Nina Turner’s hair is on fire. That’s an urgency metaphor.
She set the room on fire at the Athens County Democratic Party fall dinner Thursday night. That’s a metaphor about her ability to transfer her sense of political urgency and energy onto an audience.
As engagement chair for the Ohio Democratic Party, former state Sen. Turner is nothing if not engaging. I’ve covered these things for over a decade and while it wasn’t the first standing ovation I’ve seen, it was the first time I’ve heard party regulars unleash yelps, hoots and hollers of approval.
Why is Nina Turner so fired up?
The American Dream is dissipating in this country. Wages are stagnating. The middle class is shrinking. This is the work of elected officials not just in U.S. Congress but in the state legislature.
“We are in a time when we have elected officials who want to turn back the hands of time,” Turner declared.
She recalled progress made through American history after starting as an imperfect union, such as abolition, women’s suffrage, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act. But among some elected officials, there is a desire to undo that progress, Turner warned.
“It sickens me to my stomach because there is a moral imperative for the people elected to office,” she said.
Turner noticed the same thing I did watching the CNBC GOP debate this week: To conservative Republicans in 2015 “The Government” is the sole cause of everything wicked and wrong in the whole wide world. The boogeyman is real. He rides upon a horse called Death, and his name is “The Government.”
I have a lot of resentment about the phrase “The Government” as it was used by the GOP candidates because it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of a democratic republic: It is not Thee government, it is Our government. It is comprised of American citizens who grew up in American homes, attended American schools, are products of American society, and are accountable to American voters.
We are not living under feudal monarchy or dictatorship. What made the U.S. Constitution exceptional at its very inception was the establishment of representative self-governance. We threw off the shackles of arbitrary hereditary authoritarianism to take up the burden of democratic self-determination by the people. And slowly, painfully, we’ve made progress toward equality and opportunity.
But listening to the Republican candidates who want to hold the highest office of Our Government—who want George Washington’s job—”The Government” is a hateful institution of tyranny that must be dismantled, excepting for armaments, no matter the dire consequences on the lives of millions of Americans.
Donald Trump was asked if his was a “cartoon candidacy.” The truth is, this mindset of Government As Enemy, shared by every person on that stage, is a cartoon ideology, and represents either a shameful ignorance or deplorable misrepresentation of basic civics.
As Nina put it, “If they hate government so much, they can get the hell out of it. Government is there not to create profit but to create opportunities.”
Government By the People, For the People.
“It makes no sense to hire somebody for a job they have a disdain for,” Turner observed.
Nina wants Democrats to know that Republicans have figured something out that represents a clear and present danger to our lives: Electing state and local officials is just as important as electing the President of the United States, and it’s where a lot of damage can be done.
“Republicans figured out the secret sauce,” Turned told the crowd. “The secret sauce is, while the Democrats may win the White House, Republicans can take the statehouse.”
And as we know all too well in Ohio, that’s where they can really wield the sledgehammer against supporting beams.
This is why every single election is of utmost importance. Democrats need to address gerrymandering with redistricting reform on Issue 1 in 2015, she said.
“It is a sad day when voters don’t get to pick their representatives, representatives get to pick their voters,” Turner said of the need for redistricting reform.
Democrats need to win city council seats, county commissioner seats, township trustee seats, school board seats, and state legislative seats, she said.
“Electing local officials is just as important as electing the president,” Turner said, noting that Democrats have 1 million more registered voters in the state of Ohio than Republicans. “If we show up, we win.”
There is no such thing as an off-year election, Turner reminded her audience, and when Democrats don’t show up to vote “we get the craziness, the foolishness, and the folly we have seen.”
“My hair is on fire,” Turner told the crowd. And Americans are in an all or nothing position in 2016, she said, cautioning that “no matter how great a president is, they can’t do the job alone. They need partners at all levels.”
Turner closed by recalling the words of her grandmother, who told her that in order to succeed one has to have the three bones: The wishbone, the jawbone, and the backbone.
The wishbone gives hope, she said, and hope is the motivator, and the dream is the driver.
“The reason why we do what we do each and every day is because we hope and believe that tomorrow will be better than today,” Turner said.
The jawbone gives courage to speak truth to power, Turner said her grandmother told her.
“Athens County, we can’t be neutral because too much is at stake. It is all or nothing,” she said.
The most important bone of them all, Nina said, is the backbone.
“Because the backbone will keep you standing through all of your trials and tribulations,” she said. “We’re going to go through some trials and tribulations in this life, both as individuals and as a society. But my god, we can’t have a testimony without a test. And we are being tested about whether we are bold enough, brave enough, strong enough to stand up against the forces that would try to divide us, the forces that try to hold folks down.”
It may look daunting, Turner said, but the power is in the people’s hands.
“If we want to make sure the power stays in the hands of the people, we must do our part to secure a more perfect union,” she said. “It doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because people work to make it happen generation after generation after generation.”
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.