Honoring the Past, By Building the Future

July 15, 2014

(Photo credit: Ohio Student Association

They organize in Cleveland and Youngstown, Columbus and Dayton, Toledo and Cincinnati. They take on issues like student debt, economic and educational justice, and the disenfranchisement of young voters. They lobby, they take direct action, they develop new movement leaders, and they win. They win real change, the Wellstone Way.

The Ohio Student Association (OSA) is made up of college students, high-school students, graduates, grad students, young people who never went to college, and some who started and haven't yet finished. They organize on campuses and in communities across Ohio, to build power, grow a movement, and win change.

And Wellstone Action’s got their back.

One of the ways OSA wins lasting change is their Fellowship for Community Change Program. “The fellowship program is a semester long; we train individual leaders as a group, so they can learn organizing skills together,” explains James Hayes, the group’s Political Director, “Fellows work together on OSA campaigns, so they’re learning from doing. Leadership development is something we dedicate ourselves to year in and year out.”

This year’s cohort of OSA Fellows met for retreats throughout the year. In Cincinnati and Columbus, Wellstone joined OSA staff and fellows, training them in the science, and the art, of being powerful, change-making community organizers.

For Molly Shack, OSA’s Communications Director, our partnership was a vital part of the success of this year’s program, “Wellstone helps us dig down into our values, and brought concrete tools on the mechanics of organizing, from making an ask, to canvassing, to base building. Wellstone has had a huge impact on our immediate campaigns, and our work for the future.”

One session Wellstone offered was on the power of developing your narrative story. According to James, it was a particularly powerful lesson, “Wellstone really drove home the importance of owning your narrative; you have to own it and tell it. If you do this work, you have to do it from a place of understanding why you’re doing it, why it’s important to you, and why other people should be brought along that path.”

We’re proud of the work we did with the fellows in 2014, empowering young change-makers with the hard skills, and a deeper love, for organizing. But we’re even more proud of the work they’ll do this summer, with their Wellstone experience fresh in mind.

“This is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer,” says James, “A coalition of young people-led groups from Ohio, Mississippi, and Texas got together and agreed that we should honor the past by building the future. This summer should be about the next 50 years, not just last 50.” So members of OSA will be road tripping down to Jackson, Mississippi this summer to collaborate with young leaders in the South. But they’ll also be up in Ohio, honoring the impact of the 1964 Freedom Summer, by making this a summer of change. They’re building Freedom Hubs across the state, to launch a field campaign that will register 10,000 young people to vote and build a new base of power for progressives in the Buckeye State.

It’s work that is strengthened by the partnership with Wellstone. “The last training was a canvass training, and it was many people’s first time canvassing, so a lot of the fellows were nervous, shuffling around, uncomfortable with the work,” explains Molly, “But after the training, and after the debrief, they felt really empowered. That what Wellstone does so well. Wellstone helps people feel comfortable to take risks, and be empowered by organizing choices. The training was crucial to get us to where we are right now.”

We know change doesn’t happen after a single series of trainings, no matter how good they are. Nor does it come from a single summer, no matter how powerful it is. So OSA and Wellstone are excited to get back at it, next school year, and the one after that, and for many years to come, developing leaders, building a movement, organizing for change, together, the Wellstone Way.

We also know that to change a state as big and diverse as Ohio, it takes working across the state, with many different progressive partners. So we’ll be in Ohio throughout the year, with youth-led organizations, with our labor brothers and sisters, and with the hundreds of our Ohio alumni who are running for office, leading campaigns, and winning the Wellstone Way. So keep checking back, right here on the Wellstone Blog, for updates from the Buckeye State.