4 Stories From the Struggle for a People-Powered Democracy in North Carolina

by Hanna Mitchell

September 22, 2016

North Carolina's democracy is jeopardized by a corporate takeover — but these people are making their voices heard and taking on special interests.

North Carolina political races are quickly becoming some of the most hotly contested and expensive in the country. Starting with the presidential race — in which Hillary Clinton holds a mere 1 percent lead over Donald Trump — and working down to gubernatorial and Senate races, the odds are uncertain and election spending through the roof.

The state is a battleground for many environmental and social justice issues that are affected by money in politics and the influence of special interest groups. From coal ash contamination to voting rights, the movement for Black lives, and immigration reform, North Carolinians are fighting for their lives and the future of their state.

This photos series was a project of Greenpeace Charlotte intern Leysha Caraballo, highlighting the intersecting ways that money in politics shows up in North Carolina — as well as the people that are working for change.

1. “If we put our voices together, we could possibly be heard over Duke [Energy].”

Kathy Sparrow

Longtime activist and Charlottean, Kathy Sparrow. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.

Monopoly utility Duke Energy is not only one of the biggest polluters but also one of the biggest political contributors in North Carolina.

In the first quarter of 2016 alone, Duke Energy company poured more than $200,000 into legislative political races. The company is also donating to both sides of the aisle in the gubernatorial race, having spent roughly $70,000 on candidates.

Combined with lobbying clout and direct connections to government, Duke Energy has been named North Carolina’s biggest political influencer.

2. “Black lives matter is all-encompassing.”

Gloria Merriweather

Gloria Merriweather organizes around the Movement for Black Lives. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.

Other special interests at play in the state include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch brothers — extreme right wing bill-writing and lobbying groups that pair friendly legislators with industry-influenced legislation. Special interests in government hurt people and the environment — and frequently people of color are disproportionately impacted.

ALEC is largely responsible for the regressive legislation that rolled back voting rights, women’s health care funding, and Medicaid expansion.

3. “In the future I hope to see a more balanced government … more focus on the environment and the LGBTQ community.”

Lara Americo quote

Activist, organizer, and musician Lara Americo speaks out for LGBTQ rights and environmental justice. Incumbent gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for 28 years before assuming office. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.

North Carolinians may be experiencing some of the worst attacks on democracy, but the state is also home to strong grassroots movements and a rich history of resistance.

After years of organizing, restrictive Voter ID law was recently struck down in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for disproportionately affecting people of color. This means that hundreds of thousands of registered voters that would have been barred from voting will rightfully be granted access to the polls.

Additionally, a three-judge panel ruled that North Carolina’s voting districts were racially gerrymandered and will have to be redrawn in 2018 for the 2020 election cycle.  These two rulings are victories for the people and environment.

The demand to get people in and money out of our political system has never been greater and North Carolinians are working together to confront and expose injustices and create change.

4. “I definitely would love to see undocumented immigrants get … an acceptable form of ID. I’d love to see immigration reform.”

Alma Hernandez advocates for the environment, immigrants, and women's rights

Alma Hernandez advocates for the environment, immigrants, and women’s rights. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.

To read more and see the full photo series visit the Greenpeace North Carolina Facebook page.

Hanna Mitchell

By Hanna Mitchell

Hanna Mitchell is a Field Organizer for Greenpeace USA based in Charlotte, NC. She works to bring clean, safe, affordable, and renewable energy options to communities in North Carolina.

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