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I like to think that I have never lost the idealism that I grew up with. At the same time, there are reports that bring out facts that it is impossible to just ignore and move on.

This is the impact of a recent report about Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in the Texas Tribune. According to the report, Manchin recently met in Washington with the delegation of Texas legislators who fled Austin to prevent action to limit elections and voting rights and bring attention to the critical importance of expanding federal protections.

The next day Manchin was to fly to Houston for a fundraiser sponsored by a group of people who described him as “our Bipartisan Senate Leader for Energy.”

The hosts for that event included a former Democratic mayor of Houston who had been defeated in a run for governor. Other hosts were referred to as “titans of the Texas oil and gas industry — many of whom donate almost exclusively to Republicans.”

Specific beneficiaries of past contributions from some of the hosts included the current Republican governor of Texas and state legislative leaders who are responsible for the bills to limit elections and voting rights that the Democratic legislators are fighting.

The invitation to the fundraiser encouraged donors to contribute $5,800 to Manchin for West Virginia and $5,000 to the Country Roads Political Action Committee, which was described as Manchin’s leadership PAC. It was anticipated that 150 people would attend the event.

If just 100 of those people contributed $10,000 apiece to the two funds, the total would be $1 million. This seems to me like a pretty good return for a jaunt from Washington to Texas and back.

The reporters said Manchin’s office did not respond to requests for comment. It is hard to imagine what Manchin’s staff might say. Surely Manchin knows that all of his activities are in the public eye right now.

I am not in the weeds enough to know whether the For the People and John Lewis Voting Rights acts would have any direct effect on the kind of fundraising this event represents. At a minimum, though, I have to question the optics of this event at a time when Manchin has a pivotal vote related to elections and voting rights and also the scope of the pending infrastructure bills that are at crunch time to be finalized.

Maybe he considers this to be another demonstration of his commitment to bipartisanship since he would be accepting donations from contributors to one or the other of the major parties and their candidates. One person I shared this story with said major funding from the oil and gas industry should come as no surprise.

As a voter here in West Virginia I am left with a feeling of helplessness that no one in D.C. is representing my interests or those of many of my fellow citizens. This includes a Democratic senator whom I have voted for and actively supported.

On the one hand, my instinct is to curl up in a ball or turn my attention to other interests.

On the other hand — and this is what prevails — I am feeling even more energized to do whatever I can to help bring our state Democratic Party together, make our voices heard and elect the kinds of candidates who will truly represent the best interests of our state and our people.

I am also totally committed to achieving the federal protections for fair elections and voting rights that are so essential right now.

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I have to keep reminding myself over and over of this other basic reality: whatever the power of money, the donors in Texas do not have my power to vote here.

Manchin will be with us for at least three more years. None of us knows whether he will run again. I have never felt comfortable with referring to my vote as any kind of a threat. I want elected officials who will think for themselves and not feel pressured to do my bidding or that of anyone else who might choose to support them.

I truly believe that our elected representatives need to speak for all of us, whether we contribute to or support them. From my point of view the democratic process is the way that we bring our various perspectives and interests to the table and work together to arrive at the best possible solutions for all of us.

At the same time, I am also totally dedicated to breaking the cycle of corporate interests controlling our state from the outside. We must have federal protections for elections and voting rights in order to guarantee the power of our voices and our votes here and in every other state in our great country.

We know this power is under a broad assault that affects every single one of us in a way it never has before.

Close to home, I, personally, will have a harder time voting in the next election if our Legislature does not change the state code to extend no excuse absentee voting beyond the current state of emergency. Depending on conditions at the time, I might not be willing to risk my health to go inside a crowded polling place. I will also not give up the benefits of exercise from my walks that disqualify me from signing off on a statement that my health confines me to my house.

The current struggle for our democracy is one of the two major struggles of our lives. The other struggle is to protect life on our planet.

More and more evidence has shown how these two struggles are related. The same forces that are threatening our democracy are grounded in carbon interests that are threatening life on our earth.

Manchin is at the right place at the right time to make a difference in the outcomes of both of these fights.

Although he is in the seat of power, we need to understand that each one of us is also in the right place at the right time to make a difference. The persistent multitude of our voices calling, emailing and showing up day in and day out also has its own power.

This is not the time for paralysis or turning away. I just saw a great quote that was pinned to the bottom of an email from a fellow member of the Democratic senior caucus: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or an animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

I am still convinced that our actions here can mean more than all of the oil and gas money in Texas. Like it or not, Manchin is intrinsically a part of us and our life in the state. In taking the time to share who we are and what we believe, we can help to give him the depth and the courage to defend and protect us.

Keep the faith and continue to take action. When it comes right down to it, we are all in this struggle together.

Betty Rivard, of Charleston, is a retired social worker and planner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

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