Presumably you read Part 1 of this post, which you’ve had plennnnty of time to do, ladies and gents. If you haven’t, go back. I’ll wait. Not a problem. Come back when we’re on the same page, because I don’t want to skip ahead.
Okay. Ready? Let’s chat.
In some places, “red” has stained the very soil. Inches deep.
On this, I know whereof I speak. I am a product of the area described in Part 1, and know in my soul that it has been as I described since time immemorial, or at least for decades. After all, I’ve been of this land since I was a toddler, except for a few years chasing my dad’s entrepreneurial efforts through Florida, California, Nevada, South Carolina, and Illinois, where he and my mom picked me up originally. I spent six years in even more conservative Hancock County, Ohio immediately following my marriage, going whither my husband went much as my mother and countless other women have done.
The more things change…
I returned to this particular neighborhood, the same district from which I graduated high school, in the spring of 2003, as a mother with two preschool-aged children, to find it changed, yet unchanged. Where once had stood fields of corn and soybeans were subdivisions of .25 or .33 acre plots with smallish McMansions carefully sprinkled in housing developments. Some of the platted subdivisions have cul-de-sacs on cul-de-sacs, approaching fractal repetition that is absurdly comical. Utilitarian strip malls had been retrofitted into or replaced by the zoning-required brick-facades of faux continental malls with a very conscious “town square” air to them. Their faces sport pretty clocks with Roman numerals above chain stores selling the same brands of foreign-made consumer goods available elsewhere, anywhere. Sale today! Consume!
Outcompeting the Joneses, those slackers
Some communities around here, such as the City of Mason in Warren County, work even harder to project “look, we have money now” prosperity. Mason has lovely planted medians dotted with black street lamps evocative of gas-light era days, but with a modern upscale touch. Even those medians have automatic sprinkler systems built into them, in some cases, which is — of course — merely a protection of taxpayer investments, preserving expensive perennials, decorative grasses, and shrubberies during the bone-dry months of late summer. Mason was once the poor sibling of wealthier West Chester, but has since blossomed and is determine to show it has chops. Yes, the same lower middle class people in service industries and trades still live in this region as they did when I was in high school, but they’re quieter now. Meeker. They’re striving hard not to lose more ground to the middle managers who shop at Whole Foods and dominate these suburbs with sheer attitude and, still, apparently, plenty of disposable income.
True story: When I was a very nauseated, pregnant small-town reporter back when, a sofa saleslady told me of many very, very nice homes there that were all but empty of furniture. She said people would live for years in these echoing, empty homes, filling them for work events or family gatherings with items she allowed them to take “on approval” but which came back the following week with a treated wine stain and often a some excuse about their unsuitability. This is how many suburban Ohioans live in John Boeher’s and other Ohio Republicans’ districts. Trying to look as if they’re not sweating it. They are, but they’re ashamed for neighbors and coworkers to know it. After all, aren’t the others doing well? Then they should be, too, and will if they just try a little harder. Occupy Wall Street isn’t being so loud about a problem that’s new, so much as a reality that’s become inescapable.
What do people of this area have in common?
They vote Republican. Mostly.
I examined the Board of Elections data for the 2008 and 2010 elections. Warren and Butler counties went overwhelmingly for the Grand Old Party. Even with Barack Obama to fill the sails of local candidates on the Democratic ticket, John McCain “suspending” his campaign to sit uselessly in Washington during the economic meltdown, and Sarah Palin winking/pageant-walking like a spastic hooker joining fellow Dating Game contestants, Dems got spanked here as usual. The same is true of Hancock County, Ohio. We have a few well-known outliers, i.e. winning Democrats, but overall, margins run 3:1 or at best 2:1 in favor of Republican candidates regardless of whether they’ve ever made a local appearance. The brand alone is enough to carry them here, for these are generational Republicans who don’t want any truck with liberals, because they don’t associate Democrats with common sense or casseroles. (Mac and cheese people. Which party buys more of it? Which party makes more from scratch? I’ll have to look into that.)
Getting out the vote simply will not be enough here, folks.
The numbers bear it out. Even if every person registered to vote who did not vote is tracked down at home, picked up, and driven to the polls, and if every single one of those people votes Democratic… Republicans will still win these districts. Some precincts are winnable, but the districts themselves will not be won by merely dragging all “Likely Dem” voters to the polls.
What, then, are we to do?
Some simple things, almost passive measures, have value. Put a bumper sticker or magnet on your car. (Not eight, please. Keep it tasteful. Don’t damage the brand, people.) When I dropped in on Senator Sherrod Brown’s regular Thursday “Constituent Coffee” in mid-September, he demonstrated his familiarity with this area. “Keep speaking out. Stay visible,” he said, because it encourages whose who lack the “courage” which he approvingly asserted I have in ample quantities. (Thanks, Senator Brown. I like the way you characterized me, rather than saying I have no filter. Nice.) Those of us here must let quiet, hesitant, frightened progressives and liberals know that others of like mind exist. Many feel isolated and intimidated, unsure with whom it’s safe to voice their fears and concerns.
If we don’t talk to each other, why should our representatives?
If any one thing is responsible for the ideological gridlock and mutual condemnation that dominates today’s political environment, it just might be air conditioning that eliminated porches and let us stay inside. Or the interstate highway that allowed “white-flight” and created doughnut cities with struggling urban centers. Or the existence of media pundits whose bottom line depends on creating false controversies, polarizing viewing audiences, and setting up strawmen for jousting contests followed by bonfires. Pick a culprit. There are plenty of them, but all of them perform the same function: segregating us, silencing us, keeping us from talking to each other.
We don’t talk to each other anymore. That has to change.
On Twitter, wonderful progressive/liberal friends tell me not to waste my time talking to Republicans, “RWNJ’s,” Tea Party members, and so on. Often they do so from iPads and iPhones in sophisticated, urban and quite comfortably blue districts. “Why bother?” they ask me. “They’re a lost cause.” I understand why my friends say that. Many of them can afford to write off a certain segment of the electorate and still have a fighting chance at winning their districts and their states.
Not me. Not here.
But I can’t. So I will not and do not write off anyone who will have a conversation with me. Sure, there are extremists here who will never be reachable. They’re too angry to discuss, some of them, and prefer to shout for awhile. I’ll let them. But others have been misinformed, misled, or vote for the same names year after year because they’re not quite sure who else to vote for. Keep in mind that so GOP-safe is my area that we often have no Democratic candidate, and if we do, one has often never heard the person’s name before stepping into the voting booth.
We play to our own crowd, and so do our representatives. Enough, already.
Many voters in my area have never, ever heard the case for any liberal position made by a neighbor, a friend, someone who carpools with them or hosts them for a playgroup. These voters have a preconceived notion of what it is to be liberal, one that seems scary, distasteful, foreign or just a litte too something to them. But if I come along… another midwestern mom, a product of Ohio through and through, articulating facts, reason, and doing so with warmth and genuine good will? At minimum, I’ve moved the bar a tiny bit away from artificial divides, backfilling the “you’re with us or you’re against us” chasm with a different image, a different experience.
Talk, talk, talk.
I’ve been told plenty of times that I talk too much. Sure. That’s right. I do. But some of us talk too little, or without an ultimate purpose. Yes, let us share information and have our spirits buoyed by talking to those who share our disposition. But let’s not only preach to the choir, no matter how easy or downright fun it is. What would be the point of that other than personal enjoyment? Getting reassurance that we’re “right” and reveling in applause of a friendly crowd for our for witty jokes about rednecks and racists? *eyeroll* Well done, I guess, if that’s the only goal.
We all matter. Get out there and represent, please. It’s not just talk. It’s… outreach.
Volunteer. Canvass. Phone bank. And beyond that, take a few risks. Talk to neighbors in line at the bank, or at the grocery, or wherever we are, respond to the magazines and headlines around us… AUDIBLY. Talk to people we might not ever really like or find to be kindred spirits, but that we can understand if we make a sincere effort. They may be fearful, misinformed, scarred by previous experiences and life history, or vote GOP for any number of other reasons, including peer pressure, family pressure. But I know what they aren’t. Evil. So persuade them.
Half this country is not evil.
There. I said it. No matter which “side” one is on, rest assured that the other side is not wholly made up of evil, nasty people. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Be kind. Be warm. Be friendly. Have a sense of humor when needed. It’s refreshing, surprising to see what a difference it makes. Even if we, as individuals, never swing a single vote that we know of for certain, we will make a difference.
Let’s get to work, find concrete acts we can perform, such as registering voters, talking to the general public, getting out the vote, sharing information with those who do not already have it. Let’s go into the world, try to understand others, try to be understood by them, then find areas of commonality. We can prove to those in our own communities that our ideas and favored candidates are the best solution, or at least have valuable ideas. That will depend on trust and good will.
Keep scorn, disdain, mocking, and jeering to a minimum.
For me. (And you.)
It’s a simple plea. Don’t make it harder for me to do the work I do in this swing state. The nastier other liberals, Dems, progressives, etc. are to my neighbors, the more uphill the battle in presenting ideas and policies. Why don’t they vote their own interests, many ask. Well, they might were it not for all the “us vs. them” baggage driving them to self-identify with manipulators. Let’s give the fine line between wit and contempt some very serious thought. No one listens to those who insult them. If I can refrain, anyone can, and in doing so, we all become better able to effectively inform, persuade, and motivate.
Be fired up, but be positive.
We’re trying to change the world here. One conversation at a time.