Black and blue: How wounded Dems can take back North Carolina

After a congressional election in which Democrats picked up eight seats in the House and two in the Senate, they cried victory from the mountaintops — but not from Mount Mitchell.

And as confetti rained from the skies at Obama headquarters in Chicago, here in North Carolina, it just rained. For the first time in my lifetime, a Republican sits in the governor’s mansion, and the GOP-led General Assembly is so red, it’s veto-proof anyway.

So what’s next for North Carolina Democrats? Will we resort to the same failed strategies that have all too often left many progressives feeling alienated and discouraged by the perceived listlessness of their leaders? Will internal squabbles ultimately leave Dems begging for scraps from Art Pope’s table?

Or will we fight?

There are roughly 2.7 million Democrats, 2 million Republicans and 1.6 independents in North Carolina. But after defeats in 2008, we didn’t rally. Instead, we were divided and conquered — at considerable cost. For now, we’ve lost on Amendment One, the great civil rights issue of the 21st century. Moving forward, Republicans say they plan to burden our poor with a Voter ID bill and rob our public schools with vouchers.

This is no time for division. And with respect to President Lincoln, the proverbial house has already fallen. Since the civil rights era, North Carolina has struggled, as most Southern states have, to establish a strong and unified progressive coalition. We must once and for all establish a coalition whose message is grounded in the ideals of community and equality.

To rebuild and bring new life to the progressive movement, N.C. Democrats must look to the far ends of the state, taking our message to areas long forgotten by the establishment, far from the I-85 corridor. We must rebuild in every county, from Cherokee on up to Ashe, across to Currituck, down to Brunswick and back again.

We are in desperate need of new ideas, a fresh approach. We need leaders who understand the necessity of cementing a progressive grass-roots network that promotes community building, cultivates fellowship and delivers a focused message capable of reaching the hearts and minds of every North Carolinian.

We are the party of equal rights; we are the party that prioritized our children’s education with Smart Start and More at Four. We’re tough on crime and the causes of crime. We are the party of Jim Hunt, Bill Friday and Dean Smith. And it’s time we started acting like it.

It will take a comprehensive yet focused approach that starts within our own communities, because lasting change comes from within. We must first create the opportunity for success at the municipal and county levels, an approach defined by new leadership that not only appreciates the gravity of the situation but possesses the strength to carry the torch.

And when the fall foliage fades from Mount Mitchell in November 2014, it must reveal a Blue Ridge rising once again.

Democrats: The time is now!

Charles “Trey” Johnson lives in Mount Airy, N.C.

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