The New North Carolina Activism


By Melissa Geil

The phones at Senator Tillis’s offices did not even pick up the day that the Betsy DeVos vote took place. The reason I know this?

Because I called every day, sometimes twice a day for over two weeks. From my perspective as a parent and an educator, her nomination for Secretary of Education was a bridge too far. I felt that I had to do something.

I consider myself a knowledgeable citizen. I vote, I sign a petition on social media now and again. I make sure to stay informed, but it has been a long time since I was this involved in national politics.

I am in good company. Senators from around the country were reporting extremely high volumes of citizen comments on cabinet appointments, particularly those of Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions. This means that every day citizens are – now more than before – getting involved and making their voices heard.

For North Carolinians in particular, Betsy DeVos’s nomination struck a particular chord, and I wanted to find out why.

During my phone campaign, the numbers were often busy, so I would try the regional offices, often speaking to very helpful representatives on the phone at Senators Tillis and Burr’s offices. The day before the vote on DeVos, Tillis’s phone started acting strange. No busy signal, just a recording saying that I was unable to get through, making me wonder if they took the phones off of the hook.

North Carolinians called so much that the staffers seemed to just stop answering.

What prompted this?

According to Senator Burr, to whom Betsy DeVos donated >>millions in campaign funds , he received so many calls that he brought it up in a Senate hearing on DeVos, accusing citizen activism as a cover for an insidious strategy concocted by Democrats and Rachel Maddow to subvert her nomination, saying “That’s why I got all these calls. That’s why my wife gets calls. My son gets calls on cell phones to deliver a message to me.”

While Republican Senators, including South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, sounded off about the phone harassment, accusing democrats of orchestrating a nationwide call campaign against a single cabinet nomination. Scott accused anti-DeVos callers as >>out-of-state carpetbaggers .

What strikes me as odd is how very little credit is afforded to the citizens of this country by our elected officials. We elected them; they represent us. And yet, when I take time out of my very busy life to call and speak to their offices about an issue that I care a great deal about, I am accused of being part of some overarching diabolical plan of an elected official who isn’t even from my state.

There is an expression: when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras. When a Senator in North Carolina receives thousands upon thousands of phone calls, emails, letters, tweets, and social media posts because we want you to know our mind, listen to us. Don’t assume I’m from out of state, with my North Carolina phone number, accent, and street address. Listen to me.

Activism is on the rise in our state. People are putting on their sneakers, making signs, and marching for their causes. People are putting their elected officials in their list of contacts and taking 5 minutes a day to have their voices heard. Listen to them.

When North Carolinians called Senators Burr and Tillis regarding Betsy DeVos, all signs point to nearly unprecedented call volume regarding her cabinet appointment. While neither Tillis nor Burr’s office were willing to release the number of calls they received, our neighbor in Virginia, Senator Tim Kaine received over 25,000 calls, the vast majority in opposition to her nomination, nearly three times the number of calls they received on the Iran Deal, according to Sarah Peck, Senator Kaine’s Press Secretary.

“North Carolinians strongly believe in and support public schools,” said Keith Poston, President and Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina. “I think it was a combination of support for public schools and questions about her qualifications for the post that drove people to reach out in such large numbers which frankly surprised me even though I work in this space. The grassroots outcry was very real.”

North Carolinians are standing up for our beliefs, and holding our elected officials accountable. I, for one, plan to keep calling, keep marching, and keep being a bother. We will not be silenced. We are North Carolinians. Listen to us.



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