Bailey Williams moved into his freshman dorm almost two months ago. Since then, he’s started fulfilling the requirements for his political science and economics double major, found a group of students who are just as passionate about democracy as he is, and also introduced former President Bill Clinton on the Hillary Clinton campaign trail.

One of these things is not like the other. Through the Ohio Together campaign, for which Williams and other student Democrats volunteer, the freshman has been able to rub elbows with former Gov. Ted Strickland, polarizing political figure Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former presidents live and in person.

“After the primary, when it was clear that Hillary Clinton was going to be the nominee, I realized it was time to unite behind her,” Williams, an initial Bernie Sanders supporter and native of Troy, Ohio, said. “I’ve seen her transition over the past 20 years to where she kind of became a big advocate for the African American community… Where I’m from, the Democratic Party is essentially nonexistent. In small communities, they just need to be there.”

Photo by Kat Tenbarge: The Athens County Democratic Party Office
Photo by Kat Tenbarge: The Athens County Democratic Party Office

Environmental concerns clash with conservative platforms

In 2012, 66 percent of Athens County voters went to the polls and bubbled in their vote for President Barack Obama. As a swing state that tends to lean Republican, the overwhelmingly-white population of Athens, one-fifth of which is people in their early twenties, is a beacon of blue.

“College students are somewhat more liberal than other people in the area, and when a small town like Athens has an influx of college students, they outnumber the general population and sway the vote,” David Miller, spokesperson of NextGen Climate, said. The environmentalist organization canvasses across campuses, 60 schools in Ohio alone, and asks millennials to vote against Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump has very a negative view of the climate change issue and clean energy,” Miller said.” He sides with big oil, he’s into protecting their interests, he’s said that upon entering office he’ll make it one of his top priorities to dump the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency that protects our air and water.”

NextGen Climate is anti-fracking, an issue that riles up Athens residents regularly. In the recent Clinton email data dump WikiLeaks released, evidence indicates that Clinton has advocated for fracking around the world. But 27-year-old Miller sees the Democratic Party as a big-picture solution to Ohio’s energy crisis.

“Under (Gov.) Kasich, he froze the renewable energy standards in Ohio, and this is a set of laws that would allow more investment in clean energy,” Miller said. “We would like the Ohio legislature to thaw the freeze on renewable energy standards. It would allow Ohio companies to invest in clean energy and economy to more us in a more positive direction. ”

Photo by Ivy O'Shaughnessy: former President Bill Clinton speaks on College Green on Oct. 4
Photo by Ivy O’Shaughnessy: former President Bill Clinton speaks on College Green on Oct. 4

Democratic demographics stem from campus atmosphere

Strickland, a former representative of Athens County, sees his party as a symbol of Appalachian enrichment, noting in his campus appearance that “Athens has been really good to Bill Clinton and Athens is going to be really good to Hillary Clinton.” Since 1976, the college town has consistently voted for the Democratic presidential nominee.

“I think they’re going to get a party that really believes in inclusiveness,” Strickland said. “The president urged people to reject the divisiveness, so the Democratic Party offers diversity, opportunity, inclusiveness, fairness, and economic and social justice.”

Sean Murphy, the OU organizer for Ohio Together, said Clinton’s platform encourages economic growth for both students and entrepreneurs in rural communities like Athens.

“She has a plan to support and strengthen small businesses, and she has a plan to give every child a chance to go to college tuition-free if their family earns less than $125,000 a year. Because every American deserves the chance to go to college,” Murphy said.

Local politician Sarah Grace, Democratic representative hopeful, is firm in her belief that the people of Athens will vote for Clinton on Nov. 8.

“This is a young, Democratic county and we really believe in bringing people together. Athens is not about hate and bigotry and therefore we have to support Hillary Clinton,” Grace said. “Clinton was talking about affordable college, the idea that everybody can afford to go to college debt-free. That is key for the Athens community, not just the students but the entire community.”

Emma Kraus, a member of the Ohio Together campaign, had an experience with hate that forever changed her life. She was affected by the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.

“This experience reminds me every day that we need a leader, a president, who has always worked to keep Americans safe,” Kraus said. “Hillary Clinton is that person. I can say without a doubt in my mind that I trust Hillary Clinton with my life. I know that Hillary Clinton will always fight for me, for my family, for my safety and my security. And that is what keeps me going every single day on this campaign.”

Photo by Ivy O'Shaughnessy: former Gov. Ted Strickland is one of several introductory speakers at the OU Clinton rally
Photo by Ivy O’Shaughnessy: former Gov. Ted Strickland is one of several introductory speakers at the OU Clinton rally

Clinton yard signs dominate Athens suburbs

Ohio University is the largest employer in Athens County, and in a survey conducted by The New Political of Athens residents displaying Clinton yard signs, three-fourths of the respondents either worked for the university or had a spouse employed. (Residents displaying Trump signs were surveyed as well, but all declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Lisa Cohen moved to Athens from Minnesota after she was offered the position of director of external relations for the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a more qualified person for the position in the history of the United States. I think she has tremendous experience, I think she represents the middle class better than the other candidate. I am in favor of a female president and I think she’s worthy,” Cohen said.

In the 2016 primaries, almost twice as many Athenian voters chose Sanders over Clinton. The unapologetic socialist is infamous for his college-aged following, but Amy Coombs is “nearing her sixties” and isn’t ashamed of her progressive leanings.

“I never expected Bernie Sanders to win, I was thrilled to see (the progressive platform) make so much progress,” Coombs, an author and Athens resident of 25 years, said. “I’m an Obama supporter, I still am and I have never disliked Hillary Clinton. She’s just a little more hawkish, she’s more tied in with Wall Street, it’s the same argument. You can’t become president of the United States without character flaws.”

Former assistant principal of Nelsonville-York High School Terry Robb has no immediate connection to OU, nor does his wife, Cheryl Robb, a former high school counselor. But their support of Clinton draws from her campaign’s Appalachian presence.

“Well, I think she just cares about that echelon of people. I think she truly has spent her life working for that group of people, well all groups of people, but especially that group of people and I believe her when she speaks,” Cheryl said. Terry noted with a wry chuckle that Trump’s temperament disqualifies him.

Strickland preached about the hate and bigotry of Trump’s campaign on the cool fall morning of former President Clinton’s arrival. In front of a crowd of upturned OU students’ faces, he reminded them to “fight this old battle against ancient enemies, the enemies of illiteracy and strife.” Despite the line of Ohio University College Republicans protesting outside the rally, Athens is yet again projected to vote a Clinton into office.

“That is part of our future, that students can come and continue to have this experience, that we work together to make our community better and stronger,” Grace said. “That is absolutely the truth and it’s what Athens is about.”

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