Ron Cole, Muskingum County painting
Medium: oil on canvas
Surface: Canvas, unframed with painted edges
Width: 24 inches
Height: 30 inches
Depth: 1 inch
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©2020 Paul Richmond
Ron Cole, Muskingum County
“President Ronald Reagan saluted me. That was in 1984, and for years that was my greatest moment of pride. I was only a kid, dressed smartly for my age in my Civil Air Patrol dress uniform; a time of relative innocence where the world seemed very black and white to me. I supported my country. I voted upon my first year of eligibility, and I signed up for the draft on my eighteenth birthday.
In 1993 my little world was shattered. Federal agents with machine guns attacked my religious commune outside Waco, Texas. They shot our dogs first. Men in Army helicopters fired down through the roof from above. We lost six men and women. They lost four. Dozens were wounded. During the ensuing standoff the soldiers mooned our children from their armored vehicles. They ran over our cars with tanks. Day and night they blared the sounds of animals being slaughtered, and deprived us of sleep with bright lights. They cut off milk for the babies. They cut off power, food, and water. After 51 days they attacked again, with gas banned by the Geneva Convention. We didn’t fight back, but tried to protect the women and children as the building started to cave in. A fire started upstairs. Within minutes, the wind took it through the bedrooms. Nine got out. 79 did not - including 18 children. The flag of the United States of America was hoisted upon our flag pole, symbolizing our apparent defeat and their victory of the government of my country.
I was shattered, but I was able to channel my energies in my role as spokesman for the survivors. In that capacity I toured the nation speaking to different political groups, universities, and organizations. I wrote a book and produced a documentary. But I’d very much lost faith in the fairness and civility of our political system, and was drawn into extreme revolutionary circles. By 1995, someone I knew personally committed a terrible act of terrorism on the anniversary of the Waco fire. He’d been arrested with a copy of my book in his possession. He was put on trial, convicted, and executed by lethal injection. I was raided and arrested by the FBI during his sentencing, and served several years in federal prison for firearms possession. Upon a great deal of personal reflection, I went to work for the FBI as a consultant on domestic terrorist groups, and in an intelligence gathering capacity, infiltrating militant political organizations, mostly among the American far-Right and among Jihadist groups with domestic connections. After many years I was regarded as one of the country’s must valuable assets on the subject of militant political organizations in the United States, and retired from that life only in 2017.
The most important lesson I ultimately learned from that 25-year-long experience (besides the danger of loss run amok), was the power of the vote. I have personally witnessed virtually every other form of political change on earth, and I’ve seen each fail epically and with tragic sacrifice. The vote may seem to many to be a less-than-powerful form of change - but it is in fact the most powerful, and I argue it’s also the only form that is civilized; the only form that does America the justice it deserves.”
“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” -SUSAN B. ANTHONY
Voting rights in the United States have a complicated history, with numerous regulations implemented to prohibit people from participating based on gender, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, age, and more. Yet the right to vote is frequently taken for granted in our modern society, with only 54% of eligible voters taking part in the 2016 election.
In this series of oil paintings, I am choosing to portray individuals from historically disenfranchised groups who would have been denied the right to vote at some point in our nation’s history. Some of the models are still unable to vote today. Each figure is painted on top of collaged ballots and voting pamphlets from a significant election in their group’s history. For example, the background for a female model might be comprised of 1920 ballots - the first election in which women could vote. Each piece is titled with the individual’s name and voting district, and is accompanied by a quote about the significance of voting to them.
This series represents a stylistic departure from my recent work. I’ve been painting in a thick, impasto style with bold colors and expressive marks. In this series, to preserve elements of the collaged backgrounds, I am exploring a lighter touch - one that allows the figurative and textual elements to merge on the canvas. The marks and colors retain an expressive quality, but the outcome is more subtle.
My aim is to create a sense of connection with the subject, evoking empathy and awareness of our common humanity. By portraying marginalized individuals and highlighting their unique perspectives as well as their group’s struggle for voting rights, I hope to inspire viewers to consider the importance of their own participation in our country’s election process.