Durham For All on Saturday launched a campaign to unite ten thousand Durham residents in a “cross-class, multiracial movement” to put government back in the hands of the people.
Ten thousand is how many people the group says it takes to elect (or defeat) someone to municipal government in Durham. By this year’s city council election, the group hopes to have five thousand Durham residents engaged in its mission. But the city council election is just the first step in a larger movement to give Durham residents a voice, harness the collective power of that voice, and invert a political system it believes is rigged in favor of corporations and right-wing politicians.
“Our whole campaign is about bringing people out of isolation,” said organizer Sendolo Diaminah. “If we bring everyday people into the process, it shakes things up.”
Durham For All was formed in 2016 by activists who helped Jillian Johnson win 12,497 votes and a seat on the Durham City Council the year before.
Diaminah said the point of the campaign, dubbed 10K Strong
, is not about electing a particular candidate or influencing a specific vote. “The goal is the connection,” he said, coaching about fifty people who attended Saturday’s launch in how to bring others into Durham for All.
Orangizer Kaji Reyes-Gertes said the aim is to build a community that will support each other in achieving collective goals. People “have different choices,” he said, when they know they have others who will back them up.
Durham for All has an inclusive platform centered on the idea that Durham should be a place where everyone can thrive and be represented, including those who cannot vote. Diaminah said votes will be “used as a hammer” to effect change, but that Durham for All doesn’t “reduce the question of democracy to those voting.”
The group’s principles include education for all, sanctuary for all, economy for all, homes for all, and democracy for all. Participants left Saturday with some tools for engaging people in conversation about these goals and what is preventing them from being achieved. They'll head out into their communities with pledge cards asking people to sign up as voters, activists, or donors. But Diaminah stressed that Durham for All representatives won't be begging or guilt-tripping people into signing on.
"Really, what we're asking you to do is tap into who you really are," he said.
Senator Mike Woodard, who has represented Caswell, Durham, and Person counties since 2012, came to the meeting to hear more about Durham for All’s platform and meet the people it is attracting. This kind of grassroots effort is part of Durham’s DNA, he said, and is unique to the city.
“Durham has always been a street-level, neighborhood-level town,” he said. In Saturday’s crowd were new faces he hadn’t seen before at other organizing events.
Woodard said he’s witnessed the rigged system Durham for All seeks to dismantle up close, in the form of gerrymandering and laws that seek to restrict voting rights. He said it will be a challenge to overcome this “very entrenched” system, but it’s certainly not unprecedented.
“Be patient,” he offered as words of advice. “It takes a lot of time to do this, but you’re building it for the long haul.”
Diaminah said the group will not be endorsing particular candidates for city council until it holds a candidate forum ahead of the October primary. The group will hold monthly meetings to build its network and coach participants on how to reach out to others.
This year’s goal is to “build a mandate” by gathering pledges from five thousand people, Diaminah said. The goal for next year is to “build a model,” by holding public forums, meetings, and other events to create policy demands. By 2020, Durham for All plans to pass these policies and affect state and federal elections, “unleashing millions of engaged resident and leaders in a movement to win back North Carolina.”