Cartoon depicting how state affects people's rights

Many of us in Ohio were duped into voting against our own best interests on Election Day in November 2015. Issue 2 was presented by the 1% as an antimonopoly initiative, promising to protect We the People from monopolies, oligopolies, and cartels.

Who wouldn’t vote for that?

Some saw through the smoke screen and voted against it when they realized it was an attack on grassroots democracy. But the majority went to the polls and, lulled by the propaganda, voted to make statewide initiatives even more difficult for us to place on the ballot.

It wasn’t about stopping monopolies, oligopolies and cartels. It was about stopping us. It was about choking off citizen initiatives.

Tightening the Choke Hold

Thirteen months later, the Ohio legislature cut off all air to any meaningful right to initiative. On December 8th, wrapped in a bill addressing foreclosures, HB 463 was adopted by legislators who see citizen initiated legislation as a threat to the interests of their corporate masters rather than as the will of the people they are duty-bound to serve. The state senate quietly and secretly added language unrelated to the subject of the foreclosure bill. The clause granted Boards of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State the authority to block citizens’ initiatives at the local level based on their opinion of the content.

If this were the era of slavery, we would expect racist federal and state legislators to make it impossible to protect freedom-seeking African Americans through local law-making. If women were still struggling to attain the right of suffrage, we could expect to be blocked from voting by men in the legislature jealous of their gender’s power. And so it is not surprising in this era of government-bycorporate-fiat that we find ourselves blocked by a legislature beholden to corporate money. A legislature that is stripping the people of their  constitutionally protected right to direct legislation through initiative and referendum.

Blocking Grassroots Governance of Corporations

What these civil servants of corporate money intend to block is not just citizen driven law, but grassroots governance of corporate actions that do harm to people, communities and the environment.

This corporate-run form of government has been called fascism, totalitarianism, and other names in the past. Some of our ancestors fought a revolution to eradicate such a corporate oppressive state.

What will be history’s judgement of this generation if we allow another tyranny to thrive in our own communities?

The fact is, we increasingly find ourselves with fewer and fewer means to protect our own health, safety and welfare. When we do assert our right to govern and protect ourselves, it annoys an opulent corporate elite drunk on too much wealth and with no sense of moderation. Our unalienable right of self-government is daily dishonored, violated and denied by well-groomed men and women in our

state capitols. Most recently, the simple justice of government at the consent of the governed became the victim of official terrorism in Columbus: Delinquent legislators hijacked House Bill 463.

Targeting Community Rights Advocates

Make no mistake: Courageous communities working at the local level to stop fracking by using their right to initiative were targeted in this doozy of dishonest legislation. For two years, four counties have gathered thousands of validated signatures to place Home Rule Charters on the ballot. The measures included bans on fracking activities. For two years, Boards of Elections and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted have done everything within their power to keep the measures off the ballot.

Husted had his wrist slapped in 2015 for blocking the measures based on content.

But thanks to the corporate-purchased Ohio Legislature, HB 463 now legalizes  what Husted tried to do that year. It is an egregious violation of the separation of powers. It is a direct assault on the people’s unalienable right to govern the places where they live. And it marks another attempt to destroy the people’s constitutional right to initiative.

The Hard Fought Right to Initiative

Not every legislator supported HB 463 with its stripping of democratic rights (final vote: 98 – 26). But elected officials trying to represent the people are forced to operate within this fixed system as well. House representative Nickie Antonio stated, “The Bill left the House in ok shape. It was proposed as a way for local communities to speed up the process on taking action on foreclosed and vacant properties.

When the Bill got to the Senate, they added provisions that totally obliterated the Bill and added very damaging and problematic civil rights language …. When the Bill came back to the House for a vote on concurrence, I voted NO. In the flurry of activity, while I intended to have my name be removed as a co-sponsor of this Bill, that was not accomplished.”

Reverend Herbert Bigelow is surely rolling over in his grave. The Reverend fought hard for several years to advance the right to initiative and referendum (I &R) by inserting it into the state constitution as a safety valve. He and his allies knew it was necessary for the people in case of a corrupt or captured state legislature.

Despite fierce opposition by big business, the Reverend and his allies succeeded in 1912. Ohioans voted to amend their state constitution and codified their right to I & R.

Not long after, in 1933, the same group of reformers achieved recognition of their right to create Home Rule County Charters. And in 1978, Article 10 of the Ohio Constitution was amended again to allow any person or group of persons to propose a county charter to be placed on the ballot for a vote by the people. Now, 100 years later, when people are daring to use the initiative to actually make local governing decisions about things that matter to them, our “representatives” are stripping that right away.

Next Steps: Learning from the Past

What did people do in the past when their government refused to recognize their rights or to acknowledge local legislation that advanced rights? They advanced those laws anyway.

When the federal government passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, many states, including Ohio, found this law to be unjust and illegitimate. So in 1857, the Ohio Legislature passed a personal liberty law directly challenging the federal law (Curwin’s R.S. 2482: An Act to Prevent Slaveholding and Kidnapping in Ohio).

When Susan B. Anthony was told she could not vote, she voted anyway. Whether or not the men in the legislature accepted it, she knew she already had equal rights with men. She had been born with those rights and didn’t have to wait for the legislators to agree.

When people identified as LGBTQ were told they could not have equal rights of married couples, Berkeley, CA, in 1984, adopted the first local law in the U.S. recognizing those equal rights anyway.

Today, when the Ohio legislature tells us we cannot advance laws protecting our communities from fracking, police brutality, low wages, the proliferation of plastic bags and other harms – we must advance those laws anyway. Maybe HB 463 is the moment we’ve been waiting for. A wake-up call for communities that the power to self-govern really lies within us. And when we stop looking to someone else to save us, we will achieve what past people’s movements achieved: our dignity, our rights, and our communities.

For more information, contact Tish O’Dell of the Ohio Community Rights Network at