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Q&A: Morgan Harper on Columbus Stand Up! and Transitioning from Politics to Activism

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman Q&A: Morgan Harper on Columbus Stand Up! and Transitioning from Politics to ActivismMorgan Harper speaking at a protest in support of Edith Espinal's Stay of Removal, August 2019. Photo by Ben Blake.
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When Morgan Harper first started her campaign for Ohio’s third congressional district against incumbent Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, she consistently called it a grassroots effort to bring in new leadership that could impact the lives of working people.

When that campaign came to an end earlier this year, Columbus was already in the throes of a global pandemic not seen in 100 years. It became instantly clear some folks would have a much harder time coping with the virus and the resulting national shut down.

It’s between the devastating blow to poor and minority communities that paralleled a global movement for Black lives in response to the death of George Floyd that Harper launched Columbus Stand Up!

The organization is founded on three principles and priorities — direct service, grassroots organizing and accountability — and, in partnership with the local organizations most familiar with their communities, demands a sustainable path forward for community members left behind.

So far the organization has managed to distribute 15,000 masks to community members in need, as well as hold a few socially-distant events to educate the community on the voting process.

And in October, Columbus Stand Up! will co-host a candidate forum with FreedomBloc and other organizations to hold elected officials accountable and “make sure our neighborhoods get a seat at the table.”

Columbus Underground chatted with Harper about the organization, its motivation and reception, and whether the group’s voter forums will feature Harper’s former political opponent.

TM: How have the recent BLM uprisings and even the pandemic motivated the creation of Columbus Stand Up!, or was this already in the works?

MH: I said a lot during the campaign, this idea of, we’re talking about more than just one campaign or one election. This is ultimately about a different approach to how we run our lives. It’s gotta be grassroots and us coming together as a community.

That work was going to continue no matter what. But in terms of like what shape it took, I do think that extended campaign period when the pandemic hit, we pivoted to doing a lot of direct service. [It] crystallized this need right now in the community for us to just be there for one another, take care of one another and make sure that folks are able to meet their basic needs.

TM: What has the reception been like at events so far? Are people asking about the campaign or will you run again? What has been the general feeling from the community?

MH: It’s been a positive reception. The protests haven’t ended, you know, the protests are ongoing. But I think a lot of people who have been attending a lot of them over the spring and the summer are also grateful to compliment those experiences with a space where they can come together and talk and dialogue a little bit more about some of the things that have been going on in the community, and also create a space.

The [event] in Southfield, we worked with the Marion Franklin Area Civic Association and with our community partners, trying to be responsive to where the community’s at. They had expressed some concern about violence that had been occurring in the community and wanted to create a place where especially the elders in the community would feel comfortable coming out and talking about what’s going on. And so, that’s the reception I’ve been getting is gratitude for a willingness to just help create the space, but then also, we’re being led by our community partners in terms of what they want to talk about.

TM: Will this forum or subsequent forums include your former opponent, Joyce Beatty, and what do you hope for our neighbors and our community members to be able to get out of those events and experiences?

MH: We’re still in the midst of planning what our first forums will look like. There’s a group of partners from across the state working together, but our leader of that effort is FreedomBloc.

And so we’re still working out the logistics, but the idea is in a nonpartisan way, we as a community — and particularly in the case of the forums of Black-led organizations — we need to have a regular dialogue with those who are seeking to represent us. That we’re asking about policy issues and what they’re going to accomplish when in office. And that’s beyond partisan, that’s beyond any specific office. We really should have that mindset with how we approach voting for all offices.

There’s so much on the line in a way, and people are really focused on what’s been going on at the community level, making that connection between experiences at the community level and also what the political process can do to address it.

Columbus Stand Up!, in partnership with the Somali Youth Foundation and others, will host another community event featuring music, food and opportunities for people to register to vote. The event will take place Saturday, Sept. 19 from 1 – 3 p.m. at Mock Park, 2520 Mock Rd. Masks are required.

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