Reflections on Campaigning in Western Pennsylvania – 3rd report

“No matter what our attempts to inform, it is our ability to inspire that will turn the tide.” Syracuse Cultural Workers

November 6, 2016.

Three numbers are driving me: 537, 153 and 900. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court stole the election from the American people claiming a fair election in Florida being won by George Bush with a 537 vote margin. In 2008, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire was re-elected by 153 votes after 3 recounts. In 2016, Diane and I have knocked on 900 doors in Westmoreland County and Pittsburgh.  We have talked to over 250 people and are helping to win this election for the American people, democracy, decency, a repudiation of bigotry and hatred, a better future, Hillary Clinton, Katie McGinty (U.S. Senate) and Mary Popovich, (Pennsylvania State House).

We are dog tired and the finish line is in sight. One vote at a time. We and tens and hopefully hundreds of thousands of volunteers like us across the country are sprinting for the finish.  Our work has been hard, exhausting, very rewarding and humbling. We have been welcomed with open arms, warmth and generosity by our union brothers and sisters and fellow progressives.  We have been welcomed as new family members.

I want to share some of the highlights of our door knocking.

GOLD MEDAL.  White woman. “I am 87 and don’t have long to live. On Tuesday I will help give my children and grandchildren our first woman President.”

SILVER MEDAL. 75 year old black woman. “Thanks so much for talking to me and my family and reminding us to vote. We will be there. All of us.”

BRONZE MEDAL.  45 year old black man. A Steelworker Union member. “Oh my god, I have to go to work and get all of my co-workers to vote for Clinton and McGinty. I haven’t been doing my job and the time to start is today.”

GOLD MEDAL FOR KEEPING YOUR HUMANITY AND REMEMBERING THAT OUR OPPONENTS ARE ALSO PEOPLE. One block in Monessen, another town hard hit by economic hard times, has two signs:  “Deplorables for Trump” and “Trump has the balls to be President.” Diane talked to an older white woman who lived next door to these two neighbors. “I think they are wrong but they are still good people.”

GOLD MEDAL FOR TEAM GETTING FIRED UP TO TALK TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS.  Five 20- and 30-something black men. This requires a story. I was working a heavily black, impoverished neighborhood in Jeanette PA.  This city has been extremely hard hit by plant closures and has lost 20% of its population in the past 20 years. I walked up to a door of a very poor home that is part of 2 attached homes.  I heard a loud, firm but not unfriendly voice from the neighboring porch where 5 young black men are partying. “What do you want?” I walked down to the sidewalk and met the young man asking the question. “I need some help.” “To do what?”  In a loud voice I said: “I need help throwing Donald Trump in the dumpster.” Response:  “HE’S AN F–KING A–HOLE.” Roars of laughter from the others. I said: “Great.  Let’s get to work. I have my list of voters and campaign materials. Please make sure you, your families and your friends vote. Please talk to them and get them out.” “We will.”

BATTLEGROUND STATE TAKES ON NEW MEANING.

The State of Pennsylvania allows people to carry guns into polling places.  Donald Trump has been calling on his supporters to go into neighborhoods in Philadelphia to monitor and prevent voter irregularities.  Reading between the lines this means calling on heavily armed white men from rural areas to go into black neighborhoods to “protect the sanctity of the ballot box.”  Why?  It might intimidate voters and possible threats of violence might discourage voting.

For 80 years, the State of Pennsylvania has banned people who do not live in a county from serving as poll watchers in other counties.  One effect of this law would be to prevent heavily armed white men from rural counties serving as poll watchers for the Republicans in heavily Democratic, heavily black precincts.  The state Republican Party went to court to have the law declared unconstitutional.  They lost.  I  can only hope that violence and intimidation does not take place on election day in Pennsylvania or any state.

Trump, Trumpism and right-wing populism are threats to the foundation of our democracy.  100 years ago, a systematic wave of terror and murder and a tolerant U.S. Supreme Court allowed the systematic denial of voting rights for millions of our black brothers and sisters.  We cannot allow this to happen again.  I can only wonder how black folk in predominately white neighborhoods in western Pennsylvania feel about putting up a Hillary or McGinty sign in their yard.  Will this make them fear being a potential target?

Our struggle to strengthen our democracy does not end on November 8th.  We start a new phase on November 9th.

HYPOCRISY ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL.  MONESSEN PA.

Monessen is an old steel town on the Monongahela River. It along with the rest of western Pennsylvania has never fully recovered from the collapse of the steel industry in the past 35 years and massive job losses.  The city still has a working mill but the work force is a shadow of what it was 35 years ago.

We spent two days knocking doors in a predominately black neighborhood. Many, many abandoned homes that are complete wrecks yet other homes are kept up.  Many poor folks don’t have the money to fix up their homes.  It fuels my anger at economic and racial injustice and fires me to keep pushing.

Donald Trump recently came to Monessen and promised to bring jobs back. The newly completed Trump Hotel in Las Vegas was built with Chinese steel.  He could have used steel produced by unionized workers in Monessen. His arrogance and contempt for people allows him to tell this hard pressed community that he will help them. Actions speak louder than words. Hillary Clinton is calling for the biggest infrastructure rebuilding and expansion program in decades. It will require more steel made in Pennsylvania. Jobs in Monessen.

How can we conduct elections that focus on real issues that will make our lives better rather than endless smear campaigns? We have work to do.

I want to close on an uplifting note.

HONORING THE GREAT CROATIAN-AMERICAN ARTIST, MAXO VANKA

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