COLUMBUS, Ohio - "We're not going to go away," Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner said as she opened the first Ohio "Testimony Tuesday" at a very cold but well-attended Statehouse rally March 4 protesting new voter suppression bills passed by the GOP majority. "We're standing out here again, locked out of the people's house, but we're coming back, with more and more of us, until we reclaim our precious rights to vote," Turner said.
Referring to Republican state legislators, Turner, a Cleveland Democrat, said, "These officials were sent to Columbus to help Ohioans, not to take away the rights our fathers and mothers fought, and some died, to win! These laws are unnecessary. They should be making it easier, not harder, for people to vote!"
Turner said Testimony Tuesday was modeled on the massive and growing Moral Mondays movement that has taken off in North Carolina, spearheaded by that state's NAACP.
"For years, 'Souls to the Polls' has been a tradition among African Americans in this state," said the Rev. Dale Snyder, president of the Ohio Interdenominational Alliance. "Elderly voters, many of whom had been denied voting rights and understood how precious this right is, have packed buses to get out the vote after church," Snyder said. "Voter suppression is an attempt to deny people's influence, and it is sinful. I appeal to all those legislators who have a conscience to immediately repeal these acts."
The crowd braved the cold temperatures to protest the passage this week of a series of bills, all exactly along party lines, to stop boards of election from sending out absentee ballots, end Sunday voting and chop six days from early voting in the state. The crowd sported union jackets from AFSCME, the Steelworkers, SEIU and others. Elderly as well as young folks all shouted their approval. Especially in evidence was a large group in red Ohio Student Association shirts, who had come to the rally after leaving a large news conference against student debt.
"We had folks come in from Wright State, Kent State, Oberlin, Cincinnati and here at Columbus State and OSU, and I'm sure I left some out," said Alwiyah Shariff, an organizer for the Ohio Student Association. "We're kicking off a statewide campaign against the overwhelming debt students face coming out of college."
"It's like sharecropping," said another unidentified student. "They take what we can earn, and now make it harder for us to vote."
"Voters have already rejected this regressive legislation out of hand," Ohio AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Petie Talley said, referring to a voter referendum held two years ago. "Everybody has gotten the message except the Republicans in the legislature. Well, don't worry, we're coming back and back and back, with more and more folks until they do get the message. If they don't," she said over the cheers, "we'll let them know for sure on November 2nd."
"At a time when workers have to work longer to make less, this legislature now makes it harder for workers to get to the polls," Talley said. "We've seen this before and I'll tell you it looks like the poll tax and literacy test to me!"
Sharing the stage with Rep. Turner, who is also a candidate for Ohio secretary of state, and union and faith leaders, was a large group of Ohio Democratic legislators.
"These bills are designed to make it harder for urban voters, especially African Americans & Hispanics," said state Rep. Dan Ramos, a Democrat from Lorain, Ohio. "Voters shouldn't have to tip-toe around rules tailored to throw out their ballots when they are exercising their most basic rights as citizens. These bills are designed to disenfranchise those who've historically been most disenfranchised."
"I'm cold, man, but I'll be back and bringing friends," said George Dunson, a Columbus public worker unionist. "People died for these rights. We can stand a little cold."
Photo: State Sen. Nina Turner, at the microphone, is joined by other legislators from the Ohio House and Senate, Ohio ministers and labor leaders at the first "Testimony Tuesday" March 4 in Columbus. Ohio Senate Minority Caucus Blog