OPINION: Kentucky is more than its politicians — a fight against tornado blame

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Rose Donnelly, Commentary Editor

In the twilight hours after the tornado touched down, people trickled out of their homes to assess the damage. Powerlines down, live wires lying limp on the pavement, insulation entwined in the treetops, shards of wood puncturing windshields and wet ground.

A warzone-esque sight of 31W Bypass and Russellville Road left many speechless as the sounds of distant sirens filled the air.

The tragedy that blew through the midwest changed life in Bowling Green as we know it. With local businesses and homes flattened, our city looked surreal.

Families seen calling loved ones with tears in their eyes, overheard conversations of “I’m okay, we’re okay; but Bowling Green was hit.”

The response from the community within hours was amazing. People of all ages and backgrounds coming together and helping each other clean up.

Although the responses from the community were uplifting, the responses on social media portrayed the natural disaster as a blame fest.

Who was culpable? Us.

Writer and producer Nell Scovell blamed Kentuckians.

Director and actor Taika Waititi, with his less-than-sensitive tweet regarding the destruction of a movie theater in Mayfield.

Hateful comments ran rampant through Twitter, blaming Kentucky for our misfortunes due to the senators we elected. Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell were targeted in these tweets as the perpetrators of climate change.

When the power went out, people went to Twitter and Facebook to keep an eye on what was happening around them. Twitter was how many college students and citizens of Bowling Green knew what had happened in Western Kentucky that night.

Social media is a helpful tool to engage and facilitate action, but the way these platforms operate can make it harder to stay present in times of hardship. People become so far removed from real life that hateful and blameful comments are made to innocent victims.

Did Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul win their elections in Kentucky? Yes. Does that mean all Kentuckians voted for them? No. Are all Kentuckians religious and a part of the Southern Baptist chain of churches? No.

Why then is it appropriate or even correct to correlate a natural disaster to biblical punishment? No senator or Kentuckian alone could’ve stopped these tornadoes from tearing our community apart.

People died, homes were lost, communities were leveled and the pitiful response was to blame us. Kentucky didn’t “deserve this,” and for that matter, no one does.

Hiding behind the comfort of one’s own device is cowardly. These communities deserve more than being criticized for something no one could have stopped.

Our senators should not be solely blamed for climate change either. Kentucky cannot be blamed for all human involvement of the rising temperatures globally.

Be angry with the state of global climate change, but don’t take that frustration out on people who, just hours before, witnessed their communities being torn apart.

In this time of uncertainty, be mindful of your social media presence and what you say to or about groups of people in their time of recovering and rebuilding. Stay present in the fragility of hurting families who mourn the loss of loved ones or the destruction they are left with.

The courage shown in recent weeks is more than most people can ever fathom. Kentucky is more than its politicians. To define a group of unique and diverse people to rednecks and idiots shows more about your character than our own.

Commentary Editor Rose Donnelly can be reached at [email protected] topper.wku.edu. Follow her on Twitter @RoseDonnelly_