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In 2012, Hayden Rogers, a politically moderate “Blue Dog,” was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Congress in the 11th Congressional District representing Western North Carolina. During the campaign I wrote this essay advocating for his candidacy.

First things first. Technically, I cannot vote for Hayden Rogers. In 2010, I was redistricted out of the 11th Congressional District by Republicans in Raleigh as part of a concerted nationwide gerrymandering effort. My support, however, is firmly behind Hayden and the rest of our Democratic ticket. Here’s why.

In the midst of a war, in 1863, by proclamation, President Lincoln declared all slaves free. In the years thereafter, the Reconstruction Amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to our U.S. Constitution—were adopted. These amendments abolished slavery, expanded rights to former slaves, and established the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude—but only for men.

In 1866, the Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act creating federal law to protect the rights of African-Americans in the wake of the Civil War.

In the early years of the women’s suffrage movement, Abby Kelly Foster, an activist and abolitionist, declared, “I have advocated this cause in my daily life. Bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come hither.” That was in 1852.

Decades later in 1915, 1918, and 1919—three times—the Congress failed to pass the right to vote for women. Later in 1919, President Wilson called a special session to push the legislation for a fourth time. Finally, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified ensuring the right to vote shall not be denied on account of sex.

Following in the footsteps of early activists Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, the Civil Rights Movement took root during the 1900s culminating in the direct action of the 50s and 60s.

During that era five more Civil Rights Acts were passed to: protect people of color against violence (1871); prevent discrimination in public spaces (1875); establish the Civil Rights Commission (1957); and establish federal inspection of local voter registration polls (1960). The fifth was the landmark legislation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It took another year to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 so everyone could exercise their right to vote.

And today we continue the fight for equality to ensure all of our brothers and sisters, gay or straight, share in the full and equal protection under the law.

From the Emancipation Proclamation to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it took one hundred years of activism and lawmaking until every American citizen could vote. Sadly, it’s only taken a couple of generations for us to forget why we fought for that right.

In the 2011 Buncombe County elections, I urged one of my friends to vote for a quarter-percent sales tax referendum to support A-B Tech, our local community college. It was a no-brainer for her. Educational facilities? Economic development? A sure vote. Yet, a couple days after the election, she told me she couldn’t make it because she had to take care of her neighbor’s dogs.

How did we go from fighting and dying for the right to vote to putting it last on our list of things to do?

Let’s face it—after the 60s, after the protests, and after changing our country, my parents’ generation got distracted. They became distracted by their jobs, their families, and the comforts of an incredible age of prosperity. Let me be clear—I am not pointing fingers for choosing good jobs and taking care of family. The problem? They forgot to keep fighting for their beliefs alongside their jobs and daily lives. As a result their problems have snowballed into an avalanche. Today, the children and grandchildren of the 60s do not believe voting is important.

Why do I continue to believe in Barack Obama’s message of “Hope & Change?” Because it may be our last chance to create the country of our choice. The threshold we are about to pass through with the 2012 elections will determine our greater future. It will either lead us to a nation governed by special interests or a nation where every citizen still matters. “Hope & Change” was not a magic wand that would fix things overnight. It was—and is—a chance to put in the same hard work of people before us and see results. If more people engage in our work, the faster change will come.

A 2005 leaked memo from Citigroup confirms the greatest fear of the most wealthy—that we, the people, have “equal voting power with the rich.” That’s a direct quotation from the memo. This “equal voting power” was identified by Citigroup as the single biggest barrier to gaining more wealth. We may not have equal power with the rich, but we do have equal voting power. But here in North Carolina, if Art Pope and his friends have their way, none of us would be allowed to vote. And they’re working on doing just that by implementing voter suppression laws such as racially discriminatory ID laws, shortening early voting periods, and eliminating same-day registrations. By the way, these laws were passed because only 43% of North Carolina voted in 2010 giving Republicans the legislative majority for the first time in more than 100 years. If you stay at home, you lose.

(Here’s a closer look at the Citigroup memo including the “equal voting power” quotation:

It’s clear to me. The ultra-rich, the plutocracy, the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, and Art Pope—their goal is to keep the American public fed, watered, and uneducated by inundating us with their so-called “values.” Their values want us to buy their tainted food, drink their Kool-Aid, and learn from their textbooks now filled with fiction. And if they keep us fed, watered, and uneducated, then we might just forget about voting.

This leads me to my single, biggest source of frustration as an activist. It’s not the plutocracy. It’s not the Tea Party and it’s not Romney/Ryan.

It’s the impatient liberal—those on our side who selfishly ignore our history.

I’ve been accosted by the impatient liberal in supermarkets. One senior citizen in Earth Fare pointed his finger in my face and said, “Obama is a failure.” I’ve been accused by the impatient liberal of making excuses and being a paid cheerleader for the president. That one was from a fellow activist who tried to establish the Coffee Party here in Asheville. I’ve had the impatient liberal tell me I’m part of the problem and that I am blind to the bigger picture. Every apathetic youth has told me that one. I’ve been dismissed by the impatient liberal for not having enough experience to know what I’m talking about. The latest one came from a recent call to a North Asheville voter. I’ve been told by the impatient liberal, “You Suck!” That one came by email.

There is one simple, elegant question that stumps every impatient liberal. Try it out sometime. It works. The question is: How? If you don’t like what’s going on in our country, how do you change it?

During the fight for health care reform, I was told by a Green Party activist we needed a single-payer health care system. Here was our exchange.

Me: How do we get a single-payer health care system?

Him: Make Obama sign a bill.

Me: How do you bring a single-payer health care bill to his desk?

Him: Get Congress to pass it.

Me: How do you get Congress to pass it?

Him: Get the votes.

Me: How do you get enough votes?

Him: Make sure we get them to vote for it. And if they don’t vote for it, get them out and elect the right people.

Me: OK, how do we elect the right people? How long will that take?

No answer.

(Actually, after a moment, he said the whole system had to change. I asked how. He stopped talking to me.)

I’ve yet to have one single impatient liberal answer with a real solution. That voter I called in North Asheville? After a lengthy back and forth, he paused at my question, then told me, “I have no solutions.”

The worst part is most of these impatient liberals have declared they will not be voting for President Obama nor Democratic candidates. They will either write in someone or abstain from voting.

But wait. There is an answer and I am committed to fighting for that answer. There are two parts:

1) Vote


2) Volunteer

Vote every election. The national average in a presidential election is about 60%. The national average in a midterm election is about 40%. The average in an off-year, local election is about 20%. If all politics is local, if all politicians start at the local level, then we must scrutinize and vote in every election. This is one of the gaps exploited by special interests. Take a look at the conservative takeover of the Wake County School Board election in 2009. They learned it the hard way. Imagine what our country could become if 100% of us voted. Then imagine 100% turnout for the next four presidential elections, then every election thereafter. The best part is voting is easy and it’s guaranteed by our Constitution. It’s the fastest way to create change.

After you vote, volunteer. Volunteering is like casting a vote every day. It’s your way of having a say in the world around you. Stay involved with activist groups. Do you care for the environment? Then join an environmental organization. At the very least, subscribe to and read their emails. You’re busy, I know. But despite your limited time, you have 30 minutes for a weekly email. You have time to sign a petition. You have time to make a phone call and note your concern or praise. You have time to talk to your political friend. Time is not the issue. It’s work. It’s the same as exercising or making sure you eat right. You have to work for it.

Vigilance is key. Who makes decisions for your schools? Who makes decisions for your city? Who makes decisions for your county, your state house district, your state senate district, your council of state, your judicial districts, your federal districts, and your country? And it’s not just elected officials. There are local boards, committees and subcommittees, often unelected. Who are they and how’d they get there? Also, who controls your local media? Your national media? Do they have an agenda? Are they fair? Always consider the source. Pay attention. You don’t have to know all the answers at once. But you do have to inquire.

After I ask “how,” I’m usually accused of being a conservative in disguise or a compromiser. My goals are the same as the impatient liberal. But I choose a different path. It is a pathway through real solutions. I consider and respect the opinions of others. I believe in the long game. I believe in patience. It’s summed up by one phrase from the long fight for civil rights: eyes on the prize. And, yes, I am willing to compromise if it means getting closer to that prize. Compromise is the essence of our system—which brings me to Hayden Rogers.

I’ve met Hayden. I know him personally. We worked together during the 2010 elections. Hayden’s a native of Graham County, NC. He went to Princeton University. He knows the mountains of Western North Carolina, not just Asheville. He has a wife and two kids and goes to church. He is a good man who loves our country.

So, what about his politics?

He would not have voted to defund Planned Parenthood. He supports a strong public education. His wife, Dr. Donna Tipton-Rogers, is president of Tri-County Community College in Murphy, NC. He is endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators. He will not support unfair trade practices and will prioritize creating and maintaining jobs here in North Carolina. He’s endorsed by the AFL-CIO and labor unions. He will not privatize Social Security. He will protect Medicare. He is committed to balancing our budget. And he’s a gun owner and supports the Second Amendment.

Do we agree on absolutely everything? No. Is he on board with most of my beliefs? Yes.

Let’s go back a couple years. From 2009 to 2011, in the historic 111th session of the U.S. Congress, Rep. Heath Shuler, conservative Democrat, voted 85% with the Democratic caucus. His votes included votes for the environment, labor, education, and fair trade. He was endorsed by the Sierra Club. He was also endorsed by the NRA. How do we reconcile these issues which are often at opposite ends of the political spectrum?

First, are you a single issue voter? If you are, then you can stop reading here. Single issue voters are the worst kind of voters. They are a hindrance to progress. Why? Because, like it or not, no one in this country is affected by only one issue. A single issue may be very dear to you, but it is not the only issue that affects you. Everyone in our country is affected by the state of our health care, environment, energy, and economy, just to name a few. My support for a candidate is based on many issues, not just one.

So what does this have to do with Hayden Rogers?

Hayden is Heath Shuler’s former Chief of Staff. Hayden is endorsed by the Sierra Club and is a member of the NRA. After speaking with Hayden and researching his policies and ideas, I know Hayden will vote along similar lines as Heath Shuler.

Who will get me closer to the prize? Hayden Rogers or Mark Meadows, the Republican opponent? After researching Mark Meadows’s policies and ideas, I know he will vote along similar lines as Virginia Foxx. Who’s Virginia Foxx? She represents the Congressional district next to ours. What are her politics like? Think Tea Party then multiply by crazy. She’s the one who talked about “death panels” on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. She voted at 7% with the Democratic caucus in the 111th session.

So, here’s the formula. Hayden = 85% vs. Mark = 7%. Hayden gets us closer to the prize.

Vote Hayden Rogers and the Democratic ticket.



Paul C.