History, economy, and public health in small town Ohio – Interview with Phil Ennen (Part 1)

On our way from Detroit to Bloomington, Indiana, we stopped in Bryan, Ohio (pop: 8,434) to meet with Phil Ennen, president and CEO of Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers’ Bryan (Ohio) Hospital, and former chair of the board of trustees of the Ohio Hospital Association. Ennen is also on a statewide task force on the opioid epidemic. We had a long, fascinating conversation with him, on topics ranging from history and the state of society in the Rust Belt, public health and Medicaid and Medicare for all from a small town hospital’s perspective, and the opioid crisis. We’re going to post pieces of the interview in separate parts.

Below is part 1, covering some Midwest regional history from his family’s perspective, and why the November election happened the way it happened there.

How did you end up becoming president of this hospital system?

First of all, I grew up in this town. My family’s a Michigan family, but my father had a metal stamping factory that he moved down here in the 50’s. Making parts for cars. Had a little factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan. If you’ve been to Ann Arbor, you were right next door to Ypsi. So all of the kids were born there. But people if they do a little history, there was actually a pretty bad recession in the 50’s. He was struggling, couldn’t make a go of it, so he moved the factory to Ohio to try to lower his costs.

Continue reading History, economy, and public health in small town Ohio – Interview with Phil Ennen (Part 1)


The Cleveland Shake Down

In Cleveland we visited Katie’s former supervisor and colleague in the Industrial Areas Foundation who is now the lead organizer with Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC).

GCC is a non-partisan coalition of faith communities and partner organizations in Cuyahoga County working together to build power for social justice. The organization unites people across lines of race, class, religion, and geography to promote public, private and civic sector actions which strengthen and improve the quality of life of our neighborhoods. Here’s a great profile of one of GCC’s clergy leaders, Rev. Colvin, and his work against police brutality.

When we got into town, we had fun afternoon helping train a new GCC organizer. We headed to a local school where we worked with him on having open ended conversations with parents lining up to pick their kids up from school. We focused on the skill of striking up cold conversations and how to learn the power map of a community (who knows whom, who has a following, etc) and its issues.

We were also looking forward to hearing about GCC’s fight with Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans, over the renovation of the Cavs arena, the Quicken Loans arena, aka “the Q” (Gilbert began to be a theme in the Midwest; he popped up again, nefariously, in Detroit). Here’s the brief version of what happened.

Continue reading The Cleveland Shake Down

Racism alive and punching in Toledo, Ohio

We felt really blessed in Toledo, Ohio, where we arrived to a small dinner of eight activists from the Toledo area that had been organized by a friend of a friend in nearby Sylvania, Ohio (pop: 20k; number of trailer parks: 20), to welcome us to the area. (Shoutout to the chef! Fried risotto balls, corned beef egg rolls, shrimp scampi pasta and more – all homemade, so great.) Like most American cities, Toledo is very segregated, so we were glad to be dining with a number of local black activists, many of whom are involved with the local racial justice group Community Solidarity Response Network of Toledo (CSRN).

Much of our conversation revolved around race relations in the area, where the Charlottesville car driving terrorist James Alex Fields had been living (in Maumee, ten miles southwest of Toledo) and there’s a not insignificant white supremacist presence. One of the stories we heard was from a black woman who grew up in Toledo. She said many of the clubs and bars in the area find pretenses on which to reject black people from coming inside. One Tuesday night, the woman and a couple friends were trying to go to a bar that was offering $1 shots – seemingly not the fanciest of establishments. The security guard, an off-duty police officer, told them they couldn’t come in because of some of them were wearing white t-shirts and tennis shoes. When she responded unfavorably to that, the officer told her to stop talking back, and tackled her to the ground. Stunned, she got up and asked another officer if he would report the incident. He told her she better get on her way. “Yeah – welcome to the South in Ohio,” she told us.

Continue reading Racism alive and punching in Toledo, Ohio

Homeless collective organizing in Akron

On our last afternoon in Akron, after a few days of quality time with Katie’s sharp, wonderful 90-year-old grandma, we visited an inspiring homeless encampment called Second Chances. Second Chances is a community of people without homes who have collectively organized a tent shelter, food pantry, free clothing system, computer lab and more. The operation is situated in the basement, side yard and back yard of a commercial building owned by local businessman Sage Lewis, who fully supports the community both politically and materially by paying its utility bills and purchasing a small adjacent lot of land.

We were lucky enough to be able to drop in and take a tour of the property, narrated by a woman named Ellen, who used to be homeless and is now in transitional housing thanks to government subsidy and some earnings she receives from a local charity for helping operate Second Chances as its one paid employee.

As we walked through the side yard and into the basement complex (part of which is pictured below), we saw their office, bags of weekly donations from Panera, rooms full of donated clothes, books, home supplies and various odds and ends, and a laundry room operated by a member of the community.

Continue reading Homeless collective organizing in Akron

First Stop: Pittsburgh!

We left DC the morning of Monday, September 18th, (almost) on time, after saying a tearful goodbye to the house we’ve lived for the past 2/4 years and that city that’s been our home for 6/25 years.

Pittsburgh was our first stop on our three week whirlwind tour of the Midwest and Rust Belt cities. And our first stop in Pittsburgh was The Big Idea, an independent, anti-profit bookstore. We resisted and didn’t buy any books!

Next we met with Barney Oursler, the Executive Director of Pittsburgh United. Barney is a veteran organizer who’s been in Pittsburgh since the ’70s. Pittsburgh United is a coalition of community, labor, faith, and environmental organizations that works through several convened tables of partner organizations on a variety of issues including affordable housing, environmental protection, and workers rights.

After the election Pittsburgh United added a new focus to their work and has hired a new team of organizers to start working in the exurban and rural counties outside of the city. They are interested (as are we) in areas that have been swing districts for the past several election cycles and communities that have been ignored or pushed out of traditional organizing.

Continue reading First Stop: Pittsburgh!