By fighting criminalization together, we all get free.

Russell B(ullwinkle) Kunz is the Racial Justice Task Force Chair with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, OH. He has organized with UUs to partner with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative to resist mass incarceration and the criminalization of communities in Ohio through the war on drugs. Here he shares why he's moved to work on this issue.

We have a chance to significantly disrupt mass incarceration in Ohio by passing Issue 1 - A Safe and Healthy Ohio on November 6th. This ballot initiative will retroactively reduce low-level drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Not only will more than 10,000 people be released from prison but the savings in prison costs will be used for community-based drug treatment and re-entry services. We will effectively be divesting from the prison system and investing in our communities. And we’ll be stopping the pipeline that criminalizes many in our communities.

The way the "war on drugs" has been waged for decades in Ohio perpetuates the worst injustices in OUR judicial system. It costs the very lives of my neighbors, the health and safety of my community and state - and it must stop. Over 730,000 of my fellow Ohioans are already on record in agreement.

Here at the UU Church of Akron Racial Justice Task Force, we have been working with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and other partners, for over a year, first to collect signatures to get this initiative on the ballot and now to Get Out the Vote for Yes on Issue 1. As Darrita Davis, Lead Organizer for Ohioians for Safety & Justice, wrote in an update on our signature gathering, this work "can restore people's lives".

In reaching out to our congregations and communities, we knew this was a large ask -- but the need is urgent and the opportunity for change is epochal. We have the skills, we have the relationships, and we have the call to serve. We had to seize the moment!

We are phone banking, canvassing, and we have rented vans to bring people to the polls for the early vote the weekend of Nov. 3-4 and through to Election Day. UUs in Cleveland and other cities around the state are doing the same and are asking for volunteers. UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray and Exec. VP Carey McDonald are coming to join us in Cleveland and Akron. If you can come to Ohio please do. It’s not too late to get involved! You can also help with phone banking (see the video tutorial for how easy it is!) and donations for materials, vans and gas.

We are encountering fierce opposition with the Ohio Attorney General and a Ohio Supreme Court judge telling people to vote No, with false claims that Issue 1 will turn Ohio “into a haven for drug dealers.” The Ohio legislature has consistently refused to enact meaningful criminal justice reform for decades and Ohio’s prison population continues to soar. Over 730,000 Ohio voters signed to get Issue 1 on the ballot (the second highest signature total in the history of Ohio) and now it’s time to Get the Vote Out and vote it in.

By winning on Issue 1 we will get some justice here in Ohio and have a model for how to dismantle mass incarceration for other states. We will be talking to people in diverse neighborhoods about how Ohio spends more than $1.3 billion per year to keep nearly 50,000 people in prison. Imagine if instead we were investing in our communities to treat addiction and provide job training and re-entry programs. Our GOTV efforts will be getting people out to the polls who share our values. And, we are building solidarity and partnership for a long term effort for racial and economic justice, and indeed our liberation.

The hub for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative in Akron is known as the WOMB - the Way Of Mind & Body Community Center. This vibrant community center serves people who have been the most impacted by criminalization, mass incarceration, poverty and lack of opportunity and is led by truly visionary organizers. The WOMB has become a second home to our Racial Justice Task Force. By fighting criminalization together, we all get free. This is how Love Resists!

Collage of photos featuring members of UU Akron at RACE FORWARD 2 Akron

Russell B(ullwinkle) Kunz (center righthand photo, figure furthest right) at Race Forward 2.