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It will take more than a single electoral victory or an additional pro-people candidate elected to change the status quo. Voting is just one of many tools in our toolbox to affect meaningful change in the South. At the start of episode four of As The South Votes, we are joined again by Brianna Brown and Dwight Bullard from episode three, who share ways their respective organizations build capacity and engagement beyond the ballot box.
Both of their groups employ micro-interventions year-round to help leverage the voice and power of underrepresented communities.
For Brianna and the crew at the Texas Organizing Project, one way they work to break the cycle of disempowerment is by helping local residents in their target counties participate in different boards and commissions. These bodies are often involved in decision-making outside of the designated state or local legislative body, but it can be a challenge for regular folks to learn about these opportunities—let alone get appointed and serve.
TOP combats this challenge by building out pathways for year-round participation. While the organization turns out the vote at election time, the organizers are preparing to help people stay involved in the process and work on issue based campaigns.
Dwight spoke with us about how Florida Rising makes use of people's assemblies for decision making. As opportunities for a more participatory decision making process, people's assemblies create free and open space for regular folks to think through the issues they are passionate about and develop strategic approaches to address them. They also give Florida Rising members a chance to explore potential opportunity points for further engagement beyond a particular election or political action.
In the second part of this episode, we turn to rural North Carolina. Dreama Caldwell, co-executive director of Down Home North Carolina, talks about her experience making the move from being an interested community member to leadership of an entire organization. She came to the work as a directly-impacted person first, dealing with issues around her own experience with cash bail, before joining various working groups with the organization.
A one-time candidate for Alamance County Commissioner, Dreama witnessed the power of electoral engagement in her community during the 2020 election cycle. While she did not win her election, she felt she found her calling after conversing with community members who had never voted or had withdrawn from the process entirely.
Texas Organizing Project rallies its 285,000 members to keep momentum with some 6 million voters in the state's most populated counties between election cycles.
"We spent our time with people who who didn't vote, and wanted to know why. We heard that they didn't understand, that they they had been voting for years and their lives had never changed—or they were wrongly informed that they were permanently disenfranchised because they may have had a past felony conviction," she said. "As we began to spend time with the community, people who were not engaged in politics, people began to get excited."
Dreama also touches on the growing pains and challenges as a newer organization, providing insight into some of the steps Down Home's leadership has taken after internal staffing issues happened prior to her becoming executive director. She doesn't make any excuses, acknowledging the need for the organization to step back and do some internal development around management and hiring.
"Down Home is a place where race and class is something that we knew we had to be intentional about," she said. "We did the work to to learn what we needed to learn and to look at our own processes to see where maybe they were preventing equitable hiring, or they were things that we needed to add."
Dreama also notes the importance of supporting organizing throughout the state in the 2022 midterm election cycle, notably rural areas. Dreama estimated that at least 80 out of 100 counties in North Carolina are rural.
"You cannot find a clear pathway to victory without investing in rural areas," she said. "It's this myth that rural areas are more racist. I think that rural areas aren't more racist, they're more prone to racist activity. Because if we aren't organizing in those areas, the far right is organizing in those areas. And so we have to have another narrative for people, we have to have another avenue for them."
She shared that as much as people talk about popular big ticket races, it is equally, if not more important, to raise awareness around down-ballot races.
"I see a larger strategy where we're not paying attention to what's going on local," she continued. "But I think that in order to get people to really participate in this democracy, we have to show people that they're what's happening in their community is important."
In this season of As The South Votes, Scalawag and Anoa Changa are teaming back up to talk about what's working, what's not, and what lessons Southern organizers have learned in their efforts to make the region we love a more just place.
While the county might remain an uphill battle for Republicans, North Carolina as a whole is a political toss-up.
For all the debate on how young voters will show up in 2022, there's a mismatch between campaigns to engage them and their experiences organizing for reproductive justice on the ground.
Organizers in Texas and Florida share what it means to build power outside of traditional electoral campaigns.