Editorial: How progressives lose in Greensboro


Imagine for a moment a candidate for Greensboro City Council who has built relationships across the city, who has a proven track record of getting things done and who has accumulated civic experience as a member of the city’s planning board.

Imagine this candidate is the rare white leader who would side with his African-American colleagues on council to support the truth process. Imagine this candidate supports the grassroots campaign to mandate a citywide minimum wage of $9.36 to help working people meet pay their bills and live fulfilling lives. Imagine this candidate has the courage to buck developers to rein in sprawl and conserve precious natural resources.

We had such a candidate – and still do, if faith and desperation combine sufficiently to compel you to write him in on Nov. 6 – in Joel Landau. Viability? Check. Principles? Check. The primary election on Oct. 9 narrowed the at-large field from 13 to six candidates. Landau landed in seventh place.

What did him in? Was it getting outspent by better-funded rivals? Eleventh-hour dirty tricks by entrenched forces determined to confuse the electorate? Outmoded election rules designed to keep left-leaning voters from participating? None of the above. Greensboro progressives just didn’t care to win.

Landau’s fundraising and yard-sign presence was actually competitive. He out-raised two candidates who cleared the primary. He raised only $1,330 less than the top vote-getter, Mary Rakestraw. Virtually anyone could have shown up to vote. The US Justice Department had pre-cleared a law passed earlier this year by the NC General Assembly that allows unregistered voters to show up at one-stop voting sites, register and cast their ballots during a two week period before the election.

Try to wrap your head around this mirror image of our democratic practice. In a city of almost a quarter million people only 7 percent of registered voters participated in the Oct. 9 primary. A total of 11,460 ballots were cast, and Landau came 109 votes short of moving on to the general election. The voters failed us.

The fact is that the only voters who mobilized in this election were those who were unhappy that City Manager Mitchell Johnson took action to address allegations of racism in the Greensboro Police Department. They won. If any Greensboro voters cared about a living wage, racial justice and sustainable development, we have no evidence of it. Excluding mayoral hopeful Yvonne Johnson and candidates in the two predominantly African-American districts, there aren’t any progressives left in the race. Our choices have generally narrowed to a pro-developer slate vs. a pro-David Wray slate.

There’s a peculiar affliction specific to anarchists and general to progressives. That’s the notion that elections don’t matter because the process is rigged anyway, all the candidates are bought and paid for, paying attention sucks up energy that could better be applied elsewhere and voting only confers legitimacy on a rotten system. It’s great as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s lousy for our city.

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