Politics & Government

After vote, Durham progressives begin to hash it out, hold council’s feet to fire

Henry McKoy of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, far right, makes a point while, from left, Laila Nur, Greg Williams and Magan Gonzales Thigpen listen during a panel discussion about “Pushing Past Progressive” Wednesday night.
Henry McKoy of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, far right, makes a point while, from left, Laila Nur, Greg Williams and Magan Gonzales Thigpen listen during a panel discussion about “Pushing Past Progressive” Wednesday night. dvaughan@heraldsun.com

In a few weeks, Durham will swear in a new mayor and three new City Council members. The election is over, but the politics are just getting started.

Political and activist groups got together Wednesday night for a “Pushing Past Progressive” discussion supporting Durham for All’s “10K Strong” campaign.

Durham for All is a new political group in the city, and while it’s not a registered political action committee yet, it is laying groundwork to be a political force. It was co-founded by Durham City Council member Jillian Johnson. Its “10K Strong” campaign is about getting 10,000 people interested in what Durham for All wants to accomplish: homes for all, education for all, economy for all, sanctuary for all and democracy for all. It organized a “Get Out the Vote” march to the polls on the final day of early voting in Durham’s general election, which saw the highest turnout of early voting.

More than 100 people turned out for “Pushing Past Progressive” at Calvary United Methodist Church, organized by Piedmont DSA, which stands for Democratic Socialists of America.

Panelists included Laila Nur of Durham for All, Magan Gonzales Thigpen of the People’s Alliance, Henry McKoy of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Greg Williams of Inside-Outside Alliance, and Mel Norton of the Bull City 150 project at Duke University. People’s Alliance and the Durham Committee are the city’s most influential PACs. Inside-Outside Alliance protests on behalf of prisoners at the Durham County jail and calls for abolition of the prison system.

Bull City 150 is a Duke project that examines the history of racism and discrimination in Durham.

Nur said Durham for All is about making Durham “a place that is genuinely progressive and inclusive of all folks.” Sitting further down the panelist table were the People’s Alliance and Durham Committee representatives, whose endorsed candidates for City Council were entirely different. Three of the PA’s candidates won – Steve Schewel, DeDreana Freeman and Vernetta Alston – and one of the Committee’s candidates won – the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton.

Thigpen, president of the People’s Alliance, said that while the PA and the Durham Committee are known for their endorsements, they also do a lot of work year-round and work together. While the PAC helps elect candidates, the PA’s nonprofit arm holds elected officials accountable, she said.

McKoy chairs the Durham Committee’s economic committee, which “makes sure African-Americans of Durham are part of the overall progress of the city.”

McKoy said that the newly elected council members all ran in support of some form of equity in Durham, and should be held accountable.

When the panelists took questions from the audience, one was from Jackie Wagstaff, a former City Council and school board member who spent many years in the Durham Committee but joined the People’s Alliance this year because she supported their candidates. Wagstaff wanted to know how the Durham Committee advocates for African-Americans around housing.

Joy Mickle, chair of the Durham Committee’s housing committee, was in the audience as well. She said they have to start somewhere, and that home ownership is a place to start.

“If we want to stop gentrification, we need to own the building,” Mickle said.

One council member-elect, Freeman, was at the event.

“I can’t say enough about the work all these groups are doing,” Freeman said. “I’m excited about what’s next, and I know the work ahead ... is going to be messy.”

Freeman said this time right now “is our time, and we have the power and the strength and the numbers and the people.”

She will be sworn in at the Dec. 4 council meeting along with Schewel, Middleton and Alston.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan

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