The Young Dems of Henderson County hosted another high-energy Summer Fest on August 27, featuring three popular musical acts plus messages from a dozen local and state-wide speakers.
A cloud burst at the beginning of the event cooled off the August heat as more than 50 people got to know leaders in the Democratic party while eating barbecue and jamming to the music of Aunt Vicki, Kathryn O’Shea, and Daryl & Derine & The Sparkle Mountain Family Band.
“I’m filled with joy and optimism seeing the hard work of the Henderson County Young Dems flourish,” said Fletcher Mayor Preston Blakely. “Under their leadership, we have a bright future.”
Speaker after speaker echoed a theme: momentum is rapidly growing to change the trajectory of NC politics, with two demographics key to accomplishing this—young voters and rural communities.
Rep. Eric Ager of Buncombe County noted that the GOP-led NC general assembly has made it harder than ever for young people in North Carolina to vote, which in turn is spurring efforts to reach out to young voters. “I went to the US Naval Academy and served in the US Navy working on international democracy and security policy issues,” he said. “Recently, I started to worry about our own democracy and that’s why I decided to get involved.”
Rep. Wesley Harris, who is running for state treasurer, pointed out that rural North Carolina in particular has suffered under GOP representation. “When I was growing up in a rural county, we didn’t have a lot of things but one thing we did have was opportunity,” he said. “We had opportunity because we had strong public schools and we had hope for the future, but the North Carolina of today is not the North Carolina I grew up in. Parts of the state are doing exceptionally well but too many are left behind. All of us speaking today—all of us—are running for all of North Carolina. From now on, we are going to be present in every community.”
Two highly experienced candidates for lieutenant governor made the trip to WNC: former NC Senator Ben Clark and current NC Senator Rachel Hunt. Other statewide speakers included Dorian Palmer, Chair of the Young Dems of NC; Braxton Winston, Candidate for Commissioner of Labor; Paul McCallister, NCDP Interfaith Caucus Chair; and Anderson Clayton, Chair of the NC Democratic Party.
In addition to Mayor Blakely, local speakers included Hendersonville City Council Candidate Gina Baxter, School Board Candidate Mary Ellen Kustin, and Waynesville Town Council Candidate Anthony Sutton.
Read on for key quotes from the afternoon:
GINA BAXTER: "At the local level, we are building a platform focused on tangible needs—affordable housing, public transportation, local government accessibility—because we know that we hold the power to create lasting change."
MARY ELLEN KUSTIN: “Funneling tax dollars away from public schools for private vouchers to the wealthy and whitewashing history is ANTI-public schools. And y’all, I’m FOR public schools! Why? Because Public Schools are public, and that means Public Schools have transparency. Public Schools have accountability. And Public Schools cannot EXCLUDE kids because of who they are, how they worship, or any of the needs they have.”
ANTHONY SUTTON: "A living wage is not what we need; we need more than just the minimum, more than adequate. What we need is a prosperity wage where people can do more than just survive. We need to build communities, more housing, better jobs."
BRAXTON WINSTON: Citing the recent video of a badly damaged roller coaster at Carowinds, Braxton noted that the Department of Labor has oversight for safety inspections and that one in four positions are currently unfilled. “My No. 1 priority is to fill the entire department so we have safe communities.” He also noted the pervasive importance of good jobs. “Work is integral to life. Having a job affects all aspects of life and all aspects of a community.”
BEN CLARK: “We have an obligation to maintain a forward-leaning posture with respect to education, healthcare, environmental stewardship, agriculture, technological advancement and national defense. We must continue a forward-leaning position for the benefit of all North Carolinians.”
RACHEL HUNT: “The young voters of North Carolina want and deserve a climate they can live in. They want a safe environment without fear of gun violence. But the lieutenant governor we have now only talks hate and decisiveness. It’s going to be hard to change course, but we can do it.”
DORIAN PALMER: “One thing I know that I’m committed to is showing up in these communities that have been forgotten about by this party. We have too much on the line. We have to defend women’s right to choose. We have to defend democracy. And we have to do things differently for the little guy. Talking to folks one on one—that’s going to be how we win.”
PAUL MCCALLISTER: “I want to tell you that we do have a lot to fight for in 2024, but I want to encourage you again to realize that you can make a difference. It is not just enough to be physically present but to also be emotionally stirred, psychologically inspired, educated on the issues and most of all willing to do the hard work in order to motivate and inspire others so people can see the momentum is swinging in this county.”
ANDERSON CLAYTON: Building on the messages of all the speakers, Anderson noted that the change in momentum is starting to bring out GOP protesters even in small red-leaning counties, which she views as a good sign. “We have a lot of work ahead, but we have a lot to gain, too,” she said. “So get buckled in and ready to go. We have a long way before we start turning things around, but we are going to do it.”