After the pandemic and racial equity were raised as key issues in online Your Voice Ohio engagements, students in the Collaborative News Lab at Kent State University were asked to interview several people from various parts of the state about how those topics were affecting their interest in the election. Participating in this reporting project were Lauren Sasala, Gina Butkovich, Tramaine Burton, Paige Bennett, Jenna Borthwick and Madison MacArthur. Associate professor Susan Kirkman Zake advises the staff. The program is sponsored by the Scripps Howard Foundation.
Bus driver driven by voting concerns
Name: Jason Williams
Occupation: Long-distance bus driver
Jason Williams used to love driving up to Cleveland as part of his job as a Greyhound bus driver. It was one of his favorite places to visit. He hasn’t gotten to do that in a few months now, though, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“They cut a lot of schedules,” Williams said. “A lot of people aren’t riding buses right now. They cut a lot of schedules in general. Columbus they cut a lot, and then Cleveland and Cincinnati. I used to love being in Cleveland.”
A lot of drivers were furloughed, Williams said, and it turns out some can make more money collecting unemployment than they made as a driver. Williams continues to drive a bus and isn’t worried about his health—he said his immune system is strong enough to handle any virus.
He is worried about how the virus might affect the 2020 presidential election, and said he is concerned that social distancing measures and masks might be used to stop people from voting.
“A lot of people don’t want to wear a mask right now, so they might have an issue with them trying to go in and vote,” Williams said. “That might be an issue, or they might say ‘the country is shut down again, the election is canceled due to the COVID-19.’”
In recent months, Williams used his free time to attend protests organized by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“One thing about the Columbus Police is, they don’t like the fact that everybody’s coming together,” Williams said. “Blacks, whites, everybody from every part of town, the hood or whatever, coming together.”
Williams saw developments in recent weeks, like more city councils examining police budgets, that give him hope “real change” can happen. But Williams said the pressure needs to remain on the police.
“Lately, since the whole protests and stuff, I’ve been very up and good on my current events and stuff like that and I’ve been sharing it with other people,” Williams said. “So we can be pretty much fact checking ourselves. So never listen to what somebody says, take all the information so we can know and if they say something about voting, make sure we can go out there and vote anyways.”
Bringing virus home worries retired teacher
Name: Rudy Sever
Hometown: New Albany
Occupation: Retired high school government teacher
Rudy Sever uses an alcohol spray in his car every time he leaves his house, ever since COVID-19 became big news in the United States in March. He never goes anywhere without wearing a mask and gloves, and he is careful to throw them away when he re-enters his condo.
“Elaine has asthma,” Sever said of his wife. “She has diabetes and I can’t bring anything into the house, so I have to be very careful when I’m outside.”
As a former teacher, Sever, 75, is following the plans being made to reopen Ohio schools in the fall. And what he’s hearing worries him.
“I just feel sorry for the schools,” Sever said. “And I don’t even think it’s possible for them to do what the president wants them to do, which is ridiculous.”
Sever taught high school government and every year, he would help his students register to vote. Whether they voted or not was up to them, but they would be registered.
“When I was still teaching, I said [to the students] ‘do you like having your parents tell you what to do?’” Sever said. “And of course they didn’t like that much. I said ‘well, if you don’t get out and vote, they’re going to continue to tell you what they want you to do.’”
Sever worries every day about how the 2020 presidential election will go.
Watching the news today, and following the coverage of the protests, Sever said it’s refreshing to see young people of all backgrounds march for equality.
“It’s not just Black people marching up and down the street,” Sever said. “It’s refreshing to see that vitality evolve, because I’ve never seen that before. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
Separation was hard, she relaxed her rules
Name: Nancy Harden
Hometown: Concord Township, Lake County
Occupation: Retired, former IT manager
Nancy Harden said she constantly worries about contracting COVID-19, but the 74-year-old said she also realizes that staying away from family has implications for mental health and socialization, which are just as important.
“At the beginning I was very cautious. So, I would have food delivered from the grocery stores. I wouldn’t see my grandchildren or children. I’ve loosened up with that, which has helped mentally to be able to at least see my children and go to a store occasionally,” she said.
Soon Harden’s daughter will be returning to her job as a teacher, and three weeks after, her grandchildren, who she babysits, will return to school. She’s concerned her daughter is around lots of kids and wonders what she could bring home. “I’m a little concerned about that, but that’s the risk I’m going to take.”
As protests involving race and police brutality continue to sweep the nation, Harden said when she was growing up, she “came from a mixed-prejudice family. My father did not like other nationalities and colors, and my mother was more open with saying, you know, ‘love everybody, God’s children’ sort of thing.”
The current landscape of the upcoming presidential election is also on Harden’s mind.
“I just think that the way our politics in this country runs, you don’t get good, qualified people because nobody in their right mind that has any real intelligence would want to be in there. The only value for anybody is the greed and the money and influence they get.”
At this moment in history, Harden’s glad she’s 74. “The future scares the heck out of me, and I don’t know that I want to be around for it. You know, I could have skipped this.”
Covid strikes close for public health nurse
Name: Mary Garvey Apodaca
Occupation: Public health nurse
Many Americans lost their jobs or had their work hours reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mary Garvey Apodaca, an essential worker and public health nurse, is working more.
Coupled with her increased workload and its added stressors, Apodaca’s father-in-law tested positive for COVID-19 and was recently placed on a ventilator. Because he did not test positive for coronavirus when he was admitted to the hospital, he was allowed visitors. Now, those visitors are being advised to quarantine, including some of Apodaca’s family members.
“I’m seeing what a ripple effect it [COVID-19] can be, affecting way more than just the person who gets it,” Apodaca said.
With social distancing guidelines in place for Ohio residents, she is unable to see friends and family members, something she said is extremely difficult. Apodaca finds hope in her faith, though, as it motivates her to be resilient and to love others in a self-sacrificing way, she said, especially as it relates to the current racial tensions in the country.
“Treating people with respect and dignity is going to eventually make a difference,” she said.
Apodaca emphasized the importance of examining one’s biases and to listen, learn and talk about racial injustices, so she can help to contribute to the solution. When she’s pulled over by police, she said, her white privilege makes her able to not worry about being mistreated, but that reality is completely different for her son, who is Hispanic.
“I see all kinds of institutional ways that make it difficult for African Americans,” she said.
Apodaca said she will become more active in the voting process during this year’s presidential election. She said campaign advertisements distort information, but she will be visiting election websites and watching the debates to try and increase her own knowledge.
“I think I need to do more research,” she said. “I really want to be more informed.”
Job loss, pandemic made her more political
Name: Setys Kelly
Occupation: Unemployed, formerly a manufacturing sales representative
Setys Kelly said the coronavirus pandemic made her more political and radical due to her job loss. Kelly was a manufacturing sales representative for PopSocket, and would pitch the product, which works as a stand attached to the back of a phone, to retail locations such as Hallmark stores, hospital gift shops and smaller shops.
“When everybody shut down, I didn’t have anyone to sell to,” Kelly said. “Now that people are open, or halfway open, they’re still not buying because they have stuff from St. Patrick’s Day to Easter to Mother’s Day, and many of my stores aren’t coming back because they’re closed for good.”
Kelly said manufacturer’s asked why she wasn’t selling as much as other representatives in other states, but she pointed out, “people are leaving Ohio to go on trips, you never hear anyone in Florida saying ‘let’s go to Ohio.’”
Kelly and her family are carrying on as they did before the virus. She said while other people are adhering to restrictions related to the coronavirus, she is not.
“I don’t care if someone doesn’t stand next to me, you know, other people freak out about it, I could care less,” Kelly said.
Kelly said she finds hope in her church — she believes Christ is the only way for the pandemic to be solved.
Kelly is not overwhelmed or anxious when she thinks about the election.
“There’s not a whole lot I can do about it other than vote and try to tell people and inform them about what they’re actually voting for, but people don’t care,” Kelly said. “People vote with their emotions. People make the system with their emotions. No one is ever information-driven.”
Kelly said voting should be in person and that voters should have an ID.
“Our primary here was canceled, which is unconstitutional and there’s like a lawsuit against that,” Kelly said. “I didn’t have time or the opportunity to get a mail-in ballot and many people that requested mail-in ballots never got them.”
Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Kelly said the Black Lives Matter movement lost her support after looting occurred during the protests. “Once you…rob the first store, you lost me, that’s when it became no longer about racial issues,” Kelly said. “It became, you know what I can get, well, what can this do for me?”
Kelly said she knows she needs to broaden her circle beyond her own Black friends in order to have a more diverse group in her life.
“It’s not a matter of, I don’t want to do that, but more or less circumstances, like nearly everybody in my profession, they were white,” Kelly said. “I had very few customers that were Black and very few coworkers that were Black, but that wasn’t my choice, that’s just how the circumstances were.”
OU student interested in candidates’ response
Name: Matt Wilson
Occupation: Student, engineering major
As COVID-19 keeps Matt Wilson from working at Ohio University doing undergraduate research until further notice, he also tries to distance from people, including family members. When he does go out, he limits who he chooses to interact with.
“A lot of businesses around here value their employees and the community’s safety over the potential profits to be made,” Wilson said.
Despite the need for social distancing, Wilson said he is proud of the activism in the community after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, including the signs he sees in the windows of homes that support Black Lives Matter, along with people acknowledging racial disparities.
“In my community there are people of all different race, religion, ethnicity, financial status, etc., yet we are all united in one goal,” Wilson said.
Based on the previous few months, Wilson said he thinks this presidential election will be different from 2016 and given the circumstances, each candidate faces unusual challenges.
“It will be interesting to see what each candidate’s resolution will be to all the problems facing our country,” Wilson said.
Nurse finds hope in recovered patients
Name: Jennifer Boeck
Occupation: Inpatient oncology nurse
Jennifer Boeck spends her weekdays at home taking care of her two children, but on the weekends she works 12-hour shifts as an inpatient oncology nurse at a local hospital. When the pandemic hit Springboro, a mostly white, suburban city south of Dayton, she was furloughed for a month due to the drop of non-COVID patients.
When she came back to work, she said it was difficult to get protective gear at first, but the equipment is more available now. She said wearing it is now a regular part of life.
“I feel guilty to complain about it because others have been directly and significantly affected,” Boeck said. The virus’ effect on her life is “more of an inconvenience,” given the stress of her two jobs as the mother of two young kids and a nurse.
Initially, though, she said, the “worry of getting it and spreading it to my children or neighbors or whatever was very anxiety-provoking.”
She hasn’t visited her parents in a year — she was planning to see them in Maryland in the spring but couldn’t go due to the coronavirus. Boeck said something that gives her hope is seeing her patients who recovered from COVID-19 and who came back to the hospital to seek treatment for other serious ailments.
“These are patients that have had cancer and chemo, so their immune system(s) are shot,” Boeck said. “That makes me a little bit hopeful.”
When it comes to the presidential election, Boeck is both nervous and excited for November. She hopes to find a presidential candidate who listens to logic and finds experts to help form their decisions and their policies, versus going completely against the experts.
Boeck also wants COVID-19 to be contained and for the president to be on the same page as other countries. She is concerned about being able to place her vote.
“I would like to go and cast my vote to make sure, but then I understand the issue with the pandemic and how (doing that) could cause a spike in cases, but I’m torn,” Boeck said. “I mean, of course, I just feel so awkward to mail in my vote when I want change so desperately, it makes me feel very weird to do that, but yet I do. I also wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a booth.”
Boeck said her other priorities going into November’s election are the issues of gun violence, increased access to mental health care and police reform, given the racial tensions across the country that followed George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
“What we can all do is just support each other and be open to everyone’s opinions and feelings and not be tit for tat or not come from a place of love,” Boeck said. “You just need to understand and have the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, in someone else’s circumstance.”
Educator is focused on racism, pandemic
Name: Alan Phillips
Occupation: Paraprofessional educator
Like millions of Ohioans, the coronavirus pandemic upended Alan Phillips’ life.
The paraprofessional, who provides assistance to teachers in the classroom, said coronavirus created challenges for educators like him because it eliminated face-to-face interaction with students. He said classroom communication plays a vital role in education. “I don’t think people realize how personal education really becomes,” he said.
As protests against racial injustice continue throughout the United States, Phillips said it’s important for people to hold themselves and those around them accountable for behaviors and attitudes. “You could have no animosity toward another race, but if a friend does and carries out that racist attitude while they’re with you, and you happen to do nothing about it … they can go on doing it,” Phillips said. People must be willing to call out friends, he said.
Phillips said focus on racial injustice cannot be limited to the time it’s featured in the news. “People tend to do something about it for a short period of time. But once that short period of time is gone […] that racism still lingers,” he said.
The upcoming presidential election, Phillips said, is not his primary concern, although he’s given it some thought. He finds himself thinking about other issues, such as the coronavirus pandemic more frequently, he said.
Intervention specialist can’t mix with coworkers
Name: Deb Karwoski
Occupation: Intervention specialist
Deb Karwoski has not seen her co-workers in person in months and practices social distancing when she goes to public places like the gym or grocery store. “I’ve just been doing what I can on my part to make it safe so we can all get back as close as possible, as soon as possible,” she said.
As concerns about racial injustice continue to appear in the news, Karwoski said it is important for people with different opinions to communicate with one another. “It’s one of those things where we may not agree with each other […] but at least respect each other,” she said.
In Parma, Karwoski said she gained hope from seeing news about the city’s police department doing more community outreach. “Building those relations gives the community a different sense that it’s not an us-versus-them mentality,” she said. Karwoski also said the peaceful protests that occurred in Parma in June showed people can express their views in a nonviolent way, which can give hope to a community.
As the presidential election approaches, Karwoski said it is something she is thinking about. “A lot of factors with regard to my beliefs and my job are a factor of what happens with the presidential election,” she said.
Kent State University associate professor Susan Kirkman Zake can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Voice Ohio is the largest sustained, statewide media collaborative in the nation. Launched nearly five years ago, more than 60 news outlets have participated in unique, community-focused coverage of elections, addiction, racial equity, the economy and housing. Nearly 1,300 Ohioans have engaged with more than 100 journalists in dozens of urban, rural, and suburban communities across the state. Over and over again, Ohioans have helped journalists understand their perspectives and experiences while sharing ideas to strengthen their local communities and the state. Doug Oplinger, formerly of the Akron Beacon Journal, leads the media collaboration. The Democracy Fund, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and Facebook are the primary funders of Your Voice Ohio. The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Practices, a non-partisan non-profit engagement research organization, designs and facilitates Your Voice Ohio community conversations.