Thursday, November 6, 2008

Battleground State Diary: Turning Red Ohio To Blue

“I pledge allegiance to the flag,
Being all I could ever believe with a toe tag.” — Turn The White House Black, George Clinton et. al.

As Tuyen and I were staying with the family the furthest out from town, we had to start our day a little earlier in order to pick up the five teammates in our van staying with Miss Gladys. We arrived a little earlier than they were ready and I was struck by the Americana styled beautiful morning on Miss Gladys’ front porch: hazy sunrise on a crisp morning, with curving, gently rolling streets lined with neat homes with no fences – giving a rural or country club feel to it.

Monday’s task was purely hanging door hangers, and we ended up back at the same precinct we’d canvassed the day before, with the same lively apartments on Northcrest & Norris courts off of Shoup Mill Rd, and the other apartments off of Frederick Pike and the Foxton fourplexes. Right off the bat that morning, I smashed my left toe badly. I’m not sure I’ll ever know if it’s broken or not (probably not), but it certainly was extremely painful, swollen and colorful! The morning walk went quickly, and after a brief rest, I ended up pairing with Delavince and Mark Foster and Jennifer on a nearby pair of precincts on the northside. My group of homes actually had a set of streets squirreled away with many large homes on sizable hills – not the best thing for sore toes.

After that, it was a quick lunch back at Canaan and pairing up with Tuyen along with Mike Faivor again, back to our dicey apartment complex on Riverside near Shoup Mill again. I got a different area of the complex this go-round, and immediately discovered they have jerry-rigged stair repairs with varying step heights. And as Murphy’s Law would have it, I smashed the same left big toe on that first odd stairwell – twice! – while going upstairs. If I was hoping to easily walk off the pain, that brought that dream back to earth. But we couldn’t stop, so I put on the walkman full blast and kept walking.

The more I walked that complex though, the more angry I became. Angry at the apartment owners for creating such a hazardous place to live for its residents. Angry at the economy for creating the lack of opportunities and subsequent blight. Many of the apartments I’d attempted to door knock the day before were empty. When I walked by the back of them, where the sliding glass doors were, it was clear they were not only vacant, but occasionally being used by non-residents for some reason.

One startling image: a 20-ish black man in what was clearly a vacant apartment saw me walk by and suddenly sprinted up the stairs and out the front door, while right next door was a young mother blankly watching TV with her young preschool-aged daughter in braids dancing around the apartment, both of them oblivious to what was occurring in the apartment just on the other side of their wall! Having seen a number of burned out and trashed apartments in this complex, it made me shudder in fear for them.

As the resident said the night before, and as was repeated a number of times in this and other apartments in the vicinity, this wasn’t the safest place to be. But while I’d found friendliness and no real sense of alarm at other complexes, this one was much different. You could feel the desperation and fear. This was one place in Dayton that sincerely needs Change.

Tuyen and I hit another precinct on the north side with another resident of Dayton whose name I didn’t get. As we drove back in to Canaan, she commented about Dayton’s blight, and the large number of boarded up, abandoned homes – something that was pretty common on the north side. But she pointed out something I’d also noted: it was hard to tell what was “the Hood” and what was middle class. The homes on the inner north side were all large and at least working- or middle-class in appearance. Even the homes further out in Meadowdale gave no clue from the street that they were anything but typical working-class tract homes with a few needing a little attention. Only the infrequent burned-out home and the occasional up-close view of doors that had marks of being pried or attempted kicked burglarized were the clues. Unlike what I was used to growing up, where ghettos were obvious, Dayton had a California-like quality where “the Hood” was hidden until you got a close-up view.

After returning at dark, Tuyen and I caught up with the Fosters and Jennifer again and thought about dropping them off and heading downtown for data entry work until Christi caught us. Apparently, one or two of the precincts in the southwest quadrant. She commandeered all of us (to Jennifer’s chagrin) and we all drove down to the staging location at Germantown near Gettysburg at around 7:30PM. They sent us to a new neighborhood in College Hill Park to distribute door hangers to two precinct turfs in the dark. Did I mention that Dayton isn’t real big on streetlights?

Finding our way around unfamiliar territory in the dark was memorable. As we had a double-sided back seat doors on our passenger van, we left those open and drove the entire route, making stops at intervals on each street. Delavince (or D.) was full of that 14-year old energy and a great asset, playing paratrooper by hopping out of the doors on the stop to get a bit extra momentum! Even Jennifer, with back problems and all, picked up energy as we continued on the route and was rivaling D in energy! Christi and Tuyen were also running up and down the blocks as well (as I was designated driver), even though Tuyen had leg cramping. Mark had knee problems and was also hobbling a bit, but still pushing through. We had a sizable route, with a couple of busy streets to drop hangers on, but we, the walking-wounded brigade, finished it all and made it back to staging area a few minutes before 10PM.

Tuyen and I were notified and trained on working the Red Team: line managers and houdinis. Line Managers were those charged with ensuring polls opened on time and with keeping an eye out for any voter intimidation or denials, as well as keeping all the folks in line to vote there, and ensuring they wouldn’t become tired and just walk away. Houdinis were folks who were to wait for the list of voters were to be posted, compare them to the list of unconfirmed voters, and call in a list of those who had voted. They were initially only for Dayton locals, but there were fears that some volunteers wouldn’t show – so Tuyen and I (being drivers and adept at finding our way around Dayton) were tasked with possibly standing in for the doubled tasks of Line Manager and Houdini.

The only catch: we would have to show up at Canaan by 5:30 AM.

So we ended up stopping to eat with Jennifer and the Fosters, dropping them off, and grabbing a 4 hour nap for the night. Election day awaited, and it was hard to get to sleep even with the physical exhaustion.

“We really must be going there's no time to delay
We have to leave our message because we can't stay
It really is important so remember take care
Please keep on moving 'cause there's nobody there.” — Keep Moving, Madness


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