By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
This isn’t a revolution of black against white, this is a revolution of right against wrong. And right has never lost. – Dick Gregory
On January 10, 2018, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, a case that challenged how states like Ohio “maintained” their voter registration lists.
In the third row from the front and with a birds-eye view of all the Supreme Court Justices, longtime Toledo activist Andre Washington proudly sat.
Very few individuals have had an opportunity to enter this iconic Greco-Roman architecturally-styled temple constructed in 1935. Still rarer is the honor to advance justice during an actual session in the same chambers where impactful cases defining race like the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education were litigated.
The outcome of the case brought by Washington’s organization and others led to a settlement that allowed individuals purged from Ohio voter rolls in 2019 to cast a provisional ballot and restored to the rolls. Washington, who serves as state president for the A. Philip Randolph Institute and state treasurer for the NAACP, calls this his proudest accomplishment in his decades of activism.
Today, Andre Washington is still fighting to bring “power to the people.” So, I caught up with the inexhaustible freedom fighter to find out where things currently stand in our constant struggle for freedom, justice, and equity. This is our discussion:
Perryman: You have a long and illustrious career. I remember my wife and others talking about your work for Head Start maybe back in the 1990s. Tell us about your history of advocacy and activism.
Washington: I was born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan, but my career started in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan Medical Center, where I worked for Local 1583, a unit of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Perryman: What were your duties initially?
Washington: I got involved in my union as a steward, but I started at the bottom. I used to fix the phones at the union hall, lick and stamp envelopes, helped to plan the retirement and Valentine’s Day parties, clean the bathrooms. I was a worker bee and volunteered lots and lots of times.
Perryman: How did you get to Ohio?
Washington: I next got a job as a union organizer in Detroit, Michigan, where I helped organize the Detroit Medical Center. From there, I came to Ohio, where I’ve been for 21 years now. For 12 of those, I lived in Toledo and working for my current employer, the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE). I represented Toledo Head Start and schools in the Findlay and Lima areas as chief negotiator and perform labor arbitration.
Perryman: What are you most proud of concerning the labor movement?
Washington: Labor has always been there at the forefront of supporting civil rights. I can go back in history to the establishment of the 40-hour week. It was labor that accomplished that.
What I’m really proud about with the labor movement is how diverse the movement is. The labor movement is increasing how women and people of color have a seat at the table. I’m proud to say my union OAPSE, AFSCME, the UAW, AFT, Steel Workers, the list goes on and on, how diverse the labor movement is. There was a time when the labor movement was just older white men, so I am so proud of the labor movement’s diversity.
Perryman: What accomplishments as a labor negotiator are you proud?
Washington: Certainly, when I negotiate a fair contract and give someone good wages. That’s something I love to death. When someone comes to me and says, ‘I’m living check to check, and the raise that you just negotiated for me is going to help out tremendously.’ That right there is a natural high that I get. Or, when someone has been wrongfully terminated, and we have to go to arbitration and it may take four or five months to get to arbitration, and win that person their job back and get them back pay. That makes me feel good, and a lot of those people would never have gotten their job back if it wasn’t for collective bargaining. That goes back when I was a kid. My grandmother used to stress always take care of the least of them; you always try to speak out for those that do not have a voice or are unable to speak for themselves.
Perryman: You talked earlier about the partnership between labor and civil rights. Currently, what are the top issues for black and brown people?
Washington: One of the hot issues is redistricting. We have to make sure that the community, especially communities of color, are not “cracked or packed.” When I talk about cracking and packing, these are gerrymandering strategies that seek to either pack all Democrats into one district or establish district boundaries using distorted configurations manipulated to dilute our voting power.
A prime example would be Marcy Kaptur’s district. Marcy Kaptur used to have the entire City of Toledo and the surrounding cities. Now she has the ‘snake along the lake,’ which goes all the way over to Cuyahoga County, even close to Summit County, to represent people. I don’t believe that’s fair to the voters in Lucas County.
Another issue is that of food deserts. In Lucas County, among black and brown communities, people have to drive miles to get to a good grocery store. Sometimes people buy their meat from the local gas station where they may have a cooler in the back because they don’t have transportation to get across town to a Kroger or a Meijer.
Perryman: Are there any issues besides those two?
Washington: Another critical issue right now is Ohio House Bill 294. House Bill 294 restricts voting. They’re going to try to spin it 12 different ways on how good House Bill 294 is. There are some good things in there when we talk about automatic voter registration or online voter registration.
But what’s terrible about 294 is that they want to eliminate voting on the Monday before the election.
What about those 31,000 people in Ohio that voted on Monday before the last Presidential election? Now we’ve just disenfranchised 31,000 people. There’s a problem with that.
Perryman: What other provisions in bill 294 restrict voting?
Washington: Also, the bill aims to limit drop off boxes to the last ten days of early voting. What if I’m downtown 20 days before the election and I have my ballot in my car, and I want to drop it off, and I’ve got problems with my leg and can’t get out of the car?
Again, we’re disenfranchised, and I keep saying that word over and over and over because the word fits what they’re trying to do, disenfranchise folks. People in the disability community should be in an uproar over this. Senior citizens who don’t want to get out of their car because they don’t want to walk that far should also be outraged over the reduction of drop boxes.
Perryman: It doesn’t seem fair or equitable.
Washington: Now, they’re also trying to shorten days and hours. What happens when you shorten things? You start having long lines, and there is no reason in the world why they couldn’t have multiple drop off box locations throughout the county. Public libraries do it. You can drop your book off at any public library at a secure box any time of the day. You’ve got government buildings that have cameras. You could put the drop off box in government centers. There’s all type of ways you can do it if you want to give the people greater access to the ballot box. But if you want to restrict people, then you limit the number of drop off boxes, and then limit the number of days that the drop off boxes are out.
Perryman: So, how should the community respond?
Washington: The first thing we can do is start talking about this bill when we’re in the barbershop, beauty shop, grocery store, when we’re at work, or at the kitchen table. We can start having dialogue. There’s an old saying, each one reach one, and each one teach one. We’ve got social media now, but the best advertisement is still, and always will be, word of mouth.
We also need our pastors to talk about these issues when they give their pulpit announcements. It’s okay to put it in the bulletin, but as pastors, we need to stand up and just give 30 seconds’ mention on some of these voter bills because it’s gospel if it comes from the pulpit, and people know when it comes out of the mouth of pastors, that it’s true.
Second, we can start calling and writing our lawmakers, even the Democrat lawmakers. Most of them are on board and oppose this bill, but we need to light a fire in their belly and let them know that the community has their back, and we know they’re advocating on our behalf.
Next, we are planning a demonstration next week on Thursday, June 24th, at the statehouse. We’re trying to get carloads and busloads of people. My understanding is Toledo has already confirmed that they have one bus, and are looking at getting some vans to bring people from Toledo to Columbus.
Perryman: Who are the organizations behind the protests?
Washington: The A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the NAACP, National Action Network, the Ohio Unity Coalition, and local politicians like Paula Hicks Hudson and Lisa Sobecki, we’re all leading this charge.
I’m going to repeat this one more time:
- word of mouth,
- talking to people,
- standing up in the pulpit,
- letting everybody know because House Bill 294 is just the tip of the iceberg.
There are other bills that they are formulating right now to suppress our vote waiting to get assigned a bill number. But they are coming.
Perryman: Why is it imperative to act now?
Washington: Ohio is not going to be one of these states like Oklahoma or Mississippi. I apologize to my sisters and brothers from those states. We are not going to be one of those states.
We are going to meet voter suppression at the border, and we’re going to turn it away. We’re telling voter suppression ‘you don’t got to go home, but you got to get the heck up out of Ohio’ because we are not going to stand for it!
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, Ph.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org