Friday, November 5, 2004

Campaigning casts voting in new light

Working to pass school levy gives high school senior hands-on appreciation of democracy

By John Johnston / Enquirer staff writer

Joanna Easterling's stint on the Cincinnati schools levy campaign let her see how hard activists work and "gave me more respect for what they're doing."

Joanna Easterling (right), 18, with her mother, Donesia, waited in line for 45 minutes to cast her first vote Tuesday.

In the end, the hours she put in as a campaign volunteer were worth it, 18-year-old Joanna Easterling says.

Stuffing envelopes, handing out signs, jotting notes on postcards until her hand ached - all worthwhile.

And rising early, standing in a long line on Election Day and voting for the first time - that was well worth it, too.

The senior at Shroder Paideia Academy learned at school Wednesay that Issue 32, the five-year renewal levy to raise $65 million for Cincinnati Public Schools, had passed. She had volunteered with the campaign weekly since late August.

She also learned that John Kerry, the presidential candidate she'd voted for, had been defeated.

"In a way, you want to say, oh, we won. But in another way, you're like oh, we lost."

Excitement and disappointment are part of the learning experience for Easterling, for whom 2004 was a political awakening.

The Pleasant Ridge resident qualifies as a niece of Uncle Sam. She was born on the Fourth of July in 1986.

"My mom says I came in with a boom," says Joanna, who hopes to attend college and study graphic design or physical therapy.

She took her first steps during Ronald Reagan's presidency. She learned to read when George H.W. Bush occupied the Oval Office. She wrote an award-winning DARE essay during Bill Clinton's administration. She became eligible to vote during the presidency of George W. Bush.

"I was proud that she actually registered to vote," Donesia Easterling says of her only daughter. "It wasn't like I forced her to."

This is the 11th story in an occasional series that documents moments that connect us. Find previous stories in the series at Cincinnati.Com, keyword: moments.
"People are always talking that youth don't really get out and vote," Joanna says. Some teens, she says, are "lazy and selfish. If it's not something that revolves around them, then they don't really pay attention to it.

"I didn't want to be one of those."

Joanna was a registered voter by August, when she began her senior year. On the first day of school, teacher Craig Rush welcomed Joanna and other students into his public issues class. He handed them a packet with information about candidates and ballot issues. The students' assignment: Contact a campaign and become a volunteer.

"We're trying to get them to see that they have some influence in society, and they can make a difference," says Rush.

Joanna didn't feel comfortable working for a particular candidate; after all, she hadn't yet decided whom to vote for. So she chose to volunteer for "something that stood for me" - the Cincinnati schools' renewal levy. She is, after all, a product of those schools.

Most Thursdays after classes let out, she could be found at the levy renewal campaign headquarters at Jordan Crossing in Bond Hill.

Her time there helped change her view of politics.

"I was kind of turned off before I started volunteering," she says. Then she saw "how hard people work for what they believe in, and what they think is right. That gave me more respect for what they're doing."

Back in her public issues class, Joanna learned about the Electoral College and political polls. She heard what people from the Kerry and Bush campaigns had to say. She listened to a representative from the League of Women Voters explain a mock ballot, and she practiced punching holes that would produce no hanging chads.

Then Tuesday arrived. Time for the real thing.

She awoke at 6 a.m., an hour earlier than usual. She hadn't yet had breakfast when she and her mother arrived at their Pleasant Ridge polling place, St. Peter's United Church of Christ, at 7:15 a.m.

Inside the yellow brick building, a line of three dozen voters - in jeans and sweatshirts and blue scrubs and suits and ties - snaked around a hallway. Joanna and her mother waited 10 minutes. Twenty. Thirty.

At 8 o'clock, Joanna reached the front of the line and took her ballot to a voting booth.

Working on a campaign was a school assignment.

As for voting, she did that for her community and her country.


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