A letter to our activist community

We have had quite a year or so, in northeast Ohio’s progressive activism community. Marches, die-ins, postcard-writing, collecting signatures, etc.…

We never run out of stuff to do.

On just about any national issue there are demonstrations to be part of, calls to congress and Senator Portman. Our state government is usually busy with plenty of bad ideas, also, which would be just about overwhelming. Except in Lakewood and western Cleveland, we have Nickie Antonio and Mike Skindell.

On every call for activism over a state issue, Antonio and Skindell are always leading the way, without even being asked. Even by the standard of Democrats in the legislature, these two are like an Indivisible Caucus.

Defending Medicaid expansion? Behind it 100%.

Gerrymandering? Both support reform, and I was present in person when Skindell shredded the initial worse-than-we-have-now draft of SJR 5.

Abortion bans? They are stalwart advocates of women’s right to choose, both endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio & NARAL Ohio.

LGBTQ equality? Antonio has led the years-long effort to build support for the Fairness Act, with Skindell’s active partnership.

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The 1990s: Missed Crossroads

In recent years I have thought back many times to this opening page from Doom 2099, issue 43, cover date July 1996.

The words of John Francis Moore, published just as I was about to turn 18. (Artwork by Jeff Lafferty et al.)

For more than 20 years this pulp-fiction prophecy has lurked at the edges as I watched history unfold. I think I’m near, at last, to formulating some kind of response. If/when time permits.

For now I post it here as a kind of bookmark.

Crowded life, sparse commentary

So much going on. Yet so much of it is political, and taking to my personal blog (which is barely more than a diary) to comment on that seems kind of naive.

Not that I wouldn’t write a long, indulgent post expressing my views on e.g. Lakewood’s political tug-of-war that is now into its fourth consecutive year. But given how much my days are packed with the kind of inelegant campaign activity that actually reaches people, I suppose I just can’t bring myself to expend the effort required by any kind of deep essay.

I’m currently doing… a lot of work for two candidates for state representative, plus some work for another, and for two state senate candidates. I’m writing, for publication, where it makes sense… the latest LO included my promo for next week’s Lakewood Dem Club meeting, and an article encouraging support for Issue 1. (It also includes an ad I designed for one of the rare nonpolitical clients.)

Last week I made a day trip to Detroit for political organizing.

I dream of capturing once more a life beyond all this. But certainly not before May 8, and probably not for some while after that, really.

Oh well. This morning is relatively calm, and I was going to jot down some thoughts about The Infinity War (comic book series) stirred up by recent ballyhoo for the big feature film… then I found that I already wrote such a post three years ago. So.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Eight months a redistricting reformer

I’m still struggling to react to the Ohio legislature’s vote to place a promising redistricting reform measure on the May 8 ballot.

The measure itself, which was SJR 5 and will become Issue 1, seems very good. I have posted a few thoughts here, and will probably elaborate in one or more forum in the weeks ahead.

The fact that, after negotiations seemed absolutely frozen and then right at the deadline Republicans were won around to this commendable reform, is interesting. I feel like I generally understand the various incentives for that, although I’m curious about details of the negotiations.

The sudden end of a project that I have spent eight months on, and which I expected to take up another three, is jarring.

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CLEcast, Sunday PD, busy busy

After a couple of actual radio interviews, last year, I recently gave my first podcast interview.

The excellent CLEcast listened to me talk about gerrymandering, and local efforts to put an end to it here in Ohio.

Episode 106 – Matt Kuhns – Fair Districts Ohio

I would really like to thank the hosts Dan and Brian, as well as Lakewood city council member Dan O’Malley, through whom I learned about CLEcast. I would also like to thank everyone involved in Fair Districts Ohio, and especially the incredible Westshore Fair Districts volunteers, whom it has been an honor to join in this important work.

In this same period, I also had a letter to the editor printed in the ; interestingly it has not been published online yet, so here’s a scan from the paper: Read More →

2017 Year in Review

My experience of last year mostly lent itself to sorting into two categories: political, and other.

Whereas in 2017, “other” was probably more like an appendix than a proper category.

There were reasons, about which I have written here among other places, but it also was just kind of something that happened. I started 2017 with a loose arrangement to provide graphic design for Tristan Rader’s campaign for Lakewood City Council, e.g.; by the beginning of summer I had effectively become designer, writer, director of communications, secretary and assistant campaign manager. Without ever having planned or even explicitly decided to do any of that.

My own year of 2017 might best be captured by a chain of relatively minor events from October. On October 26, I made a very fast trip to Columbus, to testify in favor of congressional redistricting reform at a statehouse hearing. (I was named though not quoted in a cleveland.com article.)

Me outside of Ohio's capitol

Mr. Kuhns goes to Columbus

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2017 politics & Senator-elect Jones

There are a lot of year-end takes on 2017 politics, and at this point I’m not sure that I really need one. Looking back, I find that much of what I wrote a year ago about the big picture holds up.

I think Matthew Yglesias has a good review of the past year which is positive while still realistic. (There are also more pessimistic assessments, which are probably all too realistic, but they just kind of leave me blank.) I plan to write about the specifics of my own year of #resistance this weekend.

Otherwise, in general, I feel like the election of Doug Jones as Alabama’s next senator captures much of the broader American political situation right now:

  1. An astonishing, inspiring, against the odds victory for decency, thanks in no small part to grassroots energy
  2. Which may nonetheless not really matter that much, by itself.

This seems like the executive summary of the #resistance after one year. Ordinary people have put up an amazing fight, and have as Yglesias suggests probably made a difference that is surprising, all things considered.

But this amazing year also ended with a big reminder that the people in power are still capable of ignoring popular resistance, and anything short of taking their power away from them.

Doug Jones’s victory seems to summarize all this. It was possibly the best news all year, and I’m very proud to have supported his campaign in small ways. Yet Republicans still have the presidency and 50 senate seats, and as long as they do, they’re going to go on corrupting and abusing the power of America’s government.

So, we have some reason to believe that our efforts can change things… and we have every reason to believe that more change is needed.

I like the little “How Will You Remember 2017” photo montage that the History Channel has been running. I particularly like the short version which ends with a photo of Jones’s victory party, however, not only because it’s an appealing year-end image, but because it also seems like an apt year-end story.

Tristan Rader for Lakewood City Council

A few days ago, I was out walking and had this feeling like I was coming out of a trance… to find that four months had passed.

I have written here about similar feelings twice in the past 13 months, so all I can really say is that this was a similar experience with a new intensity.

I looked around me and saw trees at the very end of their fall-color peak period. Then I thought back and could recall no other sense of the season, equally solid, since the beginning of July.

I recall being in Lakewood’s July 4 parade…

…then I was out for a walk and autumn was into its downhill half.

The best way I can think to describe it is that for the first several months of this year, it was like life was on fast-forward. It felt like time passed more rapidly than normal, but I could still perceive events around me, at an accelerated pace. Then since this post, it became more like just skipping from brief glimpse to brief glimpse, with everything in between jumped over entirely.

This was basically a year of my life. I sacrificed the year, to political action of various types, but above all to Tristan Rader’s campaign for Lakewood City Council.

Kristine, Tristan and me back at the campaign’s formal kickoff

Imagine my reaction since, entirely contrary to my expectations, we succeeded.

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First alumnus to be Iowa State president…

Iowa State University announced a new president this past week.

Others have written more insightful comments about the choice of Wendy Wintersteen than I can. But I did want to report on my own small contribution to the broader historical record; that contribution was simply maintenance, but it seems that such maintenance is needed.

In perusing the online reactions to this announcement, I happened upon a story by the Iowa Informer. I was vexed to see Wintersteen described as the first Iowa State alumnus to become its president.

I knew for a fact that Iowa State’s 10th president, James Hilton, was an alumnus.

Happily, the Informer was responsive on Twitter and updated the story. I remain a bit resistant to their assertion that “alumnus” is gender-neutral… but they did change the story, not only to use the modern, gender-neutral “alum” but to describe Wintersteen as “the second” such. Cheers.

Meanwhile, I’m willing to take their word that “multiple sources were saying she was the first.” It wasn’t correct, but I’m aware that such historical record “resets” happen. In fact, this is the second time I have been involved in pushing back against one which involved a central-Iowa university…

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Hilton Madness, 1954

I like to think that Iowa State president James H. Hilton would have been both honored, and a little amused by the adoption of his surname for “Hilton Magic,” “Hilton South,” etc.

I suspect that he might have gotten a big, big smile at the fact that Hilton Coliseum—the best known feature of the Iowa State Center—is in the 21st century home to something called “Hilton Madness.”

Because most people thought the whole Iowa State Center was madness, when Hilton first proposed the concept.

President Hilton’s suggestion that Iowa State College (as it was then) should build a whole new cultural center with a theater, large auditorium and coliseum was widely called “Hilton’s Dream” in the early years. It was also called some other things that suggested he was just dreaming in many people’s opinion. The whole thing was completely unrealistic, the money would never be available, it was delusional.

It might as well have been Madness.

Hilton took all of the doubts and ribbing in good humor. He was confident he would find a way, and over the course of the next 15 years he did so, largely by building a permanent fundraising program at Iowa State from the ground up.

They called it a dream. Hilton saw the dream turned into concrete reality. Now Iowa State announces every year that this concrete reality is the site of “Hilton Madness.”

I think he would have smiled.

Hilton in front of Hilton Coliseum

James Hilton in front of Hilton Coliseum, early 1970s

For more about President Hilton, the transformation of Iowa State College into a university, and the battles which accompanied it, see Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents.