We Are Ohio formed in 2011 and led the effort to veto Senate Bill 5 by a 62-38 percent margin that November.
We didn’t start this fight.
On Feb. 1, 2011, state Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, introduced SB 5. The proposed law was a direct attack on public employees that would strip them of their collective bargaining rights. The first time anyone other than Jones and her insiders saw the massive, 1,000-plus page bill was when she unveiled it in a Senate committee. No one representing public employees was asked for input.
We didn’t start this fight, but we fought back.
Throughout February and March, tens of thousands of Ohioans rallied at the Statehouse against SB 5. Gov. John Kasich and out-of-touch politicians did everything they could to lock us out of the process, literally. At one point, they locked the doors to the Statehouse and said there were too many people inside. But we took photos of empty rooms and corridors and staircases and we stood together in the freezing cold undaunted.
At the same time we were showing up in massive numbers at the Statehouse, workers across the state were holding town halls and rallies that attracted hundreds of people in small, medium and large cities.
In the Ohio Senate, SB 5 passed by one vote, 17-16.
Two of the state senators that supported the measure, fearful for their political careers, would bolt from the Ohio Senate within months of their embarrassing anti-worker vote. One took a lucrative, fat-cat job in the private sector and the other took a cushy appointment.
When SB 5 moved to the Ohio House, we didn’t let up for a moment. Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, lost his cool during the floor debate and ordered the guards to remove protesters from the House gallery. As the State Highway Patrol ushered the onlookers out of the chamber, Batchelder was caught on a live microphone saying, “now that the intellectuals have left the building.” His disdain said more about his lack of respect for hard working people in this state than anything else.
SB 5 was pushed through the Ohio House, but in the end 60 Republicans and Democrats voted against the unfair, unsafe law in both chambers. These legislative heroes who stood up for workers and their families would become known as the Super 60. They would have the honor of voting twice against SB 5, once in the legislature and again at the voting booth, but we’re getting ahead of our story.
The only bipartisan vote on SB 5 was in opposition. Extreme, out-of-touch politicians led by Gov. Kasich wanted the bill and would stop at nothing to deliver it for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and other anti-working family groups who would remain in the shadows for the most part during the rest of the campaign.
We didn’t start the fight, and we didn’t stop when Gov. Kasich signed SB 5 into law in late March. We had 90 days to collect 231,149 valid signatures. If we were successful, then SB 5 would not go into effect and we would go directly to the voters to restore a little sanity to this state with a citizen’s veto in November.
We Are Ohio formed as a citizen-driven, community-based, bipartisan coalition that includes public and private sector workers and employees, autoworkers, police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses, pastors, small business owners, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, local elected officials and business leaders, students, Moms, Dads, family members and your neighbors.
The “People’s Petition,” had started.
What happened next had never been seen in Ohio’s impressive history. Ohioans everywhere were not only asking “where do I sign,” but “how do I circulate petitions,” to fight SB 5. Petition circulators were in all 88 counties. A hot dog vendor had a booklet in Cleveland. In Wooster, supporters organized a drive-thru signature drive and cars lined up for blocks. In Athens, Ohio University students combed the Farmer’s Market each Saturday gathering signatures. There were literally hundreds of heart-warming stories like this being told and the media understood a movement had been born and reported our efforts to help spread our message to voters.
On June 29, we held the “People’s Parade” in Columbus. Thousands of supporters gathered about a mile from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office near the Scioto River and marched together to turn in the signatures. A span of supporters carried a banner stating “The Million-Signature March,” in front of a semi-truck filled with 1,502 boxes of signed petitions from all 88 counties.
We marched past the Statehouse where Gov. Kasich has an office. Public employees watched from the state office towers as everyday heroes walked together, holding signs and chanting “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” We gathered shoulder to shoulder, an estimated 6,200 Ohioans, at the corner of Broad St. and N. Fourth St. in Columbus outside the Secretary of State’s office to hear the actual number of signatures collected.
The crowd moved closer together to hear how many signatures we were turning in that day: an historic 1,298,301. When the number was announced, the crowd cheered so loud that it could be heard throughout the downtown. Then dozens of volunteers unpacked the semi-truck and delivered the boxes to the 14th floor of the Secretary of State’s office. An engineer was called in to inspect for fear that the weight from the boxes might collapse the floor and send the petitions crashing down on the offices below.
We weren’t finished. Over the summer, we didn’t let up for a moment. More than 17,000 volunteers made phone calls, went door-to-door in a massive grass roots campaign to let Ohioans know that SB 5 was unfair, unsafe and hurt us all.
Our opposition formed their own campaign, “Building A Better Ohio.” We called it “Building A Better Ohio For Billionaires,” because SB 5 was only going to hurt working people, destroy jobs and decimate our local communities.
We supplemented our grass roots outreach and field efforts with an earned and paid media campaign. In less than six months, we held more than 520 press events across the state. Our paid media ads began running with the first featuring a firefighter that underscored how unsafe SB 5 was to our emergency first responders.
When we ran an ad of a great-grandmother, Marlene Quinn, who thanked firefighters for saving her great-granddaughter from a potentially deadly house fire, our opposition showed their true colors once again and went too far. They used Marlene’s image from our ad without permission and twisted her words to make it sound like she supported SB 5.
Building A Better Ohio For Billionaires was obviously desperate and voteless. We fought back. We called on TV stations around the state to pull down the distorted ad and they did one by one. Marlene filmed a new ad that denounced our opposition. She made it clear: Marlene opposed SB 5.
During this time, we launched a bus tour across the state to talk about why SB 5 was wrong for Ohio in conjunction with the launch of early voting. The bus made stops near county boards of elections and hundreds of supporters turned out to greet the bus and then went into the voting booths to cast their votes early against SB 5.
On Nov. 8, 2011, Election Night, all of your hard work paid off. In an off-election year, meaning no presidential or statewide candidates were on the ballot, an astounding 2.1 million voters turned out to just say No on Issue 2 and veto SB 5.
We won by a 62-38 percent margin.
Today, We Are Ohio is continuing to fight for working families and the middle class.
Workers’ rights are at stake. We Are Ohio is fighting to stop efforts to destroy jobs, harm communities, strip workers of their rights – Right to Work is wrong. This initiative was brought to you by the same out-of-touch opponents who wanted SB 5.
Right to Work is wrong is worse than SB 5 because it will hurt every worker in Ohio.
We Are Ohio stands committed to fighting for workers’ rights. Join our movement and stand up for working families, the middle class and your community!