Separating the Midwestern state of Ohio, where soda's called "pop" and workers are sometimes allowed to unionize, from my East Coast home state of Virginia, where a governor perched on a diseased branch of my own family tree gave the nation its first right-to-work-for-less law, is nothing other than the beautiful and brutal mountains of West Virginia. As you climb those mountains headed west two things plummet to the valleys below: the employment rate and the price of housing.
On a recent book tour of Ohio, I stayed with author, attorney, and activist Bob Fitrakis at his hundred-year-old mansion just down the street from the state capitol in Columbus. This house is large enough for gatherings of thousands of your closest allies and associates, and offices for dozens of them, and Bob bought it for about the price of a half a bathroom in San Francisco or a share of a one-room apartment in Queens. The mansions nearby are for sale too, some of them for less than the price of my own small house in rural Virginia.
Columbus has a terrific progressive activist community. Virginia is worse off politically than Ohio, and I'm tied to it in lots of ways. But here's what occurs to me. Progressive activists working online can, in many cases, work just about as well from anywhere that has high-speed internet. Rather than setting up offices in coastal cities, why not set them up in swing-states and overpowered early primary states like Iowa, boosting local activism there and investing most of the rent or mortgage funds into actual work instead? If the weapons makers can manufacture a single instrument of death in hundreds of congressional districts, why can't we inject life into some of them? Why are so many labor unions headquartered in Washington, D.C.? Are those high costs a good use of working people's money?
The national president of Veterans for Peace, Mike Ferner, another of the best authors and activists we have in the country, was also my host on the book tour. He lives in Toledo in the most beautiful spot I saw on my journey, and he paid for it perhaps the equivalent of six-months' rent on a parking place in a major coastal city. Veterans for Peace is headed to Pittsburgh later this month to protest the G-20 along with many other organizations, and the working (and no longer working) people of Ohio are going to be well represented.
Also in Toledo I had a chance to see Ben Davis, a professor at the University there who has been advocating the prosecution of torturers. When torture lawyer John Yoo recently spoke in Toledo and was booed and protested, Yoo exclaimed "What is this, Berkeley?" to which another citizen activist who came to my book event replied: "No! It's Toledo!" I also met a woman in Toledo named Peggy Daly Masternack, who along with many others recently persuaded the school board to stop administering military tests to students and to notify parents of the right to opt-out of having children's contact information provided to military recruiters. This was not an insignificant accomplishment in a context where a military job looks more and more preferable to other available possibilities.
There are engaged progressives in all corners of this country. Why not join them?
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