On Coming Home (to work the election) / by Nate Westheimer

On why I 'm riding a train back to Cincinnati to help save my home-town, State, and Country... Background: Late last week, my dear friend Lauree Hayden (an amazing force inside the SEIU) emailed me a link to this campaign ad from congressional candidate Vernon Robinson: [audio:miller_mariachi.mps] After listening to the spot, I replied to Lauree, saying:

it sucks being in new york... i miss ohio where my vote counts!

To which she replied:

you should GO TO OHIO for the last week or couple of days..!

I SHOULD go to Ohio for the last few days before the election, I thought. Why had I let myself fall to the common liberal cold of sniffling instead of doing? Did I really think the pocket change I gave to MoveOn.org or the Democratic Party would make a difference in this election?

After a minute of reflection, I realized I would never know how far my $100 of contributions had gone; but, if I didn't go to Ohio -- Ground Zero of a possible Democratic resurgence -- I knew that I wouldn't be able to say I did everything I could to help. So, I decided to go by train to Cincinnati and spend the week leading up to the election working for David Pepper's Democratic campaign for Hamilton County Commissioner. One hour and $140 after making my decision, I had an Amtrak ticket on The Cardinal: an Amtrak route that goes between New York City and Chicago, IL, stopping in Washington, D.C., Charleston, WA, Cincinnati, OH, Indianapolis, IN, and a dozen other fine American towns along the way.

Why invest myself in this election: If the stakes were higher for America this would be called the 2004 election. Republicans are running this country in the wrong direction -- nearly 60% of America believes this -- and the consequences could put America in a Dark Ages where: cures are never found because stem cell research is blocked; National Security is constantly threatened because peace is never built and terrorist cells are stoked and fanned by a remarkably poor foreign policy; my generation of Americans is increasingly saddled with the failed fiscal policy myopic politicians who think loading the public debt on the backs of the young is a short-term political solution; American classism grows more intense than racism as Rich America continues to be enriched by Republican policies and Poor America continues to get poorer because of Republicans' state of economic denial; local economy is put on a back-burner to the global economy, instead of being seen as a partner to it; "fair trade" means the free-flow only of financial capital, social capital, and intellectual capital, yet the flow human capital remains regulated and criminalized, causing severe disruptions in the legal economy.

With the steaks this high, I can afford to take this week and work to elect smarter, better, leadership. Better said, I can't afford not to.

Why David Pepper's Campaign? David Pepper is smarter and better leadership than what Hamilton County has today. Mr. Pepper is one of the few people in Cincinnati politics who really only cares about two things: making the lives of Cincinnatians better, and working with the best set of data possible to make decisions and form policy. This is in sharp contrast to those who run against Mr. Pepper, especially in this election, when he is up against one of the nastiest and inept people involved in politics in the Greater Cincinnati area.

From a broader and more strategic place, working for David's campaign, and making sure his voters come out to the polls to vote, increases the likelihood of other Democrats winning their important races. In Hamilton County, voters have the chance to replace two failed Republican Representatives with proven leaders and community advocates from the Democratic Party; voters also get to replace a corrupt GOP administration the State Capital with an honest and strong Democratic candidate; and in the Senate race, voters get to kick-out an out-of-touch Mike DeWine.

Why go on The Cardinal: I am writing this from The Cardinal -- Amtrak's #51 train, which is, frankly speaking, the closest thing to experiencing America in 24 hours one can ever get. Indeed, riding Amtrak is the most American form of transportation that exists in this Country. So, you can imagine why I thought that the train was the only way to travel back to Cincinnati to help win this election.

Now, I'd like to say that The Cardinal is a true American route for many reasons, but one is the view. According to Amtrak:

The Cardinal offers unforgettable views of the Southeast's stunning natural beauty. You'll see gently rolling horse country, the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the wild white-water rivers of West Virginia as they can only be seen by train. Heading westward, the train rolls along the banks of the mighty Ohio River--from the quaint towns of Ashland and Maysville, to the skyline of Cincinnati. From there, your journey continues to Indianapolis, and then northward to Chicago.

It's a Woodie Guthrie song on rails. (click on the image to see a more detailed view) The Cardinal - Route

From you train one really does see magnificent things -- the leaves were changing this afternoon in Maryland and Virginia, and I think New England now has a rival for most vibrant colors in my book -- but I already knew the trip would be wonderful. Winter Break of 2002-2003 I road-tripped home college (Boston to Atlanta via car; Atlanta to Cincinnati via Greyhound), and needed a cheap way of getting back to Boston. I found out that for $99 I could take the train, though I would have to leave Cincy at 6am, change trains in DC that night at 9, and then arrive in Boston at 6 the next morning (yes, it was a 24 hour trip).

The people on The Cardinal have made this year's trip fun -- I've learned travel secrets from the train's crew, talked about the art of traveling light with a young mother who got off in West Virginia, shared the lone electrical outlet my my car with an overly polite immigrant headed to Chicago -- but the experience four years ago was more than fun; it was life changing:

For most of the ride I was either in the dining car shooting the breeze with the waiter/chef/host or the smoking room attached to it. I was the only non-smoker in the room, but the diversity went way beyond that. America was in the smoke car of Amtrak's number 50 train. One guy, a maintenance instructor for Caterpillar, was on his way to New York to proposition his long-time, long-distance girlfriend; a woman came in for a smoke periodically with her infant in arms (either none of us had the courage, or we thought it would be impolite, to tell her to get out); a few "Train Riders" -- folks who travel on trains for the sake of riding, rather than "arriving" -- were also in the room. Back out the in dining car, a local historian jumped on board for the few hours we were in West Virginia and spoke about the history and geography of the area.

Indeed, The Cardinal carries Americans, and let's you see parts of "our land" that are quite wonderful. Though it takes a day to ride it, it's a day well spent; and as you can see, I've even made true on my promise (to myself) to get some work done while at it.