Holding on to one another is essential along the Hillbilly Highway
Note: Though originally published as a stand-alone essay, I am re-posting it as the third installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – On June 20, 1952, Minetta Flint married William Barrick in Morgantown, W.Va. A year later, on June 12, their first child, Michelle, was born to the newlyweds, who were known among their friends by their nicknames – “Mike” and “Sparky.”
Michelle, who eventually earned the nickname “Mickey,” was followed by yours truly just under three years later, on April 22, 1956. Nearly six years later, our family was completed, as our little sister, April, was born on January 10, 1962. All three of us were born in St. Mary’s Hospital across from our garage apartment in Clarksburg, W.Va.
As Catholics, we were a relatively small family. Yet, with our grandmothers, aunts, uncles and great aunts and uncles, we had plenty of family close by and others scattered across West Virginia.
Then, the three of us grew up, moved away and started our own families. Every year we would take our two children to West Virginia and enjoy a freeloading vacation of great food, great company and never enough time to visit all the family and friends we wanted to see. And each Christmas was the family reunion.
But alas, a visit to West Virginia now is nothing more than a visit to four cemeteries in three counties to place flowers at the graves of all those people we used to share meals and laughs with.
There’s nothing unusual about that. However, that doesn’t change the tinges of emotions I feel as I consider those souls who have slipped away – including our little sister April, who died of cancer last August. The Barrick family that started out at 483½ Washington Ave. in Clarksburg 66 years ago is now reduced to Mickey, who turned 65 this week (she doesn’t look it, but life isn’t fair) and me.
She and her husband David were in town visiting this week. She and I are both cancer survivors, against the odds. Why we live, and April does not, we do not know. Nor shall we drive ourselves crazy pondering it. It is what it is. How that huge family we were born into is now down to just the two of us is also something not healthy to spend a whole lot of time pondering. Again, it just is.
Yet, through the loss and sadness, our love for one another has grown beyond description, largely due to Mickey’s unconditional love for her quite curmudgeonly brother. We understand that we are indeed an endangered species. So, we do what Sparky, Mike and April taught us – We hold on to each other for dear life and laugh at life’s challenges and absurdities.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photography by Rick Carter.
Topics include information about current judges, selection of judges, and threats to the court system’s impartiality
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections and the West Virginia Association for Justice are hosting a free workshop on the role of the courts in protecting the state’s democracy and citizens’ fundamental rights.
Through a series of interactive discussions and presentations, participants will leave with knowledge about who sits on the bench in West Virginia, how judges are selected/elected, threats to judicial independence, and actions to strengthen and protect the courts impartiality of our courts. An experienced judge, other legal experts, and facilitators from Wellstone Action will be in attendance to help community members learn more about this important and often overlooked branch of government.
“With civil rights and democracy increasingly under attack, the strength and impartiality of our courts may be the last mainstay for achieving justice on a broad range of issues,” said Julie Archer, Coordinator for West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections. “Our rights as voters, parents, workers, and community members depend on the decisions of our elected judges, so it’s imperative that we take steps to ensure that our courts are fair and impartial.”
The workshop will be held Monday, June 18 in Charleston at the Four Points Sheraton and participants have their choice of attending either an afternoon session starting at 1 p.m., or an evening session starting at 5:30 p.m. The workshop is free and includes an appetizer buffet reception from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m., however, attendees are asked to register in advance at faircourts101.eventbrite.com.
In the future, I will leave voting decisions to the electorate
By Michael M. Barrick
NOTE: 13 June, 2018: I amend my comments at the end of this essay in which I say I will vote for Price. I won’t. I made the mistake in 2016 of voting for a mediocre Democratic candidate for president in Hillary Clinton. I simply can’t repeat that error this year. There are now five political parties on the ballot in North Carolina. And the sixth option is to not cast a vote at all in this election.
LENOIR, N.C. – Just as early voting was beginning in April, I endorsed Philip Price for the Democratic nomination in the 11th Congressional District. He handily defeated his two opponents. Price received 41 percent, Steve Woodsmall had 31 percent and Scott Donaldson had 28 percent. As the winner, Price will be facing Republican incumbent Mark Meadows in November.
Despite Price’s strong showing, my endorsement was a mistake. I made it based on incomplete information. I recently learned that Price has had 30 arrests over 34 years in at least eight North Carolina counties. The arrests were for infractions from drug charges to traffic violations. Many of the charges were dismissed by district attorneys in some of the counties, but Price was found guilty on at least seven of the charges.
One can read details of many of those charges, including some extensive quotes from Price in the blog, Trappalachia Reports. According to this article, Price proudly based his campaign on legalizing marijuana, largely based on his own experiences of being busted for possessing it. I applaud him for those efforts, for the war on drugs has proven to be a disaster and it is long past time to legalize pot. It is one reason I endorsed him. The other is that he seems to be a candidate that truly understands the working class.
However, I did not know that he was convicted for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in Rutherford County in 2007. Seven years earlier, in Orange County, he was convicted for an open container violation. These convictions reveal a reckless disregard for human life.
Marijuana possession, considering the increasing acceptance and legalization of it across the nation, is not my concern; what is my concern is Price’s admission that he hoped his legal troubles, especially from 2007, would not be consequential. According to the Smoky Mountain News, Price said, “These issues did not magically emerge. All of this is public record and has been for years. I talked to the journalist [Davin Eldridge, of Trappalacha] in January and assumed that this article would be coming out back then. I didn’t publicize it myself because I’m not proud of it.”
I understand not being proud of past mistakes. I’ve made my fair share. However, not acknowledging them up front when one should reasonably expect that they will become commonly known in a congressional campaign reveals poor judgment. His failure to be fully transparent from the beginning will now cast a shadow over his integrity – a failure that Meadows will almost certainly exploit.
I’ve learned from the Price experience. I apologize to our readers. While I heard Price speak a few times, it was support he enjoys from a close friend that helped me decide to endorse him. I’m not blaming my friend; I have no idea what he knew. But I know I should have done more research before making an endorsement.
Of course, I will certainly not vote for Mark Meadows. His voting record is one that hurts working class Americans. But, he’s going to be tough to beat. That’s why the Democrat facing him should be the best candidate the party has to offer. While Price worked hard and had an impressive showing in the primary, he needs to make sure there are no more surprises awaiting voters. He is the party’s nominee. I will vote for him because I agree with him on the issues. I’m just disappointed that he thought trying to avoid his past wouldn’t eventually catch up with him.
He told both publications quoted above that he has learned from his mistakes and that what he has learned has made him a better person. That, he says, will serve him well in Congress. That’s probably what my friend believes. I can’t argue with that.
Still, to protect the integrity of The Lenoir Voice and the Appalachian Chronicle, as well as showing appropriate respect for our readers, I’ll cease the endorsements. I’ll just try and report as fully as I can on any candidates I profile. From there, I’ll simply trust the judgment of voters.
Just as Mr. Price said, we need to learn from our mistakes. Hopefully, we both have, as Mark Meadows needs to be retired.
Time to admit we are not a civilized society
By Michael M. Barrick
More children and a teacher have been killed in a school shooting in Texas. We will express our collective outrage for a news cycle or two then go on about our business of letting it happen.
It is time, then, to admit that the school shootings – averaging at least once a week now in the USA – reveal that we are not a civilized society; what we have become, rather, are bystanders and even enablers to a Culture of Death.
This is no longer a debate about gun rights or school safety. Rather, it is a debate about what has gone wrong in America. How have we come to accept a culture of death?
Here are just some of the examples of how we have come to accept and even embrace our culture of death.
- Our granddaughter, who will have her 9th birthday this week, has lived in a nation at war her whole life.
- Our wars have caused death and great emotional and physical injuries to tens of thousands of young Americans; and, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and throughout the Middle East have died or been made refugees since we have launched our undeclared wars in the region.
- Capital punishment.
- A health systems industry instead of a healthcare system designed to care for every American
- Environmental degradation, public health disasters and sacrificial zones for the fossil fuel industry.
- Funding cuts to mental health services.
- Poor and vulnerable populations shut out from basic government services.
- Food deserts.
- Storing our elders in warehouses to die when they become inconvenient.
- Weekly shootings in our schools, along with mass murders elsewhere, as in Colorado, Florida, South Carolina and many other places.
We have truly reached the end of our rope on this issue. We need leaders who will help us come together. It can no longer be a binary choice. Children or guns is not the question before us. We have many questions that we have, up to this point, ignored. Can we sit at the same table? Do we have the courage to say we are a culture of death? Are we courageous enough to explore why? Are we willing to make the tough choices that show we value life?
Right now, those leaders are not found in legislative bodies, governor mansions or the White House. Those leaders are the friends of the very children being shot down. Let’s follow the examples of our children. They have proven to be far wiser than the elected adults. The students get what the “honorables” don’t – if we don’t stop school shootings, we will have demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that we value profit over life. Our children will grow up knowing their lives just aren’t important.
We must do better. Adults are screaming at each other, when we should be talking. We are setting terrible examples for our children. No wonder they have concluded the only option is violence. We must put every potential solution on the table, regardless of how unpopular.
When Active Shooter Drills become routine exercises for school children – as they have – then we have clearly become a culture that does not value life. We are a culture of death. We needn’t look around anymore for leaders. They already exist. They are the students. We must lock elbows with them so strongly that the alliance can’t be defeated. We must all work to identify and address the root causes of our culture of death. Only then can we help turn our society into one that again values life – at all stages, in all circumstances.
Rallying with teachers, students and friends exhilarating and humbling
By Art Sherwood
RALEIGH – I stood in awe with teachers, students and friends this past Wednesday when tens of thousands of us delivered a very clear message to the North Carolina General Assembly – Public Schools Matter!
That is why I am seeking to serve the citizens of Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the State Senate. The teachers are right! The legislature must properly fund our public schools.
Under Democratic governors such as Terry Sandford and Jim Hunt, North Carolina earned a reputation as a leader in public education. I want to help Governor Cooper restore us to that status. Participating in the rally Wednesday was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. However, if given the chance to serve in the State Senate, I will have many opportunities to stand proudly in support of public schools for our region and all of North Carolina’s children – through votes that restore our schools to their once proud standing.
That is why I stood with:
Teachers, students and allies from Burke County.
Teachers, students and allies from Caldwell County.
A friend from church.
In short, a mass of humanity moving forward in support of public education.
I look forward to the opportunity to stand with them again, in the North Carolina State Senate.
Concern for students, not self, motivates teachers daily and will in Raleigh
By Art Sherwood
LENOIR, N.C. – I am standing in solidarity with the thousands of teachers expected to descend upon Raleigh on Wednesday. Here is why: When we need an expert medical opinion, we seek the best professional help we can. In short, we seek out a subject matter expert. Well, there is nobody more expert about the conditions faced by students in North Carolina’s public school classrooms than the teachers staffing those classrooms.
So, when they say it is time to march on the state capitol to be heard by the North Carolina General Assembly, they have my attention!
Do not let their detractors fool you. This isn’t about demanding money for themselves nearly as much as it is demanding appropriate funding for the students they teach.
The legislature has cut more than 7,000 instructional assistant positions. Imagine teaching a class of early grade students who need shoes tied, noses wiped, have bathroom accidents, crying episodes, come to school hungry, have varying learning styles and learn at different paces. Now imagine trying to keep these same children calm and on task to learn while tending to all those needs. That is just one example of what we expect of our teachers. They have the right to expect support in return.
The legislature lacks understanding about classroom management because few have set foot in a classroom since graduating from high school. People who attended school when the teacher stood in front of the class to teach while the students listened need to step into a classroom where every student’s needs are being met on an individual basis through centers and differentiation. In doing so, they will understand the need for proper class sizes and legislation that truly returns local control to the person most qualified to exercise it – the classroom teacher.
Those teachers need proper funding though. That isn’t the case, as North Carolina ranks 43rd in per-pupil spending nationally. Improving that ranking is a priority for teachers, as it should be. Underfunding our public education system is cheating our children.
Standardized testing is out of control. Teachers are beholden to legislators who have absolutely no experience in education and have hence created classroom environments where administrators, teachers and students are more concerned about teaching to a test than teaching critical thinking.
Meanwhile, Charter Schools divert funds intended for the public schools to entities not nearly as accountable as local school boards. They are often run by for-profit organizations that look at children as a commodity, not a student. So, money that should be reinvested in the public schools instead go into the pockets of the Charter School investors. In short, Charter Schools are essentially private schools funded with public dollars.
Finally, teachers are correct to ask for pay raises. As Kris Nordstrom with NC Policy Watch noted, “To truly determine the salary required to attract and retain talented candidates to the teaching field, the important measurement is how compensation compares in relation to alternative careers with similar educational requirements. That is, the salaries of North Carolina teachers are best compared against the salaries of other professionals in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree or higher. This metric avoids the weaknesses of traditional state rankings and is more aligned with the data a talented university student considers when deciding which profession to pursue.”
It is no wonder teachers are marching in Raleigh. The people they care most about – the children they teach – are being short-changed. And they’ve had enough of it. That is why I will be in Raleigh standing with teachers this Wednesday. And, it is the single-most important reason I am seeking to represent Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the N.C. State Senate. I want to stand with them and the children they serve in Raleigh every day.
Art Sherwood is the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 46, which includes the Appalachian counties of Avery, Burke and Caldwell in Western North Carorlina. Learn more here.
CIMA calls for gathering to send message of disapproval
Matthew 25:31-46 – “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Zechariah 7:8-10 – Do not oppress the alien.
Editor’s note: This is published so close to the event because the news release was just received this morning.
FLAT ROCK, N.C. – Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA) is calling on residents of Western North Carolina to peacefully gather at an outdoor celebration today at 11 a.m. that is being hosted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at The Park at Flat Rock at 55 Highland Golf Drive.
According to a news release from CIMA, “The community plans to gather to express their deep disapproval of this celebration after a week of devastating detentions and deportations led by the federal agency. Since this past Saturday morning, ICE agents stormed Latinx communities across Western North Carolina, leaving people traumatized and an estimated 25 people taken into custody.”
The statement added, “We are appalled that anyone would celebrate this recent ICE raid and the hundreds of people left reeling from this week,” said local organizer, Jay. “They have taken our community members, devastated families, and caused hundreds of people to stay locked inside their houses for days on end out of fear. We are grieving and they are celebrating.”
Bruno Hinojosa, CIMA Coordinator said, “This is such an insensitive and inhumane expression of celebration in the face of such deep community trauma. Witnessing this event is not meant to be a confrontation or direct action, but an opportunity to peacefully gather and demonstrate WNC’s collective pain and organized resistance. We will not confront or attack these people but merely show them there are real people on the other side of their actions. We do not find this horrific week worth celebrating.”
CIMA’s statement continued, “ICE agents have been detaining people driving through their neighborhoods; while visiting community health centers; and simply leaving for work in the morning. Organizers throughout the area have been working since the launch of this week’s ICE operation to ensure that people are aware of their rights; to connect families with legal representation; to provide support for their basic needs; and to quell reports and rumors of ICE activity. Still, the terror instilled by this latest wave of immigration detentions has left many families in hiding and classrooms full of empty seats.”
Want to know more?
According to the statement, “CIMA connects, strengthens and organizes communities to take action for immigrants’ rights in Western North Carolina. CIMA strives for inclusive communities with justice, freedom, and equality for all.” Additional information about today’s event can be found here .
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Don’t bitch; vote instead, then toast to your freedom
LENOIR, N.C. — Early (One-stop) voting started today in North Carolina. When I voted at about 2 in the afternoon in Lenoir at one of our county’s two early voting locations, about 75 people had voted. Two hours later when I went back to check the count, is was only about 85. While I await official numbers from the local Board of Elections office, it was reported to me that only about two dozen people had voted at the other early voting location in Granite Falls, in the densely populated southern end of the county.
These numbers are pathetic!
I have heard every excuse from people — still, after 2016 — in the last weeks as why they are not going to vote in the primary. I have yet to hear a good excuse. It’s simply a cop out. A lack of followership. Yes, that’s my new word. Not only do we suffer from a horrendous lack of political leadership, we have a lack of followership. Far too many people are still apathetic about a human right few have enjoyed throughout history.
But they don’t mind bitching. Allow me a quick digression to address that.
In the photo above where I am cheering my right to vote, I am also saluting my father, who would have been 92 today. He would have been the first in line to vote today. That’s only one of a million reasons I miss him. The other is what a friend had to say when I texted the photo to her: “He always told things as he saw them.”
So, true to his legacy, I have three words for the non-voters: Don’t bitch, vote! That’s what Dad would have said. So, cheers to him, and cheers to our right to vote!
Singer-songwriter Andrew Massey plants first yard sign for State Senate candidate
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – My favorite part of being the campaign director for Art Sherwood is getting to talk with people. (Those who know me won’t be surprised by that confession). One of my favorite people to hang with is Andrew Massey of Lenoir. Andrew is a singer-songwriter, a very close friend (as is his whole family), and the general age of our adult children.
And, he’s kind to me. I’m tone deaf. Couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But I gravitate to musicians like I’m a groupie. I love music. Want to learn everything I can. So Andrew tolerates me as he writes and records music in his home studio while we drink tea, talk about things I don’t understand about music, and enjoy his toddler son keeping us both on our toes.
Indeed, we often don’t talk politics. In that way, our conversations and time together is a good distraction from my work. But other times we do. He is a barometer for me. He lets me know what people his age think. He lets me know what musicians think. He lets me know what free thinkers think. And he is simply fun to be around.
And he is talented as he can be. He writes his own music for adults and children. He performs alone and with other, in particular with Sycamore Bones (and more here), which also includes Cory Kinal and Abigail Taylor.
Two years ago, he was an avid supporter of Art when he ran for the North Carolina State Senate in the old district that included Caldwell County. He lent his artistic talent in support of Art.
He’s doing it again in 2018, as Art seeks to represent the residents of Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the redrawn State Senate District 46 as the Democratic nominee. He has no primary.
Andrew’s most visible sign of that support was his decision to plant the first Art Sherwood campaign yard sign of the season in his front yard in downtown Lenoir. There’s a good reason for that. Art has been a vigorous supporter of the arts community his whole life and has embraced artisans and musician in the region.
The arts community is indispensable to all three counties. Not only does art play a vital role in speaking truth to power, but it also provides many jobs in the region. So, Andrew supports Art because Art is committed to ensure that the state of North Carolina provides proper funding to the arts.
Andrew and Art both represent the best of North Carolina values – independence, integrity and excellence. I hope you’ll join us and help send Art to Raleigh. Not only would the arts benefit. So would civility and common decency. And, if you’d like, call me and I’ll be happy to bring a yard sign to your house.
Party of Lincoln forgets that the VA was inspired by the 16th president
By Art Sherwood
LENOIR, N.C. – David Shulkin, who was fired by President Trump last week as head of the Veterans Administration (VA), told several national news outlets that he was fired because he stood in the way of efforts by Trump and the GOP to privatize the VA (read more at NPR and CBS).
While the VA was not established until 1930, it seems that the GOP has forgotten that the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, provided the foundational spirit of the VA as noted in the Mission Statement on the VA’s website: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”
While Trump’s removal of Shulkin is not surprising from the “You’re Fired!” president, privatization would be disastrous for the men and women served by the VA. Yet, it is consistent with the goals of the Republican Party. This is not a new agenda item. It’s been going on a long time. It is the “Starve the Beast” mentality. To ensure its failure, the GOP-led Congress intentionally underfunds the VA so performance is not where it should be. Then the agency and those running it – rather than Congress – are blamed for failures due to inadequate funding.
While the GOP may have forgotten Lincoln’s intentions, I have not. I worked with and for the VA for more than a decade. It was an honor to serve those who gave all for our country.
We have a sacred obligation to honor the mission of the VA and should not farm it out to profiteers who will put making money ahead of caring for our veterans. There are nearly one million veterans in North Carolina, making up over nine percent of our population. They deserve better than having their treatment transferred to a private provider looking to cut corners to increase profits.
The VA system is clearly better equipped and more knowledgeable about the needs and care of veterans than private providers scattered across the nation that have little or no experience dealing with the specialized care veterans need – and deserve. My experience in the largest VA hospital in the system in Houston showed me that the variety of comprehensive services that veterans get through the system could in no way be provided by private providers. The VA provides mental care and physical, comprehensive treatment of complex injuries such as those to the spinal cord. The VA’s knowledge and treatment of these injuries is among the best in the world.
To ensure its failure, the GOP-led Congress intentionally underfunds the VA so performance is not where it should be. Then the agency and those running it – rather than Congress – are blamed for failures due to inadequate funding.
Is the VA perfect? Of course not. But it does provide quality care. When the VA has appropriate stable leadership at the top that is committed to the mission of the VA, it succeeds. The employees are loyal civil servants who will follow leadership dedicated to the mission of the VA as articulated by President Lincoln following the Civil War. My personal experience is that when civil servants are given a fair chance to compete against the private sector, they win. They provide better, more efficient care. Still, we must remain vigilant. We should fix any problems that occur. It’s a large system, so of course it has potential for problems.
Additionally, let us not forget that the VA’s case load has increased dramatically in the last few decades because of the wars we are fighting around the world. It is now commonly agreed that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was precipitated on lies. We would have far less veterans to care for if we quit fighting unnecessary wars.
Also, the military deserves credit for improving its trauma care in battle zones. There are many more soldiers coming home alive than in previous wars. In addition, many veterans return home with the invisible wound of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This puts additional stress on already underfunded social and mental health services for our veterans. The VA is uniquely qualified to provide the required care – again, assuming it is properly funded.
Only the VA can provide the specialized, seamless care that these veterans deserve. In the rare cases where a veteran may live far away from the nearest VA hospital, a referral to a local provider might be necessary, but those are rare instances.
It is noteworthy, that as I talk to veterans in Caldwell County, that they’ve told me of the excellent care they have received at VA hospitals in the area, whether in Asheville, Salisbury or over the mountain in Tennessee. Their testimonies are encouraging. (There are also VA hospitals in Durham and Fayetteville, as well as Outpatient Clinics scattered across the state).
So, as a North Carolina State Senator, I will vigorously defend the VA and work closely with our congressional delegation to protect it and challenge them to properly fund the system. I will also challenge the GOP to quit the saber-rattling than can lead to only more young Americans dying and being maimed on foreign soil.
It is clear, that when it comes to waging wars and caring for those who do the actual fighting, the GOP’s hypocrisy knows no bounds.
We can do better. I will do better, given the opportunity. So, I would appreciate your vote in November. There are nearly a million veterans in North Carolina counting on the VA. Let’s not let them down.
Note: Art Sherwood is the Democratic candidate for North Carolina Senate District 46, which includes 3 Appalachian counties – Avery, Burke and Caldwell. I am serving as Campaign / Communications Director for him. Impartiality is no longer an option for me. While it’s not news, 2016 reminded us that elections matter. How we care for the poor and vulnerable, how we protect the sacred earth which sustains us, how we protect human rights, how we care for the alien among us, how we defend voting rights, and how we treat each other in the body politic and the “public square” of social media, requires that I choose a side. – MB