Often overlooked, odd-year elections are equally important as even-year federal election cycles. This year has been full of important local elections, but they rarely yield the same attention and coverage as Congressional elections. While pundits predict that the upcoming midterm elections will be a “blood bath,” there is still some room to learn lessons from the 2021 local election cycle.
Recent elections in Cleveland and Cincinnati are two examples of significant wins that offer a glimmer of hope going into the new year. Speaking with NewsOne, Keizayla Fambro talked about her organizing work on a Cincinnati mayoral campaign and Stand Up For Ohio, the 501(c)(4) affiliate of the Ohio Organizing collaborative.
Fambro shared that it was essential to center the voices of people directly impacted by the issues at hand in both elections. As political director for Cincinnati Mayor-elect Aftab Pureval, Fambro highlighted the importance of communicating with Black voters in an authentic way that isn’t just checking off boxes.
“He had a very Black and people of color center campaign,” Fambro began. “And he talked a lot about racial equity. He talked a lot about police accountability.”
When her candidate was attacked with false claims that he wanted to defund the police, he didn’t backtrack on his message but stuck to his guns. It’s the kind of clarity and commitment that could be important for candidates in the upcoming cycle.
In Cleveland, Fambro’s organizing primarily centered around the passage of Issue 24, a measure that will create a new pathway for transparency and police oversight. Stand Up For Ohio was a partner in the Citizens For A Safer Cleveland coalition that pushed for passage of Issue 24.
“My primary goal was to make sure that we knew the end was to win, but also to change people’s lives in Cleveland,” Fambro said. “But this is a beginning and a right step for Cleveland and a direction for all Black and brown people to get home safely.”
Issue 24 passed with an overwhelming majority in the Cleveland election earlier this month. Local news reported that the provision did the best in the home ward of the outgoing mayor, who opposed the issue.
Without increased voter engagement, Issue 24 likely would not have passed. It can be tricky turning out voters outside of presidential election years, but Fambro suggests voter turnout requires helping people understand why sustained engagement is necessary.
“When you disengage in any aspect of politics, that means someone else is making a decision for you,” Fambro explained. “I remember the first time I had a conversation with one of my canvassers, and they were like ‘well, I’m just not politically active.’ And I say, ‘you’re not politically active, but your landlord is, your the person who owns your bank is the person who sets your school policy is like every piece of your life, someone is politically engaged. And if you are not, you’re allowing them to dictate and set the choices of your life.’”
Fambro credits Stand Up For Ohio’s communications director Maki Somosot for converting the voices of impacted families and the 16-page ballot language into voter-friendly guidance. The group prioritized capturing the stories in a way that centered on affected families and was respectful of their grief and advocacy.
Like the charter amendment fight in Minneapolis, organizers spent time informing voters about the proposal’s components and how it would benefit communities in the future. Highlighting the experiences of people directly impacted by this issue was a vital part of the strategy.
“We don’t hear from families and the people who are directly impacted by police brutality on a day-to-day basis,” Somosot said. “Especially not in Cleveland. Because I mean, aside from Tamir Rice, there’s been other horrible deaths that have happened, but people just sort of tune it out.”
According to Fambro, newly elected Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb was also a supporter of the charter amendment, standing in opposition to many members of the Cleveland political establishment. Fambro said there was a lot of misinformation during the campaign, and while they addressed some things, they couldn’t respond to everything.
But the group did not let slide when outgoing Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson attacked those who lost loved ones to police violence.
“We did address certain things like when Frank Jackson called the family members who were behind the ballot initiative, tragedy pips,” Fambro explained.
During a press conference, family members of people killed by police, including Tamir Rice’s mother Samaria Rice, demanded an apology from Jackson but also used the opportunity to plug Issue 24 and ask the community to support the cause.
Winning Issue 24 was also a fantastic victory for families left without any recourse after Cleveland police killed their loved ones.
“For 14 years, the heartaches and pain I have endured since the murder of my son Angelo, our struggle for change, all the times we were told that we couldn’t, and all the people who pressed on with me and the families,” Alicia Kirkman said. Police killed kirkman’s son Angelo Miller in 2007 at the age of 17. “We can make change, I thank God for Issue 24 passing, and I thank our community for coming out and trusting in Issue 24.”
LaTonya Goldsby, a cousin of Tamir Rice and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland, called the passage of Issue 24 a new beginning.
“This is the dawning of a new era of policing in Cleveland,” Goldsby said. “With the passing of Issue 24, we have the opportunity to create transformative police reform and real police accountability. The citizens of Cleveland have advocated for police accountability and civilian oversight for the past 100 years, and today, through the work of families who were directly impacted, it became a reality. We want to thank the residents of Cleveland for their vote and support in passing Issue 24.”