Ohio Women for Kerry began when Tori Valelley, national women’s coordinator of the Kerry campaign, contacted Jan Roller in Cleveland and requested that she start the process of building the organization as well as serve as the state’s representative during nationwide conference calls.  One woman was being selected from each state to participate in the conference calls.  Roller knew Valelley from living in Boston, Massachusetts in the early 80s.  Roller’s twin sister, Joy Roller, was Tom Valelley’s political director for his first successful political campaign, that of Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1982.  Jan Roller, a lawyer, had moved to Cleveland in 1983 and had been politically active ever since.

      The first step to build Ohio Women for Kerry was to identify subconstituencies of women who could use their network to build a database.  Approximately fifteen different constituencies were identified such as the elderly, moms, lawyers, women in health care, African-American and Hispanic women, young women, etc.  Chairs were appointed for each of the constituency groups and organizational meetings were held with the Chairs on a regular basis.

      As the data base was being built, house parties and other events occurred.  The house parties were a great organizing tool.  But what was essential to the growth of Ohio Women for Kerry was a dedicated staff person.  Ruth Berggren had tried, without luck, to be hired by the Kerry Campaign.  She was a 50-year-old women from Cleveland who had moved from California with her husband only six years earlier.  Unfortunately, her husband died suddenly in California.  Ruth was dedicated to getting John Kerry elected.  Through informal contacts, she found out that the fledgling organization "Ohio Women for Kerry" was looking for staff assistance.  Ruth was an exceptionally talented person.  She was very computer literate and wrote well.  She dedicated herself, 24/7, to the efforts of Ohio Women for Kerry.  This really got the ball rolling.  Ohio Women for Kerry t-shirts were made and Ruth created a website.

      It was always the hope that the strong, organized effort in Cuyahoga County would expand on a statewide level once the national campaign moved into Ohio.  Unfortunately, this did not occur until after the primary in July, 2004 and, more unfortunately, once it came to Ohio, it was disorganized and unable to incorporate the structure that was working so successfully in Cuyahoga County.

      After the 2004 defeat, the dedicated women of Ohio Women for Kerry were only more determined to elect Democrats during the 2006 election and to be ready for the 2008 presidential campaign.  However, there was no leadership from the Ohio Democratic Party or the Democratic National Committee to assist in creating a new organization for women in Ohio.  A core group of women from Ohio Women for Kerry in Cleveland continued to meet regularly to determine how best to organize.  Finally, after the election of Chris Redfern as the new Chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, the Ohio Democratic Women’s Caucus was formed.  Redfern authorized the creation of a new caucus of the Ohio Democratic Party.  Sarah Topy, Redfern’s assistant,  provided invaluable guidance and assistance.

      The Ohio Democratic Women’s Caucus now serves as a networking and communication resource for women’s caucuses and groups which currently exist in Ohio.  Peggy Wilkinson of Ashtabula and Jan Roller are the founding co-chairs of the Caucus.  It is the goal of the ODWC to create a caucus in every county where one currently does not exist.  The ODWC has a website – www.Ohiodwc.org.  It is in the process of creating a statewide database for use by Democratic candidates.  It is actively working in support of the statewide Democratic ticket for 2006 and hopes to be better organized to make a significant impact on the 2008 presidential election.

Jan Roller


website (Nov. 1, 2004):