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. Our chapters picked up wins in campus-based fights across the state. We learned about a new, decentralized model of organizing and began to transition towards a new paradigm of targeting the public and shifting public narrative. We got good at running civic engagement programs and registered more than 20,000 people in 2016.
We are proud of everything we accomplished over the past five and a half years. But the reality is that we are no closer to free higher education access for all, no closer to equity in Ohio’s K-12 schools, and no closer to ending the systemic criminalization of black and brown youth than we were when OSA was founded in 2012. Plain and simple, we do not have the power it would take to realize our dreams and protect our futures. None of the progressive organizations that fight for young people’s issues here in Ohio do.
If we’re being honest, we are losing. Why? Because single-issue campaigns are not enough. Because mass mobilization is not enough. Because registering young people to vote is not enough. If we are going to win on any of the issues that affect us, then we must come together around a power-building strategy that offers breadth, depth, and scale. We must create a political home for young people in Ohio that is grounded in a compelling vision of what Ohio could be if we won on all of the issues young people face today. We must build an electorate.
Building an electorate is a lot like raising a child. We cannot ignore it for long periods of time, taking no responsibility for its development, showing up only when we want something; to treat a child that way would be considered neglectful and abusive. Instead, we must nurture our electorate, educate it, and teach it our values. We must offer it culture, community, and a sense of belonging. We must commit to its growth in the long term.
So how do we begin the process of raising our electorate? It all starts with the Young People’s Platform.