I've been on the phone with the mayor and a city councilor this week, and it's made me miss journalism.
Mark Estepp, 50, of Lexington, Ky, found escape in gaming as a child. Now raising his own children, he uses gaming to parent.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky.
Wednesday, Gov. Matt Bevin unveiled a new plan that he says will save Kentucky’s debt-laden pension system.
“This plan requires us to not kick the can down the road,” he said in a press conference, according to a video posted on his website. “It requires us to fund the actual amount every single year for the next 30 years. That’s how it’s going to get paid for.”
The plan would transition teachers from pension retirement plans into 401(k) plans.
Bowling Green Independent School District superintendent Gary Fields said this move would have a huge toll on the school district.
While current employees would continue in the pension system until 27 years of teaching, teachers looking to work beyond those 27 years would not be able to accrue the benefits available in the current system after 2023.
Fields said this effectively forces teachers in to retirement after 27 years.
According to his count, if all BGISD staff up for retirement take the option in 2023, one in four teachers will retire.
Tara Coomes, science teacher at Bowling Green High School said if the plan went into effect she would retire at 27 years.
“I love my job and I have planned to work past 27 years,” she said,” but I have to have money to pay the bills and send my own children to college.”
Additionally, Fields said, without pensions or higher pay, young people will not want to go into teaching in this state.
“It’s already a tough sell,” he said. “And this plan will make it a tougher sell.”
Coomes voiced similar concerns that the plan will create a lack of qualified and willing educators.
“There go all the 37 year teachers, all the mentors, all the older teachers full of passion who get better every year,” she said.
Coomes said that she is afraid for the future of Kentucky schools.
“Even if you’re not a teacher, this effects you,” Coomes said. “Your kids go to school. These graduates will work for you one day. Do you want them in schools with 45-student classes or no AP programs?”
Several times at the press conference, Bevin said his plan should make teachers happy.
"If you are a retiree, if you are working to be a retiree at some point, you should be rejoicing,” Bevin said.
However, Coomes said the plan has her colleagues less than optimistic.
“I have not talked to a single administrator or teacher who likes this idea,” she said. “I can’t imagine why he would do this. Bevin acts like he is for the teachers. This plan is not for the teachers.”
BOWING GREEN, Ky.
As passerby hustled about their days, Walter Wilkerson, 77, sat with his thoughts in the crisp September air.
Wilkerson, of Adolphus, who boasted of long southern lineage, said he believed the removal of confederate monuments was the unacceptable.
“Leave them alone,” he said, as he adjusted his Vietnam veteran baseball cap, “Just because off-color people are offended doesn’t stop them from being history.”
After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, defending a confederate monument became notional news, the overlapping issues of race, Southern identity, and white supremacy have come into the national spotlight.
The echoes of these events have reached Kentucky, where, according to the National Park Service’s website, there are over 50 confederate monuments.
Although Gov. Matt Bevin firmly disagrees with removing Confederate symbols and monuments, many cities including Lexington have begun the process of removal.
Bowling Green police officer Wade Hughes, 40, said the statues should be seen as a reminder of bad times the country has survived, not as honoring the men they depict.
“Slavery was a very dark time. I 1,000 percent disagree with it,” he said as he rested his hand near the gun strapped to his side, “but we can’t pretend it never happened.”
Although Hughes sees the statues as grim reminders to be avoided, others disagree.
Michelle Jones, who was attending a local Fall Festival in Bowling Green, said the statues are obviously intended to honor the confederacy.
“You don’t honor someone like that, someone filled with hate,” Jones, 49, said, as she waited while her daughter got her face painted. As a self-identifying African American mother, Jones said she will be happy to see confederate monuments gone.
Another mother, Renee Hulsey, 34, said she doesn’t want kids to be taught to erase history.
“It has become a race issue,” Hulsey of Bowling Green said, “But if we start taking down everything they find offensive, what’s going to be left?”
Hulsey, sighing, said that black people find the statues a tangible thing they can attack after mistakenly feeling targeted by the police.
Although Hulsey, a white woman, said the removal is not a race issue, an August 2017 Quinnipiac University national poll found that white voters oppose removal 57 percent while 67 percent of black voters support it.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kentucky has nearly 20 white nationalist groups. However, Bowling Green computer technician Matt Folker does not see these groups as a threat.
“There could not have been more than 15 white nationalists in Charlottesville,” Folker, 33, said. “The media is making this up give them ammunition against republicans.”
Reuters and multiple local reports put the number of white supremacists at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally between 250 and 400.
Although white nationalist organizations are fighting against the removal of statues in Kentucky, many other Kentuckians disagree with the removal for other reasons.
Scoffing at the efforts for removal, Cameron Hagin, 19, of Bowling Green, said the white nationalists have it all wrong.
“The confederacy wasn’t about slavery, it was about regional pride,” he said.
As for African Americans who see the monuments as offensive he says, “Well, were you ever a slave? Then stop being offended.”
A protester points to the word “Fascist” on his sign while a Trump supporter fakes tears in response from inside a restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue. Demonstrators shouted and pressed signs against this window while those inside sipped champagne and watched. This continued until a woman got up and closed the blinds.
“I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear—“ With these words, the 45th President of the United States began the oath of office.
As President-Elect Trump’s voice boomed from speakers along Pennsylvania Avenue, a chant began to drown out his voice:
“The people united will never be defeated!”
“That I will faithfully execute,” Trump’s disembodied voice continued.
“THE PEOPLE UNITED,” demonstrators roared back.
“The office of President of the United States.”
“WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED!”
This was just one of many chants ringing out along the inauguration parade route in Washington D.C. Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Thousands of demonstrators filled up Navy Memorial Plaza, overflowing to sidewalks from 7th to 9th St. on Pennsylvania Avenue. The anti-Trump protest was organized by the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition.
Despite chilly temperatures and intermittent rain, protesters chanted and waved signs for hours before and after the inauguration.
A series of musicians and speakers took the mic, advocating for the rights of workers, immigrants, people of color, and members of the LGTBQIA community. One speaker, Greg Capillo from Lexington, Ky., represented the Kentucky Workers League. Capillo’s speech reminded demonstrators that resistance is not limited to big cities like D.C.
“Folks in Kentucky […] have a proud history of resistance,” Capillo said, “The organizers who are heirs to this tradition must love the people better than our politicians. We must serve the people and organize them to fight the power that we can plainly see exists only to exploit and steal from us.”
Walter Smolarek of the ANSWER Coalition gave an estimate of 5,000 protesters at Navy Memorial Plaza.
One protester, Angela Orend, 43, traveled from Louisville, Ky. to attend the demonstration. Orend is an adjunct sociology professor at the University of Louisville. "I teach about how to resist oppression," she said, "And I have a responsibility to demonstrate that resistance for my students."
The ANSWER Coalition protest was just one of many demonstrations throughout D.C. on inauguration day. While this protest was under way, thousands of demonstrators made their voices heard outside the fences and security checkpoints surrounding the Washington Convention Center and the parade route.
Will Hudgins raises his voice and his snack during the ANSWER Coalition inaugural protest in Washington D.C. Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Hudgins traveled from Seguin, Texas with his wife Daisy Luviano and their 13-month-old daughter Azelia to protest Donald Trump’s policies on education and immigration. “I fell in love with a Hispanic woman,” he said, “and our child should not have to suffer for that heritage.”
Protesters crowding the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Navy Memorial Plaza flip off Trump supporters as they wait for President Trump’s Inaugural Parade to begin Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington D.C.
Terry Perry, an anti-Trump protester from Pa., dances to a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” during the ANSWER Coalition’s protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Protesters crowd the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the National Archives Building as they wait for President Trump’s Inaugural Parade to begin.
A young protester holds up a "Love Trumps Hate" sign on Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk as the inaugural parade passes by Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
Marlon MacAllister, 30, traveled from Philadelphia, Pn. to raise his voice against what he calls "the incipient rise of fascism." In explaining his sign, MacAllister said "America was not formed on glorious ideals that we can return to. It was founded on genocide and slavery."
A banner with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. hangs outside a home in Washington D.C. Friday, Jan 20, 2017, as inauguration events begin to wind down for the day. During inauguration weekend, D.C. was transformed by the influx of Trump supporters and protesters. This included the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators involved in the Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 21 which challenged public transit records in the city.
Abby Potter is a photojournalism student based in Bowling Green, Ky.
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