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.