How We Do The Work

Our Theory of Change

Our theory of change is rooted in the belief that people directly impacted by a problem must be at the center of creating the solutions to that problem. More than fifty years of poor people’s movements have taught us that poor people and communities of color must lead the change. We at the OOC dedicate ourselves to this mission in all our work. 

Our theory rests on two key premises: that “strong people don’t need strong leaders” (Ella Baker) and that “power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will” (Frederick Douglass). Our core task is building a base of leaders who develop an economic and racial justice analysis through community organizing, movement building, and direct action. Through leadership meetings and trainings we co-create strategies that win local, county, and statewide victories and bring real change to under-resourced and ignored communities.

Our Approach

We organize through multiple containers that manage our breadth of relationships and guide direction across campaigns. Our strategies give shape to how we build our base, campaigns, and community with support and accountability. We unite our efforts through trainings, statewide convenings, strategy meetings, and actions.

Civic Engagement

Civic engagement is a cornerstone to building community power. Since 2012, we have run large-scale, integrated voter engagement programs that have registered more than 390,000 Ohioans to vote and have dramatically increased municipal election turnout. 

Through our civic engagement programs, we:

  1. build power with community members to advance our issue campaigns,

  2. educate our communities about the importance of participating in the political process,

  3. develop the community engagement skills of our volunteer leaders, and

  4. maximize voter registration.

Electoral work is one aspect of a larger strategy. Using an integrated voter engagement model, we combine short-term electoral objectives with long-term goals to build power in communities.

Grassroots Leadership Training & Political Education

We develop the capacity of thousands of grassroots leaders to build power in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and faith communities. We combine skills-based leadership training with political education, so that our leaders mobilize their communities to the polls and direct actions, while developing political organization for the long haul. 

More than 800 leaders have completed our annual week-long organizing training, which aims to: 

  1. strengthen our leaders’ and local activists’ foundational community organizing skills, 

  2. develop organizational leadership to design and win local campaigns in new ways, and

  3. deepen trust and collaboration between urban and rural communities and between faith-based, neighborhood, and labor groups to strengthen organizing infrastructure. 

Our political education program uses a dynamic, participatory process of research, strategy planning, action, and reflection. We integrate political education into our organizing and civic engagement work so that leaders of any experience level understand the structural inequalities of our political system and identify the right strategies and tactics to shift them. 

As everyday people connect their stories to structural racism and class inequality, we shift dominant narratives from the grassroots up. When corporate and political leaders blame incarceration and poverty on individual failures of character, we demand accountability for political and economic systems that fail our communities. Our communications and digital teams work with organizing and field teams and with grassroots leaders to develop our messages, materials, and trainings.

Black-Led Organizing

We are building a statewide, multiracial coalition of people and organizations dedicated to racial and economic justice. We believe we can only achieve liberation through directly confronting anti-black racism. We develop the leadership of people of color, especially black folks, to lead organizing campaigns.

Leaders in black communities across Ohio build power to address issues that are critical to black families--including criminal justice reform, economic justice, and voting rights. Through our deep history of grassroots organizing, we have built an extensive network of leaders across Ohio that are bridging divides between our communities through courageous conversations and critical campaigns that confront structural racism head on.

Ohio Student Association

The Ohio Student Association (OSA) is a statewide organization led by young people in campuses and communities in nine geographies across Ohio. OSA builds independent political power for social, racial, and economic justice through values-based issue & electoral organizing, nonviolent direct action, policy advocacy, and leadership development.

We organize a political bloc of young people to take collective action year-round, on- and off-campus. Our work advances a progressive public narrative and policy agenda and transforms youth culture in Ohio.

Small Towns

Through engaging voters across Ohio, we have learned that there is no shortcut to win on issues or elections. We organize voters into powerful blocs that deliver victories and develop leaders to advance our values in the public arena beyond any one election or campaign. As poverty grows and wealth inequality widens, voters feel a sense of powerlessness. In communities hit hard by economic disinvestment and weak public leadership, we provide an alternative to corporate politicians that pedal empty promises of change. 

In small towns across the Ohio River Valley, we are transforming politics through deep organizing that honors the real pain that families feel and names the profiteers of their suffering. Residents of these towns number 10,000 to 25,000 and face severe economic, environmental, and health challenges. We are knitting together a powerful urban-rural coalition of grassroots leaders in four counties in Southeastern Ohio--Columbiana, Jefferson, Athens, and Scioto. They are demanding the preservation of polling locations, corporate accountability for clean air and water, responsible approaches to the opioid crisis, and criminal justice reform.

Unharming Ohio

In 2019, the OOC launched Unharming Ohio--the country’s first statewide drug survivors union. We aim to develop pockets of power led by current and former drug users, drug dealers, and families impacted by the War on Drugs who are committed to keep themselves and their communities safe. 

Criminal justice reform impacts all of Ohio--urban, suburban, and rural communities. The opioid crisis expanded the criminalization of drug users to Ohio’s suburban and rural areas, whose residents had not experienced the destruction of the War on Drugs. Urban, rural, and de-industrialized towns across Ohio face disinvestment, weak public infrastructure, and an over-reliance on jails and courts to provide mental health and addiction treatment. As we connect common issues across these regions, we are building a sense of shared fate and an unlikely, powerful alliance of progressive voters.