Oct. 9 is the last day to register to vote in North Carolina. After this Friday, eligible voters can still register, but they must do so in person at one-stop polling sites during the early voting period, which is Oct. 15-Oct. 31. Why am I telling you this? Because, dear readers, this election is truly the most important one— will the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave continue to casually and callously drift toward fascism? Or will our country, upon which freedom is the foundation, finally practice what we preach and get back on the course of progress?

 

Our country, states, counties, and cities are all plagued with those who sit on a throne of power, disguised as civil servants. They are the ones who refuse to serve all of their constituents, but do everything they can to make sure their financial interests are taken care of and that their wealthy friends and family benefit.

 

These cults of personalities, (the current one running our country especially), are playing hard-working taxpayers like a fiddle by having an all-access pass to the best health care, housing, transportation, and protection that taxpayer money can buy. The same people who took an oath to serve are taking handouts left and right, yet they deny the same opportunities and basic human rights to anyone they deem unworthy. The gut punch comes when the New York Times reports that they don’t even pay into the system they benefit from. That gut-punch feeling made me realize that enough is enough— so I decided to roll up my sleeves and volunteer with the Carolina Federation, which is a nonpartisan, grassroots “statewide organization that brings local people together across race and the rural-urban divide to build political and electoral power in their own communities and across North Carolina.”

 

During two phone banking sessions with the Forsyth Freedom Federation (the Forsyth County chapter), and a conversation with Guilford For All (the Guilford County chapter) steering committee members, Jess St. Louis and Kay Brown, for the first time since March, I feel hopeful instead of hopeless.

 

“We are a grassroots organization working to build permanent people power,” St. Louis said, “in ways that build the leadership of our community that wins changes people can feel that eventually in the long-term, works to govern with the everyday people. We, organizationally, believe that we are up against a set of forces that use stuff like race, gender, class, and immigration status in ways that court more and more power of the wealthy few— rather than ensuring that we live in a county that works for all of our people, particularly, people most impacted by racism, economic inequality, by homophobia, and etc. We see it as critical if we are going to have a working democracy that works for all people.”

 

St. Louis, like myself, wants to set roots in the Triad, and Guilford County is where she wants to grow old. She said that is why she felt a calling to start volunteering with Guilford For All.

 

 “For me, I want a county in which, if I ever had the honor of being someone’s parent, that children can thrive—that Kay’s children thrive, that Kay can thrive— and I want a county in which we can experience the freedom that we are worth, and that we deserve. And in order to get that, we have to change the balance of who is in power.”

 

As a reporter/editor of this wonderful newspaper, I have read, seen and experienced first-hand the inequalities in our communities that the rich and powerful perpetuate and use to divide, in order for them to continue to thrive.

 

“I feel like all of our oppressions are tied together, and it is going to take us coming together to dismantles these systems that oppress all of us, whether that is poor white folks, Black folks, queer folks— when you come to the core of it, all of our oppressions are tied together,” Brown said. “Typically, I work with mostly Black organizers, but I had to come to the realization that this isn’t a system that is just oppressing Black folk. This is something all of us have skin in the game to dismantle so that all of us can thrive. We need to balance out the power away from the wealthy, few elites who have been making decisions for [Guilford County], and actually give that power back. Give those voices back to people, and create opportunities for those people to gain knowledge, hold people accountable, and actually turn over some seats if they are doing what they are supposed to in it.”

 

“We have to talk about race, we have to talk about gender, we have to talk about class, and we are really clear that improving conditions for Black folks, immigrants, queer/trans folks, and women in our county, means that all of our conditions will get better,” St. Louis added.  

 

Despite what “political” differences we may have, dear reader, the truth is, we have much more in common than our affiliation.

 

We all need better schools for our children (or in my case, my nieces and nephews). We all need affordable, accessible health care, especially during this pandemic. We need a cleaner environment to pass on to the next generation. We all need better-paying jobs. We all need a roof over our heads.

 

But first, we must understand that the only way we can get those things is if we have a system that functions for everyone, and not just those with the most money or influence.

 

“We are a nonpartisan organization that organizes around the issues that matter to our people,” Brown said. “So, if you are a Democrat that is in the way, we will come for you. If you are a Republican that is in the way, we will come for you...We have no interest in organizing based on personal feelings about how likable someone is; it is about what position they are taking on the issues, what their platform is, and how will that benefit, change and impact the people of Guilford County.”

 

“We see elected office as a tool that is able to be used to make the conditions of our lives better for people,” St. Louis said. “We need people in those roles and positions that will fight for us on the issues, as Kay was saying, our role as an organization is not to just do that but to build a level of power so that we are able to continue to influence and be able to have our everyday folks of Guilford set the agenda.”

 

Meaningful change starts at the bottom, which is why Guilford For All and the Forsyth Freedom Federation are specifically focusing on the smaller local elections. St. Louis and Brown said that is why the Guilford County Board of Commissioners (Districts 4 and 5) election should be at the forefront of every Guilford County resident’s mind.

 

“What happens in those races will change the conditions for all of us,” St. Louis explained. “Our county commissioners failed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by refusing to allocate a major portion of resources to housing, to rent and mortgages— remember, we are facing an impending eviction crisis. The priorities of the people that have the governing majority are making decisions that benefit them and their friends and not the majority of working people in Guilford County. We see these races in 4, 5, and 6 as critical if we are going to transform our county.”

 

“There is a really powerful framework of people that we are voting for,” she continued. “We aren’t voting for a savior, we are voting for targets— people we can push to make the changes that we need more or less possible. Even if people are disillusioned by the presidential election if people are unsure of what is the decision that causes the least harm and allows progressive change to be more and more possible. We are trying to build a political organization that is far beyond Nov. 3, 2020. We need to develop a level of power and coordination into 2021, 2022, and all the years to come. Becoming part of a people’s organization that is working to set the agendas of what is happening in our cities, counties, state and beyond, is a really key way in order to make sustained change over time.”

 

“It is less important to get wrapped up in the D and R, and it’s more important to actually look at the platforms of the people, their records, what have they done and what those impacts have been for you and your family,” Brown said. “In order to move collective people power, we are going to have to send some strong messages together. The fact that we don’t have health care here— that is a huge issue. And it is not an issue I consider partisan. It is an issue of like; do we feel that people should not die because they are poor? Should people die if they do not have access? Should you have to ration your insulin when in other countries, it is practically free? I think we need to start looking at the issues that are on the ballot and look less at the personality of the people on the ballot. If we can do that, and continue to do that, then North Carolina will not only be a battleground state, we will be a state that can set the tone, pace and agenda for what the rest of the country could look like.”

 

“We are existing on a deeply uneven playing field that is designed to make us feel alone, and that change is impossible or blame ourselves for problems— to me one of the antidotes to hopelessness is community,” St. Louis said. “Kay has a stake in my freedom as a trans woman, I have a stake in Kay’s freedom as a single Black momma of two incredible children—that breaking of isolation is really critical; to realize we are not alone, and that when things are set up against us, we have the tool of people power to win. And that is what you get when you join an organization like Guilford For All.”

 

Dear reader, if you are like me, you may find yourself leaning into the feeling of hopelessness and let headlines ruin your day and further discourage you. All while complaining about nothing changing and idly standing by.

 

To that, I have only this to say: Snap out of it and get to work.  

 

Voter disillusionment is what keeps the careless and power-hungry in office for decades without any change.

 

 “As a single mom, I used to think, out of everyone that could be listened to in the city, why do they want to listen to me?’ I had to take a step back and realize, nobody advocates better for you than you, nobody is better to speak to your people than you if you are of your people. If you feel called to serve, it is a duty to serve your people. The change starts with you,” Brown said. “People think that you have to be able to move mountains to get change. Now, it may feel that way on a national scale, but on a local scale, it doesn’t take that. On the local level, it takes the engagement of citizens, even if there are citizens that people haven’t heard of before.”

 

Go online to see what candidates Guilford For All and Forsyth Freedom Federation are endorsing and why, and to learn more about the organizations, follow them on social media, and learn more about the Carolina Federation, and sign up to be a volunteer online.

Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.

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