History of the Ohio Citizen Action
Howard M. Metzenbaum Award

When Howard M. Metzenbaum retired from the U.S. Senate in 1994, Ohio Citizen Action decided to honor him by presenting an award in his name. Throughout his years of service in the Senate, Senator Metzenbaum's name was synonymous with principled tenacity and fighting for what's right.

During his eighteen years of service in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Metzenbaum never stopped being outraged at injustice and never stopped fighting for the rights of working people and consumers.

Sen. Metzenbaum passed milestone consumer protection laws, including plant closing legislation, food labeling, and orphan drug legislation, and saved taxpayers billions of dollars. Since his retirement from the Senate, he has served as Chairman of the Consumer Federation of America, where he has continued his unparalleled service, helping stop the proposed takeover of Blue Cross by Columbia HCA, protected meat inspection standards, and fought for consumer protections in the telecommunications industry.

Past Winners

James Thindwa, Community Activist (2009)

James Thindwa grew up in in Zimbabwe, where his family was involved in the fight against British colonial rule, and he moved to the U.S. to go to college. He was conducting further graduate studies at Ohio State when he joined the staff Ohio Citizen Action as a canvasser in Columbus in the early 1980s. He became the Indianapolis canvass director for Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, and returned to Columbus in the early 1990s to direct our Columbus canvass office. James’ stellar career as an community organizer and leader has been characterized by his compassion for those who are struggling, keen political observations, and a deep commitment to social justice. He has been an inspiration to literally thousands of canvassers from Ohio, Indiana, and throughout our canvassing network over the last 25 years.James recently joined the strategic campaigns staff of the American Federation of Teachers in Chicago, following seven years as the director of Chicago Jobs with Justice. Event photos

Phil Donahue, Producer,Body of War, documentary and television pioneer (2008)

When The Phil Donahue Show aired in 1967 on WLWD-TV, it was the first time America had seen a host implement audience participation and challenge everyday people on controversial issues. During the course of Donahue's Emmy-winning show, he interviewed some of the most influential figures in history such as Martin Luther King Jr., and a wide array of politicians, celebrities, and ordinary citizens. Fearless and unstoppable, Donahue epitomizes the ideal of "standing up for what is right." On September 14, 2008, Phil Donahue received the Ohio Citizen Action Howard M. Metzenbaum Award at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. Six hundred people attended the ceremony and viewed Donahue's riveting documentary, Body of War. When Phil Donahue was introduced at the ceremony, he was described by Susan Hyatt (Senator Metzenbaum's daughter) as a "pioneer and innovator," and was honored for his "unwillingness to be silenced." Event photos More event photos

Debra Cochran, Community Activist, Pageville (2006)

When Debra Cochran, a resident of Pageville in Meigs County, began hearing news reports about DuPont's contamination of drinking water with the Teflon chemical C8 in 2002, she wondered whether her children's health could be harmed by the chemical. Debra used her experience as an educator to research and prepare informational materials about the dangers of C8, and began attending and speaking at any public meeting where the issue could be brought up, including the board meetings of local water supplies, the Chamber of Commerce, and other civic meetings. She used a variety of tactics to bring the issue into the open, including proposing a petition to have DuPont removed from the American Chemistry Council's "Responsible Care" program. Debra worked closely with the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., the national organization which exposed many of DuPont’s internal documents about the dangers of C8, and Ohio Citizen Action to organize a successful public meeting at Meigs High School in June 2004. She appeared in newspaper articles from the Washington Post and New York Times to the Marietta Times and Athens Messenger, and national radio and television, including ABC’s 20/20. In the past two years, Debra and her family have inspired everyone they know with their courage, mutual support, and faith in confronting a serious injury to their daughter Kimberly. Debra and her husband C.W. have been instrumental in forming the new Athens Chapter of the Ohio Brain Injury Association. Event photos

Stu Greenberg, Environmental Health Watch, Cleveland (2005)

Stu has dedicated his life's work to making his community and, by extension, the world a better place. Over the last 21 years, he made Environmental Health Watch a key environmental advocate both locally and nationally. Through his leadership, Environmental Health Watch brought millions of federal dollars to Cleveland to begin the clean-up of the city's huge environmental lead problem. These efforts have made Cleveland a national leader in urban lead remediation, although Stu points out that Cleveland still has far to go in ensuring lead-safe housing for all of its children. Environmental Health Watch not only became a national leader in strategies to eliminate childhood lead poisoning but also expanded its focus to a wide range of healthy housing issues. Environmental Health Watch is referenced nationally for its expertise on healthy homes and childhood environmental health issues. Event photos

Laura Rench, Citizens for the Responsible Destruction of Chemical Weapons, Dayton (2004)

As an organizer with The Citizens for the Responsible Destruction of Chemical Weapons, Laura Rench led a campaign which prevented the US Army from shipping VX hydrosylate, a byproduct of VX nerve gas, into the Jefferson Township community of Dayton. She organized hundreds of neighbors to protest the proposal, helped get 35 government entities and community groups to pass resolutions against the proposal, and pressured the county to withdraw a sewage treatment permit for PermaFix. In October 2003, the Army withdrew its proposal to ship the nerve gas to Dayton. After continued citizen pressure, the company has now been cited for 48 violations of environmental laws, neighbors of Citizens for the Responsible Destruction of Chemical weapons continue to press for changes at the facility. Event photos

Teresa Mills, Buckeye Environmental Network, Columbus (2003)

Teresa Mills is one of the most important environmental activists and relentless fighters for environmental justice in Ohio. In 1994, Teresa turned from a housewife to an activist as she led her neighborhood to victory over the Columbus trash-burning power plant. Since this victory, she has gone on to become nationally-recognized as one of the best and most reliable resources on toxic pollution issues and organizing to win against corporate polluters. Teresa is now the director of the Buckeye Environmental Network, which she and others formed to offer guidance and technical assistance to citizen groups facing toxic hazards. Event photos

Art Minson, civil rights and union activist, Akron (2002)

Art Minson has been a community activist in Akron, Ohio for more than half a century. He received the Metzenbaum award in recognition of his lifetime of leadership on civil rights, with the United Rubber Workers and the Coming Together project, as a community activist with East Akron Community House and National People's Action, as a leader of the Millenium Fund for Children, and as a leader of Ohio Citizen Action's local and statewide toxic chemical right-to-know campaigns. Event photos.

Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Toledo (2000)

Baldemar Velasquez is the founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), a union of migrant farm workers working for better quality of life. Baldemar is an inspirational leader, minister, and musician who has dedicated his life to organizing. His union won unprecedented representation agreement with the Campbell’s Soup Company, and has now organized a national boycott of Mt. Olive Pickles. Headquartered in Toledo, FLOC is a national and international leader for workers rights and health and safety.

Galen 'Butch' Lemke, beryllium activist, Elmore (1999)

Butch Lemke worked at the Brush Wellman beryllium facility in Elmore, Ohio for ten years making parts for American weapons. In 1970, he was diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease, an incurable lung disease caused by exposure to beryllium dust. For 15 years, although to an oxygen tank, Butch crusaded to help other victims of the disease and to expose conditions at the Brush Wellman facility. He spurred a major investigative series in the Toledo Blade, and helped organize support networks for victims of the disease. Butch died in 1999, and the Metzenbaum award was presented posthumously to his family.

Noreen Warnock, Allen County Citizens for the Environment, Bluffton (1997)

Noreen Warnock received the award for her work in dealing with the biggest polluter in the state, BP America. In 1987, Warnock helped organize the Allen County Citizens for the Environment. Her group has prevented industry from locating a hazardous waste incinerator in Allen County, defeated a land-farm for hazardous waste, organized Mother's Day rallies to highlight environmental issues, and forced the reduction of tens of thousands of pounds of toxic emissions from the BP plant.

Lisa Crawford, FRESH, Fernald (1996)

Lisa Crawford founded Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health (F.R.E.S.H.), a non-profit organization whose grassroots efforts have resulted in the shut-down and subsequent clean-up of the former Fernald nuclear weapons facility. Mother, wife, and full-time volunteer coordinator at the Pauline Warfield Lewis Center, Lisa has made time to serve as president of F.R.E.S.H. since 1985. Lisa's dedication has brought worldwide attention to the issues and concerns of living in the shadows of a nuclear weapons facility.

Alonzo Spencer, Save Our County, East Liverpool (1995)

The first Metzenbaum award was presented by Senator Metzenbaum to Alonzo Spencer at Ohio Citizen Action’s 20th Anniversary kick-off celebration in Cleveland in November 1995. Here’s what the Senator said when presenting the award:

"We are here not only to celebrate Citizen Action’s 20th anniversary, but to honor Alonzo Spencer, who has led a brilliant fight against the WTI incinerator in E. Liverpool. I can't miss this opportunity to state my firm conviction that the WTI incinerator should be shut down, immediately and permanently.

"As everyone knows, the sordid history of the ownership and permitting of this plant are enough to warrant locking the door, but all that aside, the plant is simply a public health menace: no school kid should be forced to breathe into their lungs the lead and other toxics this plant puts into the air 1,200 feet away: and no incinerator should be sitting on the bank of the Ohio River. Any accident is a major disaster for every town and city down the Ohio and into the Mississippi. (If this seems unlikely, look up the 1988 Ashland Chemical spill into the Ohio River for a preview).

"So, we honor Alonzo Spencer first because he is right. He was right about this 15 years ago, and he's right tonight.

"But being right is not enough. Alonzo Spencer has also been tenacious, pursuing angle after angle in organizing opposition to the plant. No level of government, no jurisdiction has been safe from him. Just when the company thinks they have him beaten, he's back. He's stubborn. He's my kind of citizen.

"But he's been more than that – because he knows you can't do this kind of thing on your own. Alonzo is the leader of a strong community organization dedicated to wining this fight – called Save Our County—and they’ve been together for 15 years. Some groups break up after their first block party. This remarkable group has faced the toughest odds, and made WTI a national symbol of the dangers of hazardous waste incinerators.

"For all these reasons, I'm honored to be able, on behalf of Citizen Action to present him with the first Howard M. Metzenbaum Citizen Action Award."