East Toledo, Ohio

It’s been almost a month since Obama got elected, and still the collective euphoria of that night—November 4, 2008, a date burned into my brain—can wash over me. A glance at a photo, a few notes from Aretha Franklin, or even a news clip can release waves of relief and hope and a much-needed confirmation that the formative ideas of our country, even in its current dysfunction, can still work. But then I remember East Toledo. Just the name serves as a counterweight to my political giddiness.

In a nine-day trip before the election, my friend Margot McLean and I drove to Ohio to canvass for Obama. For six full days we knocked on doors in East Toledo. Our organizers told us we could go to another, “easier” neighborhood, but neither of us wanted to. We were seeing up close a place we didn’t know existed—in America, and yet laid waste. Well, we did know, but it’s one thing to hear about the number of lost jobs and foreclosures on NPR while you’re in your own kitchen throwing baby greens into a salad, or to drive through a bad (meaning poor) neighborhood with the windows rolled up on the way to somewhere else, and quite another thing to rub up against poverty in this way—intimately—walking up to one door after another and knocking, wanting to talk.

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