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.
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!
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.
Columbus After an exciting day in Youngstown meeting with officials of the Mahoning County Land Bank and getting to understand their operation and the challenges they face more clearly, as well as the opportunities and potential a partnership might yield we enjoyed a great meal prepared by former Pittsburgh ACORN and current ANEW leader, Anita Drummond, while we met with our members of the ACORN Home Savers Campaign and sought to make continued progress on their path to home ownership with their contract holder, Vision Property Management. Those meetings turned out to be truly a glass half-filled, once I traveled onto Columbus where “The Organizer” was one of the opening shows for the Columbus International Film and Animation Festival founded in 1952, making it the oldest film festival in the United States.
The film was showing in the historic Drexel Theater in Columbus which in addition to everything else just happens to have perhaps the most comfortable seats I’ve ever experienced in a movie theater ever. The audience was diverse and responsive. It was good to meet so many committed and caring people in Ohio’s capital where we need legions to join and follow them if we are ever to change America.
A huge dividend though was finding just how small the world has become over the years. The spark plugs behind “The Organizer” winning the Free Press Independent Film Award at the festival were The Free Press’ editor-in-chief Bob Fitrakis and associate editor Suzanne Patzer, who is also his wife. Bob it turned out had been an old friend and supporter from Detroit in the late 1970s when ACORN began organizing in that city and was the landlord to countless ACORN organizers, interns, and trainees when he had owned a giant 3-storey house there where it seemed everyone lived, and I certainly spent a couple of nights sometime back-in-the-day. He kept referring to it as the “ACORN commune,” but I’m sure he meant it in the best of ways though later he couldn’t help mentioning what a mess living with all the organizers was, though he gracefully excused it on their endless working hours. Oh, to be young!
Bob it turned out had subsequently gotten a PhD in political philosophy and a law degree as well somewhere along the line, and ended up in Columbus, where he seems to wear a bunch of different hats, perhaps in no small measure thanks to Suzanne’s ability to keep them on his head. Besides being a lawyer with a host of pro bono clients and some that occasionally pay and working with others to keep the monthly Free Press alive, which all seems too familiar, they also are active in the noncommercial radio world to boot. These were brothers and sisters of another mother. Interviewing for one of their shows run on the low-power WGRN 94.1FM, his co-host was Dan Dugan, who quickly mentioned to me that he had been a canvasser for ACORN during the time of Cate Poe and Fred Brooks in Columbus and asked me when I had shaved off my mustache.
There were endless old stories and new ones that needed to be told, including hearing the grisly details from Bob’s partner of how he represented ACORN successfully when ACORN and the NAACP were accused of registering voters in 2008 by giving them crack, but most amazingly was the joy at finding how many of us are still burrowed deeply in cities across America and the world and keeping the flame and fight alive on every front possible.