MRG’s intern, Marissa Burik, takes a look at her home State of Ohio – a key battleground in the upcoming elections – on how minorities are mobilizing for change.
A popular American idiom tells us that “As goes Ohio, so goes the nation.”
As a resident of that great state, I am one to agree. And in this election, the numbers speak for themselves. Already Senator John McCain has visited 18 times, while Senator Barack Obama has been here 9. Ohio’s importance in this election hinges on three main factors. First, we are a toss-up state. Consider us a state of independently-minded folks who haven’t quite made up our minds as to what we are going to do with our 20 electoral votes. Second, we are a political bell-weather which has accurately predicted the outcome of every election since 1960. Thirdly, Ohio is considered a microcosm of the United States. The fabric of our community is very diverse, with one of the nation’s largest growing Somali populations, vibrant African American urban areas, and a developing Muslim community. This makes Ohio a very interesting place to be for any national election.
In this year where ‘Change’ has become the mantra of both campaigns – and Ohio is on the front lines of actual change. Minorities in my State are becoming more important than ever. The Obama campaign has been able to mobilize people in numbers I have never personally experienced. This is emphasized when looking at the people in attendance at an Obama rally. I attended one such rally in Columbus, Ohio in November 2007, before the Democratic nomination was inevitable and before John McCain had breathed new life into his campaign. At this rally I did not see just one kind of person. Instead I saw black, white, Asian, young, old, student, teacher, union leader, and several different religions represented. What I saw were people who were willing to take on a challenge and work with people who didn’t look exactly like them. They were not afraid to embrace change and they refused to be marginalized.
This election year has also highlighted some negative qualities of the state that I love. Within the past two weeks, it is not uncommon to hear shouts of ‘terrorist’ or ‘kill’em’ at Sen. McCain’s rallies – a perspective which McCain has recently tried to distance himself from. An Obama campaign representative in a south-eastern county has said that race has played a role in the decision process for some voters in his area. South-eastern Ohio has a much smaller number of minorities, and has been disproportionately affected by changes to the economy. These are people who are afraid of what they do not know. That is not to say that they are racist and won’t vote for a minority. Rather, they live in communities disproportionately affected by change, and are not sure if they can handle more, so it becomes easier to believe or fall prey to those attempting to influence your decision.
What has been the most impressive, from my stand point, are my peers. As a twenty year old college student, I have not heard prodigious debate as to whether we should vote for someone because of their skin colour. For us, that has nothing to do with our decision. In Ohio, Sen. Obama has been able to reach a generation untouched by the racial strife of the pre-1960s world. He has connected with people who have learned about Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy from textbooks. We are a generation that, generally, doesn’t understand why we shouldn’t vote for someone just because he or she looks different. Rhetoric emphasizing how ‘different’ Sen. Obama is from ‘normal’ Americans has backfired, and this gives me hope for the future.
Whatever the outcome of this election, that ‘change’ will surely remain. Unlike in civil rights era, our goal for the future is no longer to overcome, but to remember that our differences are only skin deep.
Marissa will be blogging for the next three weeks, in the run-up to US presidential elections on the November 4th