Thursday, July 16, 2015

Leaving the South

After reading this interesting perspective a few days ago, I thought about sending it out to "Y'all"....but didn't.   Maybe it is too complicated or inappropriate for those who I left behind when I moved from Georgia back to California.   However, leaving my own (our own), feelings out of it, it does present a situation where one real Southerner struggles with the sense of self-identity and the movement to find something other than the current situation.  This is not a "song of the South" or any other hidden agenda, but it does reveal one person's struggle:

I've come to the painful decision that in order to preserve my life, I must leave the land that I love. I was born in Mississippi, grew up in Virginia, and lived most of my adult life in South Carolina; all beautiful places with amazing people, all governed by the forces of banal evil. I don't want to live in a place where the state's attitude toward the poor is "Let them die." I am a poor person; I fell through the cracks. I don't want to work at a low-wage job while struggling to survive until my early death from some easily preventable ailment. I love the South, but I give up. I'm leaving. The red states are death states for so many people. I won't be the last refugee. Nearly half the American poor live in the South. But I won't live to work towards solving these problems unless I can get health care. So I'm setting out with a suitcase towards the hope of a better future in a blue state.

I have a master's degree in counseling, and I'm particularly good with teenagers. For ten years I had a decent career, although counselors aren't paid much. Then the economy tanked and social services were cut. I lost my job. Then another job. Nobody was hiring counselors; I got an hourly wage job. Lost my health insurance, lost my car, lost everything. I went into default on my student loans.

Things began to pick up for counselors, but there was a new question on applications: are you in default on your student loans? South Carolina and a few other red states passed a law saying that such persons cannot be hired by any agency receiving state funding, which for me and my degree, is nearly all the jobs here. Getting out of default would be feasible if I had a professional job, but on $8 an hour? No way. As a single person with no family, meager survival is nearly possible on that low of a wage.

I realized I was trapped. I read a book called Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much(Mullainathan and Shafir) in which the authors explain the effects of scarcity on the brain. I understood my thought process has been impaired by my struggle to survive in poverty for so many years. There are 45 million Americans struggling to survive just like me. Being stuck in poverty isn't about morals or character. It isn't about family structure or some "culture" of poverty. And it certainly isn't about being lazy or stupid. Most poor people are smart, hard-working, decent, kind, compassionate people. They are creative and innovative in solving their problems and creating beauty and ritual in their lives. They care for their children, disabled, and seniors with tenderness and love; they play music and write poetry and make art. They put up with a lot of bullshit from the public on a daily basis at their crappy low-wage jobs, but keep on smiling and telling you to have a great day. They take a lot of Advil and supplements in order to make up for the fact that they have little to no health care. They die sooner because of their struggle; even sooner if they live under Republican rule.

I began to think that in order to preserve my health and sanity, to use my degree in community counseling and be productive, to have a better life, I might have to leave the South.Unthinkable. I don't know anyone outside the South. I lived in California and Oregon in 1997-99. I had to come home. But I loved it there.

I turned to my online community for help, writing a diary called "Advice from my elders?" and I got excellent feedback. There was definitely consensus that I should leave. There was great practical advice that got me researching and making lists, and links to resources about student loan default, which is not as bad as I had thought, and ideas about housing such as intentional communities. As I became active with a goal and a direction, my mental fog began to lift.

I especially appreciated the Kossacks who shared their personal stories of picking up and leaving with the hope of a better future. They let me know that the problem isn't in me; I'm not defective. It's not that I lack ability or intelligence or drive, it's the system here that is broken, shutting me out at every turn, keeping me down. Nobody sells all of their belongings and says good-bye to their friends and sets out for the unknown without being in a desperate situation. I am in a desperate situation, and I will not wait for it to get worse, because I know it will. Others are trapped here, but I can't help them from inside. I have to get out.

With fresh hope and determination I began to develop a plan. After many lists and searches, I settled on Eugene, Oregon. I could write for pages about how awesome Eugene is, but the relevant points are that Oregon is a deep blue state, they are nice to their poor people, it's about the right size, and the fifth-best bicycling city in the US. It looks like a good fit for me personally and I've been there before. I wanted to stay closer, but you have to go so far to get out of the South that I might as well go back to where I felt at home, where I didn't want to leave and have always wanted to go back. For sixteen years I have been dreaming about Oregon. I'm going back, and I feel so free.

I think I can fly for about $300, and I'll ship a few boxes, but I'm going to be starting over completely fresh. I'm selling my few belongings of small value to raise a little more. I will arrive in Oregon with nothing. From what I'm seeing on Craigslist, I should be able to find a cheap room and low-wage job fairly quickly. I'm sending out resumes for professional jobs, but that kind of job search takes a while, and even if I am a cashier in Oregon, I'm still better off because I can have Medicaid. It is a risk, and I am scared. Very, very scared. But I am more scared of not changing my life. I must live. The South is killing me.

If you live in Eugene, send me a message! I could use some contacts on the ground and advice on practical details. I promise I'm going to be an asset to your community in every way that I can think of.

If you'd like to help but aren't lucky enough to live in Eugene, I have a GoFundMe here: hereand I have a PayPal account, email and select "Send to Family & Friends." Even if you only have five dollars, well, to me that is a lot of money. To many Americans, $5 is a lot of money. Every little bit really does help and will be very much appreciated!

I'm going to keep writing about my journey and my challenges and triumphs, if any, along the way. I value your advice and feedback so very much, and I am deeply grateful to be a part of the community here. There aren't enough words to say thank you, but, as always, thanks for reading!


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