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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

In Akron, democracy in action

Akron activist door-knocking
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron resident Aisha White speaks to a resident through the door while canvassing for Issue 10 before the election. White also helped collect signatures on a petition to put Issue 10 on the ballot over the summer.

The midterm election is officially behind us, and I know I’m not the only one who’s relieved that my nightly TV viewing is no longer soured with smear campaigns and vicious political advertisements. (The holiday shopping ads that took their place are also stress-inducing, but at least the background music is catchier.)

Throughout this election season, we’ve heard concerns about “threats to our democracy.” We’ve heard people declare the two-party system isn’t working anymore. On a state level, we’ve seen frustration over Ohio’s gerrymandered districts.

But instead of focusing on those concerns today, I’d like to reflect on an experience that gives me hope for our democracy.

For the past few months, I’ve been covering Issue 10 in Akron, a charter amendment that will create a civilian police oversight board. The goal of the board is to increase citizens’ input in the Akron Police Department’s policies and procedures.

While residents and city leaders have called for a police review board for many years, efforts to actually create one were reignited this summer after Akron Police fatally shot Jayland Walker, a Black man who was unarmed when he died. The county medical examiner said Walker was wounded or grazed by bullets at least 46 times. State officials are investigating the incident.

Walker’s death rocked the Akron community, and many people protested in the streets and called for police reforms like a review board.

About a month after some of those protests died down, I called a few people to see if they had any updates about a review board. I’d assumed city council might introduce legislation for one.

But, to my surprise, I learned that city council wasn't working to get one passed right at that moment – citizens were.

Members of some activist groups, including Freedom BLOC and the local chapter of the NAACP, were out in neighborhoods collecting signatures on a petition to put a review board issue before voters in November.

It was a charter amendment – meaning if voters approved the oversight board, it would be codified in the city’s constitution.

As Akron NAACP President Judi Hill told me in one of our many conversations about the board, this could be a permanent solution.

“I don’t want to talk about promises anymore. I’ve been made promises, and I now am moving toward solution-building, and I see this as a solution for our community,” Hill said.

The initiative needed about 2,700 valid signatures to be automatically placed on the ballot. As it turned out, citizens collected more than 7,000 signatures.

Issue 10 went on the November ballot, and on Tuesday, it passed with overwhelming support. Voters approved it by 62% to 38%, a 2-to-1 margin.

Now, I’m not taking a stance on the ballot issue or the board, and I'm certainly not writing this to try to influence your opinion. There are many differing opinions and you can find them represented in all of my previous stories.

But as I reflect on the past few months of reporting, I can’t help but feel like I witnessed democracy in action.

First, citizens saw a need: improving relations between the community and police after a fatal police shooting.

Then, they came up with a possible solution: a citizen oversight board to monitor complaints against police.

Citizens then took action: gathering thousands of signatures to put their solution on the ballot.

And on Election Day, citizens exercised their right to vote.

“This is the power of democracy at its best,” the NAACP's Hill told me.

If you’ve got concerns about what’s going on in our state or nation, or you’re feeling frustrated about threats to our democracy, I’m not here to dismiss your concerns.

But I encourage you to take a glimpse at what’s happening in Akron. It might just restore some of your faith.

"The Cut" is featured in Ideastream Public Media's weekly newsletter, The Frequency Week in Review. To get The Frequency Week in Review, The Daily Frequency or any of our newsletters, sign up on Ideastream's newsletter subscription page.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.