FAIRMONT – For some of its members, helping people out of homelessness drives them. For others, it’s LGBT rights and, for others still, it’s concern over the large numbers of people who leave West Virginia each year.
Regardless of which issue drives members of Marion County Can’t Wait, its leaders want everyone to know there is a seat at the table for every issue to be heard.
“I’ve lived in West Virginia my whole life, and I want to be able to stay here without feeling like my voice is never being heard,” said Anna Hicks, county captain for the group, which launched last December as part of West Virginia Can’t Wait, an offshoot of the Stephen Smith democratic gubernatorial campaign.
Hicks said while Marion County Can’t Wait is an outgrowth of Smith’s campaign for governor, the group’s purpose will live on after the 2020 votes are cast – regardless of who moves into the Governor’s Mansion in Charleston.
“Even though Marion County Can’t Wait is part of the West Virginia Can’t Wait movement that was started by Stephen, we are not “Marion County Can’t Wait to Elect Stephen Smith.” We are affiliated with progressive politics, but at our core, we are a community action group that is trying to bring the power back to the people of Marion County,” Hicks said.
At about 20 members strong, Marion County Can’t Wait does what many political groups do, but with a twist. They use social action to connect with those who may not be usually included in the political process.
“We’re just getting started, but already we’ve completed two service projects to reach out to people experiencing homelessness in our community and [we] have at least one person running for House of Delegates who has signed the West Virginia Can’t Wait Candidate Pledge,” Hicks said.
By signing the pledge, W.Va. Can’t Wait candidates agree to not accept corporate donations and to hold regular in-person town halls with constituents.
For Mike White, his job as a social worker drives a lot of his involvement in Marion County Can’t Wait. He said it’s his work with the homeless that opened his eyes to how many people feel they do not have any power in West Virginia.
“As a social worker, I work in so many broken systems in our state – the foster care system, the health care system. But I can also see change immediately – I’ve seen people die while living outdoors,” White said.
White is also a part of Social Workers Can’t Wait, which is working on draft legislation to protect the professional requirements of the field. Statewide, there are 36 different constituency groups, he said. However, that number could grow if more people wish to find their power.
“Come to our first meeting and let’s find a place for you,” White said. “We want people to be a part in a capacity they’re passionate about. We want to help people build on the strengths they have.”
Entrepreneur Kate Greene said one of the issues driving her to take part in Marion County Can’t Wait is the residential flight from West Virginia.
“If we start unpacking the quality of life and social justice issues that drive folks away (and keep them from moving here or coming home), we’ll find that our problems, while deep-rooted and systemic, can be turned around,” Greene said. “But we need to think bigger and more holistically, we need to value ourselves more, expect more and we need to take action.”
Like White, Greene sees the result of years of West Virginians feeling powerless in her role as owner of Mountain Town Strategies, a consulting business.
“W.Va. Can’t Wait is focused on creating 1,000 leaders – not just one. It’s designed to empower individuals and communities of people to advocate for themselves and the change they want to see. The plan for sustainability is baked into the grassroots design of the movement,” Greene said.