If there is anyone who ever doubted whether the grassroots movement that emerged after Donald J. Trump ascended to the presidency had the power to bring about meaningful change, Election Night 2017 in Greenville was your answer. On that night of Democratic victories, Lillian Brock Flemming was reelected to the District 2 seat on Greenville City Council and Russell Stall won the at-large seat.
Everyone in Greenville has seen the good work the Democratic grassroots have been doing. They’re the people who have held rallies downtown in support of the DREAMers who are now under threat from this administration. They’re the women who marched in Greenville and in Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration to protest the misogyny now embodied in the presidency. They’re the protesters who gather on Main Street every Tuesday demanding change from our leaders.
All are keenly aware that America is in the midst of a struggle for its very ideals and values. More importantly, they realize that refusing to get involved is no longer an option.
That same sense of urgency applied to Greenville as the campaigns for Greenville City Council started. Just as Republicans had just won nationally last November, two Republicans began campaigning in Greenville soon after.
John Deworken was running for the at-large seat on Greenville City Council, and Matt Cotner sought the District 2 seat. Both are good men.
But ultimately, the candidacies of both embodied the flaws our city has not yet overcome.
Deworken is a business lobbyist with the business sector contributing much to his campaign. Cotner’s candidacy was only viable due to the gentrification of traditional African-American neighborhoods in Greenville and redistricting that benefited the affluent.
While both men certainly care about this city, if elected they stood to diminish the much-needed diversity of City Council and give the business and development community greater influence in a city where they already have outsized power, often at the expense of the impoverished in Greenville, a group too many ignore. Given the challenges we face as a city, they were not what Greenville needed.
The challenge posed by the GOP in Greenville was great. Just as it had been in the past. It couldn’t be done alone.
Throughout this campaign, I met with and listened to those in our community who protested and rallied in the aftermath of Trump. Just as they were passionate about the issues affecting us nationally, they had a passion for the issues we faced in this city. Most of all, they felt the urgency of those who had been left behind during the Greenville Renaissance and the imperative to give a voice to the voiceless. So together we began to join the effort to get reelect Lillian Brock Flemming and elect Russell Stall.
I was in awe as I saw Greenvillians from all walks of life answer the call and volunteer their time and energy to make our city better. Day after day, members of the grassroots made calls asking the people of our city to vote. They walked through the streets of Greenville knocking on doors to bring change through the ballot box. They showed us that it isn’t signs that win campaigns – it is people willing to go out and fight for what they believe in.
The fact that Russell Stall and Lillian Brock Flemming won on Election Day is a victory for and a testament to the people in our own community who refuse to accept the world as it is, but who choose to go forth to remake the world as it should be.
We must also remember this is just the first step in a long journey. We cannot let this victory make us complacent. We must work harder than ever now that we’ve glimpsed our capacity to make Greenville the community we know it can be.
The task before us is daunting. Now that the election is over, we must rally not only in the streets but at City Council and County Council on behalf of the impoverished and the disenfranchised in Greenville. We must demand robust action to end the ravages of gentrification and increase public transportation. There is still much work to be done.
Because of the passion and hope I saw from the people who gave their time to this campaign, I am more inspired than ever. I believe as hard as it might be, the change Greenville needs will come. Our capacity to make this community better is limitless.
Jalen Elrod is the president of the Greenville Young Democrats.