On Saturday, March 29th, the students from Warren Wilson working with Spirit in Action’s We the People project went out into several trailer parks of Swannanoa, North Carolina. to listen to the folks who lived there. It was a rainy and muddy day, but students came prepared for door-knocking. Although nervous, soon into the interviews most were excited. Even the residents who said “no” usually had a good excuse (most were going to work) and were very friendly. No slammed doors in the students faces
How many conversations did the students wind up having? What sorts of questions did they ask?
Given the chance to talk, community members brought up topics that ranged from education, the fact that minimum wage was not enough to live off, lack of jobs, affordable housing, and especially the minimal bus system and lack of public transportation. When it came to voting, several people said that it did no good to vote.
Residents of Swannanoa described having to work two or three jobs. We learned that even people with college degrees could not make it in today’s economy.
One woman, educated as a pre-school teacher said “It’s sad when I can make more money cleaning your houses, than I can make teaching your children”.
There are no sidewalks along the main road in Swannanoa and one man was arrested carrying groceries while walking down the side of the highway. Another was questioned by police and accused of “loitering” while waiting at the bus stop – sometimes a 2-hour wait – as the bus only runs three times a day.
Others talked about lack of services for homeless, substance abuse and some brought up racism.
Despite people’s concerns, they loved their community, describing it as beautiful, friendly, supportive and peaceful.
Students were invited to “come back” by some residents, and we were surprised at how many people signed up to stay involved.
After the community visits, students debriefed on the day, and reflected on their feelings about poor and working class whites at the beginning of the class until now. Many were surprised at how nice people were to them as strangers at their door (including the students of color), and how open people were to having conversations. Even residents who couldn’t talk at the time asked students to “come back another time” and meant it! Some interviews even ended with hugs!
And some of the residents were politically savvy in a way different than students had expected. One man asked students all about state politics, and lectured them on not knowing enough, telling them they should listen to Revolution Radio, a local progressive radio station from Asheville.