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