The offices of Jobs Ohio are neatly decorated in grey tones with a modern, bright, almost sterile quality.
One of the workspaces used by about 1/3 of the staff was used as a backdrop for a press conference to announce a number of things that Governor Kasich touted as positives.
For a moment, before the press conference began, there was a strange sense of two worlds colliding.
The professionals in hushed tones took notice of the presence of a throng of journalists at the far end of their half-wall cubical workspace, prompting some of them to snap a picture of us with their cell phones like we were creatures they had never seen before.
It must be quite out of the norm to have television cameras pop up in the middle of your office, in the middle of your day, and have the Governor show up to talk to them; almost circus-like.
As things got started, Governor Kasich talked a bit about the state of the nation and some of the hot topics of the day and how he felt about them before settling into the reason the press conference was called, which was to talk about the great success Ohio has seen since he took office.
Since 2011, more than 520,000 jobs have been created in Ohio, unemployment is down, and wage growth is outpacing the national average.
“Jobs and progress,” said Kasich.
Several more people took to the microphone to talk about all the success the state has seen in recent years, most often trying to link Jobs Ohio to that success, or to the necessity of the program for the state’s continued success.
And the governor talked about the upcoming election, saying that Republicans would be foolish not to run on the record he was touting Monday.
“Jobs and progress and no one left behind and better wages,” said Kasich. “Do we have our problems in Ohio? Of course we do, but we are moving at the speed of business to solve so many of the problems keeping in mind those people who are weak, those people who don’t have the power; they cannot be ignored.”
While Kasich, and elected officials, and the other various bigwigs took solace in what the governor called a temporary celebration, those who he was referring to rallied under the scorching sun.
Hundreds of feet below, visible through the glass façade of the Huntington Building were dozens of people rallying in front of the Statehouse across the street.
The Ohio Chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign was rallying for the sixth Monday in a row, trying to raise awareness about the injustices they say the poor suffer as a result of legislation our lawmakers pass.
Kasich made no mention of them, most likely because he was unaware of their presence. That, depending on how much you want to split hairs, may not be his fault since they never reached out to him.
According to the campaign organizer, Kasich was not approached over the six weeks because he is on his way out the door, and there were questions over just how much he could do for the cause. Instead, they have reached out to both gubernatorial candidates, Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine.
Kasich has repeatedly talked about the need to help the least of us, and takes this direction from his faith and teaching in the religion he practices.
Those people stood below people who hold the power to make significant change happen with signs that read, “Systematic poverty is immoral.”
For weeks the group has rallied outside the Statehouse on Monday afternoons and followed those rallies with demonstrations.
One time they blocked the entrance to the Statehouse with a die-in, another time they sat in the halls of the Statehouse in protest.
Mostly, those protests went unseen and unheard because the lawmakers they were trying to reach simply are not around at that time on that day.
Organizers say, these six weeks were meant to generate awareness and grow the movement rather to spark change.
“You can’t have a movement if you don’t have people, and so we’ve been trying to get people engaged and I think now we have to strategize and figure out what we’re gonna do in the areas we’re going to fight in,” said Rev. Susan Smith, one of the organizers of the Ohio Chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign.
On the streets of Columbus, the poor and downtrodden talk of how they cannot survive on what they are paid and the need for an increase to minimum wage, among other social and economic justice reforms they seek.
While high above them in an air conditioned office tower the wealthy congratulate themselves and each other over some numbers that do translate into real people and real benefits for them; just not for the people below, unfortunately.
Phase One of the Poor People’s Campaign is virtually over. Local organizers will now travel to Washington D.C. for training and plan to return later this month to kick of Phase Two.
In speaking with Smith, she recognizes that it is important that the group be seen as credible and it needs to do a better job of controlling who carries the message forward.
Early on in the campaign here in Ohio, some speakers at the rallies were not as informed as they should have been and after they made statements that were not correct the movement’s credibility took a hit.
Smith says that cannot continue to happen.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Governor said it was unlikely that Kasich would be able to slip a visit to Monday’s rally into his schedule at the last minute, having only learned about it after the press conference; and they recommended reaching out to Kasich’s scheduler if they are interested in talking to him.
Perhaps such a meeting could connect the two perspectives on the state or Ohio’s jobs and job growth and lead to the discovery of a new narrative path for Ohioans who have felt like they have been left behind.