Two Weeks in Ohio

 

The spring has been beautiful in Ohio.  The groundhog may have lied to us on February 2nd (I don’t understand why we even trust him), and we have only had about a week of good weather this spring.  But our state has been beautiful for another reason.  All across the Ohio, young people have been organizing, building power, and fighting for justice.  Here at the Ohio Student Association, our staff: James Hayes, Joel Solow, Meredith Krueger, Molly Shack and myself have gotten the opportunity to work with inspiring students and communities across the state.  The result has been an unforgettable two weeks that I feel compelled to share.

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April 10th.

In Columbus,  a coalition of student groups at Ohio State organized a screening of the film “The House I Live In”.  More than 125 students, community members and faith leaders filled the seats and spilled into the aisles to view the powerful film, and start a conversation about the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, and the school to prison pipeline. The screening was followed by an illuminating panel discussion and a call to take action by attending our April 17th town hall about public education in Columbus.

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April 11th.

Myself and four students, Megan, Lauren, Ilhan and Lainie, told our stories, and brought the voices of thousands of other students around the state with us to the Ohio House Finance Committee. We testified on HB-59, the budget bill, advocating for increased funding to K-12 and Higher-Ed, and seeking support for 3 budget amendments that would forgive student debt, bring jobs to Ohio, and increase financial aid.  We also gathered 1881 online petition signatures from around the state in support of the amendments. We fielded questions from legislators and showed them what happens when students speak for themselves.   

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April 11th.

If our testimony in the morning was #Finesse, then our direct action that afternoon was a #PowerMove.  We worked with leaders from Caring Across Generations, Ohio Prophetic Voices, and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative to give testimony and demand for the inclusion of Medicaid expansion in the biennium budget. After testimony was given, a dozen leaders seated directly in front of the committee fell to the ground in a symbolic “Die-In” to represent the thousands of Ohioans that will die within the next three years without Medicaid expansion.   The legislators were shocked.

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April 11th.

Later that evening we traveled to Wilberforce University for a team-building training.  This year, Wilberforce students have been doing inspiring work, in an attempt to clean up corruption, restore pride in the student body, and save their school -- the nation’s oldest private HBCU -- from closing.  We helped incoming student government leaders develop their purpose for next year, and begin to build a strong leadership team.

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Ongoing.

Around the state, students have had in-district meetings with their representatives to build a relationship, to push these elected officials to fund education equitably from kindergarten through college, and to urge them to adopt a series of budget amendments that forgive student debt, bring jobs to Ohio, and increase need-based financial aid. 

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April 16th.

Last year, Ohio University raised tuition despite strong resistance from students.  They proceeded to use student tuition dollars to hand out bonuses to university administrators.  The Ohio University Student Union formed as a result, and this year, they’ve been working furiously to prevent another proposed tuition hike.  On April 16th, more than 150 students gathered for a rally and march, telling their stories and making it clear to the administration that students cannot afford another tuition hike. 

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April 17th.

From late March onward, the Columbus community has been organizing to maintain control of their schools.  Big business is attempting a corporate takeover of the school district, seeking to eliminate the democratically elected school board.  Throughout the city, community members, parents, teachers and students have hosted house meetings, educating each other on the issues, and expanding community involvement in the process.  All of these gatherings led to a public town hall on April 17th.  More than 100 community members, 5 members of the Columbus Education Commission, and more than half of the school board attended the meeting, making it clear that the Columbus community will not tolerate a takeover of its schools.  The No School Takeover Coalition forced powerful corporate interests to abandon their plan A to takeover the schools through the Columbus Education Commission, forcing them to move to plan B, and winning city hall to our side.  I think that qualifies as a #PowerMove.   

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April 17th.

The coalition that organized Re-envisioning the Female Body at the University of Cincinnati organized a training on April 13th with the Ohio Advocates Youth Leadership Council and Planned Parenthood of Ohio, prepping students for a lobby day the following week.  On April 17th, advocates from around the state attended a reproductive rights press conference and lobby day at the statehouse, and later that evening 37 students from the Re-envision coalition called their legislators urging them to remove several budget amendments attacking reproductive rights.

 April 17th.

Meanwhile, at Kent State University, students led a demonstration protesting tuition hikes and the university’s enrollment cap fee, followed by an open discussion about student debt, student organizing and movement building. 

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April 19th.

Four brave young women from the Ohio University Student Union were arrested for a sit-in at a Board of Trustees meeting to protest the tuition hike and demand that administrators and coaches making over $100,000 receive no bonuses until tuition is frozen.  Tuesday’s rally and Friday’s civil disobedience ignited OU’s campus, forcing the administration to respond.  

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April 23rd.

At the University of Akron, students organized a rally of more than 100 students to protest changes to the Office of Multicultural Development, which provides academic services and cultural programs. Students are concerned that a restructuring plan will undermine efforts to help retain black students and other minorities; only 10% of Akron’s full-time black students graduate within six years, compared to 43% of white students.  With half of state funding for higher education tied to graduation rates, students, who have not been engaged in the restructuring process, are concerned that the plan may redirect resources away from underrepresented students. 

It is a beautiful spring in Ohio. But to focus only on the flowers is to ignore the planting of the seeds, the watering of the plants, the powerful rays of the sun, and the slow process of germination and growth. While the last 2 weeks in Ohio were full of action and excitement, they are simply the flowers that have bloomed from the perpetual process of building and connecting communities of care and communities of power. Students around the state have been planning strategically, building powerful relationships and organizing for months. I am very proud of the work of the Ohio Student Association -- of the young people around the state of Ohio who are building power and fighting for justice, but what I am most proud of is the process. If we dedicate ourselves to the process of transforming ourselves and transforming our communities we cannot lose.

“The struggle is eternal. The tribe increase.  Somebody else carries on.” -Ella Baker