Amid the anthropological odds and ends of a Palme House classroom, 21 people gathered on Feb. 3 under the words “Small Town Alliance Meeting” written on a dry erase board. They came from all over Ohio but shared a common goal: to tackle the drug crisis they saw in their communities.
The meeting, led by members of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC), drew representatives from a number of organizations and counties across the state, including Clinton, Knox, Medina and Union counties. The OOC unites organizations across Ohio to build “transformative power for social, racial and economic justice,” according to their website, and plans to launch a ballot initiative to end the pipeline that shuttles drug users into prison and redirect resources into rehabilitation.
In 2016, deaths due to opioid overdose were five times higher than they were in 1999, and Ohio had the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last October, President Donald Trump declared a 90-day public health emergency in order to address the opioid epidemic, according to Politico. Trump renewed that announcement before it expired on Jan. 23 and after the administration produced few concrete measures to address the crisis. This includes new funding proposals for states as they respond to the epidemic. The renewed declaration expires on Apr. 23.
OOC aims to hold meetings such as Saturday’s consistently, according to OOC organizer Amanda Kiger. “What we strive to do is put people in rooms together so we can start building a real community network,” she said in an interview with the Collegian.
As members of OOC, Kiger, Hayden Schortman ’08 and Stuart McIntyre led the Small Town Alliance Meeting. Everyone present introduced themselves, and after lunch the group discussed the ballot initiative — called the “Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Recovery Amendment” — more in-depth.
The proposed ballot initiative seeks to bring $100 million back into communities across Ohio, according to Kiger. These funds would come directly from the Department of Corrections and not from a new tax on those living in the communities. The proposed amendment would also lower the number of people in prison for nonviolent and low-level drug offenses and turn such offenses from felonies into misdemeanors, according to kentwired.com.
“It’s just really relocating money that is being taken from those communities along with the resources of the humans they’re putting away for their charges,” Kiger said.
OOC also works to register voters in Ohio, and especially to reach what Kiger called “low-propensity voters”: those who have never used their right to vote or have never been registered, for example.
“Those people who are on the ground — they’re the ones most affected by the people we vote in,” she said.
At the Small Town Alliance Meeting, a number of attendees expressed the need to take action into their own hands because of the little change they saw enacted in federal policy. Many also shared personal experiences with drug addiction and overdose, both in their communities and their own homes.
“I don’t believe in saviors,” McIntyre said during the meeting. “I don’t believe anyone’s going to save us. I believe in people power.”