I grew up in Ohio, birthplace of six presidents and a perennial bellwether in election years — neither red nor blue but the most unpredictable of swing states. Since I live in Massachusetts, in the bluest of the blue, earlier this month I went back to Ohio, where every vote counts, to campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as I did in previous elections for Barack Obama and John Kerry.
My hometown, Yellow Springs, a mini Northampton, is a progressive oasis in a countryside forested with Trump/Pence lawn signs. I canvassed in nearby Springfield, a city half the size of Springfield, Massachusetts, but strikingly similar, with a depressed downtown and a disadvantaged, minority population, in this case mostly African-American. With early voting starting in a few days, my brief was to urge Clinton supporters to vote before Election Day — Obama’s razor-thin Ohio victory in 2012 was due to winning over a majority of early voters.
My turf was a dilapidated, primarily black neighborhood where most of the people I spoke to were solidly pro-Clinton and even more resolutely anti-Trump — with one startling exception. A burly white man saw my clipboard and demanded, “Trump or Clinton?”
“Get outta here.” Slam.
One block over, an elderly African-American woman greeted me warmly and assured me she and her husband plan to vote Democratic on the very first day of early voting.
“I think we’ve got a win here,” she said. “What does your [indicating her gut] tell you?”
“Mine tells me I’m nervous.”
“Well, aren’t we all? We’re Democrats — that’s where we live!”
While I was in Ohio, I got to be in on an “October surprise” election-season extra. Michael Moore, the lefty working-class documentarian, was filming Michael Moore in TrumpLand, and I was there. It was shot with live audience in the historic Murphy Theater in the town of Wilmington — an ironic venue, as it’s in Clinton County, the heart of Trump Country. The theater had faced pressure from local Republicans to cancel the event but refused, citing, ahem, the First Amendment.
Sporting a red baseball cap and a shapeless black hoodie, he shambled onstage to a standing ovation from the crowd. He shambled three times, actually, as the downstage lights didn’t behave the first two times, and we obligingly rose in unison for each of the retakes.
The show was a cross between a campaign rally and a stand-up act. He imitated the angry white men who bellow at Trump rallies “like dying dinosaurs” as they see their dominance slipping away. Trump, he quipped, “is the human Molotov cocktail they’ve been waiting for.”
Moore acknowledged liberals’ wariness of Clinton, then — anticipating a moment in the upcoming presidential debate — asked Hillary-doubters in the audience to stand up and say one thing they admire about her. My sister Kim put up her hand and — anticipating a moment that, shockingly, didn’t happen in the debates — shouted out, “She believes in climate change!”
Moore then gave Clinton a detailed endorsement that was both rational and passionate. He also gave recognition to millennials’ distrust of the system. “We raised them to think for themselves,” he said, so we shouldn’t scold them when they do.
Two days after the Wilmington show, the charismatic singer-songwriter John Legend, a Springfield, Ohio, native, headlined a voter-registration rally at historically black Central State University.
Addressing a disappointingly small crowd, Legend assured the students, “You have so much power.” If anyone thinks their vote doesn’t matter, he said, “Trust me, it does. I don’t want to hear any excuses why you are not registered to vote — and I hope, vote for Hillary.”
I was in Ohio when the “Pussygate” news story broke, and what I saw was pretty much what’s happened all over the country since then — Democrats invigorated and emboldened, with Republicans either doubling down or running for cover.
Perhaps most encouraging for electoral prospects was the crowd at Michael Moore’s show. When he asked how many in the house had, like himself, voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, many hands, and not a few cheers, went up. But earlier, while we were waiting for the show to start, one man had shouted from the balcony, “Feel the Bern!” and not a single person took up his chant.
For me, that’s what democracy is all about: change and unity — in sharp contrast to the “dinosaurs” tweeting #repealthe19th, calling for repeal of the 1920 constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.
Chris Rohmann is at email@example.com and valleyadvocate.com/author/chris-rohmann