MoveOn.org moves ground game into eight 2016 election battleground states

Map of Ohio's six major regions by county with Northeast highlighted

Ohio’s six major regions with Northeast Ohio highlighted in blue

In the space between some of the worst polling for Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton since the party’s convention in July and the first presidential debate this Monday, grassroots progressive group MoveOn.org will be taking to the streets in its first-ever attempt at a field campaign. Funded by a member-approved super PAC, MoveOn’s new field operation will target eight states where the presidential and/or senate races are particularly close: Arizona; Florida; Iowa; Nevada; New Hampshire; North Carolina; Ohio, and; Pennsylvania.

Ohio is considered one of only a few quintessential battleground states because its demographics are unusually close to those of the nation as a whole and because it has a fairly uncanny ability to vote with the eventual winner of the presidential elections. In the latter case, Ohio has only voted for the losing candidate once since 1944: Richard Nixon won over John F. Kennedy in 1960.

The battleground of this battleground state is the 18-county Northeast Ohio region, the hub of which is Cuyahoga County where the City of Cleveland is the county seat and no Democrat can win the otherwise slightly Republican-leaning state without first winning here. Cuyahoga is the most populous, most diverse and has the most Democrats of Ohio’s 88 counties. It is also the fifth most racially segregated metropolitan area in the country with all that entails. For example, according to the 24/7 Wall St. newsletter, nationally, 37% of white Americans only see other whites. However, in the Cleveland metro area, 84.7% of whites only see other whites. It also means many areas are not conducive to sudden interracial interaction such as that of black canvassers in white neighborhoods or vice versa. MoveOn chose to wade in these complicated political waters in support of both Hillary Clinton and Democratic former-Governor Ted Strickland who is running against incumbent Republican U.S. senator, Rob Portman.

MoveOn’s man to see in Northeast Ohio is campaign organizer Tristan Rader, a former social worker born and raised in the area. Like so many progressives in this part of the state, he was a Bernie Sanders supporter before Sanders’ people even had offices here. When the Sanders campaign eventually arrived, they hired him and several others who’d worked tirelessly in support of the Democratic firebrand. When Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary, a core group remained together here while Rader went with the Sanders campaign as a field operative in New Jersey and then on to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia as a delegate whip. It was from among Sanders staff that MoveOn hired many of its field directors. Others have come from Organizing for America (OFA), the group that grew out of the Obama campaigns, as well as state campaigns across the country.

Tristan Rader, MoveOn.org campaign organizer for Northeast Ohio

Tristan Rader, MoveOn.org campaign organizer for Northeast Ohio

“The method that MoveOn is taking is having people reach out to their own neighbors. . . . If we have canvass captains in a neighborhood, then we’ll have them reach out to people in their neighborhood. We think the messaging is just much more effective when you can have neighbors talking to neighbors rather than people from one side of town talking to people on the other side of town,” Rader explains. “You’re also wasting time, too. The time it takes someone to drive a half an hour to the other side of town where you want to talk to people [is time] they could be canvassing for an hour. So it’s for efficiency and it’s for communication.”

The approach has its advantages.

Last weekend was the kick-off of the #UnitedAgainstHate campaign. Billed as a National Weekend of Action, volunteers went door-to-door with a list provided by the 8 million-member organization’s national database of people likely to vote if given a little extra push. Unfortunately, a large swath of Ohio experienced moderate rain Saturday–enough to preclude canvassing–so would-be canvassers broke out the cell phones and held impromptu phone banks. Rob, (not his real name), a canvass captain on the east side, found a quiet space and organized three other people for a couple of hours of phone banking. They had approximately 120 contacts with a high rate of engagement.

He got involved after hearing about a #UnitedAgainstHate organizational meeting earlier in the week, tired of listening to Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s racist tropes against brown and black people. “I’m all for [uniting against hate]!” he says. A metalworker and artist, Rob says he often hears whites say, “Africans sold their own people” and “Slavery was a long time ago and doesn’t have anything to do with me.” He doesn’t agree. Instead, he thinks black people have had it hard enough. “America was built on the scarred backs of slaves. . . . [Trump] is like karma.”

Rob’s nine-year-old daughter, Angela, (not her real name), also attended the organizational meeting. She goes to a local International Baccalaureate® program school where lessons deal precisely with the kinds of issues being raised by the Clinton-Trump contest.

Part of a worldwide program begun in Switzerland in the mid-1960s by teachers at the International School of Geneva looking for a curriculum easily transferrable from country to country as diplomatic families moved, IB schools offer students an “international education that develop[s] the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world,” explains the IB foundation’s website. Clinton’s “Better Together” message resonates with Angela, as does the fact that she’s a woman and former secretary of state.

“She’s aware of the historic nature of the Clinton campaign and sees her as a role model,” reports Rob. Angela’s mother, with whom Rob co-parents, supports Trump.

The Wicked Woman met a few of the approximately ten volunteers who were able to canvass in drier weather last Sunday at the office MoveOn shares with two other progressive PACs in Lakewood on the western border of the City of Cleveland. The office has a history of serving as home to progressive candidates and office holders. It was an Obama for America office in 2012 and served as one of former-Representative Dennis Kucinich’s offices during his 16 years in Congress, among other notable tenants. Each volunteer came back excited and with lots of information.

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