Election Snapshots from Ohio

By Seth Freed Wessler Nov 06, 2008

The streets of Brooklyn and Harlem filled with faces smiling, tears born of relief and the joy of being heard streamed down their faces. I heard about them from friends who called amid the crowds and watched them on the television screens above the bar at Roosters restaurant in Lancaster, Ohio. A South Asian grad student from Columbia University cried with them. She had traveled from New York to Lancaster with 15 others to get out the vote for Obama. “A brown man is going to be President,” she sobbed, and clasped her hands over her mouth looking at the screen. The 75 or so people gathered at the Democrat-owned pub cheered and chanted “Yes We Can” as CNN called the election for Barack. A 6 foot 5, hulking white Teamster who had volunteered for Obama exhaled and softly proclaimed “We did it. We need this. We need this so bad.” He had just recovered from a quadruple bypass. An 18-month young child who wore a “I’m an Obama Baby” danced on a table where his parents (they had been raised in Lancaster and like most people in the town had never left) drank beer from a pitcher next to a table filled with the Columbia students. Everyone cheered together, blending into a single mass like the swath of blue that connected Minnesota to Maine on the TV screen. Here are some people and snap shots from the past days in Lancaster, Ohio, a city of about 35,000 in south eastern Ohio. Jeremy is 20 years old and was forced to drop out of college after he had a car accident coming home from his night job. Along with another young person, he signed the lease for a space in Lancaster, Ohio that served as the local campaign headquarters for Obama. They paid the rent by selling Obama bumper stickers and buttons. Since he was forced to drop out of school, he’s spent his time organizing the office. Jeremy is the child of a white mother and a Filipino father and was raised solely by his mother. “It’s been a long journey for me. I had to withdraw from school for financial reasons and am hoping to go back now that Obama is President,” he said. “The country is falling apart. People need to get their jobs back; they need to go back to school. That’s why I was involved.” “I identified with him,” Jeremy said of Obama. “His story is my story” ……. A young white women in a small, single unit home in a town outside Lancaster opened her front door to greet a woman from New York who was door knocking to convince people to vote. “Hi, I’m here volunteering with the Obama Campaign for Change and I’m walking around today to get out the vote,” announced the door knocker. “Have you decided who you’re going to vote for?” “Well I can see both sides but you know I like Obama,” she replied in a hushed tone. “Hell no, we’re voting for McCain!” A man– her boyfriend or husband– appeared behind her. She looked at the door knocker knowingly, woman to woman, as the volunteer describes it later. The man stood there and stared at the volunteer making it clear that it was time to leave. “It’s the reverse Bradley effect,” said the volunteer. “There was no way she was going to tell that man she wanted to vote for Obama but she will.” ……. Robyn is the mother of 6 children although four of them are actually her sister’s kids. She took them in after her sister passed away. She works as a paralegal and says she helped get the governor of Ohio elected. She has him on her cell phone. She’s been organizing the Obama volunteers in Lancaster where she’s lived since she graduated from college at Ohio State. For Robyn, “Barack means the change we need.” The words don’t sound like a campaign slogan coming from her lips, they sounds like urgent truth from someone with several kids in college, a few with kids of their own and one in the army. Robyn is tasked with organizing volunteers during the week leading up to the election. She is unrelenting, calling people on their cell phones if they are taking too long and making everyone feel certain that the fate of the country rests on each and every door that is knocked and number dialed. When she saw Ohio go blue on the TV screen at the bar on Tuesday night she walked over to the table filled with volunteers from New York City and apologized for “riding you all so hard. It was worth it though. We can all be proud.” ……. A 44-year-old man with a beard, shoulder length thinning hair and an arm full of fading tattoos of eagles opened the door after I knocked twice. He asked which side I was on was on and when he heard the reply he stepped out onto the porch, lit a cigarette and said “Obama better win. We can’t take it any more.” I asked him why so many people were supporting McCain around town considering how devastating the last few years had been for people there. “The only reason some of these people aren’t going to vote for him is cause he’s black. I hear it all the time with the guys at work. ‘I’m not going to vote for no n—–.’ Thing is that when they lose their jobs and get sick, they’ll wish they had voted for him.” “If they’d listen,” he went on, “they’d see that Obama actually does give a s— about them.”