A project undertaken by a team from The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and their owner, the McClatchy Company, resulted in 100 videos – one on each North Carolina county – focused on this year’s election issues.

In the videos, residents talk about employment in their counties, why people move there and move away and other aspects of what is and isn’t good where they live. Interviewees were asked what issues they would bring up with local, state or national leaders if given the opportunity and what keeps them up at night.

Reporters found people of different ages, races, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, life histories and political inclinations for interviews in each county for the project, titled “Journey Across the 100.” Recent transplants and lifetime residents, conservatives and liberals, business owners, farmers, minimum-wage workers, jobless people, retirees and others were interviewed.

The team drove more than 20,000 miles in a six-month period for work that resulted in videos averaging 3 minutes in length. Each video features scenery and interviews with one to three people.

The segment on Wilkes includes video of downtown Wilkesboro, Purlear, along N.C. 115 in the Hunting Creek section and elsewhere. It features Dick Johnston, president of Samaritan Kitchen in Wilkesboro, and Phil Halbedel, who has owned the North Wilkesboro Dragway in the Mount Pleasant community for about five years.

In the video, Johnston noted the movement of young people away from Wilkes, influx of retirees, people having to work two part-time jobs to barely get by and hunger in Wilkes. He described the natural beauty of Wilkes and said it’s a good place to live.

Halbedel told about Tyson Foods Inc. being the largest employer and the loss of Lowe’s Companies Inc. jobs. He said Wilkes is full of working class people like himself, and added that it’s hard to find jobs that pay well. Halbedel said $10-$15 per hour is considered “big money” to a lot of people.

While obviously not being fully representative of any one county, taken as a whole the videos provide insight into views of North Carolinians on the eve of the 2020 elections. They could also help people of the state better understand differing views of neighbors at a time when empathy is sorely needed.

The results contrasted with polarized images projected by the media (especially 24-hour “news” networks) and many politicians. People’s views on issues are more complex and some might seem contradictory. They’re concerned about a much greater variety of issues than the few hot button topics that get most of the attention.

Political views in North Carolina are as diverse as the state’s geography and culture, with almost 2.5 million Democrats, nearly 2 million Republicans and more than 2.1 million unaffiliated voters.

As might be expected, the videos indicate that the rural-versus-urban mindset has intensified as the state’s urban centers have prospered while many rural areas have stagnated or lost ground economically.

A common thread of people feeling even more distanced from their political leaders, especially at the state and national levels, runs through the videos. In many of them, interviewees implored elected representatives to remember and pay attention to the voters.

The videos show North Carolinians are unified in wanting safe and decent places to live, work that sustains them and their families, good education for their children and to be able to enjoy the state’s natural beauty.

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