With less than two months before the midterm elections, Community Change Action Co-President Dorian Warren sat down with Ohio Organizing Collaborative Co-Executive Director Prentiss Haney to talk about the issues that matter most to Black voters in the Midwest.
After a months-long process and hundreds of conversations with organizers, students, formerly incarcerated people, child care workers, faith leaders, and other Black Ohioans across the state about what issues are keeping them up at night, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC) unveiled their All In for Ohio Agenda.
Haney explains the six pillars of the agenda, including fair and fully-funded public education, addressing inflation by making corporations pay what they owe in taxes, voting rights and democracy reform, economic dignity and good jobs, common sense public safety measures to keep kids safe, and clean water and addressing environmental concerns.
Warren notes that this agenda seems like one most Ohioans would support and asks Haney why this is especially important for Black voters.
“We know that so often when we don’t make explicit that we want these things for Black folks, they are left out,” Haney explains. He offers the example of Social Security – a program that was originally passed only after an exclusion of domestic and agricultural workers that cut out 65 percent of African American workers, preserving an underclass, especially in the South.
“But we also know that when programs are for Black communities, they benefit everyone,” Haney continues. In a multi-racial democracy, he says, we can work collectively between Black, white, and brown to create a path of co-governance together and win an agenda that is for all Ohioans.
Warren asks Haney to expand on why a multiracial democracy and the freedom of everyone to vote is fundamental to the other five pillars of the agenda.
Ohio has one of the largest African American populations in the country, Haney notes – more than Alabama. “Many pundits would say it’s a red state, but it’s really a rigged state,” he says. “There are working-class white Ohioans trying to figure out who they will be in this new America. There is one side of the aisle saying ‘You can be who you were, not with much, but better than these Black folks,’ and there is another side that’s saying, ‘You can rise up with us.’” Haney believes racism is used to divide the white working class from working-class people of color and undermine our democracy.
Instead of one person one vote, he goes on, there are heavily gerrymandered maps in Ohio where politicians are choosing their voters instead of the other way around. He believes that’s why very popular policies like gun safety measures, fairly-funded schools, and the right to choose are not moving in the legislature while extremist policies like defunding schools that teach accurate history and putting guns in the hands of teachers are being passed. “It’s because they’re cheating the process,” Haney says.
Reforms to end the gerrymandering in Ohio in 2015 and 2018 saw bipartisan support from over 70% of Ohioans. Haney said OOC has engaged 2,300 Black Ohioans to build a proposal for a fair map. But Republicans in the legislature have ignored them and keep drawing gerrymandered maps, which continue to be struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
“Certain politicians want to run down the clock, they’re just going to wait until the court changes – sound familiar? Guess what, we’re not going to allow them to change those courts. We’re going out in record numbers this fall to vote to make sure we have a pro-democracy majority in our state,” Haney promises.
The OOC has organized a statewide voter pledge, vote tripling activities, relational organizing trainings, and multiple voter outreach events in an attempt to knock on 150,000 doors and reach more than 50,000 voters via relational organizing ahead of the November midterms.
Warren moves on to the pocketbook issues that are on Black voters minds in the midwest: Inflation, low paying jobs, volatile work schedules.
Haney remembers how his mother, a cosmetologist, was able to raise two Black children in a working class home and still live what he calls a fully realized life when she got off of work. For too many in Ohio, he believes, this is no longer the reality. Part of the All in for Ohio Agenda, he explains, is to create an economy that is not just helping people make ends meet, but also not have to work several jobs and have time for family and community life outside of work.
“Not worried people experience joy, they’re more present to their children, they engage in civic activity. Economic worry strips people of the agency they possess,” Haney explains. While he’s been hearing a lot about the worries voters have over paying their bills, he’s also hearing them say they know workers have more power than they’ve had in a long time to demand more from their employers.
Recently workers at Warren-based battery-manufacturer Ultium Cells Ltd announced they’re pushing for union representation, just last month teachers in Columbus went on strike to demand better working conditions, and candidates and Congressmembers rallied with Ohio railroad workers.
“They know the dollars and cents aren’t adding up,” Haney says, “But they also know they don’t have to sit around and wait. That’s the energy we have to cultivate to close the gaps between the haves and have nots.”
Warren asks Haney about the role of grassroots organizing in being able to realize an economy that lets people live with dignity.
Haney recalls the song Home from the Wiz, where Stephanie Mills sings:
Livin here in this brand new world
Might be a fantasy
But its taught me to love, oh, yeah
And its real, its so real, its real to me
“That line sends chills down my spine because even though we are not living in the world we want to be in, we are building belonging and practicing democracy together – which can feel like a fantasy to most people,” Haney explains. “This agenda is a reflection of a public love, a commitment to everyday Ohioans saying they want this, so we’re going to go fight for it.”