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Life in Rural Pennsylvania


I used to write a lot here about life in rural Pennsylvania, back when my wife taught out there and so I had the “honor” of spending time in this place. Well, it was Clarion where she lived and the politics of this place are so toxic right-wing now that the AP is covering it.

At one of Fetterman’s weekend stops in rural Clarion, a group of voters said they’ve been effectively ostracized by their community — and even family members, in some cases — for being Democrats. One woman brings her political signs inside at night so they aren’t vandalized or stolen.

“You have to be careful around here,” said Barbara Speer, 68, a retired sixth grade teacher.

Nearby, Michelle’s Cafe on Clarion’s main street is one of the few gathering points for local Democrats. A sign on the door proclaims support for Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights and other progressive priorities.

But the cafe owner, 33-year-old Kaitlyn Nevel, isn’t comfortable sharing her political affiliation when asked.

“I would rather not say, just because it’s a small town,” she said.

One patron, 22-year-old college student Eugenia Barboza, said the cafe is one of the few places in town she feels safe as a Latina immigrant. Just down the road, she said, a caravan of Trump supporters met up to drive to the deadly protests in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

Barboza said she’s grateful that Democrats like Fetterman are willing to come to rural areas, but she isn’t hopeful that it’ll change much.

“It would take a lot more than just him,” she said. “It would take years and years and years.”

Michelle’s Cafe is the single space spot for liberals in that town and it’s pretty good (I recommend the chicken salad on a bagel with the soup of the day), but it’s also cash only which almost makes me want to go to hang out with racists. But in all seriousness, that place is patronized by whichever college students identify as liberal (especially if they are nonbinary or queer), the professors, and the few other oddballs who believe that fascism is bad and democracy is good.

I was out there in the fall of 2016. On a farm just outside of town, a guy had a homemade sign. It read “TRUMP–VOTE FOR BALLS.” That says basically everything. I wanted to take a picture, but figured getting shot probably wasn’t worth it. This is also a place where I saw a sign for a little farm food stand and was in the process of pulling over to buy some yummy stuff when I saw the giant Confederate flag flying over the stand.

I have no idea what you do about places like this. But the AP article really misses the point by talking about the Democratic “brand.” The problem is that rural America has turned full fascist. Branding ain’t going to do anything to change that. It’s a values issue, it’s a Fox News issue, and it’s a feedback loop issue since when you are in rural America you never, and I mean NEVER, see any sign for Democrats, whether you are in Kansas, Idaho, South Carolina, or Pennsylvania. So lots of these people don’t even know anyone anymore who votes for Democrats. In Clarion itself, you’ll see a few. Not many, but a few. Outside of town? Forget about it.

……..This is also a good time for us to remember the immigrants who end up in places like rural PA and how they manage. We knew some Guatemalans in Clarion and they pretty much lived under the radar but it had to be so, so lonely for them. Of course, they later moved to the DC area too. Even they are getting the hell out of there! But this also reminded me of this very good taco truck on a rural I-80 rest stop that made me laugh and laugh.

I’ve long wondered how the locals responded to this.

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