Yesterday I filed my petition to run for Congress. Today I want to tell you why.

As I’ve traveled the last couple of months throughout OH-4, infamously known as “Ohio’s Duck” because of its aggressively gerrymandered borders, a lot of people ask me why I’m running for Congress. I’ve run twice before against Jim Jordan, the far right wing incumbent, and our district is overwhelmingly Republican, so many wonder why I even bother.

Those who know me well aren’t so quick to wonder. My entire adult life has been consumed by political engagement as a dutiful citizen. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a particular inkling to right as many wrongs in our society as I can. As difficult as it is to describe, I’ve always been consumed by this passion.

It’s this passion that motivated me to dedicate my life to Ohio’s children by becoming a teacher. It’s this same passion that drew me to Micronesia as a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s why I would later work extra hours to be president of my teacher’s union. And it’s why I’ve spent so much time in Ohio’s fourth organizing against Jim Jordan.

In 1988, I remember manning the Oberlin Dukakis headquarters with my baby in my arms. I remember giving my first public speeches at rallies during the Ohio SB5 fight, supporting the collective bargaining rights of public workers—an issue especially close to my heart.

In 2012, I volunteered for the Obama campaign. When headquarters told me to work in Oberlin, a blue city, I refused, because I wanted to go somewhere I could make a difference. Instead, I opted for Wellington, which had gone for McCain in 2008. Recognizing my commitment, they told me, “Go down there and start a fire.” With hard work, passionate volunteers, and dedicated organizing, we successfully improved turnout and Wellington voted blue.

After I had been redistricted into Jim Jordan’s district, I approached him at his first debate in Lorain county with my concerns. I told him, “I’m a woman, a teacher, a union leader, and a member of the middle class, and I know you stand against all of that.” Instead of reassuring me that he heard my concerns and cared about them, he talked about his own policy positions, shocking me to my core with his extreme stances on everything from social security benefits, to health care, to education.

Jordan was elected to Congress, and went on to found the Freedom Caucus, a radical group of obstructionists. The Freedom Caucus has been called “anarchists” and “total chaos” by members of their own party; people who stand for nothing but are against everything.

From my first conversation with Jordan, I knew I had to do something. I formed a group, the Jordan Watch, to keep tabs on him and clear the way for future opponents. But when the next election came, no one was stepping up to challenge him.

It wasn’t until I was at a Women’s Caucus in early 2014 that Marcy Kaptur, my former representative, told me that I had to run. Someone had to stop this man who opposed all the causes I cared so deeply about.

I put my name on the ballot the next morning.

That first year, my candidacy was more of a protest than a serious challenge. But in spite of how little I knew about it, I discovered that I loved campaigning. As a teacher, I’d spent my whole life helping people gain the skills they needed to fulfill their dreams. Campaigning was a natural extension of that—caring about people and being vocal about the issues that mattered to them.

I tried again in 2016. But still, the timing wasn’t quite right.

While travelling the district this summer, I found at least one progressive organizing group in every county. And when I talk to community members, I hear the hunger for change in their voices. Women who emerged for the first time at the Women’s March are now vocal members of the #MeToo movement, demanding greater respect and saying they will not allow harassment and misconduct to limit them anymore. And as women across the country are finding their voices,

I hear my own becoming clearer.

I am given further hope from my conversations with Ohioans because I have seen that there are more issues that unite us than divide us – especially when so many of our communities are being torn apart by opioids. Government cannot be the sole answer to our problems, but it is clear that we agree more needs to be done to aid the organizations that are working so hard to fight this devastating epidemic.

Now with that being said, if progressives want to be successful and bring about meaningful change, we need to run everywhere—even where we know it will be difficult to win—because when we campaign on the issues that matter to people, we have the conversations essential to a competitive, healthy, and functioning democracy.

Yes, our district is gerrymandered, and yes, Jordan’s an incumbent. But losing doesn’t scare me, —I’ll still be here, and I’ll still be fighting, the way I have been for years.

But the thought of winning, the thought of Ohio saying no to a right wing political extremist, the thought of a retired school teaching taking down the founder of the Freedom Caucus - that hopeful, daring thought will be what energizes us through November.

Together, it can be done.

Janet Filing Petition February 2018.JPG
Janet Garrett1 Comment