Friday, February 14, 2014

The pain of loving Kansas

I love Kansas. And the past couple of days that has been a painful thing to do.

I moved here in 6th grade, after years of moving around the county and world as an Army brat. At first I wasn’t excited about Kansas. I didn’t understand it. I knew as much about it as anyone else who makes the mind-numbing Wizard of Oz jokes. It was flat and boring. At a least a day’s drive to anywhere good.

Years went by and Kansas was where I remained. And slowly I began to appreciate it without realizing it. The vast and rolling (yes there are hills in Kansas) landscapes began to grow on me. The people were nice and fun. And they didn’t all drive tractors and wear overalls. And when you did pass a tractor or pickup on a gravel road, you exchanged finger waves. It’s how we say “Hi”. And if you get a flat tire on one of those roads where it seems like there isn’t anyone around for miles, you can be guaranteed that within 15 minutes a nice person- a Kansan- will stop and help you out.  And when I do want to get on a plane and visit the ocean, it only takes me three hours. Some may think we are in the middle of nowhere, but really we’re in the middle of everything.

And unfortunately, we are now in the middle of this horrible and hateful war on people. People. Fellow Kansans. Our neighbors and friends, sons and daughters. The people we see in restaurants. They are doctors, lawyers, middle managers, sanitation workers and teachers. They are Kansans. They drive on our streets and pay their taxes. They, like us, choose to live in a place with under-appreciated landscapes and a misunderstood way of life. Sure we are prone to look down on each other depending on whether they are a K-State Wildcat or KU Jayhawk (ROCK CHALK!). But if I’m in NYC or California and I see someone with a K-State shirt on, I claim them. Happily. They are a Kansan. Like me. And that is who this war is against. Not just the LGBT community. But Kansans. All Kansans.
Our state government has been taken over by extremists. They are not moderate Kansans. They, dare I say, are not even Kansans. Their drivers licenses may say Kansas. But they aren’t Kansans. If they were,  they wouldn’t take away the services that help our mentally disabled. They wouldn’t take away the social services that help the children of our great State. They wouldn’t pass and implement tax laws that don’t make any sense and place burdens on the backs of everyday Kansans that will soon be unbearable. They wouldn’t pass laws that say because “you don’t live  and believe like I do”, I will no longer serve you – in a restaurant or as a citizen. They wouldn’t be hurting Kansans. They’d be helping them.

Kansas gets enough grief from people outside of the state that don’t understand us. We all get asked “where’s Toto?”. But we can handle those asinine “flat as a pancake” and “you’re not in Kansas anymore” comments because those who say them don’t understand Kansas. They don’t understand the beauty of the Flint Hills or the unmitigated joy one gets in cheering on the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse. They don’t understand how great Free State Beer is and how good Yoder cinnamon rolls are. So, we forgive them, because they don’t get it.

But what we can’t forgive is the hatefulness that our elected officials are directing to the Kansans they are supposed to serve. If allowed to continue, the damage they are doing to Kansas will be incalculable.  We just won’t be the laughing stock of this country, we’ll be a cautionary tale. We won’t just lose fellow Kansans, who can’t in good conscience continue to raise their families in our state, but we’ll lose people who decided not move their businesses here. Why would they? They wouldn’t want to move their businesses to a state that has an underfunded education system and doesn’t value all of their citizenry. And what prospective employees would want to move somewhere that questions basic science and doesn’t understand the importance of separation of church and state.

Kansas was established in 1861 because we needed a place- a refuge- for people who believed in freedom for all. We built schools and libraries because we knew the importance of learning about things we didn’t understand.

These misguided extremists cannot have our state. It’s not theirs. It’s ours.