I love this photo of a barn in a field with an American flag hanging from it.
I love it because this is how presidential candidates, their advisors, and the media tend to see those of us who live in the middle of the United States.
To them, we are all Ford Trucks, cherry pies, a cookout with s’mores, and kids getting off school buses with bright backpacks. We’re rugged. We wear denim shirts over our beer guts and baseball hats supporting our favorite sports teams. Hardy and sturdy, we have strong muscles for operating John Deer tractors and and building things. We’re farmers, with wives who wear aprons while they fix dinner. We go to church on Sundays. We get teary-eyed at weddings. And people think we always stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
The backbone of the country. Salt of the earth. God-fearing, flag-waving, honest to goodness true Americans.
And we always vote for the blandest candidates in the land because the conventional wisdom is that we are afraid of change.
Stop patronizing us as the American ideal. We are so much more than the fabled heartland.
The fact is, the Midwest is diverse, complex, and smart. Stop underestimating us.
For all the Norman Rockwellness we represent in this country, our reality is far from the idyllic scenes of the so-called American life. We are so many things, and occasionally we are stereotypical midwesterners. To try to label us as simple and worse, simple-minded is simply putting an entire swath of the country into a box.
Our history and our people indicate we are smart, resilient, and creative. We want that from our leaders. We are not content with the status quo. We challenge it.
This is Who We Are in the Midwest
The Midwest is the home of historic innovation. Some of the most enduring inventions were created in the middle of the country. A couple of brothers from Ohio, the Wright brothers took flight with their flying contraption. The automobile was first constructed just outside of Detroit in a little town called Flint. Thomas Edison, Les Paul and Neil Armstrong are among our innovators.
Social movements were made in the Midwest. The automobile changed American life, just as auto workers stood up to oppression to form the United Auto Workers union. The creation of the Fair Housing Act was a result of Chicago’s Open Housing Movement. Tom Hayden starting the Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Michigan after writing the Port Huron Statement. The feminist movement has roots in the Midwest. Betty Friedan, an author from Peoria, Illinois, wrote the groundbreaking Feminine Mystique. Fellow feminist Gloria Steinam is from Toledo.
Our artists are fearless groundbreakers. Frank Lloyd Wright, Walt Disney, Georgia O’Keefe, Miles Davis, Kurt Vonnegut, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Motown — all native to the Midwest.
Diversity isn’t just a coastal thing y’all. Non-midwesterners would do well to remember history and the Great Migration of the 20th century to the northern middle section of the country. Major cities like Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul and more are brimming with people of every nationality, race, gender, and belief. The Midwest is home to the largest Muslim American population in the country — say hello to Dearborn, Michigan.
The Midwest isn’t just the section of the country that wants business as usual. We call bullshit when we see it. We want authenticity, not spin. We want the change that’s going to protect future generations, that’s going to be based on equality, that celebrates differences. Nearly every aspect of the history of the people, places, and ideas of the Midwest is about pushing forward, not backward.
That’s not a centrist ideal. It’s the real American ideal.
Give Us Candidates We Can Believe In
Whenever political pundits are on television, espousing the same old narratives about the middle of the country being centrists, I sigh. It’s a tired trope of America.
Right now in this country and here in the Midwest, we know there has to be bold ideas to move us forward. People have little to no money saved. Jobs are scarce, and they don’t pay what they use to since union membership has been on the decline in recent years. The opioid crisis claims lives every day. Our immediate families are more diverse than ever, with many families headed by single parents, or women who are now the breadwinners. We embrace our LGBTQ friends and family members. We worry about our kids getting shot while they’re at school.
In election, the term “values” is thrown around as if that must be a euphemism for old-fashioned ideas. Our values have changed, but we still value our family, our beliefs, and our passions. Why is it so hard to find politicians who are a true, unapologetic reflection of all of present day America?
The 2020 Presidential Election is a chance for the voters to control the narrative, not the pundits or the politics. It is incumbent upon all of us to get involved and help elect candidates that are truly representative of our communities and values. We no longer have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and listening to the television tell us which candidates they think we will vote for in the election.
As history has shown us, we must rise up, raise our voices, and move this country forward. It’s the Midwestern way.
Our message to candidates is that you are on notice. Get innovative, be authentic, and don’t play us. We’re not playing. There’s too much at stake.