In a year when political organizing moved from the back streets to Main Street, it wasn't hard to find people who had discovered its importance. If one great triumph came from this year's election, it was the unprecedented level of community activism that arose out of the movement against the war in Iraq and then channeled into the presidential campaign. Thousands of people went to work organizing meetings and MeetUps, hosting parties and walking door to door, registering voters and raising the millions of dollars in small contributions that brought the people's voices back into this election in a way not seen in generations.
The results locally were tangible. John Kerry took the Triangle, winning large majorities in Durham and Orange counties and coming close in Wake County. The challenge now is for those people who got involved for the first or second time to stay involved, to continue their efforts for decent health care, for women's reproductive rights, for gay rights and against the war.
If they need examples of how to do it, they need look no further than our Citizen Award winners for 2004.
They are people who were all deeply involved in the election. For some, it was a continuation of the work they've been doing all their lives. Pete MacDowell and Peggy Misch have been on the front lines for decades, making progress protecting civil liberties and initiating campaign finance reform. The leaders and workers at El Pueblo have long advocated for the needs of Spanish-speaking immigrants and made the natural transition this year into protecting their electoral rights.
Other winners represent those who were compelled to action for the first time. Blaise Strenn went from mild-mannered brewmaster to leading Deaniac and continued as an organizer for John Kerry. The Civic Engagement Task Force began as a political science club at N.C. Central University and mushroomed into a political force.
This year, let those of us who were first-time activists be inspired by the hard-won successes of those who've done it much longer. Let us make sure that the real victory this year was not just the one-time mobilization of tens of thousands of new voters and activists, but the start of an entire movement.
NCCU Civic Engagement Task Force