Despite having been born in Tennessee before moving to Ohio, I have still managed to live in my JSA State, the Ohio River Valley, my entire life. Mostly Midwestern with a hint of Southern charm, the ORV is landlocked, suburban, and mostly corn. Students drive since public transportation is not widespread. The freedom that comes with movability is not granted until sixteen, making us restless and itching to spread our wings despite the fact that many of us will stay close to the nest.
Naturally, any opportunity to expand my horizons is one I will take and through JSA, I’ve had the opportunity to experience more of our nation than ever before. With Winter Congress held in DC and Montezuma held in California, JSA spreads coast to coast. And although seeing palm trees and grand monuments is exciting, what’s truly magical for me is interacting with the people from across America.
In my home in Columbus, the news is always talking about the opioid crisis that plagues my city and the struggle over a controversial “Heartbeat Bill”. We have floods and the occasional tornado, but no wildfires, hurricanes, or earthquakes. Being a swing state, votes can be unpredictable, offering hope but also the occasional personal disappointment as there is no guarantee.
And I am only from central Ohio—across the ORV there are differences and across our nation, even more. Differences in opinion, way of life, and even climate permeate this nation, making it more colorful and each person we meet more special.
- Gene Kim
Going into my first Council of Governors meeting, Gene’s home state felt as foreign to me as countries across the ocean. Words like “corn” and “tornado” constitute a pretty small portion of my vocabulary, and in my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, being landlocked sounds worse than earthquakes.
A good portion of our first weekend together as Governors was spent dispelling myths about each others’ lives. Dominic, from Texas, isn’t a gun-toting separatist. Matt, from the Southeast, lacks a southern accent. And much to the disappointment of our colleagues, Katelin and I, together representing California, don’t surf.
The differences in our lives were sometimes shocking (I can’t imagine functioning without public transit), but also remarkably small. I discovered that the “coastal elite” and “middle Americans” were concepts that rather than identifying a meaningful cultural difference within our country served more to simply divide us.
A big part of JSA’s mission is that it brings people together across difference. At every convention, we debate the most challenging issues of our time, from Ohio’s heartbeat bills to California’s water supply.
But arguably more important than crossing political lines, JSA allows us to break down barriers created by geography and humanize people that pundits love to stereotype. There are roughly 327 million people in the United States. Even if it’s just ten at a time, JSA is working to bring them together.
- Oliver Soglin