COLUMBUS - Six hundred volunteer organizers from every county in Ohio held a spirited Neighborhood Team convention here March 10 to build the effort to re-elect President Barack Obama and strengthen the grassroots movement to enact his program.
They were black, white and Hispanic, young and old, trade union, community and Democratic Party activists active in local groups originally set up prior to the 2008 election and dedicated to an ongoing grassroots movement for change throughout the state.
The Neighborhood Teams worked with We Are Ohio in last year's successful effort to repeal SB 5, defeating the attempt by Republican Gov. John Kasich to end collective bargaining for public employees. They were especially decisive in the petition drive to stop implementation of HB 194, the voter suppression law the GOP hoped would reduce turnout of youth, minorities and low income people likely to support Obama. Largely because of their army of volunteers, enough signatures were collected to place the measure as a referendum on the November ballot.
"I'm tired of the disrespect for President Obama," Elaine Price told the cheering convention participants. Price, an African-American woman and President of Trumbull for Change, the Neighborhood Team based in Warren, is one of 35 national co-chairs of the Obama Re-election campaign. She led a massive voter registration effort in 2008.
"Obama has accomplished a lot," she said, "and we plan to tell everyone about it."
The major achievements of the Obama Administration, won despite unprecedented obstruction by Congressional Republicans, were enumerated in a moving speech by former White House aide David Simas, Director of Opinion Research for the national campaign. They include, he said, the Affordable Care Act, the Wall Street reform, the greatly expanded college loan program, and key progress in equality for women such as the Lilly Ledbetter equal pay act, the ending of gender discrimination in health insurance, the appointment of two women to the Supreme Court and the appointment of four women to the Cabinet.
Simas also cited the ending of Don't Ask, Don't Tell discrimination against gays in the military, the ending of the Iraq War and the beginning of economic recovery with the rescue of the auto industry and the creation of four million new private sector jobs.
"Voters have never been given such a stark choice," he said. "This is a make or break moment for the middle class."
The GOP platform, he continued, calls for a national "Right to Work (for less) Law," repeal of the health care reform, no help for manufacturing, continuous war, cuts in education subsidies, reinstatement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, right-wing appointments to the Supreme Court, shutting down the Environmental Protection Administration, ending Wall St. reform, crippling Medicare, privatizing Social Security and cutting Medicaid.
Simas said the Obama campaign expects that right-wing Super-Pacs, such as those run by Karl Rove and the billionaire Koch Brothers, will spend $800 million on negative ads aimed at discouraging voter turnout.
"You are the answer to that," he said. "We will win one neighborhood at a time."
Vickie Eichof, a retired autoworker and Team Leader from Mansfield, nodded in agreement.
"Because our people didn't vote (in 2010), we got Kasich and SB5," she said. "We spent a whole year fighting to repeal it and we can't let that happen again."
Workshops at the convention addressed voter registration, recruiting volunteers, working with the media as well as training in photography and data programs. In addition, breakout sessions were held on constituency groups including African-Americans, youth and students and the LGBT community.