For most people, kayaking on the Potomac is a leisure activity. For us, it was a desperate attempt to have our voices heard. We left our families and jobs in West Virginia to travel to DC in order to make sure Senator Manchin heard loud and clear from his constituents: it’s time to pass the Build Back Better Act. It just so happens that one of the only ways to get Senator Manchin’s attention is to launch a flotilla of boats around his yacht, where he lives when in DC.
We’re proud to be West Virginians, and we’re proud to be “kayaktavists”, as our effort was called. What we’re not proud of is how Senator Manchin is putting big money interests over the needs of West Virginians and working-class people across the country.
After days of protesting on the water outside his yacht, we finally got Manchinto agree to sit down with us. And we stand by what we told him: he needs to pass the full reconciliation bill. It’s time to put the interests of working-class people first. For people like us, investments like an expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), paid family medical leave and childcare subsidies are a matter of life or death.
Angi told him about her life as a young mother, working three jobs, barely seeing her kids and still needing to use food pantries. Loretta described a mom who was able to keep the lights on only because the CTC hit her bank account just in time. She explained that CTC work requirements punish children and hurt parents who can’t afford to pay for childcare to go to low-wage jobs.
Our friend Zachary Fancher told the senator about how he was denied loans and grants to finish his schooling and how free community college would help young people get good jobs and slow the rate of exodus from the state, which is the highest in the country. Katonya Hart told Manchin about her struggles to assist elderly neighbors who cannot afford home care and about others attempting to perform their own medical and dental care.
West Virginians also know better than anyone that the fossil fuel industry is dying. We’re bleeding jobs, and the Build Back Better Act is a prime opportunity for us to use federal dollars to move from the fossil fuel past into the clean energy future the world is already shifting to. We would rather have thousands of good union jobs than continue sending billions of our tax dollars to fossil fuel companies.
The senator expressed concern that West Virginians will have an “entitlement mentality.” Well, our children are entitled to food, clean air and clean water. Our seniors and disabled community members are entitled to dignified home care, parents are entitled to stay home with sick kids and we all are entitled to healthcare, including vision, dental and hearing. Or at least we should be.
We’d like to know why our senator is one of just two Democratic members of Congress keeping these necessities from us – especially when they’re fully funded by taxing the rich.
This is what Manchin can’t see from his yacht: West Virginians are working hard to make ends meet, and we’re still struggling. The rich are getting richer, buying yachts and airplanes, while working-class people like us barely get by.
West Virginians know that we need this investment: whether or not the senator acknowledges the polls, a bipartisan majority of us, nearly 80% of West Virginians, want Congress to pass the full Build Back Better agenda.
Give our communities good jobs, better healthcare, healthy environments, higher education, childcare, and watch what we’ll achieve.
We’re done being ignored by our own senator. We’re done being told by our senator that we want too much for our children, for our neighbors, for our communities. West Virginia deserves a senator who will fight to invest in our working-class people, not protect the interests of the wealthy elite. It might have taken several days sitting in kayaks in DC to get Senator Manchin to acknowledge us, but we’re not going away until West Virginians have their voices heard: we want to Build Back Better.
Angi Kerns is an organizer with Young West Virginia and Loretta Young is executive director of Race Matters West Virginia. Both authors took to the waters last week alongside numerous West Virginians, CPD Action and Greenpeace USA