What’s Catalyst up to in Ohio?

In 2008 in San Francisco, Catalyst Project launched the Anne Braden Program (ABP), a 4 month, intensive, transformative anti-racism program for white organizers and activists. Eleven years later, hundreds of ABP alumni across the US and Canada are in movement for racial justice and collective liberation.

In late 2018, with the encouragement of movement partners, we began to explore the possibility of running our program in Ohio. We reached out to organizers in Ohio to find out if such a program would be welcome.  After a resounding yes, and with the support of our co-anchor, Avery Martens, a SURJ Ohio organizer and an ABP alum, we launched the Ohio Braden program in September of 2019.

Previous Anne Braden programs (with the exception of our 2016 Philly Braden Program) have included participants from many different communities across North America. In the Ohio Braden program, participants have a shared context because they all live and organize in Ohio, and many of them already know each other.  We’ve also brought together a team of ABP alumni from Ohio and nearby southwestern Pennsylvania, who join Catalyst’s Rahula Janowski and Elisabeth Long in facilitation and leadership of the program.  

Running the program in Ohio has been a different experience than other Anne Braden Programs, which, considering the unique context of Ohio, is not surprising.

Ohio has been deeply impacted by neoliberalism.  Towns that were built on manufacturing have been left with weak economies, with the impacts felt most heavily by poor people and people of color.  Ohio is known nationally for suffering the 2nd highest number of opiate overdoses, with Black communities experiencing a 14-fold increase in fentanyl deaths over the course of three years.  

After years of being a highly scrutinized swing state, Ohio is now a Republican trifecta (when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers), and the Ohio legislature is deeply influenced by right wing think tank ALEC, leading to bills like SB33, which criminalizes first amendment activities, and HB413, which requires doctors to perform medically impossible feats.

Racism shows up in many ways in Ohio, from the shockingly highnumber of Blackpeoplekilled by police, to frightening,organizedwhitesupremacistactivity, to the highest number of racist sports team mascots in the country, capped by the grotesquely racist mascot of the Cleveland baseball team.

But as we know, wherever there is oppression, there is resistance.  In Cleveland, the baseball team faces yearly protests organized by the Committee of 500 years of Dignity and Resistance and others.  In Columbus, People’s Justice Project organizes for community safety and against police violence and mass incarceration, and BQIC works for the liberation of Black queer, trans, and intersex people.  All around Ohio, organizers of color and white organizers are hard at work to support and protect their communities. And we are proud to have 22 of these amazing organizers in the program who are working alongside communities of color to make significant social change.

Check out some of the organizations our Ohio participants work with:
URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Equality Ohio
Ohio Women’s Alliance
Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing
Yes We Can Columbus
Food Not Bombs

We are learning that organizing in Ohio is *hard.*  Money pours into the state, particularly around election time, but very little of that ends up with the kind of grassroots organizations where the most exciting and transformative changes can come from.  Many communities are economically struggling, and organizing around meeting people’s basic needs can be all-consuming. What we are learning is that for many in Ohio, it is through the meeting of people’s needs that power is built.  And we are learning that, in Ohio, organizers are hungry to learn, hungry to engage, and that, for them, nothing about the struggle for a better world is theoretical.

The Ohio program takes place over three four-day weekends, with the final weekend scheduled for January of 2020.  With just one session left, we already know that this version of the ABP will influence and shape all Braden programs yet to come.  We’ve been humbled by how deeply engaged all of the participants are, how much knowledge, heart, and humility they bring to the program and to their work, and we are excited to be in the struggle with them.

Elisabeth, Catalyst Project

P.S. Check out the grassroots POC-led organizations that our participants are fundraising for:

American Indian Movement of Ohio
Black Lives Matter Cleveland
Black Queer & Intersectional Collective 
Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance
Farm Labor Organizing Committee 
The Immigrant Worker Project/Centro San Jose 
Lake Erie Native American Council 
New Voices Cleveland
Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition
People’s Justice Project