Coastal Liberals Look Out: The Working Class Is the New Face of Activism

Nic Smith isn't the kind of Democratic Socialist who spouts off at Brooklyn parties about the "means of production."

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May 3 2017, 8:40pm

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Shortly after Donald Trump's election, a video of Nic Smith, a 21-year-old activist from coal country, went viral. People like Smith and places like his hometown of Trammel in Dickenson County, Virginia, were suddenly thrust into the media spotlight. In the video—titled "Think This Coal Country Southerner Voted for Trump?"—Smith wears a camo hat, sports thick sideburns, and uses a bullhorn to address a crowd. About a minute and a half in, an off-camera reporter asks Smith if he was persuaded by Donald Trump's promise to bring back coal jobs. Smith looks right into the camera and says, "Oh, hell no."

Smith isn't the kind of Democratic Socialist who spouts off at Brooklyn parties about the "means of production." He's the kind of Socialist who has actually worked in a factory. He comes from a long line of union coal workers, once seen as the foundation of the Democratic Party, but he doesn't fit the image of the typical millennial activist. He pulls ten-hour shifts at a Waffle House while studying for a college degree and fighting for a $15 minimum wage in his free time. Coastal liberals often paint rural voters in broad strokes, but the truth is there are large groups of socially aware and intelligent young people living in forgotten rural areas all over the country. But with each passing generation, many young, educated people leave those rural areas for more hospitable places. "A brain drain," Smith called it over the phone. He's blunt with his ideas but extremely polite and likable in conversation. When we spoke, he even said, "Yes, sir," and stopped midstory to say things like, "My mom is one of the best goddamn nurses I've ever seen."

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