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New group backs progressive issues

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Yellow Springs may be a hotbed for progressive ideas, but coordinated action to advance a progressive agenda in state and federal politics is lacking here, according to organizers of a new group in town. To help left-leaning villagers walk their talk, the Progressive Forum of Yellow Springs will hold periodic meetings to promote activism and recruit local leaders.

“The idea behind the group was to create an opportunity for people who identify themselves as progressives to get together to take action,” said Ellis Jacobs, who organized the group with Village Council President Judith Hempfling and artist Migiwa Orimo.

At its inaugural meeting on Thursday, Sept. 22, activists will enlist support in the fight to defeat Issue 2, which would repeal the controversial Senate Bill 5, and stop the enforcement of House Bill 194, which affects voting requirements. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Yellow Springs Senior Center, 227 Xenia Avenue.

Yellow Springs High School teacher Aurelia Blake and Wright State University professor Rudy Fichtenbaum, who is on the national executive committee of American Association of University Professors, will discuss Issue 2, while local human rights lawyer Jacobs will cover what opponents call the voter suppression bill and the partisan re-districting and re-apportionment set to begin in Ohio.

Though the philosophy of the Progressive Forum is antithetical to the Tea Party movement, it is similar in its focus on partisan grassroots organizing to bring like-minded citizens together, Hempfling said.

Anyone within the labor, peace, environmental, civil rights, women and gay rights movements or who espouse progressive beliefs are invited to join the forum. The meetings are for progressives to strategize and support one another, not to hash out a shared agenda or debate with those who disagree, Hempfling said.

The forum will help address the problem that progressives, both locally and in the nation, are more focused on their own issues rather than the progressive cause as a whole, Hempfling said.

“There are many people here who consider themselves progressive or liberal and they’re active in particular issues, but there hasn’t been a place to come together across those specific issues,” she said. In addition to political action, Hempfling said she hopes a new group of village leaders will arise.

“These are the places where people develop their political ideas and thinking,” Hempfling said.

Though the first forum is focused largely on labor organizing, Jacobs said he believes Issue 2 will have national repercussions and could be a way for the progressive movement to gain ground.

“It is an opportunity for working class people to say ‘enough — we’re tired of being scapegoated.’” Jacobs said. “It’s absolutely critical because there is no other force in the country [besides the labor movement] with the strength and ability to change the conversation.”

Voting no on Issue 2 would be a vote to repeal Senate Bill 5, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in March. The law restricts the ability of public employees in Ohio to collectively bargain and strike and would negatively impact local teachers and schools, according to Blake, who teaches language arts at McKinney Middle School. Senate Bill 5 undermines the ability of the local administration and teachers’ union to work collaboratively to improve education in the district, she added.

“It’s a setback on our workers’ rights and our possibility of threatening working conditions and the public’s perception of educators,” said Blake, who has taught in the district for 15 years.

Yellow Springs Superintendent Mario Basora said he personally agrees that Senate Bill 5 has negative implications and that it “dehumanizes teachers.”

“Clearly it’s having an impact on teacher morale statewide and across the country,” said Basora, speaking personally and not as a representative of the district. More concerning to Basora is House Bill 136, which would create a voucher program paid by local school districts that students could use to attend private schools. Last week Basora opposed the proposed measure in testimony before the House Education Committee, scheduled to vote on the bill next week.

“Senate Bill 5 is a big issue but there are other pieces of legislation coming down the pike that are nearly as alarming,” Basora said. “It is my opinion that House Bill 136 will do more to destroy Yellow Springs schools in the future than anything I’ve seen since I’ve been in education.”

Also worrisome to progressives is House Bill 194, signed into law by Gov. Kasich in July, which reduces the early voting period from 35 days to, effectively, 11 days; restricts election boards from sending out absentee ballots, and limits poll workers in assisting voters, according to Jacobs. Because those who voted for the Democratic candidate in the last presidential election voted early at a far greater rate than those who voted for the Republican candidate, the law is partisan, Jacobs said.

“It’s one way to limit the participation of a group who [legislators] felt weren’t going to vote for their candidate,” he said. To stop the enforcement of House Bill 194 during the 2011 and 2012 elections, activists need to get 231,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in 2012.

Jacobs will also brief progressives on the coming battle over federal Congressional re-districting and re-apportionment for statewide offices, which would virtually guarantee Republicans 12 of Ohio’s 16 remaining congressional seats even though the state is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, he said.

The Progressive Forum plans to put on bi-monthly programs on political issues and start an e-mail list to activivate its members. For more information, contact Orimo at 937-767-1067.

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