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Akron Works To Bring Joy To Voting

Akron is one of four cities trying to inject playfulness and joy into the act of voting through activities such as "virtual wrestling."
New World Performance Laboratory
Akron is one of four cities trying to inject playfulness and joy into the act of voting through activities such as "virtual wrestling."

Akron, Ohio, picked a heck of a year to try to put joy back into voting. After all, two-thirds of likely voters in a recent Ohio poll picked "disgust" to describe their attitude towards politics.

Still, with the help of goats, virtual wrestling, and a pickup truck called Percival, a group of joyful voters thinks it can counter that.

The founder of a civic-engagement group called Citizen University suggested last year that the big problem with American elections is not partisanship or voting-rights battles. The problem, according to Eric Liu, is that they're so isolating.

"Really until the advent of television, elections were joyful, participatory, robust and creative," he said. Now, they're an eat-your-vegetable duty. "A lot of that joy has disappeared, and we just believe that it's possible to recreate it because people are hungry to be in community."

Liu's argument found an audience in Akron, Miami, Philadelphia, and Wichita — and $125,000 to fund five small projects in the four cities.

The brainstorming began this spring and the results have been rolling out over the fall. They include street-theater performances from the back of a Ford Ranger fancifully named Percival. There's also music harkening back to the last two centuries but with themes that are very 2016.

At a neighborhood picnic, Alpine goats were the featured candidates, a choice Melanie Christman and her daughter, Tabitha, took very seriously. "She kind of decided she really liked Bluebell for mayor because Bluebell..." Melanie reported of Tabitha's assessments of the field, before the 8-year-old finished the thought with "does her homework and brushes her teeth after every meal."

You are wrestling sometimes with your friends and your family over political ideas. In the end you still have to work together and love each other.

The Joy of Voting projects also include some purely 21st century twists. Movement and media artist Megan Young worked behind a screen as multi-layered cameras loomed over two wrestling mats in a community-center theater to produce an activity called "virtual wrestling."

"There's this hilarious interaction of two bodies in digital space searching for one another and trying to grab after each other," Young explained.

On Tuesday, this will be a polling place. But for now, anyone who stops by can virtually wrestle each other or images on the screen — including one of performer Faith McFluff in a Wonder Woman costume.

What's that got to do with voting? "You are wrestling sometimes with your friends and your family over political ideas," McFluff answered. "In the end you still have to work together and love each other."

And in case anybody isn't feeling the joy, artist Young says the project can serve a different purpose. "I think if somebody is really frustrated this is the best place for them because they're going to work it out in a way that's completely delightful without breaking anything or hurting anyone."

Which, in this election year, may be something to celebrate.

Copyright 2021 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.

M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.