Greg Schultz – On a Mission to Organize America
Last week we sat down with the always busy Greg Schultz to talk about his new position as State Director of Ohio’s chapter of Organizing for America, his thoughts on Ohio and what he sees as he travels through our entire state and what contributions he makes to the community through Twitter. Organizing for America is an organization throughout every state that is committed to continuing the grassroots advocacy that President Obama started while he was a Senator for Illinois. Read on to find out how Greg is helping to organize Ohio and change the nation!
Walker Evans: I am sitting here with Greg Schultz, State Director of Organizing for America.
Greg Schultz: Hey Walker, how are you doing?
WE: Great, how are you doing?
GS: Doing well.
WE: I’d like to talk to you about your job. You started your new position in March this year?
GS: Yes, actually mid March I think it was.
WE: How were you selected for this position?
GS: Actually it was through some good friends and colleagues I met while working the generalelection for Obama here in Ohio. Organizing America is basically the continuation of the efforts that started during the presidential campaign. The number two person, the Deputy National Director is a good friend and was actually the director here in Ohio for the general election, Jeremy Bird. When I was out in Washington for the Inauguration, around midnight he asked me if I had a few minutes to talk. We were out at a bar and he was like “hey, we are setting up this organization we want you to be part of it in Ohio, can you run it?” I said let’s talk next week and that is kind of how it got started.
WE: So you have been doing it for a few months now? I have been following you on Twitter and it sounds like you are all over the state all of the time. Have you been enjoying all of the travel that goes along with the job?
GS: Yeah. You know, you realize a couple of things about Ohio doing a job like this. One is that it is a huge, huge state and we are so different. I say I go from the “river to the lake” and from the “coal to the corn” and everywhere in between is just unique, different people. Another is how much we make in this state. Whether it’s steel or coal or manufacturing – there are plants. Unfortunately a lot of them are empty now, all throughout Ohio. And I think you realize doing the kind of traveling I have been doing, why we are going through the tough times that we are. It really puts a focus on why we need to make some investments moving forward in the new technologies, new energies and what not.
WE: What sort of things have you been doing while traveling around?
GS: Organizing for America, it is a new entity; nothing like it has really ever existed before. Our main focus is to support the President of the United States and we work very closely with the White House, especially with supporting legislative efforts. This summer it has been all health care. Energy is coming up soon afterwards. So the first thing we wanted to do was really introduce this organization to the people of Ohio and also get some feedback since this is a brand new organization. What type of characteristics they would like to see in it, what type of resources they need to do the organizing to help support the President’s efforts. So we did a 33 city listening tour. Myself and the field director split up the state. We each did an event each night for four weeks, Monday through Thursday, and traveled a little over 4,000 miles combined. Really, the first thing we did was went and listened, gave them a little framework for what we are trying to do with Organizing for America, and let them fill in a lot of the details. Since then, it really has been, like I said, health care. We have been trying to reform health care in our country for 60+ years. One thing has always really been missing, and it’s the debate has always occurred just in Washington. So what we have really been focused on the last month and a half, and what we will continue to until we pass health care legislation this year, is to be mobilizing and organizing health care reforms that the president has laid out. So that has been the last couple of months and health care is going to be the next couple months and we’ll get this passed and then we’ll move on to getting a good energy bill done.
WE: So is this more about stirring up grassroots support across the state? Is that what you mean by supporting this type of legislature?
GS: Yeah, and Organizing for America’s, like I mentioned to begin with, first main goal is to support President Obama, whether his legislative agenda or getting his community service. We do a lot of community service projects; that was obviously a major piece of his general election and it’s going to be a major piece of his presidency. The other thing we want to do is continue to grow and expand the grassroots. I think in 2008 you saw people that find skills that they had that they never knew they had, whether that was leadership skills or the skill of persuading neighbors on a certain issue or candidate. So we are really focusing right now, in addition to supporting the President’s legislative efforts, into kind of growing and empowering the grassroots people, and that takes a lot of different forms. Here in Ohio, we structured our campaign based off of neighborhood teams where we really gave ownership and responsibility; really empowered neighborhood citizens to take a leadership role, help lead canvases, help lead phone banks, help lead data. So we are keeping that same model because it works so effectively and our volunteers told us after the campaign that that’s the direction they wanted to head. Organizing around issues like health care has a couple of different focuses. One of the things we have to do is to educate. When we talk about health care reform, you know this bill is going to be 1000+ pages, so everyone is not going to become a health care expert. But we do need them to have a certain level of comfort with the issue and we are working to make sure they have the right resources – the right background on what the President is working on. We have also made a group of doctors and health care professionals accessible who explain what we are trying to work on. I think going down the road, we will have some administration officials as well. We’ve already had President Obama actually record a video talking about his health care reform, specifically for Organizing for America volunteers. So we are doing a lot of things with the grassroots, this is a very grassroots driven effort at a national level. Organizing for America is now up and running in all 50 states.
WE: I remember you saying earlier in the year that it started up just in a few states. Is that right?
WE: Is there a State Director in every state?
GS: Yes, there is a State Director in almost every state now and I think there will be a State Director in every state by the end of the summer. That’s what I’ve heard.
WE: Ohio one of the first states to get up and running?
GS: Yeah, and I would like to think, and I think there is some truth to it, that Ohio was a very special place because it really is a cross section of the country not just for election time but really for the types of issues we are facing as a nation. I think the diversity of Ohio’s people and the regional issues that we face here, require a large staff as early as possible. So Ohio was one of the tip of the spears as we like to say with Organizing for America.
WE: You mentioned doing some community involvement work in different areas and urging people to volunteer and get involved. Are there any specific types of projects that you have seen that have really stood out to you as being important?
GS: Yeah. Actually, just this past weekend we had service projects going around about health care across the state. I know a group in Lima raised over $1,000 and a few hundred pounds of fresh produce to donate to a local food bank. We had blood drives – here in Columbus we had a fairly large blood drive, actually Senator Sherrod Brown stopped by up in Worthington. So a lot of opportunities where people were either donating goods or money towards certain causes or donating things like blood which is always needed, especially this time of year. I think everything we do is because of the President’s call to service. Service will always be a large component of Organizing for America.
WE: Nice. One of the other things that I noticed you twittering about you were out traveling you was fun facts about different cities. Are there any that stick out in your head as ones you could share again right now?
GS: There is one thing about Ohio and I don’t know if it is true about every agricultural based state, but every single county you go to they swear that their county fair is the largest county fair and is the longest running county fair and has the largest pumpkin and the best pie and what not. So I would like to test a lot of the county fairs on the quality of their food, I’ll be doing a little bit of that this summer. But really it’s amazing traveling. You see many important things in U.S. history, you talk about the progressivemovement and here in Central Ohio we have a proud history, and in Oberlin and in Yellow Springs and Cincinnati as well. You have stops along the Underground Railroad all along the Ohio River, we have the longest running emancipation celebration down in, I think it’s Gallipolis, down in Gallia County down on the river, I think it’s been going on for 165 years, since the year after President Lincoln emancipated the slaves. And so I think I find most interesting, the connection Ohio has historically had towards advancing out country along a very progressive route and hopefully we can continue that in the near future. I think we are going through some tough times now but we really do have people and events all throughout our land here in Ohio that really kind of help shape this country.
WE: I see a lot of people using Twitter as more of a personal communications thing, so you see what TV show someone is watching or what they had for lunch or whatever, but I really liked something you said about a yo-yo factory. Anne and I were down in the Hocking Hills area a couple weeks ago and we stopped in Logan and they have the Columbus Washboard Company there and we went on a tour of it. They are the only factory in the entire United States that still makes washboards. They make it by hand and they have about five employees. It’s cool to have that kind of thing in Ohio.
GS: Marion, Ohio has a steam shovel company that still exists, they actually made the shovels that dug the Panama Canal, and supposedly the yo-yo was invented in Dayton. Whether it’s Etch-a-Sketch or DumDum suckers that used to be manufactured in Bryan, Ohio or Williams County, I think a couple of those have been shipped overseas, but we really have created and still make to some extent a lot of interesting products that Ohio and the world uses.
WE: Yeah. You usually just think of corn and soybeans and not much else. I’ve really enjoyed your updates so I will have to link to your Twitter page and send you some new followers!
GS: Thanks! I haven’t done one for a while but I did the “county of the day” tweet a couple of months ago. Actually, for me it is a great way to learn about Ohio, talk about the county seat, the good places to eat, some of the notable manufacturers or companies or famous people. I like doing that stuff on Twitter, I like hearing the feedback. It’s amazing, every county I’ve mentioned, every city I’ve mentioned I’ve gotten some feedback on. “Oh that’s my hometown or you should try…”. I don’t have enough time to stop at all these great restaurants but I’m making a list so I can go back some time. Especially here in Columbus, a lot of people that I follow on Twitter or follow me are located here and it just shows how diverse of a background this city has because people come from al over. So it has been a lot of fun to interact on Twitter through my travels.
WE: So you are saying that you don’t eat at McDonalds while you are out on the road?
GS: No, I try not to and it really helps when I know the good place to eat in town. If I have to set up a meeting I throw out the “hey, why don’t we go to Made-Rite over there in Darke County?”. It kind of helps break the ice because Ohio is a very regional state and showing that you care even about the good place to get a sandwich, I think, shows a willingness to work with people.
WE: Yeah. Support those local businesses. Well, before you started this job, you worked with the state, what was your title there?
GS: Yeah, My mom gets kind of worried because she just retired after 35 years of teaching and my jobs have kind of switched every few months for a while and it is kind of really the way the political world works. After the governor got elected, I was a legislative liaison with one of the state agencies administrative services which focuses a lot on the HR, the IT, the procurement, the real estate. I took a leave for the campaign and when I came back I was one of the Governor’s executive assistants and so I had five of the state agencies in my portfolio. So I did that from the time the campaign ended until Organizing for America began. Rehab and corrections, youth services and workers compensation were three of my agencies and those all have their own intrigue, lots of interesting things going on. It was a good experience, I got to see some interesting things and learn some interesting things.
WE: Your mom is worried that you have no job stability, you keep jumping and jumping?
GS: The first question she asks is do you have health care? And I work for Democrats and they make sure you have health care because it is hard to campaign for health care and not actually have your staff have it at the time.
WE: Although it might make you want to cheer for it that much more.
GS: I’ve assured her that I haven’t been pushed out of any jobs I’ve been pulled into the next job and so that’s somewhat satisfied her for right now.
WE: That’s what it sounds like. So what’s next after this? Have you thought that far down the road?
GS: After I went to grad school at Ohio State and got my Masters in Education, I planned on going into teaching. Some opportunities opened up and there weren’t quite that many social studies jobs in the urban parts Columbus and Cleveland in ’04. So I decided back in ’04 I was going to live my life November to November and see who had just won or lost an elected office and what opportunities, either to serve on a government role or on a campaign, might exist. I will be with Organizing for America for a while now. It’s not saying much, but this will be my longest job up to date from graduating from Ohio State. It’s really just a great opportunity I think. I love Ohio and I love Columbus. Also, every time I am in D.C. I just get re-energized, it is just an intrigue I have probably just because of some of my passions in life and so there is always that pull after the president won to go there. There are some opportunities in D.C. but this job has been, for me, a perfect fit because I get to stay in Columbus but travel the state and I have a job that is directly connected to the president. I am surprised, and I have had other jobs like this, but I am just surprised that they pay me to do what I enjoy doing, so I have been very fortunate in that regard.
WE: I think in the long term I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard that you were running for some type of elected office down the road here in Ohio, either as Legislative Senator Schultz or Governor Schultz down the road.
GS: You know right now we have got to reform health care, and that’s the goal this summer and then energy is up next.
WE: I would also like to mention this. I don’t know if this is related to Organizing for America, but wasn’t Joe Biden just in the state and you attended the event?
GS: Yes. Vice President Biden was up in Perrysburg (outside of Toledo) for a middle class task force meeting. They have these meetings all across the country. They have some local experts, the governor was there, they had the commerce secretary there, some academics, some business folk and they truly have conversations about what the administration needs to be doing to jump start the economy especially in regards to the middle class. Ohio, because of our manufacturing base, has historically had a very strong middle class, but it is suffering a lot right now. So, the Vice President was actually at a brand new solar company, I think they havebeen up for about 15 months or so, they create very thin solar panels. They just had a major deal signed with some Thailand company or entity. They are expanding, they have about three dozen staff right now and they think they are going to be over 200 by the fall. The meeting was part talk about the task force and the middle class that the administration is focusing on and also to highlight where some of the next generation of middle class can come from. It’s working at companies such as the one we were meeting. They do a very good job at the nationallevel of tying the local Organizing for America state chapters into what’s going on nationally and when the President or Vice President of Secretary is coming in, they do a very good job of allowing us to meet them personally. Even some of our volunteers got a chance to meet the President when he was here in Columbus a few months back, a few more volunteers got a chance to meet with the Vice President. It really kind of shows the connection that what you’re doing on your street is really helping change the course of our country. So yes, I did get a chance to go up to Perrysburg and see some more things.
WE: One final thing to end on, Columbus Monthly featured you a couple of months ago in their Singles of Columbus issue. I’ve seen you complain on Twitter that you travel too much and it’s hard to spend time with a significant other – is that going to be a long-term problem if you are continuing this job?
GS: You know Walker that is a wonderful question. I look at what I am doing right now, like I have some friends that are in residency right now here in Ohio and across the country and I have some friends that are in some other professions where the first couple of years you really dig in a lot to your work with the expectation that you kind of pay your dues, so to say, early on. Not that work ever gets lighter but that your skill set and knowledge and connections can maybe have the work day end closer to six than 10 or 11 at night. So I am certainly working to allow more time. When working on campaigns, especially a presidential race, we were working literally 16, 17, 18 hour days for seven days-a-week for months on end. When we had a call early on for Organizing for America they reminded us that this is a marathon, not a sprint and we need to pace ourselves. I must admit I have not always been successful at that, I am not a person that naturally sits still well and so if there are things to work on, I’ll probably work on them. That being said, if I had a girlfriend I know I would definitely have the time for her.
WE: I am sure everyone appreciates all the hard work you do but I think everyone would suggest that you slow down every now and then to take some time to enjoy the social life of Columbus.
GS: You know, I live here in the Short North, and trust me I’ve traveled thousands of miles around the state, and I really can say growing up in the Cleveland area, there really is no place like Columbus. I think all of Ohio is going to have a bright future but I think Columbus really has to be that igniter of the rest of the future of Ohio. So I would really like to get back here and stay here as much as possible. I had said for a long time, after we get a democratic governor things will slow down, then after we get a democratic president, and then this Organizing for America opportunity came so once we get health care passed I will have lots of free time.
WE: Yeah, you say that now!
GS: Yeah I say that now. I am lying… for those reading, energy is coming next after health care! Thanks for the opportunity to share my ideas Walker.
WE: Of course! Thanks for taking a minute to sit down and talk with me.
If you’d like to follow Greg on Twitter, you can find him here.