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.

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Alabama Surge Does Not Change the Story on Voter Suppression

Gulfport   Voter suppression is a mark of shame in a democracy. In fact, it beggars the question of whether a democracy exists at all. The principle of any democracy has to be a maximum effort to provide access to all eligible voters to the polls in order to exercise their franchise and give voice to their opinions on the direction of the country and its leadership.

There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. Any part of the political establishment’s attempts to suppress the free expression of voters at the ballot box is anti-democratic. Period. There are no two ways about it. It’s not just politics, it’s an attempt to erode the fundamental values of the country.

A headline in the New York Times read, “Black Turnout in Alabama Complicates Debate Over Voting Laws.” Baloney! The fact that African-American voters were able to overwhelm the obstacles imposed by voter suppression and voter ID requirements does not complicate the debate whatsoever. What was wrong is still wrong. That doesn’t change just because people were able in this one instance to climb over the barriers successfully. The exception simply proves the rule in the Alabama race. Furthermore, as everyone from Republican Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell on down in the anti-voter Republican Party has said, this is a one-time thing in Alabama. How many times can voters find themselves confronted with political choices that are so utterly Manichean with good and evil presented in such stark contrasts? With voter suppression in place, and even more comprehensive in a host of other states, like Texas, a merely bad and terrible Republican would have had a good chance of winning, where the face of evil only lost by less than 2%.

The founder of Alabama’s Black Votes Matter was quoted saying, “Historically and traditionally, there has been a strong voice of resistance to those that are undemocratic,” she said. “I don’t think that this is new; I think that has always been the role that black voters, particularly in the Deep South, have played.” She’s right up to a point. Southern and, frankly, non-Southern states have been suppressing black votes for hundreds of years. I just finished reading a book called, The 1868 St. Bernard Parish Massacre: Blood in the Cane Fields, by Cris Dier, who presented it at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse recently. It was the horrific story of more than 100 African-Americans killed in a parish abutting New Orleans in the effort to suppress the post-Civil War Reconstruction voting base of the Republicans.

My point: suppression is suppression. Violence is of course worse, but so is trickery and legal shenanigans when the purpose is the same.

I worry about the Times on this beat and not just because of the headline. Hardly a week before the election they ran a story that essentially argued that African-American voters were not engaged and were ho-humming the whole affair, didn’t know Doug Jones, didn’t care about Roy Moore, and we’re sleep walking the election. Then a week later they are arguing that voter suppression didn’t work therefore the discussion about state by state efforts to suppress voters is now “complicated.”

We’re living in different realities in the United States for sure, but at the point we can’t even consistently agree of bedrock democratic values, the debate is over, and the country has lost.

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