Courtney Foley, the Starkville, Miss. native responsible for making sure that a referendum to bring down an anti-worker bill in Ohio qualifies for the ballot, received this year’s Maria Leavey Tribute Award at the Take Back the American Dream conference on Wednesday.
The Campaign for America’s Future gives this award each year to the person whose tireless, behind-the-scenes work has been critical to the success of the progressive movement in past years. The award is named after Maria Leavey, who was a quintessential unsung progressive hero.
Courtney Foley won the award in part by verifying the 1.3 million signatures collected by the We Are Ohio campaign to repeal the anti-worker bill, SB 5, in the state. SB 5 would eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Courtney said at her acceptance speech that this collection of signatures was “the biggest grassroots movement in Ohio’s history!” She was the Quality Control Director for the entire state of Ohio for the petition process for SB 5 repeal in Ohio. Every signed petition passed through her hands, went into a vault, and through a quality-control screening process to ensure the measure qualified for the ballot.
“We used a vault to keep the signatures safe,” she said at the conference.
Maria Leavey was an organizer with extraordinary talent, a behind-the-scenes force with an uncanny ability to connect rising young talent with Washington leaders, and a tireless advocate who often worked without claiming credit or even compensation.
Since she passed away in 2006 the Conference has honored her legacy with the Maria Leavey Tribute Award, which goes to a person who embodies Maria’s spirit and has made an invaluable contribution to social justice.
The whole SB 5 repeal process started when Courtney first went to work for the unity table in Ohio by helping to develop the idea to hold a “People’s Town Hall” in a small town called Tiffin, population 17,000. At the first organizing meeting Courtney helped them create a roundtable discussion with local community members and they developed a list of speakers. They included a nurse, a teacher, a cop, a firefighter, a former mayor, and a nun to moderate. “They are your friends, and part of the American family,” she said.
Over 120 people attended a community meeting about SB 5 in Tiffin. They spoke about their shared struggles and the evaporating hopes for prosperity of the disappearing middle class.
During her acceptance speech, Courtney had some words for Republicans on their attempt to pass SB 5 in Ohio. She called it, “The Middle Class Destruction Act!” Courtney also had a slogan during her speech for Republican strategies to cut government spending: “Cut Back? Fight Back!”
Courtney, with a small volunteer staff, also held trainings and coordinated operations with organizers throughout the state of Ohio. Courtney did not insert herself into the story, nor did she act as the hero. She was simply a community organizer who inspired local community members to be leaders.