Sunday, October 26, 2008

Way to Go, Ohio

I spent Saturday canvassing in a rural part of Ohio near my hometown of Oregon. It was a great day full of unexpected delights.

The whole structure was not what I expected. I figured that I'd be meeting up with a few people in their early 20s decked out in Obama gear and full of a take-on-the-world attitude. I thought we'd be walking up and down the small town home to the staging area. And, I thought it would last about two or three hours.

Instead, I found myself among a bunch of ladies in their 60s and older. I was paired with a woman named Fay. Fay is 80 years old, spry, and witty. As she told me, she's spent her whole life within a mile and a half of the railroad tracks that run through the township. She'd also been a school teacher in the area. With that kind of experience, she knew just about everything about everyone in the township. It was amazing as she would correctly guess the last names at various addresses we stopped at.

These addresses were along township roads. Some of them the homes of farmers. Most of them not. But, all of them spaced far from one another in that rural pattern so common in Ohio. To get to each of them we didn't walk. Instead, we hopped into Fay's big white pickup truck and drove from house to house. I'd hop out at each place and strike up some conversation and pass out some literature for folks as we met them. Occasionally, Fay would jump out too to catch up with some of the folks she knew well.

The people we met, we're kind and considerate. If they felt it, they never let on hat they found our visit to be annoying or intrusive. Some folks even invited me in to keep warm while we talked. It was really no surprise to me. This is the way people always were when I was living back in Ohio, especially those farther out. There's a sense of knowing that if someone is actually taking the time to come over, they probably have something important to say. After all, it's not like you can just walk next door or across the street.

At the end of the day ,those who would tell us favored Obama over McCain by a margin of about 3 to 1. And, I really think that I answered a few questions in a way that turned people from leaning McCain to leaning Obama. I tried to urge those folks to vote early.

Not one person brought up Bill Ayers or Islam. On person asked me if Barack Obama changed his name. I told them no, but he did go by Barry in high school. I forgot to say, "Do you really think he'd change his name to Barack Obama?"

Most people were worried about health care, energy, and the economy. People are very afraid of slipping out of the middle class. They feel unsure about the future of the economy, wonder how they'll afford to pay for prescriptions and medical care, and think we need to end our dependence on middle eastern oil. I had a long conversation with a guy about energy and drilling. And, I talked about how a company near by called First Solar would benefit and likely expand from a policy change that focused more on domestic more green energy. He seemed to go from undecided to Obama in that conversation.

People were also freaked out about McCain's plan to tax health care benefits. They do NOT like that idea one bit. I never got this far with any of them, but I think the tax on benefits would also be a bigger hit for small businesses (that would also have to pay taxes on that portion of payroll) than any Joe the Plumber scenario. It would be very harmful to small businesses and large businesses too.

Anyone that brought up the war brought it up to say we need to get out of Iraq immediately. In fact, I was stunned at how many people stated that unprompted. I didn't really want to talk about the war much. My plan was to focus on taxes. But, people kept adding on that we're wasting money we need and losing soldiers we love in Iraq just to keep the oil flowing. It's clear that many people feel we're only there to protect the oil.

All in all, it was a good day. The people I met were all white and almost all in their 50s. The fact that they were 3 to 1 for Obama made me feel a little more confident. There were also a lot of undecided voters yet and in many cases, they seemed like folks who would have voted for a more moderate Republican ticket. A lot of those undecided folks thought the Palin selection was a poor choice made purely for political reasons.

I think this part of Ohio is ready for Obama and the change he promises.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Geography and the Invisibility of Poverty

Folks, today is blog action day and I'm joining in on the fight to eliminate extreme poverty in Illinois. You can do your part as well by going to the From Poverty to Opportunity web site.

Poverty is everywhere. But, it is most concentrated and noticeable in urban and suburban communities of color and rural towns and villages across the country.

I've written previously about the geography of inequality. It is clear that America is geographically divided into places of opportunity and places of struggle. This geography is a powerful force that often has an ability to squelch individual efforts toward self-improvement and actions to ameliorate despair. Documented in so many places (like this, this, and this) poverty isolation is certainly a broad structural barrier to opportunity and equality.

This isolation further frustrates efforts to eliminate poverty by rendering it invisible. By spacializing poverty and opportunity, those of us not in poverty benefit from the privilege to ignore our struggling brothers and sisters. Even during an age where the middle class is shrinking and the economy is failing, the geographic structure of our lives allows us to complete our day-to-day tasks without significantly interacting with those living in poverty. It encourages us to abandon those less fortunate than ourselves. And, it leads us to believe that we're insulated from the possibility of scarcity in our lives.

Perhaps most importantly, this isolation means that when we try to construct structures of opportunity we too often ignore the input of those in need of these structures. It is imperative that those living in extreme poverty must be engaged in the development, implementation and enforcement of the policies that grant freedom from poverty. Our separation discourages cooperative involvement and diminishes our capacity to value all voices and perspectives.

Hopefully, today will be the beginning of greater solidarity between those living in poverty and those living more comfortable lives. Hopefully, we can all reflect today on how the way we value the least fortunate among us is a reflection of how we value basic human dignity and our own integrity. Today is a chance to reflect. But, more importantly, it is a chance to get involved in the cause of eliminating extreme poverty and getting engaged with those we frequently fail to acknowledge.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Not so Calculated Risk

Calculated Risk is fond of going on about how many homes are "underwater" -- where homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their home is worth. It seems like something we should keep an eye on but I disagree with the conclusions they consistently make stating that these homeowners are likely to default and/or "mail in the keys".

People buy a home for a lot of reasons. One is an attempt to make a smart investment. But, in most cases, that investment is a 20 to 30-year investment, not a 3 to 5-year investment. More importantly, people buy a home to have a place to live! They are not going to simply mail in the keys because their house lost value.

For starters, they often don't even know if the home is worth more than they owe because they don't know how much they owe at any one time. They might know the house has decreased in value but that doesn't mean it's worth less than they owe. And, it also means people have to give up on their dream of home ownership, something many are unwilling to do.

Calculated Risk is a great site, but I think they're taking too many liberties extrapolating on a short-lived, geographically-focused phenomenon. i wonder if there's any historical evidence of folks doing this in past housing busts. If not, then Calculated Risk should consider much more likely factors in defaults such as job losses and catastrophic payments.