“I love the smell of civic participation in the evening,” sighed Torin Jacobs, teacher and organizer, to a crowd of over a hundred people in a city where there are sometimes events with more candidates on the panel than members in the audience.
October 1st. 10/1, the day we had been counting down to for months. The hours spent trying to prioritize the issues that face our city, the weeks spent refining the topics to focus the panel on, come to fruition. As though the insecurity imposed on communities for their meals, for their schools, for their jobs and for their families is simply an itinerary for the questions asked at a
candidate’s panel, as though people’s lives can be twisted and squeezed tidily into a political agenda. Yet at 6PM on October 1st, what was happening in the theater of Fort Hayes High School was so much more.
In attendance were school board candidates Gary Baker, Shawna Gibbs, Jim Hunter, Bernadine
Kennedy Kent, Tina Pierce, Ben Tyson, and Eric Brown, along with city council candidates Zach
Klein, Liz Brown, Joe Motil, Shannon Hardin, Jaiza Page, John Rush, Besmear Sharrah,
Ibrahima Sow, Dimitrious Stanley, and Michael Stinziano. School board candidate Mary Jo
Hudson and mayoral candidates Andrew Ginther and Zach Scott were not present.
With the hue and cry towards the two empty mayoral seats, the brandishing of signs reading
“BLACK LIVES MATTER,” the eruptions of “I can’t breathe” and “Is that a yes or no?" we were
reminded that it was a time and a place for the people to talk. As speakers from the community
explained their realities slowly and carefully to a panel that was given bare minutes to respond,
we were reminded that it was a time and place for candidates to listen.
The night was an exploration of the dichotomy of Columbus: when it is touted as economically
thriving, businessfriendly, diverse and progressive, entire swaths of our city are hidden. 1 out of
7 kids can’t afford enough food to eat, and twice that are living in poverty. The cost of food,
housing, healthcare, childcare and higher education are rising, and median income is falling.
35% of Columbus households make less than $30,000 a year. Our schools and neighborhoods
are segregated and unequal. Of the 50 largest cities in the US, Columbus is bottomfive for
So members of our community spoke to bridge this gap, sometimes tearfully. They spoke of the
harsh discipline of black and brown schoolchildren. Of the way corporate and government
entities have tried to wrest the control of schools from the community whose children would
experience the brunt of it. Of the ways they’ve seen a low minimum wage seep through the
crevices of families and lives, lingering long after the opening of insufficient paychecks from two
or even three jobs. Of the unquestionable need for oversight of our police department, in a
country where internal investigations and systemically faulty judicial processes corroborate the
destruction of lives all the time. Keisha [last name?] closed out the night with a rousing song,
her words “I forgot I had a freedom song” reverberating in the crowd. She invited everyone to
repeat after her: I am open to myself and the world around me. It was a panel like nothing else.
Ohio Student Association and the People’s Justice Project will be distributing voter guides,
including the candidate’s stances on the four main issues of the night, in advance of the
municipal elections on November 3rd.
Written By Kenza Kamal