As I predicted this spring, polls now show that Nina Turner could easily have won this November’s 11th Ohio Congressional District special election as an independent, avoiding co-opting herself into the August 3rd Democratic Party primary, thereby striking a gut punch to the two party stranglehold of establishment capitalism in Northeast Ohio. A whopping 35 point lead over completely pointless Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair Shontel Brown surely showed up in Nina’s internal polling long before the first public poll conducted in late May, pressuring the establishment to hurry up and endorse. The green light came from notoriously aloof and outgoing Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson who endorsed Nina back in March. Jackson rarely endorses anything, including his own policies (about which he incoherently likes to say “it is what it is”), getting on board a train that’s already left the station. Jackson’s endorsement gave the signal that this summer’s ultra low voter turnout primary was more than likely all over but the shouting.
Whore house of capital duly comforted, media moths now swarm Nina’s OH11 flame, most predictably The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur who snuck into Cleveland Saturday June 26th under cover of his event page. No location has ever been public for his “Economic Justice Town Hall” with Nina Turner and Killer Mike. It was somewhere in Cleveland, but before Cenk let anyone know exactly where, Cenk forced you to pay $3 (ching) and register (email addresses to sell, double ching) thereby consenting to Cenk’s “terms and conditions” for attendance (more ching) then your “reservation” has to be “confirmed”, notice of which will be sent in an email, and ONLY THEN did Cenk tell you the address. Even one day before the event, TYT would not dare reveal the location online in response to a direct question, as below.
A labyrinthine guessing game whose answers only Cenk knows, and only provides once you pay not just with money but by your voluntary enforcement of Cenk’s own rules, all no doubt drafted by the same lawyers handling his billionaire venture capital backing. Doesn’t that sound a lot like capitalism?
Here we see Gramscian cultural hegemony demanding your acquiescence to the value system of capital instantly and repeatedly, with humiliating subservience at every conceivable level, not merely to attend an event with a candidate for public office, but even just to know where it’s occurring. Gramsci would recognize in this instance that capital is not itself enforcing its hegemony, nor is “the state”, but through an educative organ of “civil society”, Cenk’s private corporation functioning as both enforcer and teacher.
It begins before you click anything at all. Capital first demands you consent to a change in your own mind to the previously understood meaning of the term “town hall”, with your voluntary acquiescence that Cenk may charge you $3 for such a “town hall” with a candidate for public office, thus privatizing what is public in your brain. Once you’ve re-wired these synapses in your own head at no cost to capital for the benefit of capital, you voluntarily enter multiple private contracts by your every move, down a spiral of clicks, registrations, days waiting for “confirmation”. If you attend, you enter another private, perpetual contract with Cenk, a cherry on top prancing with Pete Buttigieg McKinsey PowerPoint grotesquery;
“By attending this event, I agree to appear in video, and I grant TYT all rights to my appearance in the video show, in recorded videos from the event, and in promotional video for TYT or for the event or future events. I acknowledge that the video and my likeness rights associated with the video is the sole property of TYT.”
What’s a Marxist to do? Gramsci would at least advocate waging a “war of position” by refusal to attend, thereby denying acquiescence to any of this, let alone paying Cenk the $3, thereby enforcing a new value system in pursuit of a new hegemony. This is the bare minimum, which Nina Turner should (and could) have done by refusing to enter the Democratic Primary in the first place (saying “no”), running as an independent outside capital’s hegemony, enforcing a new one. Saying “no” to any unjust rule or norm is a Gandhian nonviolent seizure of Gramscian hegemonic ground, and like daily life in capitalism, TYT’s terms and conditions present at least a half dozen opportunities to seize such ground.
But let’s say you’re feeling a bit frisky, a passive “war of position” of refusal to attend not enough for your revolutionary zeal. Good news! Gramsci’s “war of maneuver” beckons. Any attempt to attend the event without consenting to Cenk’s demand that you acquiesce to his enforcement of the cultural hegemony of capital is a frontal assault on existing hegemony. So, being a frisky fellow, I attempted to attend as press without agreeing to, acquiescing to, or enforcing, any of these policies.
First, I had to learn where to go, without paying Cenk $3, which of course I accomplished (a long story for another day). After crafting myself a Midwestern Marx press pass, off I went to the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland’s east side Collinwood neighborhood, smack dab in the center of the 11th Congressional district. Built in 1950 as the Croatian Liberty Hall, in 2000 it was repurposed by owners Cindy Barber and Mark Leddy, becoming Cleveland’s premier live music venue ever since. (For example, I’ve seen Joe Walsh and the James Gang, English Beat, Rusted Root, and countless local bands there.) The pandemic closed Beachland for more than a year, re-opening this month. Apparently, whatever contract the Beachland signed with Cenk also requires total secrecy, as there was nothing promoting the event on any of Beachland’s social media. Top secret! At the entrance, I introduced myself as press, being very clear I had no intention of agreeing to any policies in order to maintain my publication’s independence. Entry was granted. It was that simple.
My fox safely in the hen house, outside, it was clear Nina’s campaign had at least told volunteers of the location, her campaign bus in front of the entrance. Here’s East Cleveland’s Patricia Blochowiak in front of the pretty cool campaign bus with a spinning Nina head on top.
Inside, I counted 81 seated attendees, about 37 standing, a total of about 130 people in the ballroom. It’s unclear exactly how many paid attendees were there, as there were at least 6 TYT staff (not counting camera and sound crew), another dozen or so Nina campaign staff and volunteers, plus another half dozen or so security bouncers. TYT Community Director Alison Hartson told me 200 tickets were sold, half of which they expected to attend. Given the number of predictable Cleveland politico types I recognized, looked to me like maybe 50-60 paid ticket holders showed up. Here’s Patricia inside the Beachland.
Questions from the audience had to be submitted before hand after you entered all the myriad contracts with Cenk, and it was clear those questions were carefully screened. Of the 4 questions “asked,” one came (predictably) from Our Revolution paid staff Diane Morgan, who asked the deeply thought out question, “what about poverty?” Thanks, Diane.
An air of paranoia hovered over the entire affair behind the wafer thin veneer of normalcy, carnival atmosphere, enjoyment, dare I say “public”. It reminded me of my days as a Clintonista Third Way Blairite in the 1990’s British Labour Party, whose obsession with micromanaging coined the term “control freakery”. In Tony Blair’s New Labour, “control freakery” of this sort consumed party staff like nothing else (and still does), a sheer terror of anything going off script, ever. Newburgh Hts. Mayor Trevor Elkins, a Nina endorser and the most Blue Lives Matter, cop loving. traffic camera reliant elected official you will ever meet (think Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Dem sheep’s clothing), was so paranoid, when I asked him “how’s your turnout operation”, Trevor practically choked on his own sweat, declaring weirdly he cannot speak for the campaign. “You’re press!” Trevor told me. Hey Trevor - get over your cop boot licking self already.
Afterward I spoke with Alison Hartson to ask why all the hush hush. “Security,” was the answer, which was no surprise. Security was clearly the top priority at this event, maybe the only priority, a mini police state created where not one thing was left to chance. Alison even cited as a reason for all the security the Trump rally occurring at the same time in Lorain County, 40 miles away, as a reason for all the security. I’m like....what? I wonder if Alison noticed my confusion.
I then asked Alison if she was aware of the deep grinding poverty in the 11th Ohio Congressional district, and if she understood that $3 was a lot of money for people in this neighborhood. Alison seemed shocked, which is odd, because if you walk 50 feet away from the Beachland Ballroom, there’s the poverty. Credit where it’s due, Alison did seem genuinely interested in improving such events and asked for any ideas to address these issues. So I told Alison there’ll be plenty of ideas in this article. Holla back Alison!
I spoke to Nina briefly outside afterward to ask for an interview with Midwestern Marx, and Nina handed me off to her press secretary. I’ve known Nina many years, so we’ll see if she’d like to sit down with our fearless leaders Eddie Liger Smith and Carlos Garrido on Zoom one day. Could be fun Nina!
I also spoke with Cenk briefly afterward and asked about his evolving position on the Armenian genocide - it’s well known that Cenk was once at least skeptical of the genocide, if not an outright denier of it. The issue is close to my heart having lived and worked in Armenia in a previous neoliberal international man of mystery life. Cenk was very kind and gracious, saying he supports the Biden administration’s recognition of the Armenian genocide. Cenk explained that as a Turk growing up you get fed a lifetime of (cultural hegemony) propaganda which takes years to peel back; an experience we all share with capitalism, don’t we.
So let’s peel back those layers of cultural hegemony, Cenk, shall we? Takes a long time, as you know. To assist, (putting lawyer hat on) this article is further notice, on top of what I told TYT staff at the event, that I do not, and did not, nor does nor did Midwestern Marx, agree to any of TYT’s terms and conditions alleging I entered into a contract by merely attending your event as press. Shove that shit up Pete Buttigieg’s PowerPoint. Capitalism presents us all with countless such moments of decision, every hour of every day, to which we can either consent, thus enforcing capital’s value system, or refuse, thus building a new world. Let’s build that new world.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.