Tuesday, February 14, 2017

PR Latta’s Garden

Paul Richard “P.R.” Latta was one of the founders of the Wake County Progressive Democrats.  He was also a grassroots labor union and Democratic Party activist for decades.  Both the NC AFL-CIO and the Wake County Young Democrats give an award named after P.R. Latta, because of his many years of activism on behalf of labor and the Democratic Party.  Mr. Latta passed away at the age of 95 on August 17, 2014.
P.R. grew up a rural Democrat from West Virginia.  During the depth of the Depression, while his family was poor, they had a family garden to provide enough food for the family and others in the community – a giving tradition PR continued in his own home garden in north Raleigh until 2013.  I worked in his backyard garden to help him out in his later years, and he did share his vegetables with me and my friends who also came there to help him.
But even more important than the vegetables that he shared with me was the knowledge and experience that he shared and the example he set.  P.R. reminded me so much of my paternal grandfather – not just because he had a garden and a basement workshop crammed full of tools hanging from nails in the ceiling joists – but because P.R. was a teacher and a mentor to those who sought him out.
After I worked my butt off running the sign shop for the Wake County Democratic Party in the primary and general election of 2008, I was invited to P.R.’s house on Christmas and New Year’s Day to have egg-nog with P.R. and a handful of Democratic luminaries.  P.R. told me that he invited me because I had proved myself as a hard worker who got the job done and didn’t make excuses for failure.  He was my “sea-daddy” – one of the best mentors any grassroots Democratic Party activist could ever have.  And after my father passed away in March 2013, P.R. became even more of a father-figure to me.
P.R. Latta was a fixture at every Democratic Party meeting I’ve been to, and all of our Progressive potlucks we had.  He served as the first Vice President of the Wake County Progressive Democrats, and later served as the Outreach Coordinator.  When he finally stepped down from that office, I was deeply honored that he asked me to take over that position. 
Even though he was slowing down in his later years, he attended Democratic Party events – like the Wake Democratic Men’s Club where he set up the PA system, monthly Wake Dems board meetings, SEC/CEC meetings, and county/district/state conventions.  I helped him hold his 2014 precinct organization meeting.  He attended all the conventions up to and including the 2014 NCDP State Convention held on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing in WWII – an event he participated in.  He attended our June 2014 potluck before his health started to seriously decline.  After a few extended stays in the hospital, a stay in a nursing/rehab facility in Zebulon, he transitioned to hospice care and then passed away on August 17, 2014.  I visited him often in the hospital and several times at the nursing/rehab facility and several times in hospice – including shortly before he passed away. 

Several times during the last year of his life, P.R. told me he was proud of me and the work I was doing in the Democratic Party and specifically with the Wake County Progressive Democrats. And every so often I talk with his family members – specifically his daughter-in-law Lucy, and his sons Ricky and Ken.  They thank me for protecting “Pappa’s legacy” and for working to keep the Democratic Party honest. 
P.R. was one of the founding members of the Wake County Progressive Democrats back in 2004.  That happened at roughly the same time as other progressives attempted and failed to form a statewide auxiliary group.  Mr. Latta felt that no county progressive auxiliary could ever hope to get much accomplished unless it was part of a statewide group that had a seat on the NCDP Executive Council.   I know that P.R. would be very proud that there is now a Progressive Caucus of the NCDP, and that the Wake Progressive Democrats worked with so many other progressive Democrats across the state to make that happen at the NCDP SEC meeting on February 11, 2017.
A succession of great progressive activists Democrats have been President of the Wake County Progressive Democrats: P.J. Puryear, John Hollingsworth, Chris Lizak, Jesse Goslen, and Tristy Evely.  Each of us handed over the office of President to someone who was worthy of the job – because they had actually done something in the group to build it up and make it better than it had been before.  When Tristy Evely got a new job and wasn’t able to handle the responsibilities of the Presidency, she asked me if I would take over from her because the then current Vice President didn’t feel he was up to the job.  I was honored and deeply humbled that she asked me.  But I asked P.R. first – and he told me I was up to the job and would be “a damned fool” if I didn’t run for the office. 
Grassroots activism often takes a backseat to the millions if not billions of campaign dollars used to influence voters.  Sadly we’ve gone and lost the last 4 election cycles by focusing more on what money can buy instead of what volunteer activism can do. 
Political scientists have often said that activists can play an important role in low-turnout midterm elections.  As former Congressman Brad Miller noted in his blog: “PR and I did agree that democracy would be better if the personal endorsement of a candidate’s sign in a citizen’s yard was as important in politics as big money.”
At the church during P.R.’s memorial service, I sat in the same row with the past Presidents of the Wake County Progressive Democrats.  It dawned on me that the Wake County Progressive Democrats was P.R.’s “garden” – and that I had a duty to preserve and protect the legacy that he and other grassroots activists left us.  And to make sure that next President was also worthy of that legacy.  That’s why I am running for another two-year term as President – to protect and preserve P.R. Latta’s grassroots legacy.  
I'm not running for other positions in the party other than Chair of my own precinct.  I've done a great job there, increasing Democratic votes for some races by over 50%.  Precinct Chair and President of the Wake County Progressive Democrats is all I want to do - and I have the time to do the job well.  I am not going to spread myself too thin running for positions on other boards, nor promise to do work that I can't deliver or fail to show up to do the work.  Now that we've got a full slate of great candidates who promise to show up to all meetings,  and do all the work - we can really move forward to get more grassroots activists active and engaged in the Democratic Party.  
Please vote for our slate so we can continue to do the work of preserving and protecting P.R. Latta's legacy.  


We, 7 out of 9 current Executive Officers of the Wake County Progressive Democrats whose names are listed at the end of this posting, do hereby endorse and support the following candidates for upcoming Executive Officers on February 15, 2017: 
President - Chris Telesca ** (nominated at January potluck)
Vice President - Mike Pierce ** (nominated at January potluck)
Activities Co-Chair: Quanta Edwards ** (to be nominated at February potluck)
Activities Co-Chair: Kelley Barker (to be nominated at February potluck)
Outreach Chair: Randy Jones (nominated at January potluck)
Policy Chair: Joshua Bradley ** (nominated at January potluck)
Communications Chair: Stacey Piesche * (to be nominated at February potluck)
Tech Chair: Grant Gordon (to be nominated at February potluck)
Secretary: Christina Thompson (to be nominated at February potluck)
* - incumbent officer seeking new position
** - incumbent officer seeking same position 
 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why we are running for office!

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My name is Christopher Jon Telesca and I am the currently elected President of the Wake County Progressive Democrats. Rather than write up something cute for my own campaign ad, I wish to let you all know why the entire Executive Committee (aka the Board) is endorsing a slate of candidates for election on February 15 - listed at end of blog post!
1.            We practice what we teach: democratic procedures and values throughout the Democratic Party.  
We have a great (but not perfect) set of bylaws – which requires that well follow the NCDP Plan of Organization, Roberts Rules of Order.  We also follow applicable state and federal laws.
We have an Executive Committee (aka the Board) that meets to plan our activities.  No one person runs the group – and no one person should be running for any office in the Wake Progressives claiming they can single-handedly change the group.  
Nothing gets done and not one dime gets spent without running by one or both groups.  Everything from what bank we use, to what activities we participate in, and even if we buy hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, turkey or ham for our various parties – it is all done by a vote of the board and/or membership.
Perhaps you’ve heard the sayings “many hands make light work” and “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.  We are only as good as the officers who show up and do the work.  Nearly everyone has been a member of a group where someone runs for an office and doesn’t show up and/or do the work – putting more of a burden on everyone else who does show up.  And sometimes things don’t get done as well or as quickly as we would all like.  But the Wake County Progressive Democrats doesn’t operate on the whims of one officer, and therefore no one candidate’s campaign promises to make significant changes to the group can actually deliver on those promises. 
Our current bylaws do not allow for the removal of members for missing too many meetings or for dereliction of duty.  Now that the bylaws for the Progressive Caucus of the NCDP has passed at the state level, we will have to amend our County chapter bylaws to allow for removal of members for those reasons.  That should clear up a lot of the problems we are having now.
2.            All officers will work to achieve the objectives set forth in the bylaws.  
We are working to achieve the objectives set forth in the bylaws.  Part of the problem is that while we are the same group with roughly the same objectives that started out in 2004, the Democratic Party isn’t the same as it was back then.
We had our first organizational meeting in June 2004 where the progressive “Greendogs” (younger supporters of Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich feeling alienated from the Democratic Party) joined up with the older “Concerned Democrats” (older party officers and former electeds concerned about the lack of transparency and small-d democracy in the Democratic Party at many levels).  From that time on - we had the blessing and support of then Wake Dems Chair Lorrin Freeman and ED Linda Watson who was a founding member of our group.  We also had auxiliary status either from that point or shortly thereafter. 
But we earned our auxiliary status  – because we did the physical volunteer work in the Democratic Party that no one else wanted to do.  We set up and staffed the sign shop, put together precinct officer training, put together precinct packets and address postcards announcing precinct meetings, set up and operate the Election Day “War Room”, set up for and clean up after party events, etc.  Stuff that wasn’t getting done by people who whose activism was limited to attending catered dinners, getting pics taken with political leaders, and writing checks.  Not that there is anything wrong with that – but that’s not how we roll!  And when we needed information to organize precincts, we got it from the county party.  One night in January 2008, we organized 9 precincts at an OFA meetup!
How times have changed!  After Wake Progressives helped elect a State Party Chair in 2005 and elect a whole new county party board made up mostly of grassroots activists in 2007, some establishment folks vowed to never again let progressives get a chance to look good doing what we do best – volunteer activism and precinct organization. 
Today many people have a different respect for democratic procedures and values – as well as a problem sharing information with an auxiliary like ours that wants to organize precincts to give a larger and more diverse group of Democrats a voice in the party and a seat at the table.
With the creation of the Progressive Caucus of the NCDP, we can get access to statewide Votebuilder data that we can’t get right now at the county level – we will know which precincts are organized and which are not.  Working with other similar grassroots organizations will make precinct organization all that much easier.
3.            Our membership is steadily increasing especially among young people.  But we’ve gotta keep the party from scaring them off!
The Wake County Progressive Democrats started out by attracting a lot of younger progressive Dean and Kucinich people starting in mid 2004.  But they stuck around to help build the Democratic Party because Howard Dean said: “If you want to take back your government you first have to take back your party.” 
We noticed an increase in interest in our group beginning in 2014 - we had increased membership especially with younger people attracted to politics because they wanted someone like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders to run for President.  Much in the same way an earlier group was attracted by Dean & Kucinich in 2004 and even Barack Obama in 2008.  
While they were attracted to our group, other factors turn them away from becoming active in the Party – like the way Bernie Sanders and his supporters were treated by the DNC in the 2016 Presidential election cycle.  From the way Bernie was treated while he was a candidate to the way his delegates were treated at the DNC Convention, people did notice something was “odd” – and sadly too many voted with their feet.
We had a gradual increase in membership from the spring of 2015 when Bernie declared and then three notable drop-offs: one after the March Primary, another after DNC convention, and then again after Labor Day 2016.  One young female Bernie supporter was supposed to our July pool party – but she ended up quitting her job, closing her FB account, and leaving the country to protest the way Bernie was treated by the DNC.  
4.            One of our main objectives is to encourage volunteerism in the furtherance of our electoral process – fundraising is a secondary goal!  
The Wake Progressive Dems has from the start always focused largely on volunteer activism.  Many people are sick and tired of “pay to play politics”, so we don’t focus on raising tons of money to give to the party and to candidates.  We prefer to give something they don’t see much of – volunteer activism!  
Our main monthly meetings consist of potluck dinners – and contributions aren’t mandatory.  We share with each other because we know that there some people can’t afford a $20/month dinner and shouldn’t feel left out of progressive politics because they can’t afford to pony up for a catered meal.
Fundraising is important, but many other Wake County groups can and do focus on fundraising activities.  If you love raise money for candidates – spend time with us, but by all means join one of the other groups as well!  But we are not alone - other Wake County groups do not exist mostly to raise money to be donated directly to the party and candidates.
We encourage our members to donate their time to candidates, and also donate money if they wish to do so.  We give money to the party – we’ve been one of the biggest supporters of the NCDP State Party Fair booth over the years in terms of both money and working volunteer shifts.  
That being said, we do need money to carry on our mission.  We’ve done a great job of fundraising the last few years.  And with a full board working together in the areas of policy, activities & outreach that will be much better supported by communications and technology, we can raise more money from current and new members and still be true to our original mission. 
5.            Wake County Progressive Democrats speak up to make sure democratic procedures and values are being followed!
We don’t treat the Wake County Democratic Party or any other party committee as enemies – but no Democrat should ever be a mute rubber-stamp.  We speak up to question whether democratic procedures and values are being broken.  Party officers and delegates who have a seat at the table and a voice in the party deserve to be heard and answered when they have a respectful and reasonable objection.  Better knowledge of party rules and parliamentary procedures will help our members and other Democrats not feel left out of the political process. 
Officer Endorsements:  The Executive Committee of the Wake County Progressive Democrats has 9 elected and 1 appointed officers. Currently the Outreach Chair is vacant. That leaves us with 8 elected and 1 appointed officers, for a total of 9. 
We, 7 out of 9 current Executive Officers of the Wake County Progressive Democrats whose names are listed at the end of this posting, do hereby endorse and support the following candidates for upcoming Executive Officers on February 15, 2017: 
President - Chris Telesca ** (nominated at January potluck)
Vice President - Mike Pierce ** (nominated at January potluck)
Activities Co-Chair: Quanta Edwards ** (to be nominated at February potluck)
Activities Co-Chair: Kelley Barker (to be nominated at February potluck)
Outreach Chair: Randy Jones (nominated at January potluck)
Policy Chair: Joshua Bradley ** (nominated at January potluck)
Communications Chair: Stacey Piesche * (to be nominated at February potluck)
Tech Chair: Grant Gordon (to be nominated at February potluck)
Secretary: Christina Thompson (to be nominated at February potluck)
* - incumbent officer seeking new position
** - incumbent officer seeking same position 
Current Activities Co-Chair Linda Suggs wishes to withdraw her name from nomination for Activities Co-Chair.  George Frink wishes to withdraw his nomination for Communications Chair.  Furthermore, although she understands that seconds to nominations aren't necessary, current Treasurer Stacey Piesche wishers to hereby withdraw her second to the nomination of Bill Bryan for President. 
We have endorsed these candidates because they have pledged to perform their assigned duties per our bylaws, and to attend all board meetings and potlucks, and observe and follow all of our WCPD bylaws, the NCDP Plan of Organization, and all applicable state and federal laws. We have endorsed the incumbent candidates because they have performed the duties per our bylaws, have exemplary attendance records at board meetings and potlucks, and have observed and followed all WCPD bylaws, the NCDP Plan of Organization and all applicable state and federal laws.
We Seven have endorsed the candidates listed above - and no others. Please draw any conclusions you like from that fact. 
Chris Telesca - President
Mike Pierce - Vice President
Linda Suggs - Secretary
Stacey Piesche - Treasurer (appointed)
Joshua Bradley - Policy Chair
Nancy Brooks - Activities Co-Chair
Quanta Monique Edwards - Activities Co-Chair