Never Mind the Bollocks- Here’s CCD – Voter Suppression in Forsyth County

 

 

“If the Winston-Salem Journal is the Beatles, then CCD is the Sex Pistols”
– Ed Bumgardner

Journalists in North Carolina should be on a war footing. These are not the days of back slaps and “fair and balanced“… these are the days for metaphorical brass knuckles and lead pipes. The bad ‘ol days- the all or nothing days- the days for real journalism that digs deep, goes hard, and leaves a mark. Journalists should be about the business of protecting the people from the powerful, and in North Carolina these days… business is a boomin’.

forsyth co board of elections
forsyth co board of elections

Over the last few weeks, NCGOP efforts at voter suppression in North Carolina have reached historical proportions and here in Camel City we have been subjected to a county board of elections led by Chairman Ken Raymond(R) who came out swinging as soon as he was appointed. Even before he presided over his first, chaotic BOE meeting, Raymond had already told the Winston-Salem Chronicle that he was going to go full bore at student voters and shut down the WSSU polling place because he had “over-heard” a voter saying that he had been given extra credit for voting. The meeting was a complete farce which CCD covered as best we could. So did other media outlets in town. Rather than covering the reality of the meeting itself, however, high and mighty local media heads decided that the chaos and political combat would be too much for delicate, local sensibilities and they published a white-washed summary of some of the arguments presented. We, on the other hand, chose to cover the fire & brimstone in all of it’s pitiful glory. One CCD reader commented on our face book page that they had read the Journal’s version and asked me if I had to been to the same meeting.(You can read that coverage HERE).

On August 6th, following that first Board of Elections meeting, the Minister’s Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity called a press conference in order to voice their opposition to the actions taken by the Republican dominated Forsyth County BOE. Only one news outlet in Winston-Salem covered the press conference- Camel City Dispatch. Perhaps the other media were trying to tell a long-standing and important social justice group like the Minister’s Conference that there would be no public conversation about systematic voter suppression. When old and calcified “news” sources are used to being allow to set the conversation for generations perhaps it takes a while for the reality to take hold that things have changed. The Winston-Salem Journal was created, in part, to help enforce and institutionalize a segregated city.* Maybe old habits die harder than we would like to think or maybe they just fumbled the systematic voter suppression right under their nose.

In the press conference no one else covered, a sitting member of the Forsyth County BOE called for Attorney General Eric Holder to step in and help the citizens of North Carolina protect their voting rights. Flemming El-Amin’s request was no little thing to be ignored. It was a call for help from a man and a community that recognizes what is being done in North Carolina to systematically suppress votes because they have seen it before. Some of the men and women in the room grew up in Jim Crow Winston-Salem and others have lived the reality of institutionalized racism and oppression. These are dark and serious matters- not concerns, fears, and realities to be swept under the rug lest we become uncomfortable as a people discussing them. (You can read that coverage HERE.)

CCD ran that story on Friday August 16th and pointed out that with the actions taken at Elizabeth City State and Appalachian State, Chairman Raymond’s statements to The Chronicle began to look like a systematic effort to suppress the vote of North Carolina’s college students. (Particularly at historically black colleges. You can read that coverage HERE.)

On Sunday August 18th the Journal ran two separate pieces on their front page, covering the same ground as CCD’s August 16th story as if it were all their own work.

On Monday August 19th CCD ran a story about a phone conversation I had with Raymond after our Friday story ran. Raymond made some misguided statements and implied that he would use his position as the chairman of the Board of Elections to prosecute college professors and high school teachers for encouraging their students to vote by giving extra credit for doing so. Follow up work on that conversation and threat turned up the fact that Raymond had been asking about putting Sheriff’s Deputies at polling places in a move that also hearkens back to Jim Crow and Reconstruction voter suppression techniques. It was this conversation that the Journal referred to in their story first published online Monday night when they wrote:

“Raymond said in a second email that his recent comments about WSSU came out during an interview in which he was also discussing the Watauga Board of Elections’ decision to end an early voting site at Appalachian State University.”

Of course they didn’t mention that the conversation was with me and that we had reported on that conversation earlier, which included the law enforcement component which was even more outrageous than the threat to educators or the trying to close down WSSU’s polling place. (You can read that coverage HERE.)

CCD attempted to contact Chairman Raymond on Monday before our piece came out with his implied threats and request for badges at polling places. He never called me back. I have to say, I can’t really blame him. The more Raymond talks the worse things get for him and his apparent mission to shut down WSSU and to intimidate voters at the polls. He did tell the Journal, however, that during Tuesday August 20th’s BOE meeting the closure of the WSSU polling place will not come up. Raymond is still hinting at closing it down for the 2014 mid-terms, but for now he has apparently decided that discretion is a better part of valor and backed off. Good on him and we’ll keep watching and make sure that the people know what the BOE is doing.

As for the way journalism has been done in this town for the last century… the times are a changing’. This second decade of the 21st Century are troubled times. We have real issues on the table, from the fact that the recession stays stubbornly fixed in North Carolina to the fact that large, corporately funded groups like ALEC and Art Pope’s people over at Civitas have purchased themselves a state government in Raleigh.

These are not the days for garden parties and pretending like the East-side of Winston-Salem is a different world just because the day to day realities there are harsher, dirtier, and more real that upper middle-class readers on the deep side of retirement might find “polite” to consider. Being “civil” does not change the fact that in Camel City some of our people suffer. In Camel City some of our people are the targets of systematic political disenfranchisement. In Camel City, like it or not folks, we are all in this together. The only way things will ever get better and we’ll reach that over yonder is for us all to come together, all to work, all to fight, and in the end… all to love and cherish our neighbors.

See y’all on the street.

Chad Nance
8-20-2013
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
*Michele Gillespie, Katharine and R. J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South

3rd shift
3rd shift