Inside a political battleground: The issues on voters' minds
Luzerne County, in Pennsylvania, is a mostly Democrat metropolitan area. It’s one of seven counties in seven battleground states that could help deliver a win to either candidate.
The city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania—population of 41,200, as of the 2010 Census—sits in Luzerne County, the largest city situated alongside Scranton and Hazleton. At the height of its prosperity, the Wilkes-Barre’s burgeoning economy depended on hundreds of thousands of immigrants and nearby coal reserves—new ground for an expanding workforce. Its Wyoming Valley once held the largest anthracite coalfield in the U.S.
But today’s mining industry is not what it once was. The city on the Susquehanna River has a 6.7 percent unemployment rate as of April 2015, with the job trend moving toward sales and administrative work, and a median household income of $44,430. The walls of the local Clinton-Kaine campaign headquarters display signs showing Asian-Americans, LGBT-Americans, and Slovak-Americans “for Hillary”—they call for “Diversity not Division” and reaffirm one of three Latin phrases on the Seal of the United States: “E pluribus unum,” out of many, one.
Outside Wilkes-Barre, but still in Luzerne, Scranton’s closed Lackawanna coal mine is now a museum.
Along a road outside of Scranton a billboard plainly reading “TRUMP” sprouts up from an open field, advertising a local diner on its alternate side. It’s the town where the Republican presidential nominee and his daughter, Ivanka, announced his campaign’s proposal on childcare on Sept. 13, as Clinton and Trump supporters—self-proclaimed “deplorables”—clashed outside the venue.
Photographer Mark Peterson shot his way through the county, speaking with locals about those issues with the highest stakes for them. In his work, he found Colleen and Tricia Stouch holding a portrait of their sister and daughter, respectively, who died of a heroin overdose. John Bartleson rode his bike and “rebel [Confederate] flag” around town. A rundown TV repair store sat boarded and unused. Preston Perkins perched on the steps of his home, on which three American flags hang, wishing President Obama could serve just one more term. Muslim American students at Luzerne Community College hoped for religious equality under the next commander-in-chief. And a coal miner’s daughter proudly displayed her crochet American flag.
It’s a landscape that appears both varied yet seamless, an example of the diversity that the population will bring to voting booths on November 8. If nothing else, it will be a muted Election Day for a county in which races between Republicans and Democrats already often run neck and neck. A common sentiment encountered along the way of this project was one of apprehension.
“I think we all agree that we can’t see any good coming from this election,” began Kenneth Ketchum, echoing the thoughts shared by many of the other residents photographed.
These photographs were shot on assignment by Mark Peterson for MSNBC Photography as part of his on-going body of work, “Political Theatre” which looks at the landscape of the American political system, published by Steidl 2016.