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Notes from the Field: New Beginnings

Boots on the ground.boots-210147_640

You may have used this phrase used a time or two (or 3,478 which I may or may not have counted during the 2014 election).

But, what does it actually mean? Here at NCLCV, one of our “new beginnings” for 2015 is redefining how we’re putting boots on the ground in North Carolina communities.

While our field program in 2014 focused solely on nonpartisan voter participation (i.e. ensuring North Carolinians were registered to vote and also knew how to exercise that right), we’re shifting our grassroots efforts to help build the capacity for community leaders to make change.

What kind of change? That depends on each community. While our field directors – Aiden and Justine – have crafted a framework for all of us in the organization to think about our work moving forward (and we’ll get to what that is in just one minute), they also recognize that the environmental movement is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Too often, we in the environmental community get stuck in this mindset. Part of the challenge as a statewide organization is to help connect the dots on why a particular issue impacting natural resources in Yancey County affects the day-to-day realities of those living in Currituck or Henderson County. For certain issues, that is the reality. However, there is at least one critical thread that weaves together the big picture vision: transitioning our state and our world to a clean energy economy.

That’s right:

No. More. Fossil. Fuels. Period.

That may seem like a radical idea, but the line is written in the sand. Climate change is happening. Our air is polluted. Extreme weather threatens communities and cultures across the United States. Reliance on nonrenewable energy sources continues to breed social and economic injustices. Communities of color are disproportionally impacted by our reliance on coal and natural gas. Lobbyists for Big Oil and Dirty Energy fill our elections with lies and fear-mongering, leading to the election of candidates who will put their interests ahead of the collective good.

The list goes on and on. We have to start somewhere, and we believe the people of North Carolina are ready to take on this challenge. Over the last four years, we have witnessed several positive outcomes because of our state’s adoption of both clean energy and energy-efficient technologies:

  • More clean energy jobs are available, which are offering safe and sustainable employment to North Carolina residents.
  • Reports out this year showed that federal and state regulations, such as the Clean Air Act and North Carolina’s own Clean Smokestacks Act, contributed to reducing deaths from asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory illnesses.
  • Studies show that consumers in Charlotte and Raleigh are paying less by switching to solar rather than purchasing their energy from the major utilities.

Saving money. Saving lives. Saving resources. It all comes back to taking the time and effort to cut ties with the industries that continue to put their own profits over us.

This post will be the first of many of our “Notes from the Field” series. Staff, volunteers, and community members will share what’s happening on the frontlines in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Fayetteville, and tell how their local efforts to address air pollution, climate change, or coal ash feed into our broader vision.

Additionally, the grassroots work will help the rest of our organization prioritize what happens at the various decision-making tables, most notably at the NC General Assembly. We will continue to hold our leaders accountable, and as we see more and more community members engaged and leading on issues in their hometowns, we hope this translates to more meaningful, deeper interactions at the policy and political levels. Voting. Legislative meetings. Calls to action. It’s time for the majority of North Carolina to tap back into the political process. And, we hope this will be one avenue for those voices to be heard, speaking up on behalf of our state’s environmental priorities and our people.

Election 2014 is over. Now what?

Election 2014 has come and gone, and more than 2.9 million North Carolinians voted. While this number is the highest total of voters to participate in a mid-term election, it fell just in the middle if looking at percentage of Election North Carolinaregistered voters who participated. Just 44% of North Carolinians who were registered to vote actually cast a ballot.

It’s clear that we still have a lot of work to do in order to ensure all North Carolinians have their voices heard. Some parts of the new voting law went into effect this year, creating some confusion for voters who went to the incorrect precincts on Election Day. One of the changes for 2014 was that North Carolinians could no longer cast provisional ballots if they voted out of their precinct.

Voters experienced long waits during the early voting period (October 23 – November 1). The number of early voting days was reduced; however, these sites offered the same number of hours to vote as in previous years. Despite the extend voting hours, North Carolinians still experienced wait times of up to two to three hours in some locations.

Here at the NCLCV Foundation, we are crunching the numbers to help inform our work for 2015 and beyond. This year, we were able to help 15,000 North Carolinians register to vote, and our canvassers knocked on more than 175,000 doors in Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, Wake, and Harnett counties between October 13 and November 4. We are incredibly proud of all of our team members!

Stay tuned: voter education is a never-ending process. The issues at stake may change, but the need to participate in the democratic process will not. In fact, it will only continue to become more important as fears over dark money and special interests drowning out the voices of constituents grows.

Meet our Charlotte canvassers: Erin

Where are you from, Erin?Erin
From the other side of the country: California

Have you done canvassing before?

Why do you think voting is important?
It’s important for your voice to be heard and to be accounted for as a citizen of the United States.

What can we do to get all voices heard in North Carolina?
I think we need to emphasize ways for individual citizens to speak about their own truths and concerns, perhaps through television ads, similar to what politicians do in their own commercials against their opponents.

What is the best statement you’ve heard while out canvassing?
“I love what you guys are doing.”
“I wish more people were educated about voting…keep up the great work!”

Meet our Charlotte canvassing team: Shaun

Where are you from, Shaun?Shaun
I was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but I grew up in both Charlotte and Miami, FL.

Have you done canvassing before?
No, I have not.

Why do you think voting is important?
Voting is important because many people died attempting to vote. By voting, we become a part of democracy and honor those who have sacrificed so much.

Why can we do to get all voices heard in North Carolina?
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) is the most efficient and fastest way to reach every voice in the state of North Carolina.

What is the best statement you’ve heard while out canvassing?
“I am really grateful you are doing this!” – said by someone who initially rejected my advances. Also, “I can vote again, woo-hoo!” after telling a convicted felon his rights had been restored.

Meet our Charlotte canvassers: Harold

Where are you from, Harold?Harold
Boca Raton, Florida

Have you done canvassing before?
No, this is my first time.

Why do you think voting is important?
Voting gives us a voice and allows us to make it heard.

What can we do to get all voices heard in North Carolina?
We need to educate people about the benefits of voting

What is the best statement you’ve heard while out canvassing?
“Keep up the good work.”

Meet our Charlotte canvassing team: Benneilla

Where are you from, Benneilla?Willis.Benneilla
I’m originally from Jamaica.

Have you done canvassing before?

Why do you think voting is important?
Voting is important so voices can be heard.

What can we do to get all voices heard in North Carolina?
We can work to educate more people individually as well as collectively.

What is the best statement you’ve heard while out canvassing?
“Thanks for doing a great job of making sure people are aware of the politics in the environment and making it possible for people to get our and vote.”

Meet Our Raleigh Team: Earl

Where are you from, Earl?Earl
Born and raised in Raleigh

Have you done canvassing before?
I have not, but I love it!

Why do you think people should vote?
I have a lot of friends who are not eligible to vote due to decisions they made early in their lives. I really want people who are eligible to exercise that right. It’s one of the only ways to get your voice heard on both the state and national level. We have an opportunity to make a decision for our government, and this is especially important on the local level.

Why do you think people don’t vote?
I think too many people don’t have the right information on how to register or how to vote, or they don’t have the ability to access that information. Others don’t feel like their vote is going to help or that it isn’t important.