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Grassroots: Ohio Revolution Leads Statewide Resistance

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Grassroots: Ohio Revolution Leads Statewide ResistancePhoto from Monday night's Statehouse rally.
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Liberals have been busy for the last 10 days. Since Donald Trump’s rise to presidency, he’s signed 18 Executive Orders. His signature has halted the US Refugee Admissions Program and banned immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It’s advanced on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and stripped federal funding from family planning agencies worldwide.

Puja Datta, co-founder of statewide grassroots organization Ohio Revolution, said it can seem overwhelming, but the discouraged constituent can find a way to contribute to local efforts of resistance. Bombarding statehouse representatives and senators with emails, letters and postcards is an easy (and cathartic) method of involvement, but the real work comes from dedicating time and skills to the cause, being willing to knock on doors, attend happy hour meetings and organize spontaneous protests.

Ohio Revolution’s protests over the last week have touched several Ohio cities, including Kent, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus. Most recently, on Monday they helped organized the Statehouse rally, which assembled a crowd of over 2,000, and called on Columbus to be a Sanctuary City. Housing the second largest Somali population in the country, the city’s been urged to protect local refugees from being detained and deported.

Reacting quickly to the executive order, Columbus officials came together on Monday to announce their stance.

“Our immigrant population is part of the fabric of what makes Columbus so vibrant,” said Mayor Ginther in a statement. “They are our neighbors. We must not turn our backs on them, now or ever.”

Ginther said he’d issue his own executive order this week to support the “resettlement of refugees to Columbus and prohibit the detention of anyone unless a warrant exists or a criminal violation was observed. In addition, the executive order will not allow city money, equipment or personnel to be used for detecting or apprehending someone or denying them city services based on immigration status.”

Trump’s order specifically addressed this concept of “Sanctuary Cities” and deputized city officers, granting them the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. It’s not clear what the legal implications might be of Columbus prohibiting such action. Regardless, Ohio Revolution’s platform includes continued pressure on local governments to combat this and other executive orders.

More than just a response to Trump, Ohio Revolution spawned during the “Feel the Bern” movement. Similar to Yes We Can and Socialist Alternative, other local grassroots organizations, Ohio Revolution works to increase voter participation and educate everyday folks on the intricacies of politics. Unlike the Socialist Alternative, it strives to work within the existing Democratic party, though, Datta says, both methods are necessary.

“Socialist Alternative provides a really good pressure for our elected officials to move left,” she said. “We’re gonna have to take to the streets. We’re gonna have to march. We’re gonna have to make our voices heard, and they’re amazing at getting people mobilized for that.”

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They could also just be hitting people at the right time. Political tensions have been building for decades, Datta said. Trump is the “icing on the cake,” but his divisive election and presidency could, she hopes, bring people from the right and left together on working class issues.

After all, even his November supporters could take issue with his conflicts of interest, his persistent refusal to release his taxes, or his team’s reliance on “alternative facts.” If liberals quit hurling words like “sexist,” “racist,” and “xenophobe” at Republican voters, there might be more room for productive debate and a better opportunity to find common ground. Anyone can support education reform, a higher minimum wage, and environmental protections.

At the same time, Datta said the overwhelmingly individualistic approach to politics needs to end. While words like “patriot” and “democracy” flitter uselessly throughout political discourse, many only engage in matters they relate to on a personal level, regardless of their neighbor’s situation.

“We’ve sort of let the right co-opt what being a patriot is,” she said. “Maybe the left needs to co-opt it back. Being a patriot is wanting the best for all of the citizens, all of your country. It doesn’t matter what color they are. It doesn’t matter what religion they are. They are living in this space with you.”

Identity politics play their own role in dividing the working class, Datta said, separating people based on identifiers, labeling issues specifically as “women’s issues,” “racial issues,” etc.

“I’m Indian,” she said. “How many Indian politicians do you see? That’s not going to keep me from getting involved and wanting to do better for this world. And I don’t do it for Indian people; I do it for all people. That’s what we need to focus on. Not so much like, “I’m doing this so Indian people can have more of a say.”

As co-founder of Ohio Revolution, Datta helps lead thousands of members in the group’s efforts. Like other local groups, recruitment happens casually, anytime and anywhere. Datta said they typically like their meetings to be happy hours, social events where the tension of political involvement can start to resemble fun.

Soon they’ll kick off their knock on every door initiative, an effort to register voters and educate Columbusites on upcoming races as well as former state senator Nina Turner’s run for governor of Ohio. Turner endorsed Bernie Sanders’ democratic nomination. While she hasn’t officially announced her run, Turner’s supporters are already campaigning for her, throwing an event in her name at Land-Grant Brewing Company this Friday. From 6 to 7 p.m. they’ll educate people on the platform and background of Turner, a Cleveland native.

For more information about Ohio Revolution, visit www.ohiorevolution.us.

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