COLUMBUS, Ohio - "We can realistically reach a million signatures against SB 5 with the mobilization we've put together now," said John Parker, regional field director for the We Are Ohio coalition. "This is a goal that will build momentum into the November election. It will show everyone that the union-community coalition can and will have the horses to reverse SB 5 and gain justice for Ohio's working families."
Parker was speaking to union and community supporters at the Carpenters union hall here on Friday, preparing for the final run to the polls in the drive against SB 5, the bill passed by the GOP legislative majority to wipe out collective bargaining rights in the state. Petitioning to place that bill on the November ballot is continuing through this month, with a target of June 25 as the cutoff date to turn in petitions. Signatures of 233,000 voters, totaling 3 percent of the electorate in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties in the previous election, are needed for the proposed referendum to be certified on the ballot in the fall.
We Are Ohio announced Friday that more than 714,000 signatures had been collected. "The goal now is 1 million signatures," Parker said. (See video below.)
In central Ohio, more than 1,500 volunteers are helping in the campaign. Four festivals have been selected as key mobilizing targets: Columbus Pride, Juneteenth and Creekside Blues/Jazz fest, all of which took place June 17, and Comfest this coming Friday, June 24.
The biggest priority is being put on mobilizing for this Friday's Comfest, the huge Columbus music fest. This year SB 5 petitions will be officially part of the fest, at various designated areas, and a break-out session is scheduled to push for signatures and support. Volunteers are urged to go online to www.WeAreOhio.com, or email John Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org, to sign up to help out. The Fire Fighters union and SEIU will have official delegations campaigning there, as well.
"We will probably speak to over half of the entire electorate in Ohio before we finish the petition drive, " said Norm Wernet, Ohio director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. "In all the struggles I've been involved in, I've never seen so wide a coalition built, so many Ohioans involved."
The We Are Ohio website has charts of festivals, gatherings, rallies and various mobilizations taking place every day through June and July that people can check out, call in for and help out with. In addition to petitioning, phone banks are now running full time at the Ohio AFL-CIO offices on E. Broad St., Columbus. Volunteers are needed for data entry, picking up petitions and numerous other tasks, as well. Folks can text OH225568 to get regular updates on the campaign.
Celebrations, parties, get-out-the-vote rallies and many other activities are already being planned for July to November. The campaign here has begun developing a huge Labor Day rally, in the Columbus Commons, which will kick off the fall referendum campaign.
"This needs to re-establish Labor's Day and really reclaim our Commons, for all of us," said Don Coulter, president of Columbus SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees). "I'm really happy we're re-establishing Labor Day as a holiday here for all working folks, but we have to keep it going, do it in 2012, and every year after that!"
The fight for the referendum will begin in earnest after July, and will face a massive money-driven campaign by corporations and the wealthy to defend SB 5. It will take a huge turnout of working people to win, but, activists say, we have the people, all they've got is money!
"This fight is a tough one," said Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga. "There is terrible danger to our people in SB 5, but it also offers us a tremendous opportunity to talk to all Ohioans about the positives of unionism, about what unity and coalition work can win for us. This is a difficult, a tough fight, but when we're united and determined, we will win!"
Photo: Voters sign petitions to repeal SB 5, May 16 in Pomeroy, Ohio. We Are Ohio