Monday, January 21, 2013

Looking Back to Nov. 6: Walking The Akron, OH Rust Belt Walk In Ward 4

Walking the Rust-Belt Walk in Ward 4
 Jean Riesman

A fuzzy shot of our staging location
GOTV is not the Akron Fox network affiliate that was flickering above the bar at the New Era Restaurant, where the Serbian dumplings have the specific gravity of uranium and the apple strudel the lightness of the Red Bull Stratos: it's the acronym for "get out the vote," the relentless strategies (including door-knocking, voter registration, early voting turn out and buses full of church goers voting on Souls-to-the-Polls Sunday) that helped secure Ohio for Obama last Tuesday. The dumplings and strudel fortified us for the campaign's last pavement-pounding weekend – as did the Fox channel's back-to-back political ads, a low-budget stream of local, state, and national Republican consciousness.

Crystal, Jean and Pat Laying Out Turf for the Big Push
Our job was to knock on carefully-selected doors in West Akron up to six times before the polls closed on Tuesday night and thereby, if necessary, to badger our targeted Obama voters into exercising their franchise. While Ohio early voting had begun October 2, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted continued to do everything in his litigious power to limit hours and access, especially in Democratic-leaning districts: that is, in dense urban lower-income communities of color such as West Akron. His tactics backfired. Lines at the Akron Board of Elections were up to four hours long during the last stretch of early voting, and prospective voters were equally undeterred at precinct polling locations on Election Day.

At our Ward 4 outpost, ordinarily the combined space of the Just 'N Café and the Bizness Lab, we were superintended by a formidable local African-American woman who could re-focus chattering volunteers with a hard look from her chair behind the central-command computer. Hustled out to cover the next piece of turf, we worked our soggy printouts in the windy drizzle, drilling down to the last sporadic voters who might need a final nudge. Behind many doors were the voices – "already voted!" – of the already-voted or stern parents promising to turn their young'uns out to do their civic duty; behind others, TVs on and nobody answering; and others, either nobody home yet or nobody home, in vacant single-family houses or empty apartments with Obama materials dangling from a previous pass.

Akron used to be the Rubber City, running on the tire factories of Goodyear, Firestone and other manufacturing giants. The New Era had refreshed decades of General Tire workers getting off their shifts across the street. Plant closures hit the city hard. Downtown seems to be patching up its post-industrial distress, but in many parts of Ward 4, tired houses and weary residents reflect long-term unemployment, foreclosure, and the hard work of just getting by. The ravages of 1960s-era urban renewal also are etched in the abrupt dead ends of West Akron's streets, where we kept discovering that our next house number was on the other walled-off side of the interstate highway system.

Other than a scattering of lawn-signs and bumperstickers, there was not much evidence of the Romney/Ryan campaign. A handful of operatives made mischief: Obama/Biden lawn-signs had been regularly disappearing, as did – on election eve – the oblong placards we had just hung on doorknobs and storm-door latches, imprinted with the proper address of the right polling location for those particular voters.

To no avail: with over 74% turnout Ward 4 went 88% for the president on November 6, Ohio closed the deal, and Romney conceded before midnight in a form of early voting – with his feet, out of the battleground states and out of his misbegotten place in American political history.

1 comment:

  1. We miss our Jean in the Boston 'hood. Great to know she got out the vote in OHIO!


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