Unemployment, funding cuts, foreclosures, snow in 49 states, airport delays, cold and flu season… it seems like someone is always grumbling about something.
Oh, you think you have it bad? Don't complain to me… I'm from Michigan!
That was the sentiment running through Kelsey McAfee's mind when she created the Facebook group titled, "Bitch please. I'm from Michigan!" Originally created as a joke among friends, the group has grown to more than 54,000 members since it was founded in mid December.
"Friends in other states were complaining about the temperature dropping, snow and stuff we deal with all the time," says McAfee, an 18-year-old Grand Rapids resident. "I don't want to hear about people hauling out their sweatshirt when it's 60 degrees out, because that's when we''re wearing shorts."
Any user can create and join a Facebook group, allowing members to bond over a shared interest in just about anything - from local businesses to sports to causes. Group affiliations are displayed in the members' profile and recently added groups are broadcast to friends via the news feed.
So when a particularly relevant and relatable group pops up, it can spread faster than potholes on a Michigan highway. McAfee was floored when about 70 strangers joined the group within the first 30 minutes. After the first week, more than 14,000 people were claiming their love for Michigan.
"It really took off as a rallying point for people to connect," says McAfee. "A few years ago, people wouldn't have been able to do anything like this."
McAfee was surprised not only by the number of people, but also by the broad range. "I thought if anything, it would probably only appeal to the younger generation," she says, citing the group name as something she didn't assume would fly with the more seasoned crowd. "But there are a lot of members in their 50s and 60s."
Group members can interact by posting comments on the wall, starting or contributing to discussions and posting pictures. Many of the punctuation-challenged wall posts are shout-outs to hometowns ("from the zoo, kali that is!"), others are posted by homesick ex-pats ("i am from south redford mi but i was born in farmington hills...sigh i miss michigan i am in cali now"), and some exemplify the "Bitch, please" mindset ("Im in TN now and they close school for a prediction of snow! A snow day before it even starts to snow! Everyone at work calls in if they call for snow, im like, bitch please, im from michigan!").
"I think it's important for us to recognize where we all came from, and how significant Michigan has been in sculpting our personalities and the decisions we make in our lives," says Evynne Blumer, a 28-year-old student/photographer/bartender who grew up in Southfield and Royal Oak but currently resides in Sun Valley, Calif. "It's somewhat comforting to know that you have something in common."
A handful of other states have similar groups, but clearly not as fervent members. A group titled "Bitch please… I'm from Colorado" has about 70,000 members, but has been around for four years. After three months, that group had attracted nearly 30,000 members – a number that the Michigan group surpassed two weeks after its inception. At a time when most of the headlines concerning the Great Lakes State are overwhelmingly negative, current and former residents are bonding over the good that is to be had in the state.
The discussion boards serve as pep rallies for all things Michigan. They are a place for members to share their love for Faygo, local beers and favorite inland lakes, or to debate the smoking ban, the possibility of Ted Nugent as governor and Michigan accents.
Members have shared nearly 2,000 photos of uniquely Michigan sights and activities. The Grand River peace sign, morel mushrooms, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Pictured Rocks give group members a visual representation of life in Michigan.
The group has even spurred members to action, possibly helping to boost tourism. Blumer planned a vacation in Michigan after viewing the pictures. "Although I spent the first 23 years of my life in Michigan, there are still some amazing places I've never been to or even been aware of," she says. "Now I'm planning a road trip back to Michigan for the summer, so that I can finally experience the Upper Peninsula. I've never been there, and it's kind of embarrassing to admit it."
Blumer has contributed to the wall, discussions and photos, and says she has grown more appreciative of her home state after living in California for more than five years. Like many others, she contributed to the group's rapid growth by inviting all her Michigan friends to join. "The group connects like-minded people who might never have had the chance to be in the same network," she says. "It allows us to express our appreciation for the Mitten State, and to realize that we're not alone in our growing concerns and sympathies for our struggling home state."
John Gaston, a Westland, Mich., resident, joined the group after seeing several friends join it. He was intrigued by the page and its tongue-in-cheek name. He used the power of the audience size to attract attention for a petition to stop Asian carp in the Great Lakes, a cause he supports. He says that most of his interaction with the group has been spent looking at the photos shared by group members.
"I've seen many pictures of places that I've never been to before, and it makes me want to find out where they are located," says Gaston.
McAfee has remained active moderator since creating the group, removing spam and any offensive content. She has considered printing merchandise such as T-shirts with the group's title to interested members. However, her primary concern is maintaining a place where members like Gaston and Blumer feel free to share their pride for America's high five.
"My hope in joining the group is that just from being connected to other people who share the same love for the state that I do, we can take the next step together to making things better for the people who are still there, as well as making it more desirable for people to stay there or move back," says Blumer.
Kelly Quintanilla is a freelance writer born, raised and living in Grand Rapids. She is also the marketing director at Ada-based CUSO Development Company.
Kelsey McAfee creator of the Facebook group titled, "Bitch please. I'm from Michigan! (5)
Photographs by Josh Tyron -All Rights Reserved