Updated: Mar 15, 2020
By: Brittney Barlett, Candidate for House of Delegates, 46th District
Posted: February 26, 2020 | 07:40PM EST
It was a snowy day in the early spring of 2019 when I first attended a West Virginia Can’t Wait event. I was tired and sweaty from coaching tennis and grumpy from a lack of food. I was also fully prepared to hate this Stephen Smith guy that everyone was buzzing about, and he was about to be the target of my hangry attitude. Arms crossed and eyes ready to roll frequently, it was time to go to this town hall.
I’ve been told so many times, by so many people, that they are the answer. Change is coming! The future is bright! Just vote for this one person, and everything will magically become perfect! I’m sick of it. My neighbors are sick of it. My students don’t believe it and neither do my retired friends. Everyone is disenfranchised and tired of being lied to. I came into this town hall ready to disbelieve and ready to hate this whole movement.
I walked into a familiar community building and was greeted by a few strange women who smiled entirely too much for my current mood, and who insisted I wear a nametag like a toddler on the first day of school. As I took a seat next to a hairy man who gave me a disbelieving once-over – a man I would later know and love as Ryan Frankenberry, chair of the WV chapter of the Working Families Party – a tall, young, energetic man saw me enter and made his way towards me.
Let me clarify here – I wasn’t joking when I said I was sweaty. I was wearing an old sweatshirt, ill-fitting jeans I threw on over my leggings to combat the cold, and tennis shoes with holes in them. I smelled entirely too much of tennis balls and racquet grips, and my face and hair were covered in a salty sheen. It wasn’t the best way to present myself to the next governor of my state.
But Stephen Smith strode up with an outstretched hand, wearing the classic whole-face smile he is always sporting, and said, “Hello! I’m Stephen Smith and I’m running for governor and I heard you might be running for the House of Delegates.” His eyes twinkled conspiratorially as he waited for my response.
Way to put me on the spot, man! After a moment of shock, I stuttered out a maybe and he immediately bsaid, “No pressure, I just want to help you if you do decide to run, okay?”
Wow. That was even more of a shock. Help me? Can’t he smell me? Can’t he see I’m wearing a sweatshirt with holes in it, jeans that don’t fit, dark circles under my eyes from stress? Can’t he tell I can barely answer the question, let alone articulate a thought intelligent enough to be shared on the House floor? How could the campaign of a hot mess like me possibly benefit their campaign? What’s in it for him?
I pondered these questions as he handed me his card. We agreed to talk later that week via phone call and I sat down to endure the rest of the town hall.
I was still fully prepared to hate him, but then he spoke. He spoke to me. He spoke to my neighbors. He spoke to my students. He spoke to all of West Virginia, the state I fight for and cry over, the people who give their last cent to help a stranger, the land I’ve watched others be jailed for protecting. And every single word of it rang true to my core. I watched friends and prominent community members I respect nodding along and hanging on every word just as I was and I knew then that this movement was the real deal.
West Virginia Can’t Wait isn’t about Stephen Smith, or me, or any of the other 83 candidates. It’s about 11,000 conversations face-to-face with fellow West Virginians. It’s about 32 policies written by fellow West Virginians. It’s about 10% of all of the small-dollar donations Smith is receiving going towards acts that will actually benefit West Virginians.
The bottom line is that West Virginia Can’t Wait is about West Virginians. All of us. You don’t need to be a specific political party, you just need to be ready for true and lasting change. Every West Virginian is invited in, and every West Virginian is considered in his plans. And if you think you have a better idea, Stephen would tell you to send him an email (email@example.com) to set up a time to talk.
Even before I had my own call with Stephen Smith after our first meeting I knew what my answer would be. Of course I would run, and of course I would sign the WV Can’t Wait pledge not to take corporate money, not to hide from a debate, and not to cross a picket line. I didn’t sign it because I fell in love with Stephen’s campaign, I signed it because I would never have done those things anyways. And that sort of genuine conviction is what comprises this incredible, massive team of change makers.
So this sweaty, stinky hot mess joined WV Can’t Wait as an early candidate and I’ve since spent countless hours with Stephen, his team, and others who support his bold ideas and dauntless leadership. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, a thing I’ve actually grown to love. I’ve met people I never would have met, learned things I never would have learned, and found out that when doing real, meaningful work, you cry a lot more than you used to.
I’ve also learned that hate is ugly and small and will only earn itself this tiny sentence in this article because love is greater.
And I’ve learned honesty and transparency are very important to people, and pretending Stephen is perfect would be disingenuous. For instance, Stephen has horrendous taste in music. His driving skills are nothing to write home about. He bites his nails. Some people think his pants are too skinny. He says “um” so often that my speech teacher from high school would have fallen out of her chair. And I’m 85% sure his son is going to be an evil genius.
But this man, this team, and these candidates will keep fighting for you, flaws and all. We will be back out there the day after the election, win or lose, to keep working one day at a time towards a future that works for all of us and a government that is accountable to its citizens. Change WILL happen if we all believe in it, and I’m here telling you that now is the time to believe.
Join the movement at wvcantwait.com or send a text to 304-997-4628 if you’d like to talk to me about how you can get involved!
Contact Brittney Barlett Candidate for House of Delegates, 46th District Buckhannon-Upshur High School Teacher Barlett2020@gmail.com