The year was 2012.
Occupy Wall Street had captured the world’s imagination, with thousands of occupations springing up virtually overnight, and the murder of Trayvon Martin had unleashed a wave of mass protest that quickly spread across the country. In Columbus, Ohio, a group of students were dreaming of universal access to higher education without the burden of debt; of equal access to quality K-12 education for all of Ohio’s children; and of an end to the criminalization of black and brown youth. Like so many other young people, they were inspired by the electricity of the mass mobilization moment that they found themselves in. Sure that the change they had been dreaming of was just around the corner if only they organized for it, they founded the Ohio Student Association.
2012 ended and the revolution didn’t materialize, but OSA didn’t stop dreaming and we didn’t stop fighting for those dreams. We learned how to use the tools of the traditional model of Alinsky-ite community organizing and won our first campaign, succeeding in stopping Stand Your Ground from becoming law in Ohio. We trained hundreds of young leaders from across the state through our annual Fellowship for Community Change. We organized to demand justice for John Crawford III, who was murdered by police at a WalMart in Beavercreek, Ohio, and became a national voice in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We’ve organized and won campaigns at the state level to protect voting rights and increase funding to the Ohio College Opportunity grant in the state’s budget and on the campus level to protect students from unfair costs and to make higher education more accessible to formerly incarcerated students.
We’ve run civic engagement programs, registering more than 20,000 people in 2016, researched and distributed voter guides, and in 2018 we helped to collect the second highest number of petition signatures in Ohio’s history to put Issue 1 on the ballot. Issue 1 would’ve freed thousands by reducing 4th and 5th degree drug possession and helped untold thousands more by investing the savings into addiction treatment and support programs, and while we didn’t win, we completely changed the conversation around addiction and incarceration in Ohio.
We will continue to fight for true community safety, which doesn’t come through more policing and more cages, but through ensuring every community and every person has the resources they need to live with dignity.