Three people standing outside on the grass with  body of water behind them, a tall white man in a suit with gray hair, and shorter white man in a suit and a black woman with glasses

Robert Kennedy, Dennis Kucinich and Tara Samples

It is strange times indeed for Ohio politics. Richard Cordray is practically molded in the image of the perfect Democrat, and yet he is fighting for his life against someone that the Democratic elite had long dismissed as a sideshow, engaging in an escalating and bizarre series of character assassinations. Not that Aramis Malachi-Ture Sundiata, the Kucinich/Samples campaign’s state organizing director, is particularly concerned. “When I speak to the people, the questions on their tongues are not about Syria. I haven’t heard anything on the ground about that.”

Indeed, while he is not particularly concerned about the Cordray campaign and its hilarious-if-not-so-frightening clip-emptying attack ads, they should be concerned about him, for it is him and the team of veteran organizers that make up the Kucinich campaign staff that have given the ODP’s anointed one sleepless nights.

Howard Dean was seen as the first pioneer in waging a major electoral campaign through grassroots organizing, and Bernie Sanders is the most prominent example in recent history, but in both situations, it was more of a marketing term.

In Ohio, though, the Kucinich/Samples campaign’s success can mainly be attributed to the first real example of an electoral campaign that is representative of, and not just capitalizing off of, social movement organizing. Prior to joining the campaign, Sundiata was an organizer for the Ohio Student Association (one of the groups that met with President Obama in the wake of the Ferguson uprisings) and the People’s Justice Project, a Columbus-based group that focuses on police brutality and criminal justice reform, organizations built from the ground up that have been at the center of campaigns for justice for John Crawford, Tyre King, and Tamir Rice.

Sundiata says that his role in the Kucinich campaign is similar, but on a much larger scale: canvassing, arranging one-on-ones with community leaders, appearing on radio shows, holding teach-ins, working with institutions and building relationships. The kind of unsexy grunt work that all successful movements are made of. But the resources of the Kucinich campaign have taken him to places he never thought he’d go.

A major party of the campaign strategy is going to places in rural Ohio long written off by Democrats, and engaging the people with issues that affect their daily lives, an experience that Sundiata said affected him profoundly. “I understood fracking, but to actually see the people, and hear the stories. It breaks your fucking heart.”

Out there, he discovered that the people in these supposedly red areas don’t have any particular loyalty to one party or the other, and have shown interest in the campaign’s platforms around the minimum wage, health care, and infrastructure. None of this comes as a surprise though. “As organizers, and thinkers, it’s not necessarily about the party. Most people you talk to don’t care about the party. It’s about creating a vehicle for people so they feel that they are heard and invited into the political arena.”

Most of his colleagues are other dedicated organizers that he has been working with for almost a decade, and Sundiata says that has proved the difference. “One of the things I respect about the campaign is that they listen to the people on the ground. Most of the platforms, the campaign folks either wrote them or had input inside of them.” And this is true to Kucinich’s M.O.

The Ohio Democratic establishment has marginalized him over the years for not playing by its rules, going back to his decision as mayor of Cleveland in the 70s not to sell the city’s municipally-owned electric company despite risking bankruptcy, a bold move of resistance that presaged the wave of neoliberal privatization that would come to sweep the entire world.

In a 2003 hit piece by the Cleveland Scene, former Cleveland City Council president and longtime Ohio Democratic Party stalwart George Forbes dismisses Kucinich by saying "Nobody likes him but the people.” But for Sundiata and his self-described baddest squad in the state,” that is more than enough. “There is a change in the air. It’s a dialectic. The people always move towards what is true and what is right. The people understand the conditions are ripe for struggle. And the political arena is the only way they can address those conditions. And as we move, we are only providing avenues for political power.”

This primary has garnered significant national attention, because of Ohio’s swing state status, and also as a proxy for the power struggle being waged in the Democratic Party at the national level, and it is clear the DNC is pulling out the big guns (see Elizabeth Warren coming down to stump for Cordray at a rally in the Newport), but Sundiata can smell victory. “That old politics bullshit is dead. Put that in the article.”

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