[As folks go to the polls today, I offer this piece — originally titled “Two Years Later,” published during the last midterm elections. Now, more than ever, I am moved by this video and, as the polarization of American politics has intensified even further, motivated by the imperative we face as artists and arts advocates to expand the conversation beyond easy and often simplistic talking points. — Matthew Fluharty]
A little over two years ago, Senator Barack Obama campaigned through the Ohio Valley on the eve of the presidential election. En route from one rally to another, his tour bus passed through my hometown of Smithfield, Ohio. In an unplanned move, the candidate stopped for a brief moment to greet folks who had gathered to cheer along the motorcade. I’m grateful that someone with a digital camera captured this moment for posterity; as the candidate emerges from the long-awaited bus, he seems almost to be returning from a moment of goodwill that we have since misplaced:
When Obama pulled out of Smithfield, Ohio, what he left was a town still resilient in the face of many of the same issues that haunt all of rural America. The main street our future President stood upon was shadow of its former glory–abandoned businesses, dilapidated houses, the high school long gone–but also a metaphor for a state-of-the-nation we sought to amend. As the motorcade snaked its way along the ridge leading out of town, it passed farms owned and preserved with great difficulty by generations of families; among the cattle and crops, as with my family’s farm, sat the giant strip pits–old enough to be unreclaimed–standing for another metaphor we invested in a candidate’s care.
I wonder how the folks in the video would react if the President’s bus stopped again, unannounced, in Smithfield. What would they discuss, what tone would this discussion take? I ponder this as the video plays again, as the images begin to move like ghosts across the computer screen–a moment lost, a memory consigned to the past.
Aside from our own party preferences, there’s no denying that a sense of decorum has vacated our political discourse; while this is no doubt a reflection of our national recession–already mature in November 2008–it is also a comment on our willingness to think, with generosity and civility, beyond ourselves and beyond our own perspectives. Now, more than ever, we need artists to challenge our neighbors’ (and our own) frustrated myopia.