Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill: An Activists’ Crossroad

Graymon Ward & Coleman at the Mayview Collective in Raleigh

Graymon Ward & Coleman at the Mayview Collective in Raleigh

Missing our exit, we wandered around and through and into the heart of Raleigh, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the U.S. Finally, we found our way to the Mayview Collective, the home of Graymon Ward, who offered us the hospitality of the household for the evening. Graymon and Clare H. were both prisoners of conscience in the SOA Watch movement. Coleman and Graymon have connected through the Earth First! Movement. We arrived in time to sit in on a meeting of the local group gathered in the back garden near the chicken yard and the recyclery.WTR Day 2-3 & Greensboro2 047In later conversations about strategies and philosophies in the movement, Graymon emphasized, “Young people want to see concrete results.” He used the example of an action at a coal-fired power plant in Carbo, Va. where Earth First! and Rising Tide activists used nonviolent intervention. Locking down on the truck frame and letting air out of the tire, they temporarily disabled a truck delivering coal to the American Electric Power’s (AEP) Clinch River coal fired electric facility. This action shut down operations throughout the day.

Over dinner, we listened to Meredith, an 18-year old  community member, who talked about the radicalizing experiences at the Republican National Convention where she witnessed and was subjected to indiscriminate police action and jailing of nonviolent actionists. She told us she felt more resonance with the anarchist style of direct action planning used at the RNC. The organizers provided target strategy, general guidelines, maps, and logistical support to affinity groups who then fanned out across the area to act in decentralized and autonomous ways. This contrasted with the more symbolic arrests at the recent Cliffside action in Charlotte, where an orderly march through downtown led to an orchestrated civil disobedience at the headquarters of Duke Energy. Both styles of action were appropriate and relevant in their particular settings for the two different groups of participants.

Other Community members talked of their involvement in anti-gentrification work, opposition to torture rendition flights, and oppressive policies regarding immigrant residents. As the night wore on, most of the house dressed to go out to a goth party while a few of us finished a movie and talked. When we asked about when to lock the door,  we were told, “We never lock the door. The only ones who knock, are probably the cops!”

The Mayview collective is part of ACRe, Action for Community in Raleigh, which serves the activist community with meeting spaces, cooperative housing, skill sharing, a bike recyclery, a community kitchen, urban gardening, and more. The entire front yard of the collective house, actualy a duplex, is a garden. It is situated on a large corner lot, with the homes to one side typical middle-class suburban, and to the back, those of less affluent and more racially diverse neighbors.

In the morning we spent more time with Graymon at breakfast and strategized a bit about  how North Carolina networks can be more effective. Beyond the obvious electronic communications, we were in agreement that reps from different cities should visit and spend more time together. Once again, the theme of getting out of  issue bubbles and silos was key to building alliances.

We had the great opportunity to meet for several hours with Mandy Carter, now active with SONG, Southerners on New Ground, and other groups. Mandy followed Steve Sumerford’s seven years of leadership, to take charge of the WRL Southeast office, a position she held until 1989.

Mandy, Clare & Coleman Connecting

Mandy, Clare & Coleman Connecting

We felt an easy rapport with Mandy, and shared candidly about the opportunities and difficulties of our work as southern activists, particularly around issues of race and class. We all recognize that we carry internalized racism, and that we must find ways to look beyond our own personal biases and the cultural lenses through which we engage the world. We were heartened as she encouraged us to continue our work, and appreciative of how quickly she seemed to understand our intention. She assured us that she could help by sharing contacts and introducing us to others in the area who might assist us with a S.E. organizers’ gathering. She emphasized the importance of collaborative ventures in the work, and agreed to be an adviser as we go forward.

That afternoon we caught up with Susan O’Neill at her veterinarian’s office. She was picking up her dog Sam. We gave the two a ride back to Chapel Hill where we visited Internationalist books, leaving some copies of the Veterans for Peace publication, War Crimes Times. Susan is a long-time environmental activist who lives in Durham where she is an officer with the North Carolina Green party.

Susan is committed to the Ten Key Values of the Green Party, and this is where she sees overlap with the mission of WRL. Susan helped us to make the connection with Ed King. Ed is another long-time N.C. activist and writer. He joined us on short notice for dinner and conversation at Elmo’s at the Carr Mill Mall. Ed served 18 years as regional director of the hunger action group CROP. He organized community CROP hunger walks all over the Carolinas for Church World Service. Ed, a Navy veteran, lives in a simple homestead he renovated on an old tobacco farm in Chatham County. 

Ed King & Coleman share a laugh in Chapel Hill

Ed King & Coleman share a laugh in Chapel Hill

He is a former teacher, scholar of Latin-American history, and hunger activist who served on the Board of Rural Southern Voice for Peace during Clare H.’s tenure there. It was good to catch up with Ed and learn of his continued work, now with the North Carolina Green party and in acting to preserve the “rural traditions of slow growth and ecological sustainability,” in his homeplace, Chatham County.

In all our conversations, we talk about our proposal to the WRL for a S.E. gathering. And as we listen, we realize that such a coming together is a welcome idea, and one many feel they could support. How and when and where it will take shape will continue to be informed by the people on the ground most intimate with the issues that matter to them in their local area, and who will look to such a gathering for skills trainings and collaborative connections that will help further their work for a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.

Next:  Conversations with Peggy Misch and John Heuer
On the farm with GI Rights hotline in Silk Hope, North Carolina
In Fayetteville at Quaker House, Chuck Fager and Wendy Michner


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