Report from Ohio
This is Alexis Sottile, writing, who some of you may know, or some of
you may have heard from before. I just wanted to write for a minute
about my experience in Ohio doing voter outreach work these past two
weeks, and why I feel that the loss of the election was something we
might have expected, that should not, at all, overwhelm us, or
discourage, stop, or slow our beautiful, strong, vibrant efforts.
In Ohio I saw two things, chiefly. I saw, outside the bubble of my great
awake friends in New York, many people, young and old, whose information
about politics comes chiefly, unfortunately, from commercials. I grew up
this way, maybe a lot of THAWsters did as well. I remember loving
Michael Dukakis when I was twelve because he looked Italian, and because
he said he liked to dance.
In Columbus I met a young Lebanese American college student who had not
registered to vote because neither of the candidates was acceptable to
him. I asked him what was unacceptable about John Kerry. "He doesn't
have enough government experience," he told me, which was what his
friend had told him. When I told him that Kerry had, in fact, been a
senator for 20 years, as opposed to Bush's 6 years as governor, and 4 as
president, he had never heard that before---and this was The Day Before
The Election...in Ohio...the state most heavily inundated with campaign
visits, etc. Once had had that fact, he was open to Kerry, open to
voting, and finally, open to voting for Kerry. But the fact is---He
still didn't know that.
There's a divide right now in this country that is akin to the old
literacy divide, and to the old divide betw. who can vote, and who
can't. (and I don't mean to imply that the literacy problem is gone
either, because it isn't.)
It is the information divide, the communications divide. There are those
of us who are priviledged to have an awareness of our options where
political discourse is concerned, and those who don't. As I did voter
outreach in those last two weeks, armed with talking points given to me
by a voter outreach group, I was myself making leaps and bounds in my
own learning curve. How much had I known, myself, about why Kerry could
be helpful, as opposed to my just having a deep mistrust and anger at
President Bush? Not too too much before I watched the debates, in all
But I don't think I'm bad because of that, or that uninformed people in
Ohio or Staten Island are bad because of that. There are many reasons
why this is the case, and people have written eloquent books on the
problems with media and culture in this country.
However, these are books that only the very rare American will read. I
still, myself, have yet to read word-one by Noam Chomsky, because his
name was intimidating to me in college, when I was coming from a
relatively un-politically-aware family and place.
Well, as I knocked on doors in Ohio, I saw Kerry/Bush/Kerry/Bush signs
alternating on lawns like a checkered pattern. Houses divided,
girlfriend for Bush, boyfriend for Kerry.
And me, with my little list of facts, two weeks before E-day, trying to
inform people about things I myself was just learning. In the words of
Kerry/Edwards, "we can do better."
We really and really truly can do better. Lucky for THAW, the problem
lies in the area whetre we ourselves are strongest. The problem, as I
see it, is one of a lack of communication, and we, all of us, theater
folk, are communicators first and foremost.
Why do actors make such good candidates: because they can communicate
ideas to large numbers of people, they can speak the language of the
person they are talking to.
As do we, all of us. Let's get together now, and get together often, as
communicators, as human beings, and find our own, particular plans for
breaking down the communications divide. The media is consolidated, but
the theater world is not. We all have a story to tell, a body and a
voice. We have resources we're not even aware of.
I think that the time ahead will be calling us to even greater
involvement in world politics, and even greater love for our fellow
humans. Remember how, after September 11, the city was full of the
words, on stickers, "Our grief is not a cry for war." Right now I
believe that we can say, "Our setback is a reason to dig deeper."
In Ohio, I met amazing people from all over the country who had come to
this place to work on voter outreach in the state. I, myself, never,
ever thought I'd be lucky enough to become an activist. It always seemed
beyond me...something I would've had to have read Noam Chomsky in
college to be able to do...like I missed my chance when I was 19, and
now it was too late. Well, the election is showing me that none of us
have the leisure to doubt our abilities to learn and grow in this work.
These are just a few not-too-coherent thoughts, and I hope to hear from
the rest of you as well. I love you all very much for getting me
involved in THAW, for letting me learn from you, and for guiding me
through my glitches on this road.
Please do not despair, or let this momentum go. These are our days on
earth, our time to make the most of.
With big love (for the long long haul)
from THAW: Theatre Actors Against the War.