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St. Louis Voters Discuss Struggles, Election Hopes

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St. Louis Voters Discuss Struggles, Election Hopes

Election 2008

St. Louis Voters Discuss Struggles, Election Hopes

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. And in this final week before the election, our co-host Melissa Block is traveling in the swing state of Missouri. She's talking with voters along a stretch of the Mississippi River. Polls show the presidential race in Missouri to be neck and neck. To win the state, Barack Obama would need to win votes in rural and suburban areas that are traditional Republican strongholds. Obama can count on overwhelming support in Missouri's urban centers, including St. Louis. It's a majority black city that's expected to give him a big boost, and it's where Melissa is today.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The Mississippi River snakes along the edge of St. Louis and made this city an industrial powerhouse. Here at a cavernous abandoned electrical factory, they're training workers for today's skilled manufacturing jobs. The nonprofit Manufacturing Training Alliance teaches computer numerically controlled machining.

Unidentified Trainer: Good job. Good job.

Unidentified Trainee: Do I do good? Yeah, I did good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: I sit down to talk with the current trainees. They range in age from 22 to 54, all of them African-American. We talk about the economy and politics and what brought them to this training program in the first place. Eric Harrington starts. He's been out of work for two years.

Mr. ERIC HARRINGTON (Trainee, Manufacturing Training Alliance): Basically doing nothing, just sitting around, hanging out, road to nowhere.

BLOCK: Roosevelt Roberts says he was also going nowhere with a part-time job with U-Haul. Nadine Newberry, the oldest trainee, is retired from GM.

Ms. NADINE NEWBERRY (Trainee, Manufacturing Training Alliance): I have a family member that's raising two grandkids, and he fell on hard times. So I knew that I had to sharpen up my skills to go back to work.

BLOCK: Another trainee, Byron Hatchett, recently released after two years in prison for burglary.

Mr. BYRON HATCHETT (Trainee, Manufacturing Training Alliance): You know, I know that with my record, I have to be more than twice as good as the next person in order for them to even take a look at me.

BLOCK: Rita Wright was a salad bar manager at a supermarket. She was laid off. And finally there's Regina Battle, a bartender until she got pregnant.

Ms. REGINA BATTLE (Trainee, Manufacturing Training Alliance): My boss had this thing about, you got to be a sexy bartender. You know, there are no pregnant bartenders. So I tried to hide the pregnancy as long as I could. And then when I couldn't hide it no more, I just stopped going.

BLOCK: She has four children. She ended up on welfare and got steered to this manufacturing class. When I ask Regina Battle about the economy here, she sighs and shakes her head.

Ms. BATTLE: I've never seen so many people have their utilities cut off ever in my life. I've never seen so many people without lights, without gas, without water. People are struggling. They're losing their jobs. They're losing their houses. That's serious to me because if I don't have to do nothing else, I have to put food on the table, put a roof over a few heads, and clothes on a few backs.

BLOCK: Byron, what about you? What do you see going on in the economy?

Mr. HATCHETT: Having been incarcerated with little or no opportunity financially to advance yourself, being out here, you know, it's like a difference between day and night. I know that if I do the right thing and I continue to do what I need to do, that people are more willing to help me, you know. And I think that Barack Obama will get into office, and I think that he will be good for the economy. I think that he will bring a fresh look with the things that are going on, so.

BLOCK: You just raised politics. So let's go down that road. What do you think about heading into this election next week? Eric, what about you?

Mr. HARRINGTON: With this election, basically Obama is talking about what is really the necessities: education, the economy, and also for the teachers to be paid enough so they will have enough indulgence to teach the children. And as I look at McCain, basically if he gets into office, I see it's just going to be wars and wars.

BLOCK: Roosevelt?

Mr. ROOSEVELT ROBERTS (Trainee, Manufacturing Training Alliance): My main concern is the Electoral Colleges. Because with Al Gore, he had all the popular votes, but the Electoral Colleges came down to something different, and he didn't get in office. And that's my biggest concern.

BLOCK: You're thinking it might be close.

Mr. ROBERTS: Right. And if it's close, some foolgazy things can always happen to go the Republican way, and I don't like that.

BLOCK: Nadine, what's on your mind as you think about voting next week?

Ms. NEWBERRY: I'm thinking that this is the most important election that I probably, or anyone else, will witness in a lifetime. This is the United States. Where did we go wrong? You know, we're some of the richest people, supposedly, in the world, and you've got foreigners that are living much better than we are. Something needs to be balanced out.

BLOCK: If Barack Obama does win on Tuesday, has anybody here thought about what it will feel like to wake up on Wednesday, November 5 with an African-American as president?

Ms. BATTLE: I already know I'm going to cry, scream, holler, just thank God, you know, that my kids get to see the real dream, you know. Because they say we can be what we want to be, but it only has gone so far in a black community. You know, we've never seen our people go all the way to the top.

BLOCK: Nadine.

Ms. NEWBERRY: My goodness. I don't know what I'm going to do about it. I'll probably cry first. And then I always say prayers for him, because you got so many people who just are so wicked. No matter what and how qualified a person is, they have a negative feeling about a black person. And I pray for his safety.

BLOCK: Rita, any thoughts?

Ms. RITA WRIGHT (Trainee, Manufacturing Training Alliance): I don't know what would happen if he does not get in office. I think that'd be a rude awakening for everybody because we're all sitting here confident saying that we're banking on him to be our next president, but what's going to happen if he isn't our next president, you know?

BLOCK: Byron, how about you?

Mr. HATCHETT: You know, to me, you know, it's all about opportunity. You know, I'd be very happy, you know. But I'll be working just as hard because, you know, he can't do it for me.

BLOCK: Roosevelt?

Mr. ROBERTS: This will be my first time voting. I actually refused to vote because I didn't really think that my vote would count. But this changed it all. My friends and I always say - just saying that a black person can be anything, but a white person is the president. And Michael Jackson proved one theory wrong, and Obama is the next. So I'm looking forward to it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Anybody else voting for the first time?

Ms. WRIGHT: Me. This is my first time.

BLOCK: You, Rita?

Ms. WRIGHT: I, before today, didn't feel like my vote really did count. But this will be my first year. You know, my mama, she - we're going together. I'm going to wake her up, let's go. I'm taking my brother. He's never voted. He's 32. It doesn't make a difference. We're going to make it a family affair. We're all going together to the polls.

BLOCK: The trainees' instructor, Ed Welch, has been listening to the conversation. He mentions a text message he got yesterday from a friend urging him to get out and vote.

Mr. ED WELCH (Trainer, Manufacturing Training Alliance): It said "Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama is running so our children can fly."

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Tomorrow, I'll be downriver and on the river in the French colonial town of St. Genevieve, Missouri. I'm Melissa Block in St. Louis.

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