Saturday, February 14, 2009

Yes There Are Real People in Ohio

In the 2000 and 2004 presidential sweepstakes, politicians cast covetous glances on Ohio. Money poured into the state, one of the so-called “swing states” that politicians and pundits said would decide which party, which presidential candidate, would occupy the White House.

Ohio was a swing-state because it was second only to Michigan in the steady rise erosion of the tax-paying manufacturing working base in the state as a whole and especially in automobile manufacturing and final assembly. Every year the accumulation of bad economic news seemed to mount higher regardless of the efforts by the state to stanch the flow of red ink. Paydays brought more pink slips than pay slips; unemployment ran higher than the national average; and as plants closed and incomes dropped and people spent less to make the unemployment checks (while they still came) or the money saved for other purposes but needed now, stretch further, small businesses started closing down and the number of indirect job losses boosted the number of the unemployed further.

In some parts of the state, even Mother Nature seemed to be in a contrarian mood. Heavy snows followed by ice followed by more snow coated highways and cars as well as walking paths, making movement more hazardous than normal. In more rural areas, where copses still harbor maple trees, those who still remember how and when to tap the trees for the raw syrup have fallen behind schedule in collecting the liquid while it is still flavorful The snow-ice-snow “sandwich” has also affected the deer population. They are eating – stripping may be more accurate – “winter” foliage cultivated by homeowners, everything from ground cover to bushes to trees of all kinds. And they are not stopping at the edges of undergrowth that keep them hidden from observation; the deer come right up to the houses.

But there is also a stirring of another kind in the land called Ohio.

What is beginning to take hold in Ohio as in other parts of the country that are not highly urbanized and highly politicized is the quiet determination of individuals to work together, to build new institutions, to set new standards, to tap the potential in their communities to make community a reality. This is a far cry from the isolation of the “powerful” who, to retain their position, sometimes do not stop at the line but step into illegalities in their attempts to reach for what they think is theirs.

Why this theme today, one day after the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln?

I am just back from visiting a university town in Ohio where I spoke with university faculty, students, and other “ordinary” men and women. They have felt the economic down-swing, but they have pulled together to help where they can and how they can those who are at risk of falling through the “social safety net.” For them, the greatest insecurity is not terrorism but economic, not just their individual situations but that of the community today and the community of tomorrow represented by the students.

Lincoln was in his own time and in his own way a master politician. But he was much more because he was one who was willing to constantly learn. Too often, we tend to rest on our achievements, however great or small they may be, and to remain thusly until our repose – if we are fortunate – is challenged sufficiently to rouse us to become involved again in the “race” of our species to learn about, to find, our humanity before we extinguish it altogether through violence on Nature and on each other.


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