Interview – Nina Turner: A Bright Blue Light

State Senator Nina Turner is running for Jon Husted’s job this year, and after hearing her speak to the Butler County Progressive PAC on Tuesday, February 11, and talking to her for a few minutes after the meeting ended, I think she has more than a decent shot at unseating him.

If her name rings a bell, you might remember her from a piece of legislation she introduced back in 2012 that made the media take notice – a men’s health bill, modeled after all the legislation introduced by men that attempted to restrict women’s control over their own bodies. Essentially, her bill proposed that in order for men to receive prescriptions for drugs like Viagra, they must first sign a legal form to declare their impotence and obtain a second opinion from a psychological professional – steps that, according to a press release from the Ohio Senate, “would guide men to make the right decision for their bodies.”

Several times during her address to the Butler County Progressives, she referred to her own “righteous indignation” – a quality which she undoubtedly possesses, as demonstrated in her introduction of that bill back in 2012 as well as her tireless fight against the voter suppression that Republicans are attempting to legislate in Ohio right this very moment.

Here’s what’s at stake: the bills would cut the number of early voting days from 35 to 28 or 29, would totally wipe out “golden week” (the period when voters can register and vote on the same day, crucial to new voters and college students who frequently relocate), and would drastically reduce the state’s absentee ballot program. This is all in the name of preventing voter fraud, despite the fact that an investigation by Jon Husted himself revealed that, out of all Ohio voters in 2012, only 0.002397 percent of them were marked as suspicious.

For Turner, who asserts that the right to vote is the great equalizer in America, and that “the ballot box is tied to the bread box,” this issue is the key issue of her campaign. She assured her Oxford audience that she would be returning to Butler County many times between now and the November elections, because, according to her, we represent “a bright blue light in a sea of red.” She graciously sat down with me after her speech to answer a few questions for Brickwork.

MM: How can college students get more involved in the work that you do for voting rights? I feel like there might be a lot of college students who don’t view it as a serious issue – so what might be some strategies to engage them?

NT: To really talk to college students in their space, and I know that at Miami University, the experiences might be a little different – I know that there’s some wealth at the institution – but when you think about great leaders in our country, like President FDR, or President Kennedy, or the Kennedy senators, for that matter, they did come from families of wealth, and they did have great opportunities, but they understood very clearly that to whom much is given, much is required.

It’s really about meeting college students based on the areas of their passions, and just asking them or reminding them that because they may be blessed economically, or blessed to be able to attend Miami University, now their responsibility to give back is greater. And to me it’s about a sense of purpose. When I think about young people and some of the great movements in this country, and because this is Black History Month I do a lot of soul-searching and thinking back, I think about Greensboro, North Carolina, when those college students, African Americans, had the courage to sit at a lunch counter – those were not people in their thirties, forties, those were college students saying that although we have the opportunity to go to college and better ourselves, we are going to give back for the race, and their way of giving back was to fight in the civil rights movement, to sit at a lunch counter knowing that because of the color of their skin they were not going to be served, that they could be beaten, spat upon – but they did it.

So to me, it’s a matter of reminding young people that when movements happen, when young people get involved, whether somebody wants to be a teacher, an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer – whatever you do to give back to the greater cause, you gotta start that right now. Activism percolates on college campuses. You are the future generation, so the world is only going to be as good as you imagine it, only as good as the next person you help. Especially when you are on a campus of affluence, you have a greater responsibility.

Miami does have a more conservative atmosphere, and part of that is probably because of that wealth; so I’m just wondering what tips you might have for students who want to build and foster a progressive community here, where progressivism isn’t as visible?

It doesn’t take a big group. Small groups of people make the difference, so I would encourage students who are of a progressive mindset to meet on a regular basis, to encourage one another, to come to meetings like this, so that you continue to get energized, and you move forward. You cannot focus on the numbers, the twos and threes and fives, because over time you will continue to build your organization. Draw upon the strengths of organizations like the Butler County Progressives, and other big groups – I’m sure there are other universities in our state where you will find a greater depth of progressives. Start to network with other progressives on other campuses, so it doesn’t seem as daunting as the environment that you’re in.

And lastly, I will say: just because the university may be predominantly conservative, I still believe that there’s a place to touch people’s hearts – you’ve just got to find where they’re coming from, and meet them where they are. Talk about some of the challenges you all face and how it will be a much better place if all of us work together for the greater good. But do not get discouraged – I see the situation at Miami just as how I look at Butler County: you all are on a mission because you’re in a conservative area. This is a mighty county with people who are driven even though they’re outnumbered in terms of people who share their ideologies. Just as at your university, progressive students seem outnumbered, the county is outnumbered as well, but you saw the excitement and the energy in this room tonight.

People are determined to do what they can to advance the greater good, and so that’s what I encourage your peers to do on the campus of Miami University. Continue to advance the greater good.

How can people who read this interview get involved with your campaign?

I would love that, and I know young people are all about the social networks. They can follow me @ninaturner on Twitter, @ninaturnerohio on Instagram, and Nina Turner on Facebook, or they can visit my website at ninaturner.org. I believe in the power of young people, and that one of the reasons people who are seasoned – I don’t really consider myself old – but one of the reasons we work so hard is for the future generation, and it’s your generation that is going to continue to make a difference. And so you gotta get involved right now to make a difference.

-Matt Metzler, for Brickwork