Photo of Billy Wimsett

Billy Wimsett

I emailed Upski last month because I wanted guidance about the current political climate. Upski’s books Bomb the Suburbs, No More Prisons, and Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs have hugely impacted and influenced Hip Hop culture, and grassroots activism.

2pac and Vic Mensa have both mentioned reading Upski.

I’m fairly nihilist in a non-cynical but practical way. Voting is efficient for me. But I’m slightly unlearned.

When I first got Upski on the phone, the revered Chicago activist wanted to know my intentions. He was taking time from his work with Movement 2016, and Vote Mob to let me pick his brain.

I told him I did not want Donald Trump to be president. I told him I did not want the police to keep killing people. I inquired if there is a synergy within these two imperatives.

Upski stopped me and inquired if I was familiar with local grassroots organizations: Yes We Can Columbus, the Working Family Party, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and OSA.

Yes. Not until now. Yes. Yes.

Upski emphatically added, It’s an incredible model. I think people get caught up and waste a lot of time talking about the top of the ticket. It takes five seconds of your life to cast the vote on the top of the ticket.”

I mumbled something about Donald Trump saying he was not being braggadocios, which reminded me of “The We Don’t Use Words like Mackadocious” essay Upski printed in the Source in 1993.

The debate question was somewhat of an inconsequential observation.

Upski said, “Let’s focus on how we can build power and win together. On what all the progressive folks agree about.”

I responded, “The police need reform. We have people marching in the street and shutting down City Council meetings. How do we avoid these things from getting ignored?”

Upski advised calmly,“You have to fire the people that are ignoring you. You have to hire people that you can have a more productive fight with. Which is exactly what ‘Yes We Can Columbus’ is trying to do. They are trying to take over the city council.”

Upski asked me how Bob Fitrakis was doing. I told him he was running for Franklin County Prosecutor. If Fitrakis wins then he would prosecute police when they were in the wrong. I told him the Democratic candidate Zack Klein has committed to body cameras but isn’t as transparent on his intentions as Dr. Fitrakis.

Upski asked me about the Republican candidate, Ron O’Brien. I told him, “no one is really talking about the Republican.”

Which is weird when you think of it. O’Brien has ran unopposed for 16 years.
Upski asked me if Bob could win.

I told him it was hard to say because the Democratic Party is pretty strong in Columbus, and Zach Klein just spoke at the Clinton Rally at OSU.

“I have a lot of respect for the Free Press. And Bob Fitrakis.”

Upski added, “When we started the League of Pissed Off Voters back in 2004. We had our first kick-off in Columbus. There was a big League Of Pissed Off Voters in Columbus that made voter guides every election.”

Kerry lost to Bush in a rather suspect manner in that 2004 election.

Bob Fitrakis and the Columbus League of Pissed Off Voters worked together at the New Faith Baptist Church to gather information in the wake of the 2004 voting irregularities.

“After the 2004 election, when there was all of the voter disenfranchisement and suppression, we worked arm and arm together to try to expose it and held that session in the church basement, for people to start telling their stories about voter suppression.” Upski recounted.

Upski’s voter work in Columbus wasn't his first exposure to our city. Upski also lived in the Clintonville/Beachwald/Worthington area.

He spent his formative years in Chicago obviously. He came back to Ohio to attend Oberlin.
“I used to live in Ohio when I was in my 20s. I didn’t even vote for president until I was 27. The only reason I voted, I was living in North Carolina. There was this ballot initiative to double the size of the county jail. We realized the only way to stop that is to get involved in elections. And try to stop this ballot initiative.”

Upski’s 1999 book, No More Prisons explored problems with our criminal justice system and various other topics. “No More Prisons” was a meme that carried pretty much everywhere from Rap Albums to freeway exit ramps.

The turn of the millennium brought some other issues to the surface.

Upski laments, “That was the same year Bush quote “won-unwon” the state of Florida by 537 votes. That was the big A-Ha moment. If I could’ve personally organized 1000 people to elect a corporate Democrat, Al Gore. In doing so, my friends and I would’ve been able to stop the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the Bush Tax cuts, the Supreme Court Appointments, Citizens United.”

This is pretty much the intro of Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs, a book Upski released in 2010. In this book, Upskidiscussed his personal calls of duty, the changing make up of our cities, and how to avoid self-sabotage in both the personal and political.

I read his book in August, in between visits to a sports bar, so normally I thought it was hyper relevant to 2016. I didn’t want to repeat the Kerry and Gore heartbreaks that gave us the worst president ever.

Upski pointed out the importance of 2018 Ohio Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General races.

“2016 matters. 2018 matters to me 100 times more than 2016,” he said.

The Republicans hold 12 of the 16 seats in the Ohio Senate because of gerrymandering. There is a similar disproportionate in the Ohio House of Representatives. Do the math comparing the Republican domination in our legislative branch to the near 50/50 split that makes Ohio a hotly contest swing state during the Presidential Campaign. Or just look at the way the voting map is drawn, gerrymandering at its worst.

In 2015, Ohio voters overwhelmingly mandated the voting maps that elect our General Assembly be changed. The Governor and Secretary of State will sit on a board with other figures who will decide the redistricting. How this plays out will be dependent on who holds those elected government positions.

Upski added, “People think it's 2016 and stopping Trump. To me 2016 is the warm up for 2018. The number one reason I am doing stuff in Ohio and supporting organizing in Ohio right now is to help strengthen those groups. It’s the warm up for 2018.”

After we finished talking, Upski asked me if this phone call answered my query.




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