Democracy NC Blog

Welcome to Democracy North Carolina’s main newsfeed. You can review all of our latest blog posts below, starting with the newest post on top, or you can visit our individual sections for more in-depth coverage:

  • Link-of-the-Day offers commentary on our core issues each day, courtesy of our Executive Director Bob Hall.
  • Tales From the Frontline is our official staff blog and it includes a special section just for Democracy Summer.
  • Our Media Feed provides press releases and other information of interest to members of the media.
  • Take Action Now is designed for volunteers with a little or a lot of time to give. It tells you how you can help us with our current advocacy efforts.

You are welcome to submit comments to this moderated blog. Please treat others with respect, avoid partisan rhetoric, and help us provide a fact-based discussion of issues related to North Carolina’s political landscape. Thank you.

You can also subscribe to our main RSS feed or individual category feeds here, and be alerted whenever a new blog post is created.

“Pleasure and action make the hours seem short” – William Shakespeare

June 14th, 2012

Our third week started off pretty strong and only looking to get stronger as the week goes on. Phone Banking has become a wonderful experience especially since we are able to transfer people directly to Berger’s line and hear them express their support for the HAVA funds! We have noticed that people are more likely to take this action when we offer to transfer them directly over. The number of people willing to take action is growing and we are looking for it to continue to do so as the summer progresses.

Outside of phone banking, we had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Crucial Conversation with Harvard Law School professor, Lawrence Lessig, in Raleigh, NC. Lessig’s presentation was focused on Big Money Politics and he presented about 4 problems that are faced in trying to combat against big money politics and went on to speak about four solutions for doing so. One major thing that Lessig focused on was the language used by justices in making their decision. Basically they said that if these big corporations are viewed as people, then, under the first amendment, they have free speech. That means that if a whale is considered a human being, then that whale would be granted free speech under the first amendment.

Hearing Lessing’s presentation was great but our work doesn’t stop there, we must take action. That is why we are speaking with a group in Rocky Mount regarding the anti-Citizens United resolution and informing them about our Pathways to Power program, which will be held in their city on June 23-24th. Also we will be speaking with Councilwoman Kandie Smith about the anti-Citizens United resolution in hopes of trying to get Greenville to get on board.

Fayetteville Team and their first weekend “off”

June 13th, 2012

After a blitzkrieg of a first week in Democracy Summer, I was extremely grateful to tackle the challenges that awaited in week two.  What was the most challenging aspect of week two you ask?  Remembering all the names and faces of the people I met in week one.  Along with our recurring scheduled events, our team also hosted Pathways to Power so week two ran right into week one with no break.

We spent the latter part of week one recruiting additional participants for Pathways to Power and making sure we had everything we needed.  We had a healthy debate with our AWESOME caterer at Steve’s Southern Gourmet about the necessity of sweet tea for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as the local preferences for banana pudding versus pound cake.  Then it was off to Wal-Mart to fill three shopping carts with soda, water, napkins, etc. Interesting side note, I guess I somehow favor Nancy because our cashier thought she was my mom. . . . rrrriiiiiiggght.

So Saturday came and I immediately started confusing names and faces of some of the attendees I had met earlier that week.  I was just impressed that I remembered Jenn and didn’t call her by another name.  We got started around 9 am Saturday and didn’t conclude the day until around 7 pm.  I was bright eyed and bushy tailed at 9 am but by 5 pm I was thinking “every weekend this summer BETTER not be like this.”  Not that the training wasn’t fun and interactive and informative, it was just such a long day on one of the most absolutely perfect days of the year. Oh and did I mention we had the training at a recreation center where we could see and hear people enjoying the awesome swimming pool across the parking lot? Just wanted to throw that in there.  So Pathways to Power ended Sunday with some good outcomes and tasks for the week and I was eager to get started.

I spent Monday reaching out to some of the local organizations through email and phone calls.  Most of the emails and calls were not returned, but so is the nature of organizing.  The biggest event of the week was my efforts to energize my own college campus.  Most of the elected leaders to the student organizations are gone for the summer, so I attempted to reach out to staff to create awareness for students about organizing activities during the summer.  It was so indicative of the strained climate at FSU when the two professors in the Political Science Department that I spoke with had complete opposite reactions to my efforts. So the good news is that we have some support and now I’m working with an organizer at Common Cause to raise awareness on campus with a speaking event next week.

Week two was a progressively more engaging week from an organizing stand point and it really put me on notice about the challenges that all of the organizers will be facing this summer.  I’m glad to be on a team with someone as dedicated and demanding as Nancy, and I know as long as Demante and I keep a positive attitude, we’ll reach our benchmarks and, more importantly, bring about real change in the state.

Fayetteville Team

Democracy Summer Fayetteville Team

Democracy Summer Fayetteville Team

Contextualized in Community

June 12th, 2012

Yet still at the commencing of my summer with Democracy North Carolina, it is difficult for me to recall my original expectations going into my placement here in Charlotte; to be honest, I’m not sure I had any.

As someone who proudly carries my fusion of heritages, a daughter of Palestinian refugees who migrated to America and set roots in the South, while simultaneously a North Carolina resident born-and-raised, it is sometimes embarrassing how little of this state I call home I have actually laid eyes on. This is my first time in the Queen City.

My transition from life in the triangle to Charlotte has been exciting, but tough at times. Separating from connections I’ve built over the years organizing in Chapel Hill translates into a necessity to forge new relationships and find footing in a different political landscape. Patience, a virtue that often eludes me, is a lesson that will be necessary to learn over the course of this summer. I cannot take it personally when phone calls go unreturned and projects do not move as quickly as I desire; this is the work I have chosen to invest in, people work, and people lead complex lives that unfortunately do not fit so seamlessly into the neat borders of my google documents. Luckily, organizing work has never been, nor will it ever be, a solo endeavor. I work on a team with Robert, a veteran organizer who constantly makes me laugh and always keeps it real, and Stefan, a bright leader from NC Central who maintains a calming and poised presence. Yet beyond this immediate team, in collecting these varied experiences and attempting to place them into a coherent narrative, one theme constantly emerges: community. We all exist, work, and fight within and for community.

Sharing an office with Action NC has been such a privilege. It’s exciting to work alongside an organization that does different yet equally important work in the community. Sharing a space with them has served as a metaphor for political organizing in Charlotte, a small but mighty community doing a vast array of work all under the collective banner of social justice. Luis, an organizer for Action NC helped put me in touch with poets in the Charlotte area for a spoken word event we are planning on holding on July 4th –inspired by the symbolism of patriotism associated with Independence Day and in recognition of the power of art to inform and mobilize the people. The poetry scene in Charlotte is very active and it is an honor to work with such talented poets who utilize spoken word as a tool for social change. The worlds of artists and activists intersect and exchange reciprocal inspiration.

Activist communities zig zag all over, I’ve noted, across the North Carolina geography. For example we are currently planning an event in Asheville. Even here in Charlotte, miles away, we are able to engage with individuals who Robert has built relationships with over the years and plan an event at the Bywater Riverside Bar where diverse communities can come together, share their initiatives and issues next to a beautiful outdoor view. Conversation and celebration, two other themes I hope to continue to develop as the summer narrative progresses. Robert makes fun of me for being a wide-eyed idealist at times, but I take the taunts in stride. For all the losses our organizing communities face – most notably and painfully carved in my recent memory, the campaign against Amendment 1 – we continue to thrive and in struggle build ever stronger communities of resistance. As Robert chimes often, we “Keep it Movin”.

We have a lot of uphill battles this summer, money in politics after the Citizens United decision is a wild and untamed tidal wave drowning out the voices of common people in our elections. I am not expecting a cascade of victories over the next couple months, yet I acknowledge my successes and failures through a relational approach—we win and lose together. This understanding diminishes my fears of coming up short and makes the pursuit of victory, in the context of sustaining democracy in my North Carolina community, that much sweeter.

Charlotte Team

Vox Populi, Vox Dei: Week One at Democracy NC – Greenville

June 8th, 2012

Killian and I have been off to a busy start in our first week and a half as Democracy Summer interns. Last week we got started by calling and recruiting folks in the eastern part of the state to be Democracy NC “Souls to the Polls” ambassadors and getting ready with the presentations that we’ll be taking around the state over the next couple months. We also did some preliminary research regarding County Boards of Elections’ plans for the Fall 2012 election.

We spent Monday doing important phonebanking work, asking people to call Sen Phil Berger in support of the release of HAVA funds. We were able to transfer about 15 people over to Sen Berger’s office immediately, and got strong commitments from another 15 or so. Then, we hit the road.

Tuesday, we made a quick jaunt over to Raleigh to speak with Rocky Mount’s Angela Bryant. Rep. Bryant was glad to hear from us and receptive to our message; she may even end up speaking at our Rocky Mount Pathways to Power training (June 23 and 24).

Wednesday and Thursday were our longer trips; the former we spent in Greenville and the latter in Snow Hill (Greene County.) In Greenville, we met with Councilperson Calvin Mercer. Cncl Mercer gave us an abbreviated history of Greenville city politics, as well as his experience being a resident of the town and an ECU professor. Later, we stopped in with another ECU prof., David Conradt, who also sits on the Pitt County Board of Elections.

On Thursday, we went out to Snow Hill to speak with a grassroots group at St James Presbyterian, along with former Snow Hill mayor, and current candidate for State Senate, Don Davis. We gave our first presentation — covering redistricting, the HAVA funds, photo ID bill and the Citizens United ruling — to the group. Afterwards, Don helped us all make phone calls to six state legislators to voice our opposition to photo ID and support for release of the HAVA funds.

All said, it was a busy, productive week. It was inspiring to see genuine bottom-up political activity in even the smallest of our state’s towns (e.g., Snow Hill, which has about 1500 residents.) We were able to accomplish our goals for the week while getting acclimated to the internship itself. An exciting time for Democracy NC and the state!

Democracy Summer Charlotte Team

Democracy Summer Greenville Team

LOD: Carolina Business Coalition

June 7th, 2012

There’s lots in the daily news of the doings and undoings in the General Assembly and elsewhere, but you may have missed coverage about this new electioneering operation sponsored by the Ayn Rand-wing of the North Carolina business establishment. The mainstream press hasn’t noticed yet. Public-interest investigator Greg Flynn reports that these White-Men-With-Too-Much-Money have hired attorney Roger Knight to craft a legal shell (the Carolina Business Coalition) to pump money into various state legislative elections, beginning next week with an ad buy exceeding $300,000 – without the public getting any information about where the money comes from! The media should on top of this, but where are they?

Charlotte team: Week One

June 6th, 2012

My first week as an intern with Democracy North Carolina has already been one filled with adventure and learning. Zaina and I have developed a working relationship that will be an asset for the both of us during this experience. We are able to bounce ideas off of one another while maintaining a level of respect and professionalism that creates a productive environment. When you take our personalities and combine them with Robert’s you will discover that there is never a dull moment. It is that type of chemistry that will keep us all sane in the insane North Carolina political climate around us.

From day one we hit the ground rolling, so to speak. What we essentially did was map out our entire summer with the various events we would have, meetings with elected officials, meetings with community leaders, material distribution and voter registration, and the different media outlets we would utilize. The plans we have for our film screening and open forum will revolve around voter education, protection, and empowerment for youth ages 16-20. We also plan on holding a press conference to educate the public about the rights of ex-felons in regards to the franchise, and dispelling the myths around ex-felons and the franchise (vote).

In addition to these exciting opportunities we’re looking to open to the community, we had our first couple of one-on-ones, and a phone banking session. We met with influential women in the Charlotte community and we met a man named Jaz, who we will be collaborating with us in an effort to intersect the art of poetry and expression with the world of politics. I’m really excited for this event and the many other projects that we have been planning in this first week. I am really enjoying the work that I’m doing and that is the way it should be. This summer will be extremely productive; we will inspire, change mentalities, and connect the community.

Democracy Summer Charlotte Team

Democracy Summer Charlotte Team

Always Organizing and Reorganizing

June 4th, 2012

The first week of adjusting as a Democracy NC organizer dealt with, surprisingly, a lot of organizational skills. It’s ironic that the majority of the best organizers in the state are definitely not the most well-organized people. As we tried to sort through sheets and sheets of random papers titled “Strategy Charts” dated back to February of 2010, it became clear our line of work involves a lot of…papers. Even those who are not even remotely familiar with our work, like the woman from Lan’s Alterations that works next door in our building, realizes our dilemma. “Organizing, busy work, ha? Papers up. Papers down.”

She was right. Tyshia Gray did not rest until our office was settled—she was organizing to begin organizing. She comes in every morning now and begins her day by tidying the place up, so much so that even Linda is conscious of where she puts her “mess”; she now piles her strategy charts, newspapers, spreadsheets, scripts etc. in a more systematic manner. As Tyshia sat there sorting through all these papers, I was requesting excel information spreadsheets on different non-profits, neighborhood associations, and even the list of all service-based organizations in Forsyth county to plug into my computer. I immediately began creating databases for the most unnecessary tasks (I realized this afterward and justified it by saying it was just proper and formal documentation) in organizing.

Winston-Salem Office before and after cleanup

After making phone-calls to approximately 50 “Souls to the Polls” ambassadors in the community, I made an effort to keep track of the calls and responses of each phone conversation I had in a massive table. With numbers like 358 (the number of people on the spreadsheet for our first Phone Banking assignment for the HAVA funds) running though my head, we were encouraged by having made much progress in our first week on the job. We’ve interacted with city council members on the possibility of passing a resolution for a Constitutional Amendment to abolish corporate personhood, planned for speaking engagements and a “A Voter’s Truth Tour” through the wards of Winston-Salem, went to two important community meetings, but most importantly, we got a feel for what our work entails. Seeing Linda engage with various leaders and community members taught me that Democracy NC has been successful in building mutually enriching relationships. Even the woman from Lan’s Alterations had registered and voted in the primary elections, probably mostly due to Linda Sutton and her no-excuse-for-lack-of-democratic-engagement policy. A huge part of our work is to call people, email people, sometimes more than once because the work never ends. The relationship, the engagement, and the work is never-ending but long-lasting. Through this, and our extensive office management skills, I realized that our work is about organizing and re-organizing. Tyshia Gray will continue to tidy the office in the morning and I will continue filling up my flashdrive memory throughout the summer. I’m looking forward to continuing the work.

Keren Salim
Triad Team

LOD: Political Poison

June 1st, 2012

The Institute for Southern Studies/Facing South reveals the connection between toxic money pouring into NC politics and legislation to increase toxic chemicals pouring into our air. The article draws on a new analysis by Democracy North Carolina of the political muscle of 27 leading polluters and their trade groups. Hint: by themselves, they annually spend 10 times as much on lobbying and campaign donations as all the environment groups combined.  The legislative effort to allow big polluters to bypass North Carolina’s highly acclaimed Air Toxics Program is all the more diabolical because regulators and several environmental groups are ready to accept the change out of fear that conservative legislators will deliver on a threat to gut the program even further. What madness.

LOD: Candidates Rewarded for Good

May 24th, 2012

In the midst of Super PAC spending and candidates hustling big-dollar donors, here’s a positive story from North Carolina: Candidates are actually agreeing to accept strict campaign spending limits and to rely only on small donations and a public grant authorized by hundreds of registered voters!

Today, the State Board of Elections sent notices to all eight candidates for the NC Supreme Court and NC Court of Appeals that they had fulfilled the necessary requirements to qualify for public grants to partly support their campaigns. To qualify, the candidates raised scores of relatively small donations from registered voters and accepted strict spending and fundraising limits (e.g., no PAC or out-of-state donations). The two candidates running against each other for a seat on the state Supreme Court will each receive $240,100 in public funds. The six running for three seats on the NC Court of Appeals each receive $164,400. The public funds come from a voluntary check-off on the NC tax form and a surcharge on fees paid by attorneys.

This is the first election cycle in which all candidates in statewide judicial elections qualified for public funds – a record made more significant because the US Supreme Court recently ruled that no additional “rescue funds” may be awarded if a qualifying candidate is later hit by large spending from an outside group or opposing candidate. See this report for an analysis of the public financing program through 2010.

In addition, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and State Auditor Beth Wood both qualified to receive public support for their re-election campaigns after gathering hundreds of small donations from registered voters. They will each receive about $214,000 beginning with an initial payment of $71,419 that the State Board of Elections authorized today.

LOD: NC & the Supremes

May 21st, 2012

US Supreme Court decisions hit home today in two ways (not counting the Court-blessed, corporate-funded slug fest now going on between surrogates of North Carolina’s Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates).  A lower court today ruled that the rescue funds provision of NC’s public campaign financing programs are illegal, because of the US Supreme Court’s decision in a case involving a similar provision in Arizona. In earlier litigation that went to the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the rescue funds provision was upheld. That case involved our judicial public financing program and the losing attorney, James Bopp of Citizens United fame, was delighted to bring the case back when the Supremes made their 5-to-4 ruling about Arizona’s similar provision. So Bopp won today – but the judicial public financing program is still very popular with Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina. In fact, even though they knew no rescue funds would be available if they were clobbered by some big spender, all 8 candidates for 4 seats on the state’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals enrolled in the public financing program. It has its limits, but the private money chase is even more oppressive and debilitating.

Meanwhile, in another court action, NC Attorney General Roy Cooper joined the AGs from 21 other states and the District of Columbia in a “friend of the court” brief that urges the US Supreme Court to reconsider its Citizens United decision – or to at least clarify that the State of Montana should be allowed to regulate corporate-funded political intervention in the state’s elections. The Montana Supreme Court, recalling the power of the old Copper Barons, recently ruled that the public has a legitimate right to restrain corporate political spending, despite what the Citizens United decision says. It has effectively thumbed its nose at the 5 radical US Supreme Court judges who declare that corporate money can’t corrupt politics; most observers believe the 5 will not waver as they review the Montana case, but the brief by the AGs gives them the legal rationale to back off their extremist position.

LOD: Citizens United’s Origins

May 19th, 2012

The New Yorker this week has an in-depth account of the manipulations and blunders that inflated a narrow issue before the US Supreme Court into the now infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. The majority opinion didn’t need to make sense – it had 5 of the 9 votes, enough to win; the dissenting views were easily more compelling. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in dissent. “It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Read the article to understand the context of the opinions and significance of one or two appointments to the Supreme Court.

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