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Persistence can lead to change

The month of June this year has been marked so far with protests across the country. People everywhere, even in our local communities, are speaking up in favor of change. And many are seeing success in getting people’s attention and directing focus onto serious issues in our society.

Protests have been helpful throughout history as a catalyst for change, but I also believe that change still takes time and it will take more action in addition to protesting to make a difference. Some of the problems in our society are so deeply rooted that not everyone even recognizes the issue.

I was recently reminded that Civil Rights protest movements such as the Greensboro sit-ins and the Freedom Rides went on for months. The people working towards change persisted until it finally happened.

Going forward, I hope to see more people speaking up at local government meetings, advocating for policy changes or funding changes or whatever change they want to see. I know the pandemic has cut down on a lot of face-to-face contact, but people are still allowed to send in public comments, and there’s nothing stopping people from attending meetings in person once they’re not being held electronically anymore.

You don’t know what will happen if you never even speak up and ask.

Here’s one example: people often complain that schools are underfunded. They speak up on social media on behalf of teachers who have to use their own money sometimes to purchase school supplies. Many people have strong feelings about this. But not once in my three years of attending local government meetings have I ever seen anyone simply ask for more school funding other than the highest leadership of the schools themselves.

Perhaps the people in charge of funding could be persuaded to give more money to schools if parents and teachers and other concerned citizens attended the meetings in person to state their case. If nothing else, you’ll at least get to know your representatives better for when election day rolls around.

But I can understand why this method of change is also frustrating. County commissioner meetings are only twice a month. Town council meetings are often only once a month. Proposed changes in policies or funding often come with reviews and discussions which can last more than one quick meeting. It can often feel like we’re all stuck in the mud, spinning tires and getting nowhere.

So I urge people to be persistent.

Here’s another example: when I started working at this newspaper, it was about the same time the Northampton County Commissioners were first considering a special use permit request to build a coal ash landfill on a particular piece of property. This didn’t sit well with several residents and so they formed the “Northampton Citizens Against Coal Ash” group.

Every board meeting I would attend would also have several members of this group in the audience. You could tell because they would often wear bright white t-shirts that said “no coal ash” on them. Public comments at the end of the meeting often included one or two people stating why they were against the idea of a coal ash landfill in the county.

The group put up signs in their yards. They sent “no coal ash” postcards to the commissioners. They had an information tent set up at just about every community gathering in the county.

Whatever your feelings were about coal ash—in favor of or against it or just apathetic—they certainly would not let anyone forget about the issue.

When the final decision for the permit came around more than a year after it was first mentioned, the public hearing had to be held at a larger venue just to have enough space for everyone. People showed up wearing their white T-shirts, holding homemade signs, waving little fans with the “no coal ash” logo printed on them. And several of them spoke during the public comments section of the meeting, saying much of what they’d said in previous meetings.

In the end, the permit was denied. Mission accomplished. Though the group still works now to advocate for local environmental concerns.

These are just some personal anecdotal examples of what I’ve seen in the past three years. But I believe for a small, rural community such as ours that speaking face-to-face with our leaders can help spark change. It will not happen overnight, but you’ll never know what difference you can make without speaking up at all.

So whatever change you’re advocating for, I hope to see or hear you at local government meetings in the future.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.