Independent Political Action is Blooming in Columbus and Ohio

organizer screening at the historic Drexel

Columbus     Ohio has been a battleground state for a number of elections, even though it went solidly red in 2016 for Trump and seems southern with a Republican governor and legislature.  Visiting with people in the state capitol, Columbus, as well as spending time in Youngstown, Cleveland and Cincinnati, it is clear that there is a concerted grassroots fight to resist the red tide and turn Ohio around again.

I had met Amy Harkins one of the organizers of Yes, We Can Columbus at the screening of “The Organizer” and heard briefly about the effort and its attempt to elect members of the local school board and city council.  As luck would have it, I met later with Amy and some of the team after they participated in the local version of the March for Our Lives to learn more about the organization.  Like so many, they had founded the effort in the wake of the 2016 election both in reaction to the Trump victory and the inadequate response of established leadership of the local Democratic party and its electeds.  Assembling a group of up to 300 volunteers committed to the campaign, they have constructed an activist base sufficient to poll well in their inaugural efforts when they presented their slate to the voters in local elections.   Their success moved them to form alliances with other organizations in Ohio as well as nationally where they became an affiliate of the Working Families Party and a partner of the Bernie Sanders follow through organization, Our Revolution.

excitement over Nuts & Bolts in Columbus

Most of our conversation about the future concerned the chances to put an initiative on the ballot to change the at-large district governance system in the city to a district form or a combination of district and at-large seats that would give citizens of Columbus a stronger and clearer voice in local affairs.  We talked about the nuts and bolts of such efforts since ACORN has waged several successful fights along these lines including in Little Rock over the years.  In Columbus only 8000 valid voter’s signatures would be required with a full year to gather them, which should be within the capacity of Yes, We Can Columbus itself, but the organization wisely wants to also help build a larger coalition dedicated to progressive political action in the area.  Worth watching for sure!

interviewing and video at WGRN with Bob Fitrakis

Talking to Bob Fitrakis and Suzanne Patzer it was also clear that the Greens are something more than the color of grass in Columbus and Ohio as well and are regularly putting up a slate of candidates, including Bob himself who polled 35,000 votes in a losing race to become the prosecuting attorney.   One of his law partners is running for Governor as well.  Never say never in Ohio because not only is Richard Cordray, a former state attorney general and most recently the first director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau on the federal level, running for governor as well, but so is former Cleveland mayor and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

All of this anger and activity will move the needle in Ohio, so we need to all stay tuned and support these initiatives and experiments.


Hard Times and Wild Kingdom


water buffalo coming down to water

water buffalo coming down to water

The stories on the streets here and the headlines around the world are daunting. The law trimming back collective bargaining in Ohio seems even worse than Wisconsin. The banks and servicers managed to scuttle another foreclosure avoidance program which would have used $1 billion to bridge losses of income and has not accepted one single application yet. Yet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac figured out a way to pay themselves princely sums and not much has changed on that account either. A bunch of folks led by Wider Opportunities for Women put together a more realistic budget and established that single or with families people are miles away from meeting their basic financial needs even with a job: a single person would need $30,000 about double minimum wage for example.

Here in Kenya more than year ahead of the elections politics is all the talk from the street vendors to the cab drivers to the NGO crews, expats, and casual observers. The best news is that many do not expect the post-election violence to repeat itself at least at the same level of intensity. The bad news is that most seem to not expect there to be much change in the gridlock, corruption, and indifference in government. Parties are assembling lists, but the programs are hard to distinguish and the campaigns most seem to think have more to do with hope than with change.

This would be tragic of course. A problem which has occupied days in our organizational planning for ACORN Kenya has been the need to construct new schools in Korogocho. While we met about this at length yesterday afternoon, Drummond Pike, my Paladin Partner would search for information on whatever topic was at hand on the computer. One of the first items he pulled up on this issue is the fact that the United States and United Kingdom had both suspended aid grants for $7M and $9M respectively for new school construction in Kenya because they had no confidence the money would actually be used for schools rather than simply ripped off. Many simply pretend there is a solution by believing the problem of equity and justice does not exist. At breakfast I read in a Kenyan business magazine a glowing puff piece on the 5600 “scholarships” to secondary schools being offered annually by Equity Bank and the Mastercard Foundation based in Toronto and others. Their strategy was to look the other way about the problem dealing with the masses of school children and hope that they could craft an elite program for the top 5% of the students who tested out of primary schools so they would be able to go forward. Depressing!

giraffe munching on the trees

giraffe munching on the trees

Since Paladin Partners were committed to our professional development program for Judy Duncan and would soon be leaving her for another several weeks to work with ACORN Kenya’s staff and leaders, we tried a different tact for a change. Years ago when as a boy I lived in Denver, I would hear comments that you could live hard in Denver, because you could look at the Rocky Mountains along the western horizon and always feel there was hope and a future. Early Friday morning we headed out for the a Kenyan National Park less than 10 kilometers away. We drove in through green forest cover and were quickly in the savanna. Looking at rhinos, lions, giraffes, water buffalo, zebras, and more, we would sometimes see the entire city down the ridge as the two worlds of Africa meld together. Nairobi or Denver? Doesn’t solve the problem, but reminds us why it matters.

We have to do better.