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Silent minority no more? Durham For All looks to amplify voices of working-class people of color

The Durham For All organization grew out of Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson’s campaign. Johnson (clapping) spoke at a rally Monday, March 14, 2016, against a new $81 million Durham police headquarters planned for East Main Street downtown.
The Durham For All organization grew out of Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson’s campaign. Johnson (clapping) spoke at a rally Monday, March 14, 2016, against a new $81 million Durham police headquarters planned for East Main Street downtown. mschultz@newsobserver.com, file photo

A new Durham organization is working to build a coalition of 10,000 people and mandate change by bringing an underrepresented population to the polls.

Durham For All, which launched last year, is seeking to build a coalition that trains new leaders, engages residents in progressive solutions and supports the candidates who say they can make those solutions happen.

“We are hoping to do some really deep engagement in working-class communities of color. And we have been doing door knocking and trying to build a base of those folks in those communities as part of a 10K-strong campaign,” said City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson, who is on the coordinating team for Durham For All. “Our goal is really to bring those people into the political arena in a way that they have often not been in the past.”

Johnson described the organization as a cross-section between the Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods and the progressive Durham People’s Alliance.

It will fight for many of the progressive issues the People’s Alliance supports, she said, but it seeks to mobilize a more diverse base, such as Durham CAN.

Durham For All organizers felt that working-class black and Latino folks, especially in neighborhoods that were undergoing rapid gentrification, were not at the table, that their voices were not being heard, Johnson said.

“We are hoping to build an organization that centers those concerns and also brings those communities into the conversation and mobilizes those folks in a way that has not been done by any of the other political organizations in the city, with the exception of Durham CAN,” Johnson said.

Durham CAN doesn’t directly engage in election work, but it has done a really good job of building a multiracial cross-class base of folks, she said.

Durham For All started with the members of Johnson’s campaign team who helped get her elected to the City Council in 2015.

“We wanted to make sure that the energy and engagement that we had been able to accomplish as a campaign didn’t just fizzle and die after the election was over,” she said.

They started a nonprofit organization, a 501 (c)(4), which allows it to participate in some political activities, to continue to harness and mobilize people around the issues that include affordable housing, immigration and police reform.

The effort includes seeking support for a 10K Strong Pledge.

“It’s time to win back our government and put it to work for all of us. Corporations and right-wing politicians have rigged the political system, and we’ve had enough. Together, we are building a cross-class, multiracial movement in Durham that is 10,000 people strong,” the Durham For All website states. “This rigged system only works when the majority of people aren’t taking action together. When democratic participation is small and people are divided, the wealthy and powerful win. To be successful, our movement needs to be massive and stand up for all of us. Our goal is to bring 10,000 people into action, because 10,000 is the number of people we need to elect or un-elect local elected officials. “

The campaign starts with training more than 100 people to ask their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to sign their pledge and join the movement. The pledge asks participants to vote, join the activist team or donate money.

Their goal is to obtain 5,000 pledges in 2017.

“These signatures will be a mandate for a new political vision of the city rooted in the principles of a Durham For All,” the website states. “We will use these principles to elect a progressive majority to Durham’s City Council and hold them accountable.”

In 2018, the organization wants to reach 10,000 pledges and engage residents through a series of neighborhood meetings, people’s assemblies, demonstrations, and other events to build support.

From 2019 to 2020, the movement seeks to bring fresh ideas, skilled leaders, and thousands of voters into the critical state and federal elections in 2020.

“Working with groups in rural areas, towns, and other cities, we will be part of unleashing millions of engaged residents and leaders in a movement to win back North Carolina,” it states.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

Want to get involved?

The next Durham for All meeting will be on Aug. 12 from 2 to 4 p.m. at 302 W. Main St.

To learn more, go to the Durham For All website: http://www.durhamforall.org/.

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