By David Swanson
Ohio may be trailing Michigan and a few other states in official unemployment statistics, but in all of these states the truth is worse than we’re told, and it’s visible. Unemployment rates do not include those who’ve given up looking for work, those with an insufficient part-time job, those who have figured out that they would pay more for childcare than they would earn working, those in prison, or those working for less than a living wage.
On a book tour in Ohio, I’ve met people underworked, overworked, and underpaid. I’ve seen shut down factories and every other sort of building. This is a depression. There are huge areas with nothing new built and nothing old properly maintained. But there are people actively engaged in struggling for economic justice and every other kind of justice, for themselves and for the rest of the world. And that is inspiring.
Mary Nichols Rhodes, Michael Carano, Pat Carano, and other leaders of Progressive Democrats of Ohio are fulltime activists with unrelated fulltime jobs caring for people’s health, driving trucks — when do these people sleep? How do they keep going? They are engaged in constant, varied, overlapping campaigns for local, state, national, and international justice. In Akron, these and lots of other activist leaders last year discovered that the mayor planned to sell off the city’s sewers. Rather than taxing wealthy corporations and individuals, why not enrich them further by privatizing sewers? The people said no, put it on the ballot, passed it, and defeated a ballot measure proposed by the mayor. This and other local victories are not heard about nationally, in part because those involved never stop to tell their stories, but push on doing their share in pressuring Washington to end wars and provide healthcare.
Some of them do put their thoughts down on paper. Lee Geisse, a United Steelworkers member from Canton sent me an article today that reads in part:
“As a proud member of the United Steelworkers and a greaser at a plant in Louisville, I help in the production of specialty steel titanium. One of the end-use products for this titanium is a plate frame heat exchange that is exported to less-developed countries and makes nonpotable water potable. It is also used to make the hub for wind turbines. I am extremely proud of the work I do because I know the metal I work with is used to help generate clean, free and renewable energy. And I know that renewable energy and energy efficiency help Ohio families save money on energy bills. In fact, one study showed that comprehensive clean energy and climate policy could save Ohio’s working families an average of $810 a year by 2030….
“I am so excited about the clean energy possibilities for our country’s workers that I’ve traveled across the state to educate my union brothers and sisters about the jobs available in the new clean energy economy. The Toledo-based Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC manufactures solar panels for residential and commercial use at its manufacturing plant in Perrysburg. The company plans to expand from one line to as many as 16, potentially employing more than 3,500 workers. These are exactly the types of opportunities our workers need in these tough economic times.”
I also met a math teacher named Victoria Lovegren. She, like everyone else I’ve met here, is not purely focused on local issues, no matter how grim the immediate situation. She and other U.S. academics traveled to Iraq in January 2003, two months before the bombing. She met with Sa’doon Hammadi, Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Iraq, who read aloud and handed to her a letter. It had been sent in August 2002 to the United States Congress by the government of Iraq. The letter denounced the lies about “weapons of mass destruction” as well as the earlier lies about babies removed from incubators that had been used to launch the first Gulf War. The letter was a plea for communication, but our corporatized US communications system had something other than communication on its mind. Lovegren later hosted an Iraqi exchange student, who then obtained asylum, and whom Lovegren calls her son. The people of the United States may have troubles, yet they know that others have it worse and that our own government is responsible. And our people, unable to sway our government, do what they can on their own scale.
I spoke with a young man named Ian Charnas who is working on plans for a 1.5 acre farm in the city of Cleveland, to produce local jobs and grow local vegetables for local sale. The potential for such projects in places like Cleveland or Detroit is enormous. And Washington cannot easily stop it. However, if it were up to Cleveland, Congress would be a force for good in the world. Congressman Dennis Kucinich represents Cleveland. If the rest of Congress acted like him, we would have peace, healthcare, and economic justice. The people of this place must be given credit for electing and re-electing this man despite the concerted efforts of Cleveland’s corporate media and wealthy elite. But I’m unable to identify how the people of Cleveland perform as citizens and voters so drastically better than most other places as to account for Kucinich. Ultimately, credit has to go to the congressman himself for resisting corrupting forces and leading the way.
If you need a jolt of joy in Cleveland, and the existence of Dennis Kucinich is not enough, I strongly recommend the contribution of another unique benefactor, the architect Frank Gehry. A city with a Gehry building as stunning as the business school, of all things, at Case Western Reserve University must have some capacity for envisioning positive change.
David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book