Members of the Ohio Student Association protest the passage of House Bill 203, which would implement Stand Your Ground laws in their state. (Joel Solow/Ohio Student Association)
“I am concerned by policies that seek to further divide us by encouraging us to fear one another based on elements of diversity that should otherwise be the tools that bring us closer together out of sheer curiosity and respect,” said Aricka Janay, a young woman from Ohio at a press conference at the state house on October 2. “I am concerned by policies that threaten the safety of our brown and black brothers and sisters throughout Ohio.”
The battle against Stand Your Ground has migrated from the south to the midwest and young people are in the trenches. The Ohio Student Association (OSA)—a growing organization of low-income youth building local political power—has launched a new campaign against the impending implementation of Stand Your Ground in their state in the form of House bill 203. Close allies with Florida-based Dream Defenders, OSA has taken up the torch in combatting racial profiling, supporting public higher education and driving civic engagement for youth and students from marginalized communities.
In the wake of the George Zimmerman’s acquittal, local legislatures began debating whether the “self-defense” law should be adopted in Ohio. However, OSA which has become a force for student and youth power in Ohio will not give up without a fight citing the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as proof that the legislation serves to further strip people of color of their most important right, a right to life. Importantly, shoot first laws like Stand Your Ground highlight public safety as their main concern yet seem to only apply in the case of non-black perpetrators like Zimmerman while when black people—particularly black women like Marissa Alexander or Cece McDonald—stand their ground, the laws seem not to apply.
OSA is one of many statewide student associations that have sprung up since 2011 with the transition of the Occupy movement into multi-issue campaigns focused on building community power organizations. OSA were also the hosts of the first National Student Power Convergence in Columbus in the summer of 2012, and are a powerful model for other student power unions that are being established across the United States from the Virginia Student Power Network to the North Carolina Student Power Union.
On October 3, hundreds of students and community members marched on the Ohio statehouse in protest of the Stand Your Ground proposal. The event culminated with a press conference with politicians like Nina Turner, a candidate for Ohio secretary of state, in attendance. A die-in outside the statehouse bringing attention to the realities of Stand Your Ground followed the press conference. Organizations including Stand Up for Ohio and Progress Ohio were among many in support of OSA’s #UnafraidTogether campaign focused on killing the bill.
Supporters of the bill include, not surprisingly, the Buckeye Firearms Association, NRA lobbyists and the Koch-backed ALEC, an organization that has been a key proponent of Stand Your Ground laws and other shoot first bills across the country.
This was not the first time OSA has taken a stand against shoot first laws. Back in July, the student organization held a 500-person town-hall meeting in Columbus called “Who Killed Trayvon”. Importantly, the town-hall meeting was a platform to build a strong coalition against Stand Your Ground in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, and was integral in pushing for a call to action.
Young organizers from across Ohio, galvanized around the death of Trayvon, have emerged to lead this statewide campaign: “I am against Stand Your Ground because I don’t believe that every person will be protected fairly and justly under this law,” said Malaya Davis, an OSA leader. “It will create an environment of fear among that is not conducive to the type of communities we want for our state.”
Following in the footsteps of the Dream Defenders, which organized a month long sit-in at the Florida state capitol building this past August, OSA is dedicated to using nonviolent direct action and people power organizing to both make deeply-felt political wins (which is exactly what overturning Stand Your Ground in Ohio would be), increase civic engagement amongst Ohio students and build up their organization as a force for student power in their state.