Gubernatorial candidate under the statewide West Virginia Can’t Wait movement, Stephen Smith, will be in Huntington Tuesday evening with the movement’s Cabell County Can’t Wait volunteer team. Participating in one-on-one conversations with locals, fundraising and planning for coming months are all aspects of the movement’s Summer of 10,000 Conversations Tour.
Smith and the Cabell County volunteer team, along with Dakota Nelson, a Democrat running under the movement in Huntington’s House District 16, will conduct conversations with concerned wage workers, residents in recovery, students and others who wish to attend the public event.
The Smith campaign plans to record each of the roughly 10,000 face-to-face conversations it estimates to participate in throughout the summer during its second 55-county tour of the state since last November. Some conversations will be recorded on paper and some using an application called ‘Reach,’ with the goal of including each participant’s opinions and values in the creation of the movement’s platform set to be ratified this November.
“We have a candidate ready to listen to us—actual people, here in our communities,” Nelson said. “That’s why Tuesday, we hope to see you there, and Stephen hopes to hear […] about your concerns and ambitions for the state of West Virginia.”
Nelson said the systematic effect of such a populist, working-class-oriented movement is one of “mass empowerment.”
“What we are seeing is a campaign machine built by the working class of West Virginia that is made up of all the intersections of political and socioeconomic identities,” he said.
Nelson said he believes the West Virginia Can’t Wait movement could be influential in finding a cure for the state’s issues with industrial wealth extraction by significantly transforming its political power structure in favor of everyday community members.
“We’re doing more than 10,000 face-to-face, one-on-one conversations with West Virginians this summer,” Smith said. “My job—any candidate’s job—is not to speak for the people of West Virginia. My job is to be led by them. That’s why we’re starting with listening.”
Katey Lauer, Smith for West Virginia campaign manager, said the Summer of 10,000 Conversations is a way for the movement to address the most pressing issues faced by typical West Virginians in a time when doing so has become increasingly rare for politicians.
“‘Good Old Boy’ politicians treat voters like we’re stupid,” Lauer said. “They lie, they pander, they poll and mostly, they attack their opponents as a way to avoid the hard work of actually addressing the emergencies our state is facing.”
Lauer said she believes West Virginian voters have grown tired of politicians using citizens for their own political gain while only feigning sincerity toward constituents’ best interests.
“We don’t need sales pitches; we need solutions,” Lauer said. “That’s why we’re starting with West Virginians. The people closest to a problem are often the ones who know the most about how to solve it.”
The event is open to the public and will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Black Sheep Burrito and Brews.
Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]