these women realized the consequences of these bills – almost more so than the legislators themselves. Their jobs are directly affected by these bills which then affect how they can serve the Commonwealth. The group cared about their jobs and had a passion for serving the people of the Commonwealth in whatever capacity they held.

The only question I was able to ask before the work gossip started was the required question: Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?

Eileen grew up in a military family so she believed that service was important to citizenship. Not necessarily military service, but public service or even just community service. She believed that this was an important aspect to improve one’s community as well. This received a few nods of agreement from the group. Shiela chimed in that simply participating was important. Voting, for example, is not just picking a name on a ballot. Actively participating in an election is following the cycle and learning of the candidates to choose the one that most aligns with your views. As a group, we decided this was an extremely plausible aspect of citizenship that everyone can do. Social media has made news easily accessible for all. While this may spread “fake news” it keeps people aware of the current political climate. Karen wanted to add that one does not need to be extremely passionate about politics to be an active participant. Emphasizing that although we as a group enjoy watching the KET live stream and C-SPAN, being a good citizen does not require you to carry a pocket constitution and dream of internships in DC. We are passionate about these things, but that does not make us better citizens than those who do not. My mother then chimes in from the kitchen “Also, don’t be stupid!” She uses that as a basic rule of thumb for most aspects of life. From here the conversation steered towards anecdotes about kids and work gossip. Another piece advice I learned, from daredevil Eileen of course, was “If you’re gonna sin, sin hard.”

Overall, the dinner was extremely enjoyable. These women and Aron have a dynamic extremely similar to that of my college friends. They truly enjoy each other’s company and it was great to learn faces and personalities of the people my mom spends the most time with.  They were also knowledgeable and wise. Through their years they have learned many aspects of citizenship that I, at just 19, am ignorant of. Citizenship can be stripped to simply doing your responsibilities: follow laws, pay taxes, vote a few times a year. However, citizenship requires participation. Active participation. This does not mean everyone must hold public office, but everyone should know who serves in a public office. Simply being aware of your legislators is a great start to becoming a good citizen.

One of the central questions of this course is: How can we have more of a say over our lives – and contribute to others having more of a say over their lives? I believe this starts with actively participating in elections. Being knowledgeable of the candidates and throwing your support behind one can make the difference. If you support a candidate it is possible that your friends will as well and this can ignite change into today’s government by placing new faces in old seats. The group agreed that having a voice starts with a whisper but can soon become a yell. At first, it may seem like the effort is making no difference but soon, one can impact many lives. My Kentucky Kitchen Table was full of great people, great food, and even better advice.

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KKT: Epic FAIL

KKT picBy Alexis

On March 16 I hosted a Kentucky Kitchen Table discussion in my home in Frankfort, KY. My mom, dad, and I provided the group with soup and sandwiches. The participants included me, my mom, dad, Fred, his mother Ruth, and his sister Lilly. [Some names changed.] My parents are both agnostic, white, 45+ years old, Republicans who voted for Trump, but they have pretty moderate views; they don’t hate gays, and they’re actually pretty accepting of a lot of the progressive ideas of our generation. My mother has completed 6+ years of college, and is an elementary school teacher. My father is a construction worker, ex-Army, and always very set in his beliefs and ways—he believes never wrong. Fred is the exact opposite of his sister Lilly. For starters, they’re the opposite gender, Lilly is a strong liberal whereas Fred is a strong conservative,Lilly is very selfless and Fred, it seems to me that Fred could be seen as selfish. Fred is widowed, and Lilly is divorced as of the 1970s; she’s almost always been on her own, and Fred always had a woman to take care of him. But they both have full college degrees; Fred got his masters in chemistry, and ran his own business for most of his adult life. Whereas Lilly got her degree in accounting and held jobs at banks and the sorts until she retired. As for their mother, Ruth, she is 90-ish years old—she’s unsure because she has Alzheimer’s. Sadly, she didn’t contribute much to my discussion because of her bad memory loss. I was hoping this discussion wouldn’t get too political, but you’ll soon come to see that this was completely impossible.

The only question I had time to ask was the required question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”Lilly started the conversation with her opinion. She essentially explained that she sees us as citizens of the world and that we should do everything we can to help others and all get along better. This, surprisingly, related back to one of our main questions in the class; “How can we live better together?” Eventually her brother, Fred, interrupted her with the dictionary definition of “citizen”, which is “a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth.” After this definition was given Fred and my parents completely took over the discussion by telling Lilly she was wrong and stupid to think that we are citizens of the world. Fred and my father agreed that a citizen only needs to vote, pay taxes, and obey the laws. Fred, who appears to me to be rather selfish who boarders being libertarian, even shared that you only should take care of yourself. My father and mother both decided they believe you should only have to take care of “your own”—basically your immediate family. Any time after this that Lilly attempted to explain her side in a calm way Fred would interrupt her with his dictionary definition of a citizen. My dad got annoyed and said that “Honors 251 sounds like a very liberal class, and I don’t like it.” At some point Lilly and Fred were screaming at each other, and Lilly eventually said “I feel completely ostracized in a room full of people against me.” And she left crying. I listened quietly as the remaining participants bashed and laughed at her after she left, and eventually Fred and Ruth left as well.

I actually learned a lot from this complete disaster of a discussion. The main thing I took away was a good general statement for conservatives and liberals. It seems to me that conservatives have a more “at home” way of looking at things, whereas liberals have a “bigger picture” outlook on issues. For instance, Lilly sees us as citizens of the world and thinks we should do all we can to make the world better for everyone to live together cohesively and happily. Fred and my father believed more that we should take care of our; whether it be our family, friends, community, or social class. Also, liberals often have a view that we should help those all over our nation with things like food stamps and Obamacare, whereas conservatives are usually against things like this. This is probably because conservatives commonly have the opinion that “everyone should work for what they have.” This is obviously more of an overarching statement because this might not always be the case.

The most important thing I learned from this discussion is that people from older generations have not been taught how to deliberate, essentially. For instance, when Lilly was sharing her opinion the others sat quietly and “listened” until they had heard enough and gotten mad. Then, when she tried to explain herself and give a rebuttal to their arguments, she was cut off and ostracized. The same thing happened when she had enough of them sharing their opinions, which contrasted hers completely. The older generations don’t care to scream and make fools of themselves if this means defending their beliefs and making their point be “more heard.” “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville talks about how important it is to listen to others when in the middle of conflict. I’m honestly so glad that we have talked about this in class. Throughout high school I learned a lot about how to debate and share my opinions, but we never talked about how to listen. That’s one of the main things I’ve taken away from this class; listen and calmly respond. It seems a lot of people in the world don’t really know how to listen to people when arguing and debating. This could probably be the cause for all of the unresolved conflict and problems in the world and government.

I’m honestly really disappointed with the outcome of my Kentucky Kitchen Table discussion. I only got to ask the one main question, but it honestly gave me a sad reality. The men and women in charge of us, our children, and our governments are roughly the same age as Fred, Lilly, and my father. They usually have about the same levels of education; Fred has his masters, Lilly her undergraduate, and my father had basic college level schooling while he was in the army. If the 3 of them couldn’t even discuss their differences in a casual and calm setting how can we expect the men and women in charge to do the same? That’s why I’m extremely grateful to be learning such important, useful cooperative skills through the readings and discussions in our class.