Jeremiah Childs, a fourth-year financial economics student has made waves in the University of Maine community throughout his college career. Childs gained notoriety after his involvement with the former UMaine College Republicans, of which he was an executive member before its disbanding in the fall semester of 2019. However, before coming to UMaine, Childs had not had any previous experience or involvement with politics and campaigning.
Childs grew up in a small, rural town in western Maine, where members of his community had relied on industries such as wood pulp and paper mills, and companies like Dexter Shoe had once dominated. Childs noted that his community, like many others in Maine, experienced a lot of economic turmoil as he grew up because of the national shift towards outsourced labor. He was one out of about 10 students in his town to pursue a four-year degree, due, in part, to the financial strain that pursuing a college education can have.
“Two things happened in the late 1980’s and 90’s in Maine [that affected my community],” Childs said. “The Koch Brothers bought out factories and either shut them down or moved them to Quebec.”
Childs said that because of this economic shift, many of the members of his community felt the effects of income loss and families started to fall apart. In the town that Childs lives in, many community members have suffered from Maine’s opioid epidemic, with family structures falling apart as young parents succumbed to opioid addiction. Maine’s opioid crisis personally affected Childs, as his mother struggled with an opioid addiction throughout his childhood and eventually went to prison. Childs now cares for his younger sister and works at an insurance company in order to help provide for his family while he works as a full-time student to complete his undergraduate degree.
“The first thing that people need is family,” Childs said. “Families in rural areas are falling apart. I’ve personally experienced this [with my mother’s struggle with opioids]. It is one of the [most prevailing] causes of death in rural Maine communities, and it often affects young mothers and fathers, which can [and has] led to community collapse.”
Childs believes that upholding the community values that he grew up with throughout his undergraduate career will help him to better provide for his community once he graduates.
“People often think I’m some privileged capitalist,” Childs said. “Seeing what people are advocating for [with liberal policies], seeing people advocating for the Green New Deal motivated me. If they implement these policies, people in my community will suffer.”
This is an idea that is held around the country, with many noticing the way that Democratic policies can overlook rural areas and leave towns that had relied on industries without resources to continue to fuel their economies. Childs feels as though, in order to prevent further disenfranchisement of rural areas, the state of Maine and policymakers will have to create programs that will help attract young Mainers to stay in the state.
“First of all, we need young people to stay [in Maine],” Childs said. “We may have to be creative. I think we need a change in environmental policies and a reinvigorated interest in social conservatism.”
Childs is an advocate for trade schools, which are popular in Maine but have declined in popularity around the country, with many young adults opting for two or four-year degree paths. In Maine, trade schools and community colleges with trade programs have received state-funded grants in recent months that seek to make trade schools more accessible in order to fill high-demand fields, such as nursing. Childs hopes that through initiatives like these, more young people will stay in the state, and rural communities like his will see a return of economic growth.
One of the things that Childs had not anticipated when getting involved with the former UMaine College Republicans is the way that people interact with him now. He says that he has avoided public areas on and around the UMaine campus, such as the Old Town Hannaford, because people will approach him.
“I don’t want to deal with being a public persona,” Childs said. “I’m different than what people expect me to be. People always think that I’m angry, but I don’t yell. I don’t have a military haircut or anything like that. People don’t understand that my Facebook presence [on the UMaine College Republicans page] isn’t my constant state of being. I don’t sit on the internet waiting to respond to angry comments or whatever.”
Childs presence in the UMaine community and surrounding areas is grounded in his strong advocacy for socially conservative ideas and controversial stances on political issues. Though this is only a part of his experience at UMaine. Childs spends what free time he has playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), a popular tabletop role-playing game. He says that the D&D community has offered him an opportunity to be himself among his alienation from the UMaine community.
“I’ve interacted with a lot of diverse communities and ideas [playing D&D],” Childs said. “It’s an outlet because I can play, and people will like [the moves I take] and like me as a person. I can have an outlet because I can’t do mundane things [on the UMaine campus] without people coming up to me.”
It is not uncommon for people who have become a figure in public discourse to struggle with their newfound public identity and maintaining their own sense of autonomy when interacting with their community. For Childs, a strained relationship with his community has created a running commentary on his beliefs and actions.
“The funniest thing is that people think that I owe them attention,” Childs noted. “I have a large audience now. If I made a mistake, I know I’ll find out about it 15 minutes later.”
Childs continues to be an active member of the UMaine community and has stated that he feels his presence at UMaine has sparked important community dialogue about the way that people conduct themselves in conversation with others who share differing beliefs.