by Nolan Stout

Greensboro residents gathered at the Congregational United Church of Christ on Saturday to express their adamant opposition to the proposed Senate Bill 36.

The event was held to ask state representatives to approve a public referendum on the bill, which has proposed many changes to Greensboro’s City Council.

Proposed by Republican state Sen. Trudy Wade, the bill redraws the voting districts in Greensboro, takes away the mayor’s ability to vote on issues, only allowing a vote in the case of a tie, and eliminates at-large bids to the council, which reduce the members from nine to seven. The current system allows residents to vote for five of the nine representatives to the City Council – their district representative, the three at large members, and mayor. The new bill would allow voters to only vote for two representatives – the mayor and their district representative.

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams made an appearance and voiced the opinion of many people that spoke at the event.

“We don’t need the General Assembly trying to determine what’s best for Greensboro,” said Adams. “We need to listen to the folks that represent this area.”

There was an overwhelming call for a voter referendum on the bill.

“I believe if we’re going to rearrange the Greensboro City Council we should have the voice of the people involved,” said resident Nancy Wilkinson.

Nearly 300 people attended the discussion, including state house Reps Pricey Harrison, Ralph Johnson, Cecil Brockman, John Blust, and John Faircloth. Over 30 people stood up and voiced their opinion on the matter. Johnson expressed another common concern of the people as well.

“It’s a solution looking for a problem,” Johnson said. “But what’s the problem?”

The discussion began with resident John Graham asking how many people opposed SB 36 and all in attendance raised their hands.

Resident Anna Fesmire soon followed and focused her comments on the impact the bill would have on the citizens of Greensboro.

“This disenfranchises every single voter in Greensboro, no matter if you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or if you’re in the Green Party.”

Resident Irving Allen emphasized how the bill is stagnating the government.

“We’ve been sitting here talking about this issue for two months,” said Allen. “How many issues have gone unaddressed because of time spent on this bill? We’ve got so many problems we need to solve in our community we can’t waste time on frivolous bills that only benefit people that are outside our community.”

Emily Seawell, a student at Elon Law School in Greensboro, spoke on an aspect of the bill that has received little attention.

“[The redistricting] goes after colleges,” said Seawell. “It breaks up Guilford College into two separate districts. It breaks up UNCG into two separate districts. It breaks up Bennett College into two separate districts. It breaks up [NC] A&T into three separate districts. All of those colleges are currently in one district.”

The crowd was so expressive of its opinions that the representatives had to continuously ask the people to hold their applause until the end of each speaker. Rev. Julie Peeples urged the crowd to wave their hands in support instead of clapping.

However, lifelong resident of Greensboro Jasmine Whaley, 23, one of the last to speak, was so powerful in her sentiment that the crowd could not hold their applause and erupted in support.

“Should I have kids, I would like to raise them in the state of North Carolina,” Whaley said. “The one thing that I’m not going to do is raise them in a city that completely undermines the autonomy and political voice of the people that support it and who it is supposed to represent.”

Whaley went on to emphasize the importance of voting not only to the city of Greensboro, but to every citizen of the country, especially historically disenfranchised minorities.

“The vote is the only way that there would be a woman and two black men sitting before us today to talk about this bill,” said Whaley. “I want you to tell the people in Raleigh that we see them, we’re watching, and we’re coming.”

Harrison gave the crowd hope with her closing remarks of the discussion.

“I am fairly confident that we will have a voter referendum on this bill,” said Rep. Harrison.

It was announced that Sen. Wade was notified of the public forum, but she did not make an appearance. !