Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Another 39 miles for the 99%, and down but not out at #OccupyYoungstown

My last Occupy-related bike adventure was an awesome experience, my 39-mile ride from Ravenna to Cleveland. This time I packed up, got on my bike and headed east to Youngstown. Occupy Youngstown had been raided Friday morning, and their tent and much of their belongings were taken. I wanted to do another long ride to show my support. The weather was decent this weekend, and this being November, I might not have another chance. There were no bike trails that lead to Youngstown, this time it was all bumpy country roads and city streets.

More below the squiggly. Don’t hurt your eyes too much with the blurry picture, my cellphone camera is stone age.

The city, the Myth, the Legend

A little background about Youngstown and its place in local lore. I was born in Cleveland and go to that city occasionally, but I have never been to Youngstown. People around here seem to always say the same thing about that city- “Don’t go there! It’s dangerous!” Cleveland is known for crime too, but the attitude seems to to be “Going to Cleveland? Be careful. Going to Youngstown? You’re crazy!” Stories of crime in Youngstown rise to a legendary, almost mythical level. I’ve heard Youngstown described by people that are from there as “a fighter’s town”, and boxer Kelly Pavlik is immensely popular there. A friend that used to live near there told me to avoid the north side, so I plotted a route right through the middle of it. I wanted to see this city for myself, and I wanted the unfiltered version of it.

Area 51 East

I headed east on Newton Falls Rd. The terrain was hilly, and there was a nasty crosswind coming in from the south. I passed a place called “Rolling Valley Animal Farm” with a lion’s head on the sign. Lions? No way. Then I heard them. “Roooooooarrrr! Raawr! Rawwwr!” Was that a lion? Seriously? A little dog across the street yipped uncontrollably in response. Before I knew it I had rode 8 or so miles to Rt. 5.

Visible behind the houses on the north side of Newton Falls Rd. is a fence topped with barbed wire, extending endlessly as far as the eyes can see in both directions. Behind it is the Ravenna Arsenal, an old WWII ammunition plant and testing area that makes up a huge area of over 30 square miles of the county that has always been off-limits. The government always claimed that most of the Arsenal was no longer in use, even though anyone who grew up here remembers seeing low-flying C-130’s heading in and out all the time. The place has always been shrouded in mystery, and nobody I’ve met has ever been in there. To us, it’s like Area 51 East. Plans for public use of the Arsenal sometimes make local news, then mysteriously disappear. A commercial “Jetport” proposed on part of the land in the 90’s abruptly disappeared from the headlines; a bike trail adjacent to the fence from Ravenna to Windham that was planned a few years ago never got built and disappeared from trail maps.

After decades of claims that the site was unused, a National Guard base has been established there in the past few years, adding a few dollars to the local economy. I wonder if that fence will always be there, guarding the woods behind it like some permanent part of the landscape.

Google Maps Lies!

From the way it looked on Google, Newton Falls Rd. ends on Rt. 5, with a small section that was closed across that road, then continuing east. But when I got there I saw why it was closed. There was a gap where a bridge over railroad tracks had been out for decades. Somehow I thought, “I can get over there!” I walked my bike down the steep embankment, grabbing onto trees, one step away from a nasty fall. It was a little scary.

Then I found myself at the tracks, staring at the steep slope of the other side and the thick woods and brush at the top. How the hell do I get up there? I pushed my bike up as far as I could, then pulled myself to the top. I pulled my bike up the rest of the way, the handlebars kept getting caught in small trees and bushes and I was fighting it the whole way. Finally I was at the top, I hoisted my bike over an old guardrail, and onto the broken pavement overgrown by weeds that used to be this section of the road. This was definitely not the approved bike route. Now my pants were full of burrs, thorns, and bicycle grease, and I had wasted way too much time here.

I emerged from behind a guardrail blocking off this old section of road to a spot that overlooks a spillway by the dam at West Branch reservoir. After enjoying the view, I came out from behind another gate blocking off the road, and realized I never would have found this place by car. Now back on the official part of Newton Falls Rd, I saw a sign going the other way saying “No Outlet”. Heh heh, not for me!

Don’t Tread On Me! Small Government! And Public Parks, Rivers, and Dams.

As expected on the way to Newton Falls I saw a few Gadsden Flags flying in front yards. They hate government and taxes, but no doubt they all fish at West Branch down the road, which is supported by gasp our tax dollars. I had a “we are the 99%” sign on my backpack, and it seemed like some of these huge pickup trucks were getting way too close as they passed me.

Newton Falls is a pretty conservative area from what I know of, but there was a nice little park in the middle of town by the falls where I stopped for a much needed break. A sign boasted about a dam restoration project in the 90’s, and I wondered if the people walking their dogs and enjoying the view of the falls realized that this was all made possible by their taxes and the government they hate so much.

Some running, some not.

I continued east for what seemed like forever. I rode past factories in Lordstown, some running some not. I wanted to ride past the huge GM plant, but it would have taken me far out of my way. I kept going east on Salt Springs road, but past Lordstown there were no street signs. I got to an intersection, but something seemed off. I had taken a wrong turn somewhere, but continued east anyway. The terrain was getting hilly, and I wasn’t sure where I was for a while. A guy in a pickup truck gave me directions back to Salt Springs, and I rode past the huge steel factories of Youngstown, again, some were running some were not.

They told me to avoid the North Side.

I ended up at a neighborhood called Brier Hill, and as the name implies there was a seemingly endless uphill. I was at the four hour mark now, and my knee was killing me. I turned south on Wirt St, right through the North Side. The effects of the economy were apparent. Some houses and buildings were way past the “boarded up” stage, with roofs caved in and walls missing. Many had been torn down completely, with grassy lots breaking up the grid of the urban landscape. The neighborhood didn’t seem as threatening as the rumors I heard back in Ravenna, but it was the middle of the day. On the way downtown I passed a homeless shelter that used to be a YMCA. What looked like low-income housing next to it was being torn d
own, for whatever reason.

Where is Occupy Youngstown?

I got to the Occupy Youngstown site, and there was nobody there, just a sign in a planter identifying the area as Occupy Youngstown. After four plus hours of riding and being battered by wind, I laughed out loud. It figures! After drinking some water, I saw another sign that was duct taped to a road sign. It read “People Power!” I laughed again when I saw it, but I grabbed the sign and walked around. I’m here, I might as well hold down the fort and represent those who weren’t here. Honks of support and “thumbs up” from passers by started almost immediately. A few people stopped and asked where everyone was, and mentioned Friday’s removal of the tent by the cops. “I hope they come back!” one woman said.

After about and hour a man named Ray showed up an introduced himself, and he brought donuts for any Occupiers who were there, which at that moment was just me. We talked for a while about the eviction and Occupy Youngstown. Occupy Youngstown is a small but dedicated group, and some lawyers associated with the group were trying legal ways to get the tent back. Despite the setback, marches, events, and GA’s were still being planned. They were planning a Thanksgiving event, and a march was planned for Nov. 30 to protest a convention about “fracking” that day.

An elderly man showed up also, and talked about about the effects of war and corporate power. He was a huge fan of Dennis Kucinich, and talked about bank and corporate mergers and about what Youngstown was like years ago. He told me he was turning 90 in a few months. It was not lost on me that four of the big buildings at Market and Federal were owned or used by banks. PNC, Chase, and another Huntington Bank building, reminding me of the widespread damage in Ohio I had seen that was caused by Huntington. I wonder how many of the vacant houses I saw on the North Side were Chase or Huntington foreclosures. A woman showed up and hung out with us, and now we were four.

A non-elected mayor

From what I was told the mayor that ordered Occupy Youngstown’s eviction was not popular. The old mayor did a lot of neighborhood restoration projects and was very popular, but went to work for the Obama administration. City council appointed a new mayor, and wasn’t very well liked, at least to the Occupiers and passers by I talked to. I really believe that we should send a strong message to mayors who choose to send police to raid Occupy camps that their behavior will not be tolerated by the voting public. From what I’m hearing, Youngstown’s mayor might be one of the first to go.

Down but not out

I had planned on staying at least until sundown, but because of a last minute change in my girlfriend’s work schedule, she had to come get me much earlier. I ended up having to leave after having spent only about two hours there. It seems like the working class is always on call nowadays, at the mercy of arbitrary and random schedule changes.

I felt bad for leaving, and as I left I saw the three of them standing there, holding down the fort. Occupy Youngstown was still on, but the raid on Friday had definitely damaged the movement. Still, they were fighters, down but not out. They plan to regroup next week, and I have no doubt they can make a comeback.

Because of my crazy school schedule, I haven’t been able to spend much time at Occupy events, even though I am a huge supporter of what they’re doing. What I saw in Youngstown proves that even though they need do support, donations of supplies, and for people to get the word out on Facebook and Twitter, what they really need is people. Without Occupiers, there is no Occupy.

Occupying is not easy, and it really pisses me off when Tea Partiers say Occupiers are lazy. I think the real reason Teabaggers never have done an Occupy-style protest is because they don’t have the will and the fortitude to pull it off. They hold up their signs and spout their angry talking points, and get in their new pickup trucks and luxury SUV’s and go home, planning another march in a month. Occupy has changed the national converstion through their persistence, conviction and sheer toughness. And they’re not going away. I’m inspired by Occupy Youngstown, and I will try my hardest to arrange my schedule, find some transportation, and spend at least one day a week there.  


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