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December 14, 2010

Nina Berman & Alan Chin: Waiting For Beck

“Hell is Real”

A billboard along Interstate 71 just north of Wilmington warns drivers of the guaranteed retribution awaiting non-believers.

Glenn Beck and his entourage will descend on the small town of Wilmington, Ohio, to tape his radio show, sell books, and perform in an extravaganza that he calls “America’s First Christmas.” He chose Wilmington because it is hard hit by the recession, with 8000 jobs lost when the main employer in the area, DHL, closed its facility in 2008. He claims that the people here neither want nor accept government help, saving themselves through prayer and self-reliance. But this is completely untrue, as more than $11 million dollars of federal stimulus money was specifically directed to retrain unemployed workers and alleviate the dire economic situation.

Main Street, Wilmington, in front of the Murphy Theater where Glenn Beck will perform. Tickets cost $125.00 and are sold out. The town is expecting thousands of visitors.

Jason Willhite has been unemployed for eight months, laid off from a printing press job, and before that, by DHL. He sold his car and cashed in his 401k to pay rent. He and Sandy and their two little boys have been living on $535.00 a month in welfare plus food stamps. “I get lucky now and then and get a tire to change or something,” he said. Even the temp agencies have nothing. He feels horrible about taking money from the government and to make up for it, has been volunteering at a homeless shelter. Their case worker says that John Kasich, the new Republican governor, wants to get rid of cash assistance for the poor.

A few times a week, they go for free meals at the Sugartree Ministries, a charity jointly operated by more than thirty churches across denominations and politics. Beck says he will donate some of his proceeds to Sugartree.

Signs welcoming Glenn Beck can be seen on many stores and shops.

Downtown near the Murphy Theater, Morie Rose helps arrange the vendor area where she and 20 others hope to cash in on Beck’s visit. “I haven’t punched a clock in 23 years, “ she said. Rose was going to college in Cincinnati and working for the Kenner toy company, but watched her job disappear as more and more items were outsourced abroad. Since then she’s scraped by on her own, sewing and making jewelry.

So on the eve of Beck’s arrival, the conversation among Wilmington residents was more firmly focused on day to day struggles of survival. Many residents have never heard of Glenn Beck. One man thought that it would be the famed English rock guitarist, Jeff Beck, formerly of the Yardbirds. Others knew, but cared insofar only as much as a celebrity visit would bring a much-needed boost to local businesses.

Dozens of DHL airplanes rusting on the tarmac, stripped of engines and essentially abandoned. A much smaller aviation repair and maintenance successor company remains, after DHL ended its domestic US operations when it closed the Wilmington facility.

–Nina Berman and Alan Chin

PHOTOGRAPHS by NINA BERMAN / NOOR and ALAN CHIN / facingchange.org

This is the first of a two posts. View the second “Broke-Beck Mountains of Madness” here.

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