Photo: Obama Signs on Rural Street in Raccoon
Tide Is Turning
For Obama In
Beaver County, PA
By Carl Davidson
‘Progressives for Obama’
About twenty of us are gathering early Saturday morning at the IBEW Hall, ‘Labor Central,’ in Vanport, Beaver County, Western PA. Today it’s a team of electrical workers, steelworkers, SEIU service workers and a few activists with the 4th CD PDA, Progressive Democrats of America.
We’re walking streets, lanes and backwoods roads to hit every union household in the area. The goal today? Voter ID. Make sure every list is correct, find every registered union family voter, find out where they stand, and then, Voter ED, give them our pitch and materials on why Obama-Biden is their best shot to defend their interests in 2008-‘Green Jobs,’ ending the war, defending health care.
The press calls our turf a critical battleground for the hearts, mind and votes of ‘the white worker,’ which it is, with McCain-Palin sliding down, but still at 51 percent today. But you wouldn’t know Obama had a problem by looking at our team today. They’re a hard-muscled crew, ball caps and blue jeans, but ‘Vote Obama 2008’ emblazoned on T-shirts, hats and buttons galore. The rightwing’s bigotry is reaching a fever pitch, but these workers are making it very clear where they stand.
I enter the hall with a reporter from a major Portuguese paper, Expresso, that I’m helping out. The European press is also following this election more intently than any in a long time, and he’s neither the first nor the last from Europe to visit us. I introduce him to Bob Schmetzer, one of the IBEW officials, who tells him what the unions are doing. Then he meets our PA State Rep, Vince Biancucci, who’s doing the walks with us today. He and Vince trade stories about workers in Italy.
Leaving him to his business, I gather up flyers I’ll need for the day. Most are aimed straight at the economic crisis and pocketbook issues. Schmetzer pulled together a good one of McCain’s lousy record on veterans, well documented. There’s a stack of a new one, full color, with nice pictures, with text: Obama wears a flag pin, puts his hand on his heart saying the Pledge, is a Christian who goes to church, was sworn in on the Bible, not the Koran, that was another Black guy from Minnesota, and so on.
There’s a grey-bearded electrical worker who looks like a six foot six version of Kenny Rodgers reading it, too. “Whaddya think,” He asks? A nice-looking job, I say, but it’s pitiful that we have to put things like this out. “My thought exactly,” he replies, “but we still got to answer and defeat this crap.”
The union staff gets us organized into smaller teams and on our way. We’re working north of the Ohio today. I’m headed for Beaver Falls, an old merchant center and industrial town on the Beaver River, known mainly these days as the home of Joe Namath, the football star. At the end of the Reagan era the Babcock and Wilcox tubular mill closed and dismissed over 5,000 workers in Beaver Falls. It’s hard times, like everywhere else around here. Six of us, in teams of two, work a low-to-middle income working-class neighborhood on the north side of town, with Black and white workers on the same streets, not always that common in some places.
My first door is a Black construction worker, who tells me, “We’re solid for Obama, and everyone in the house is registered, but go see the guy a couple doors down.” He does want a yard sign, though, so we put one up for him. This is clearly the Obama base, or at least one major sector.
The guy a few houses down is a 57-year-old white worker, very friendly. “I’m going with Obama and the Democrats, no two ways about it.” He tells us he’s just registered, never voted before in his life, but the stakes are too high this time, and the conservatives have to be put out.
We keep working the street, but run into Randy and Tina Shannon of PDA at the corner. I get another sheet of names, and we swap stories.
“People are starting to use the ‘O’ word,” says Tina. “Before, they’d just say, ‘I’m voting Democrat.’ Now they’re saying, ‘I’m for Obama and the Democrats, and give you an earful.’ I think that’s a shift.”
“I was just up on ‘The Heights,’ says Randy, meaning the neighborhood on the surrounding hill. “I had one elderly lady for McCain, but I warned her, ‘You’re on Medicare, aren’t you? If McCain has his way, you’ll see it cut back.’ Didn’t help with her, but I ran into another lady who must have been almost ninety. ‘McCain? No way, you know where he can go.’ Let’s just say her comments weren’t appropriate for print, but she’s determined to vote for Obama. I had just one guy telling me he was only going to vote for the local Democrats.”
That’s called the ‘top of the ticket’ problem, and it’s a point of contention between the unions’ approach, which is to work for everyone, and a few local incumbents shying away from taking a clear leadership stand to win over Clinton and McCain-leaning older Democrats.
“Most important all day,” Randy added, “was one steelworker I met, who said: ‘It’s time to give the Black guy a chance,’ and you could tell from the way he said it that he’d thought on it for some time, and probably not alone. They’re seeing their pension funds shrink, their jobs lost or cut back, and they want to turn them all out.”
We turn in our sheets by lunchtime and share more stories. The PDA folks are lining up people to buy tickets for a PDA ‘Dinner and a Movie’ night out, Nov. 1, in Monaca, PA, featuring the documentary film ‘UnCounted’, which will expand people’s horizons on electoral problems, and help build for the next round of battles around single-payer health care and stopping the war.
Everyone agrees the tide is turning, but a lot can still happen, for better or worse. No one wants to coast. My township, Raccoon, went 30 percent for Obama in the primary, with the bulk going for Hillary. Most voters there are Democrats, and they’ll break three ways-for Obama, for McCain and for ‘staying home.’ Getting enough to get past 50 percent was always possible, but with the Wall Street crash, it’s now clearly in sight.
The Palin right’s attacks on Obama as a ‘terrorist’ are backfiring among many as a devious diversion. Some we talk to cling to the ‘Secret Muslim’ stories, no matter how clearly the lies are exposed. The reason soon becomes crystal clear: they don’t let go of it not because they believe it, but because it’s the new way to say they won’t vote for a Black candidate. That’s simply a reactionary political stand, and has nothing to do with the facts.
But the grip of the right is weakening. Obama-Biden signs are going up everywhere in the white areas. When the right takes them down, more go back up. One guy down the road took a four by eight sheet of plywood, and painted it dark blue, with the Obama 08 Symbol in the middle, and leaned it against his house, as if to say, ‘Let see you try to take this one down!’
After lunch we head over the Court House in Beaver. Every Saturday for more than five years now, our PDA and Beaver County Peace Links groups are out there with ‘Honk for Peace’ and ‘Healthcare Not Warfare’ signs, together with a big ‘Bring the Troops Home Now’ banner. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, working to end the war and defeat McCain. Today the cars are honking like we’re in Times Square. It’s another good sign that change is coming.
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