Ohio: Reclaim America

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Twenty thousand excited voters turned out at the Ohio State University campus here Oct. 5 to hear Bruce Springsteen perform and call for people to register, vote and “take back our country.” It was part of a tour to promote “social and economic justice — a fair shake for all people,” Springsteen told the huge throng.

“Never has the distance between what is implied in the ‘American Dream’ and its reality been greater,” Springsteen said. “For those who’ve lost health care, who have no job and whose pensions have been stolen, the American Dream is only a myth. They’ve justifiably lost faith in this system.” He brought the massive crowd, cheering, to their feet as he called for a “New American Reclamation Project.”

“We need to reclaim our nation!” he roared. “America needs defending from those who sell it down the river just for profits and greed!”

Other speakers included Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman and labor-endorsed congressional candidate Mary Jo Kilroy. Former Sen. John Glenn was greeted as an old friend, with a standing ovation. He called on the crowd to do all they could do to get out the vote for Obama and the whole Democratic ticket. “This may be the last chance we have,” said Glenn, “to save our precious democracy from ruin at the hands of right-wing corporate, GOP crooks.” Glenn introduced Springsteen, calling Springsteen’s music “heartland rock, the real music of our people.”

Hundreds of volunteers worked the crowd, signing up other volunteers and asking unregistered voters to register.

One humorous incident occurred before the concert, when a young woman signed up to register. “Over here, we’ve found one,” shouted a volunteer, and a flock of photographers and other volunteers encircled the poor young woman, snapping pictures and asking for an interview.

Laughing, Kim Russell, a young United Food and Commercial Workers member from Columbus, told me that it reminded her of the big grocery store where she works. “Everyone at my place is registered,” she said. “They’re ALL voting, and I don’t know anyone there that isn’t for Obama.”

“I think some of them finally registered just to get me off their backs,” she laughed, “but we all know that we need changes. The big part was convincing them that voting would actually help.”

It was Springsteen’s day, reminiscent of a 1960s peace or civil rights rally. For this reporter, and for most present, it was a deeply emotional experience. Tears were on many faces, especially some of the more seasoned, but all were smiling throughout.

Instead of a rock concert, Bruce performed with only a harmonica and an acoustic guitar. Every song tore at heartstrings and called out for action. “Mister, I ain’t a boy, I’m a man. And I believe in the Promised Land,” he belted out. “Ghost of Tom Joad” followed and then the audience sang along with “No Retreat, No Surrender.” He did “The Rising,” and then “Which Side Are You On,” to massive applause.

I have to admit that his “Youngstown,” always moistens my eyes, and this was no exception. He wound up his concert by belting out a new song, “Yes We Can,” that he had written for this tour, and then the entire 20,000 were on their feet, joining hands and swaying, closing it out with a rousing version of “This Land is Your Land.”

“I live in a rural area, and there aren’t a lot of Democrats there,” said one Ohioan in the audience, Brian Health, “but there a lot more than ever before. I just had to come to hear Bruce.” Health had just painted a huge “Vote Obama” logo on his barn the past weekend, he said.

“This was you?” exclaimed Betsy Bari, standing nearby. “I told everyone at my shop about that barn, and they all loved it.” Bari wore a homemade “Palin, just shut your pie-hole” T-shirt.

It was a great concert, everyone agreed, and, more importantly, a great and historic day. It was, however, only one of many election activities occurring in Ohio that weekend, with unions and other organizations upgraded their activities as they pushed towards the finish line.

Ohio AFL-CIO President Joe Rugola kicked off his unprecedented Walk for Economic Recovery across Ohio, holding media events each day until the elections. He is publicizing the huge number of closed workplaces in Ohio since Bush took office.

Marches took place here and across the state promoting voter registration and voting for change. Retirees held conferences for economic and are gearing up for the final push. Organized labor is kicking up its “labor to labor” walks, phone banks and rallies.

Volunteers here were buoyed by the latest polls, including one by the notoriously conservative Columbus Dispatch, which showed Obama with an 8-point lead over McCain.

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