StatCounter

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The unsung heroes of Ohio

I am very late catching up with some back issues of the New Yorker, but today I was reading a pre-election Reporter at Large piece by George Packer entitled "The Hardest Vote: The Disaffection of Ohio's Working Class" (you can read the whole thing at this link.) I was very struck by one long passage about an Obama campaign worker who canvassed alone in a traditionally racist, rural part of the state. Please read it, as it will give you an idea of the kind of very heroic people who were responsible for his victories in places a lot of people (including Hillary Clinton) never thought he could really win.

Photo: Abandoned house on Route 42 just south of London, Ohio/ Scottamus.

One day in Athens, I met Latisha Price. She was a big-boned blonde of thirty-seven, with a raw complexion, an Appalachian twang, and a forthright, vulnerable manner. “I come from a very bad background,” she said within minutes of meeting me. Her mother had been an alcoholic, and Price had grown up in a series of foster homes, attending fourteen different schools. From the age of fifteen, she had been on her own, falling in with a series of abusive men, about whom she didn’t want to say much. At twenty, she got a job in a nursing home; she still works there, as a cook and a nursing assistant.

“I noticed the union people would stand up for themselves,” she recalled of her early days on the job. “And they seemed to be like a small family, a voice. I never had that. That’s how I got active, and got so gutsy and eager to always jump in—I learned that from the union. When I first started, I was like a little mouse in the corner because I had so much drama in my life. I was too caught up in staying alive.” Price, who now lives on a farm with her boyfriend, thirty guns, and every kind of domestic animal except pigs, runs the S.E.I.U.’s Obama office in Athens, with two graduates of Smith College working for her.

Price and I drove down Route 33 from Athens, into Meigs County and a town called Pomeroy, which once had been a loading dock for coal barges and now lay prostrate and blighted along the Ohio River. Across the river was West Virginia. Inasmuch as Price had a home town, Pomeroy was it.

“Meigs County is one of the worst,” Price said as we drove. “We’re going to a racist area—I won’t lie to you. I have heard, pardon my French, ‘Get the fuck off my porch, I’m not voting for no nigger.’ ” A few days earlier, she had twice been chased away by dogs. Price canvassed for Obama alone day after day, with a can of Mace in the car. She had learned not to wear an Obama T-shirt. People didn’t react well—they seemed to take it as someone telling them whom to vote for.

She parked on a street that ran along the foot of the rock face looming over Pomeroy. It was early afternoon. There was no sign of life on the street except for two boxers in a yard, unleashed and barking at us. Price told me that their collars would register a shock if the dogs crossed a buried wire.

“I’m not scared of my home town,” Price said. “I’m a pretty tough girl. Gotta be.”

She had a list of voters—Republicans, Democrats, and Independents—and we began to go door to door. Some of the residences were boarded shut, some were trailers with appliances lying out front. One or two were large, lavishly decaying houses with overgrown gardens. A front porch was sealed off by fallen branches.

A middle-aged woman in a nightdress peered out of a screen door. Price began her pitch.

“If the election was held today, have you decided who you’ll vote for?”

The woman hesitated, then turned away to speak to someone inside. A man’s voice called out, “We’re not voting this year.”

Price noted this on her sheet and thanked the woman.

She didn’t leave the sidewalk to speak to the owner of the two snarling dogs. He said that he would probably vote for McCain, because he was a veteran. A shirtless young man in his underwear, who seemed to have just woken up, said that he was an Obama supporter and knew a few others. There was an AIDS ribbon tattooed on his right shoulder. “The ignorant ones that don’t vote, they say Obama’s a nigger and he’s going to be assassinated,” the young man said. “That is classic Meigs County.” Farther down the street, two women and a little girl—three generations of a family—were getting out of a car. The grandmother said that she was undecided. She thought that McCain was wrong on the war, but she wasn’t sure about Obama. Price left her with some literature and her phone number.

At the door of a trailer, Price knocked, then knocked again. Finally, the screen door opened a few inches. A white-haired, white-skinned ghost of an old woman identified herself as Betty.

“If the election was held today, have you decided who you’ll vote for?”

“ ’bama.”

No comments: