n a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post, 25 percent of adults said they plan to get more involved in politics. Among Democrats, the rate was even higher, at 35 percent.
That resolve was on display in Raleigh Saturday, as the eleventh annual Moral March drew what organizers claimed to be more than eighty thousand people—if they're right, the march's largest crowd yet, though Republicans and a News & Observer analysis have disputed that count—many of whom picked up picket signs for the first time.
Cardes Brown, religion chair for the state NAACP, says there was "more unity and ubiquity" to this year's march. Participants marched for many causes: repealing HB 2, bringing awareness to systemic racism, protecting immigrants' rights, extending access to health care. From a stage in front of the state Capitol, at the end of the march route, speakers gave out phone numbers for North Carolina representatives and urged marchers to call them with their demands.
But in the face of a Republican-dominated legislature, can the energy of 160,000 (supposed) feet be translated into actual change?
Jen Jones, communications manager for the nonpartisan group Democracy NC, thinks so. This movement, she argues, is not a flash in the pan. North Carolina has been dealing with "regressive policies" since the GOP took control of the General Assembly in 2011. Now, with a Democratic governor and attorney general, the state can be a blueprint for progressives in a nation under President Trump.
Effecting change will require a twofold attack, she says—and some time.
The next step, Jones says, is to get the people attending marches to go to local government meetings and run for local offices, creating a grassroots push that "ultimately rises to the General Assembly." At the same time, advocacy groups need to get people engaged in voting—and fighting to preserve voting rights—to usher those new candidates into office.
"Groups are pouring in asking for help registering and mobilizing voters," says Kate Fellman, program director for the People's Alliance Fund. "People who have never really done anything before, folks who have never been activists are wanting to play a role and asking about training in voter engagement and support from us. It's been kind of overwhelming."
"It matters that you made the call the first time," Jones says. "If you make the call, you're more likely to go to the meetings. If you go to the meetings, you're more likely to run for office. If you run for office, you're more likely to be politically engaged for the rest of your life."