Elections matter. Next year’s election will shape the course of history. The United States, once a beacon of hope and freedom to the world, can either continue down a road of isolationism, white nationalism, protectionism, and yes - of fascism, or we can signal to the world that Trumpism is not compatible with American values after all.
Knowing just how important next year’s election is, I’ve committed myself to joining the fight. For a while I wasn’t sure how I should focus my energy. Should I stay in Illinois and work to get Bruce Rauner out of the Governor’s Mansion? Should I try to work for an activist organization like Let America Vote that fights for a cause I believe in? Or should I move back home to Ohio to work in a swing state that, by a wide margin, voted for Donald Trump?
Nearly every single person I look up to in politics counseled me to go back to Ohio. I initially resisted that advice. For a long time, all I ever wanted to do was leave Ohio and start a new life of my own. When I got a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago, that dream had finally come true. The thought of going back and leaving the incredible life, complete with friends that had become family, on a personal level, was gut wrenching. But, as I thought about it more and more - deep down I knew that I could make the biggest impact back home.
The fact of the matter is that Chicago isn’t turning red anytime soon. Political analysts expect Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to turn back to blue. Ohio, on the other hand, is a different story. Many analysts think the state could lose its swing state status and evolve into a Republican stronghold. With Republicans holding a firm grip on the statehouse - a 23-9 advantage in the upper house, a 65-33 advantage in the lower house, control of the Governorship, and a US Congressional delegation advantage 12-4 - it’s hard to argue that Ohio is indeed a swing state.
This year, 75% of the Ohio State Legislature is up for reelection. There’s an open Governor’s race with incumbent, John Kasich, term limited. All 16 Representatives to Congress will face reelection. Widely popular Senator Sherrod Brown, one of only two Democrats in office who have been elected statewide, will be on the ballot. Ohio, quite frankly, will be the battleground where the future of the United States and both political parties will be determined.
Over time, it became clear to me that I wanted to be in Ohio. Instinctually, I looked to my Congressional District, OH-4, a true Republican stronghold. I reasoned that I could have the greatest responsibility and impact on a smaller campaign and that having grown up in the district came with certain advantages. Despite the fact that the district was solidly red, I hoped that I could help chip away at the margins and at least give someone a chance, even though it may be a small one, to win. Despite the fact I questioned how much I could help any candidate win such a gerrymandered district, I knew that the Democratic campaign in the district would be important.
Political pundits routinely speak about how the top of the ticket helps the bottom of the ticket. While this is true, I think most pundits underestimate or take for granted how important it is for the bottom of the ticket to perform and connect voters to the top of the ticket. The Democratic Party has failed in recent years in supporting campaigns at the bottom of the ticket who can effectively present the Democratic platform at the grassroots level. The end result is that for decades, most voters in districts like OH-4 have not been reached.
I believe without hesitation that the Democratic platform would do far more good for people in my district than the Republican platform. I also believe that it is a colossal failure of our political system that there is such weak incentive for parties to reach these people. The Democratic party resents being called a party of the coasts, but if it wants to do well in states like Ohio, it needs to invest resources in every single district and run campaigns on the issues that affect people’s everyday lives.
Fortunately, in my couple months working in Ohio, I’ve already seen the Trump effect first hand. People from all walks of life are fired up and have begun organizing. The infrastructure is being built as we speak for Democrats to compete in every single district. If Democrats can capitalize on that - not only will we pull some upsets at the local level, but the top of the ticket in every state will reap the benefits.
I’m even more fired up now that I have found a candidate to fight alongside for what I believe in and to have the opportunity to be the change that I want to see in my party. My candidate, Janet Garrett, is a true progressive - a retired school teacher, former teachers union president and former volunteer of the Peace Corps. Janet is passionate, hardworking, and gracefully understands the steep uphill battle she faces next year. But more importantly, she understands how important her campaign is - both in her potential upset of extreme right wing, Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan, and in her support of Sherrod Brown and the eventual Gubernatorial Democratic Candidate.
So that’s why I’m moving back to Ohio to unseat my Congressman - I’m fighting against a toxic Republican party that has embraced a nationalist, fear mongering, and wanna-be-dictator, in the hopes that Ohio will send a strong message to the world that America has not completely lost its way. But far more importantly, I’m fighting to help rebuild a Democratic Party that can implement a truly progressive agenda that will help people in my district realize their American Dream, a dream which I have been able to realize for myself.
If you’re like me and are from Ohio, Michigan, Florida, or any other red state for that matter, consider going back home - the resistance groups, local activists, and progressive candidates are going to need all the help they can get to be successful in 2018. Not only that - consider hopping in a race that you know is a long shot in order to help build the party that can bring the change we want to see. I hope to see you on the battlefield.