Monday, April 7, 2008

Taking the War to the Election

Putting Out
Voter Guides in
Zelienople, PA

By Carl Davidson

Last weekend a handful of us decided to take our message about the war and the election to Zelienople, PA, figuring if we could do it there, we could do it anywhere.

Zelienople, or 'Zelie' as it's affectionately called around here, is one of those hundreds of 'little towns that time forgot' scattered across Pennsylvania. It's tucked away in the rolling hills and hollows bordering Beaver and Butler counties in the Western part of the state on the Connoquenessing Creek. (Say that fast and properly, and you're better than me, and I grew up here!) Population is 4000 or so, mostly working class and 98 percent white. Once rich in iron ore, the businesses now mainly service local farms.

This month all these places are in the national media spotlight as battleground areas in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary April 22.

But Zelie also has a gourmet coffee house called Beechers that serves as a public square, and they invited my brother, Howard Davidson, and his Pittsburgh Songwriters Circle, to perform. They're a mixture of bluegrass and blues artists, and if you got any more grassroots, you'd be down there in the dirt with the grubs.

'Do an antiwar song to give me a hook, and I'll bring some leaflets, voter guides on the war,' I said to him when he invited me to go along. 'No problem, I always do an antiwar song anyway,' he replied.

We get there just as he comes on stage. The place is packed, about 50 people, greying boomers for the most part, but younger families with small children, too. It's standing room only on Friday night in Zelie.

'I'd like to welcome my family,' say Howard at the close of his self-introduction. That's my brother, the peacenik, back there with the stack of leaflets about Obama, all the other candidates and the war.' I wave my clipboard. Everyone smiles, one or two tables cheer.

In all the four acts in the Songwriters Circle, everyone does songs written by themselves, with content plucked from the local air people breathe here, with both their hopes and their troubles. He does a plaintive ballad, 'Bring Him Home,' from the viewpoint of a soldier's wife, followed by a livelier 'Where is Pete Seeger Now That We Need Him.' He ends with a song the circle gave him to write, as an assignment, about 'decisions.' 'Decisions, you know, like on election day. Don't forget my brother back there with his leaflets.'

Next up is the 'Lonesome No More' band doing a terrific bluegrass rag that reminds me of Country Joe and the Fish. A few people are leaving, so I work the door. Howard grabs a stack of our voter guides and works the room, and in five minutes, everyone has one and every table is reading them. He joins the band as their bass player, and I hear a fierce and poignant song about Northern Kentucky, not too far down the Ohio from here.

I get only favorable comments from people going out at the end. 'Thanks for bringing these Obama leaflets,' one lady says, taking some more. 'They're actually nonpartisan,' I explain. 'They simply rate all the candidates on the war, and he does rather well,' 'That's fine,' she relies, 'We'll spread them around here.'

By 10pm it's all over, as the sidewalks roll up early in Zelie. But we got our message out, and a good time was had by all. Now just to keep at it, over and over, every way we can, until we end this horrible war.

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