In January this newspaper reported, “Athens could have its most competitive election season in years, and it would be thanks to Damon Krane.” That’s now unlikely, so an explanation and final appeal are in order.
First off, I wasn’t bluffing. With all eight seats on Athens City Council up for grabs, I encouraged nearly 100 people to run. Seven people expressed serious to moderate interest, and we spent hours talking logistics.
This was a different approach than I took in 2019, when I simply launched my own campaign for mayor. I ended up working closely with council candidates Ellie Hamrick and Chris Monday, but we had not conferred before deciding to run, since we barely knew each other back then.
This year I planned to run for council but decided to prioritize other peoples’ campaigns. After all, a lone dissenter on council can’t do much against six other regular voting members acting in lockstep. Furthermore, in 2019 I ran with a more robust policy agenda than any previous local candidate, but the city establishment only wanted to attack my personality. So I figured getting more people to run with policy agendas similar to mine might finally force our opponents to debate the issues. And if there was anything about my personality voters still didn’t like, I’d just give them other social justice candidates to vote for.
I was proud of the prospective candidates I identified. While our current council is comprised entirely of white homeowners — all apparently cisgender and heterosexual, whose average age is 55 — the prospective candidates I identified are all working class renters and mostly people of color, including three students, two transgender people and a military veteran. At an average age of 28, they’ve all grown up in today’s world. Their intersectional, progressive, working class politics are informed by lived experiences shared by the majority of Athenians, but by no current council member.
Eventually, though, all but one of them decided to not run.
If I group them with the several dozen more folks who immediately declined, the top reason is economic insecurity. Many had to search for a job or housing outside Athens, couldn’t find the time to run between multiple jobs, were stretched too thin to handle the stress, or worried that opposing the city establishment would get them fired and blacklisted. Sometimes economic insecurity was compounded by additional factors making people feel vulnerable, such as having done sex work to pay the bills, battled addiction or previously run afoul of the law, and/or being a member of an historically oppressed group.
Back in 2019, a member of the Athens County Democratic Party’s Central Committee (also a landlord, business owner and officeholder) assured me that Athens rarely has competitive elections because most residents are so happy with the status quo they can’t be bothered to run. (He also said the mayor’s $90k salary would be “a pay cut for anyone qualified to hold the position.”)
But in a city with a poverty rate 3 to 5 times the national rate, a median household income half the national level, and a rate of home ownership half the national rate — located in a county with the absolute highest income inequality and worst housing problems in Ohio, where nearly 40 percent of residents are paying more for housing than they can reasonably afford — most of us don’t share the party leader’s affection for the status quo.
We’re the ones suffering. That gives us the knowledge and will to solve our community’s problems but meager resources with which to do it. So typically we don’t run for office or vote in city elections. Through our abstention, we withhold consent from politicians so blinded by their own privilege that they call the public subsidization of new quarter million dollar homes an “affordable housing” initiative and unanimously pass a sweeping racial justice resolution they never intended to implement.
When I worked to register voters in 2019, most people looked at me like I had the plague or just insulted their mother. I sympathize with their disgust toward electoral politics, but I’m also serious enough about revolution to realize that none is on the horizon. History isn’t coming to save us. So while we build toward more fundamental change, I believe we also must make the most of every current opportunity, including local elections.
Do you want to create an Athens that actually fights for housing, racial and economic justice? I do. But no one can do it alone.
After spending so much time encouraging others to run, I’m now down to the wire and need help gathering about 100 signatures by May 3 to get on the ballot. Will you sign my petition, help me collect signatures, or consider running yourself with my support? If so, email email@example.com.
Editor’s note: Damon Krane has been a social justice organizer and independent journalist for 25 years. He is a founding member of United Athens County Tenants and Athens County Copwatch. In 2019 he ran for Athens City mayor.