Karen Smith choked on tears when she tried to explain the year leading up to the 2020 presidential election.
“My life became a train wreck, honestly,” Smith said.
She lost a wedding, her job and in-person medical appointments she depends on because of the pandemic.
She can’t talk to her “ultra conservative” family about anything political, even how she no longer earns enough to pay for her old insurance plan that covered a $10,000 medication.
And on top of everything, she’s afraid to post anything with a political slant on social media for fear she’ll be attacked or labeled with her own name – Karen – which in 2020 has become a national symbol for obnoxious, often racist, privileged white women who demand things at the expense of others.
“It’s been humbling,” Smith told a group of strangers from Central Ohio during a Your Voice Ohio Zoom meeting Oct. 6.
A month before election day, Ohioans are weary.
The pandemic. The political divisions. The difficulty sorting fact from fiction as their country seems to teeter on the edge of history, uncertain if it will muddle on largely as it was, or evolve, for better or for worse.
That’s motivated some voters, confused others and left many so frustrated they may not even vote.
Two university students in the YVO group, neither of whom wanted to be identified in this article, both crave change – largely because of racism and the fight for social justice.
A 22-year-old college student from Powell, who is Black, said she was too young to vote in 2016, but the election changed her world and how she saw herself in it.
“The day after Trump was elected, I had people coming up to me who I thought were my friends and saying, ‘go back to your country,’ ‘I hope you have your passport on you,’” she said. “I was shocked.”
A fourth-year Ohio State University student, who is white, said his extended family is “very right wing” and “pro-Trump,” yet he and almost all of his friends hold opposing views.
The student, who is in an interracial relationship, said “it’s very difficult trying to reconcile these people are my family and I love them but I’m against what they believe in,” particularly after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and all that’s come after.
“I don’t see a future if the incumbent president is elected,” he said.
Yet deciding who to vote for is more complicated for others.
Amy Pache, a chauffeur from the Dublin area, voted for Barack Obama and then flipped parties in 2016 and voted for Donald Trump.
“I considered both of them outsiders and agreed more than I disagreed with their platforms,” she said.
Pache, who is white, is also in an interracial relationship.
“Black Lives Matter, Antifa and the riots and conflict and the murder rate and all of that is on my mind,” Pache said.
At the same time, Pache wants to maintain strong police departments – perhaps with better training – and lift pandemic restrictions to help so many friends who have been ruined financially by COVID-19.
“I care about how much milk costs, how much is gas,” Pache said, wondering why the media doesn’t ask the candidates about how their policies will impact ordinary Americans.
“I don’t have stocks … I don’t care about stocks … I don’t have 22 zeroes behind the numbers in my bank account,” she said.
Anthony Dorman felt the same disconnect between candidates and Americans like himself.
Dorman is a general laborer who lives in the Bottoms, a Columbus neighborhood west of downtown. It earned its nickname because of its low-lying topography, but for decades the name also reflected many of the people who lived in the Bottoms because they were stuck on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.
Dorman voted for Obama but didn’t vote for either Trump or Hillary Clinton in the last election, even though he leans Republican.
“I would like to see somebody normal, that’s real, that says I growed up in this small town,” Dorman said.
Instead, Dorman said he sees politics as nothing but a useless game played by Democrats and Republicans, but particularly by Trump.
“It’s hopeless, my friends don’t even want to vote” because the country will still have the same problems no matter who is in office, he said.
Dorman sees the presidency much like he sees COVID-19.
He doesn’t know anyone who’s fallen ill with COVID-19. And he doesn’t have any ancestors who have died in previous pandemics.
“COVID is not a reality to me, just like the president,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who he is going to be. There is no effect in my daily life.”
Amanda Garrett is a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is one in a series of stories on issues Ohioans say are most important in this election year. More than 50 news outlets are collaborating in the project under the umbrella of Your Voice Ohio, the nation’s largest sustained, statewide news media collaborative. In five years, Your Voice Ohio has brought more than 100 journalists together with more than 1,300 Ohioans for discussions on addiction, the economy and elections. Your Voice Ohio is managed and coordinated by the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic engagement organization. The project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and Facebook. The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes designs and facilitates the dialogues and digital forums. Retired Akron Beacon Journal managing editor Doug Oplinger directs the media work and can be reached at email@example.com.