RALEIGH, N.C. — Organizers of the effort to defeat North Carolina’s proposed anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment officially kicked off their campaign this week at a press event at the North Carolina General Assembly. In addition to traditional campaign organizing, the activists also plan to take their message directly to the people starting this month.
The “Race to the Ballot” will take grassroots activists and staff with Equality North Carolina and the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families across the state, traveling some 2,500 miles in just five weeks with nearly 30 separate events across the state.
Jen Jones, Equality North Carolina’s communications director, will be among those on the journey. She’s also making a commitment to personally run some 325 miles along the Race’s route. Jones says its her way of showing her pride for her home state.
“As a native North Carolinian who has lived here my whole like, this amendment is a complete affront to what North Carolina is and the exceptional place North Carolina has become and the perception of this state as a progressive, welcoming place on the national stage and especially in the south,” said Jones. “We want to protect that anyway we can. I’m invested in the campaign with a goal to run a campaign so impassioned and personally invested that people cannot help but get involved.”
She says she was shocked when Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James said last year he hoped the amendment would drive LGBT people from the state, saying, “We don’t want them here.”
Race to the Ballot is just one way the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families plans to confront the impending amendment ballot. They’ve enlisted the organizing, financial and advocacy prowess of more than 80 LGBT, progressive and other community interest non-profits and businesses across the state.
The coalition and grassroots nature of the campaign will prove beneficial, said Campaign Director Jeremy Kennedy. One of the newest additions to the coalition is the North Carolina Democratic Party. Kennedy said the state party has committed $5,000 to the campaign to defeat the amendment and will be partnering with the Protect NC Families on field organizing and more.
Protect NC Families also hopes to raise the kind of cash it will take to run a truly statewide grassroots campaign. Getting their message out is important, as polls show support for the amendment drops the more people know about its overreaching harms to gay and straight couples alike.
Small-dollar and online donors will be the backbone of a successful campaign. So far, citizens are stepping up to the plate, Kennedy said. Over 450 individuals have contributed since online fundraising started on Dec. 1. Ninety-eight percent of the money has come from in-state, with an average donation of $80.
“Without launching the campaign, we’ve already shown that there is an in-state, low-dollar fundraising that is going to be able to support the campaign,” Kennedy said.
Larger donors, Kennedy said, should begin to roll in over the next several weeks.
Jones is confident that Protect NC Families’ various plans and especially its Race to the Ballot initiative will provide the key outreach they need to ensure a victory on May 8. The group plans to have 1 million separate conversations with North Carolinians, conversations they say will be key to changing hearts and minds and, most importantly, votes.
“You’re going to hear from the other side about ‘defining marriage,’ but our goal is to set the record straight,” Jones said. “This legislation could be the worst we’ve seen across the country at the very time when a majority of North Carolinians and a majority of Americans support relationship recognition for LGBT couples. It’s important for people to see how this amendment harms them and harms a majority of North Carolinians. This is overreaching legislation.”
The Race to the Ballot initiative kicks off its college campaign at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee on Friday, Jan. 27. The official Race to the Ballot trek begins in Asheville the next day. From there, the campaign is scheduled to travel up the Blue Ridge Parkway through Mitchell County and on toward Boone, eventually circling back into the Piedmont and ending in Wilmington on March 2.