Johnstown is nestled in a river valley in the Allegheny mountains of Western Pennsylvania. The city flooded, famously, in the 1880’s and thousands of people lost their lives. It’s also been an industrial city over the years, know for steel and coal, but many of those jobs have disappeared, and the population has rapidly decline.
It’s in Cambria County, where voters choose Barack Obama back in 2008, but went heavily for Donald Trump in 2016.
Michael McGough was born and raised in P.A. and says President Donald Trump scares him, especially after seeing what he’s done his first two weeks in office. McGough is a retired county worker and a registered Democrat who generally votes the way the town used to.
McGough thinks overall the city is in better shape than it was when he was a kid, even as jobs have been lost and people have left. Back then, he says, you could see a haze over the city and a fine dust on the cars in the morning from the industrial pollution in town. He’s worried what could be ahead for Johnstown, and the planet, with a climate skeptic in the White House.
There are still remnants of that prosperous, yet sully, city. At one point decades ago Gautier Steel employed 11,000 people. Today that number is just about one hundred.
Jackie Culbeck is Gautier’s CFO and has been for a decade. Before that she says she worked at an air compressor company that shipped its jobs to Reynosa, Mexico after NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement — an agreement President Trump opposes. “I saw people’s lives change, and not for the good,” she says. She’s also the chair of the local Republican party and campaigned hard to get President Trump into office and so far she’s been impressed by time in office.
Images of the inside of some of the Gautier Steel in Johnstown, P.A. The grounds are vast, but much of the facility is no longer in use. Production used to be strong here, but it’s dwindled to a near halt in the past several decades.
Alan Cashaw is the head of the local NAACP and helps to run a modest store near Gautier Steel called Greater Prospect Store. Cashaw says his expectations weren’t high for President Trump and so far the new president has met those low expectations. When talking about Trump’s travel ban, keeping people from seven majority Muslim countries out of the U.S., Chasaw says, “Apparently, the majority of people in this country want it to be isolated.” Cashaw says he thinks the new administration has emboldened some people do racist things in Johnstown. A couple of weeks ago, on Martin Luther King Jr. day, someone drove around town in a pickup truck with an effigy of the civil rights leader wearing a noose around his neck and the words, “In Loving Memory of James Earl Ray” – King’s assassinator on the back of the vehicle. But, Chashaw says, the positive news is that the counter-movement has been energized. A long dormant anti-racism coalition has been revived to react. Despite his disappointment with Trump, he knows the country will survive. “We’re the country