Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we have a few important reminders -- July 26th elections, our new YouTube Channel, and Carolina Forward's Justice for All event -- then we review some of the explosive testimony from last week's Jan. 6th Committee Hearing. Then, we turn back to our interview with Dr. Aimy Steele of the New North Carolina Project as we reflect on what we can do to make a difference in the fight for democracy right now!
YouTube Channel: New North Carolina Project Interview
January 6th Hearing Resources:
North Carolina State Board of Elections:
Learn More About the New North Carolina Project:
Learn More About The New Rural Project:
Contact Us: email@example.com
JD Wooten: Welcome back to Carolina Democracy and Happy 4th of July! I’m JD Wooten, and today I thought we could do two important things – first, recap another explosive hearing of the House Select Committee on January 6th, and then turn back to my interview with Dr. Aimy Steele of the New North Carolina Project as we reflect on how we can do more move our state and our nation in a better direction.
Before we discuss the hearing, I’ve got two reminders and two announcements. First, if you enjoy this episode, please share it with a friend. We want our audience to continue to grow so that our candidates can reach the largest audience possible. It also helps organizations that are doing the hard work on the ground of fighting for democracy, like the New North Carolina Project, reach those large audiences. So help us out, share this episode, or any other you like.
Next, don’t forget that numerous counties and municipalities across the state have run off primary elections or general elections on July 26th. Early voting for these elections will run from July 7th to July 23rd, with election day being July 26th. The Absentee Ballot Portal is open now online. If you want to hear all the municipalities and counties with elections, go listen to our previous episodes with Judge Lucy Inman or State Senator Michael Garrett. If in doubt, check your local board of elections website for more details.
Now for announcements – first, our friends at Carolina Forward will be hosting a Justice for All event on Saturday, July 23rd from 1-4 at Natty Greene’s in Greensboro. North Carolina Supreme Court Justices Sam Ervin and Anita Earls, as well as Court of Appeals judge and Supreme Court candidate Lucy Inman, will all be there, as will I. I’m not as important as them, but I already have my ticket. You should go get one too. Link in the show notes.
Second, and honestly I’m both excited and anxious about this one, we’re got a YouTube channel and we’re starting to release video content to help expand our audience. For the time being, the focus will be on releasing video of interviews, but who knows, maybe one day we’ll get to the point that entire episodes are on YouTube as well. For now, we’ll do our best release video interviews the same week that those interviews come out on the pod, and we’ll also drop in some old interviews on occasion as well as we catch up. Our main focus will continue to be the audio content, so there may be times when getting quality video just isn’t an option, but hopefully those occasions will be rare. Link to our YouTube channel is in the show notes.
Ok, reminders and announcements out of the way, holy crap on that January 6th hearing this past week. I was certainly shocked they even called the last-minute hearing, let alone the explosive testimony that we got. We heard testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that covered a range of topics and new revelations. Some weren’t really that surprising, like President Trump throwing dishes across the room and getting ketchup on a wall. Honestly, I’m just grateful he didn’t literally burn the White House down on his way out the door, because he genuinely seems like that sore of a loser.
Other revelations were far more damning, and help build the case that everything about that day was deliberate and President Trump had full knowledge of what was going on. In fact, he was even trying to be a far more active participant that the Secret Service ultimately allowed him to be.
As for the planning head of time, including President Trump’s plan to go to the Capitol himself, here’s what Ms. Hutchinson said about a conversation she had with Rudy Giuliani several days before that:
Cassidy Hutchinson: As Mr. Giuliani and I were walking to his vehicles that evening, he looked at me and said something to the effect of, Cass, are you excited for the 6th? It's going to be a great day. I remember looking at him saying, Rudy, could you explain what's happening on the 6th? He had responded something to the effect of, we're going to the Capitol. It's going to be great. The President's going to be there.
JD Wooten: White House Counsel Pat Cipollone was concerned about the legal implications of such a trip several days ahead of time.
Cassidy Hutchinson: On January 3rd, Mr. Cipollone had approached me knowing that Mark had raised the prospect of going up to the Capitol on January 6th. Mr. Cipollone and I had a brief private conversation where he said to me we need to make sure that this doesn't happen. This would be a legally a terrible idea for us. We're — we have serious legal concerns if we go up to the Capitol that day.
JD Wooten: Mr. Cipollone evidently re-iterated those concerns the morning of January 6th.
Cassidy Hutchinson: I saw Mr. Cipollone right before I walked out onto West Exec that morning, and Mr. Cipollone said something to the effect of please make sure we don't go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We're going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.
Liz Cheney: And do you remember which crimes Mr. Cipollone was concerned with?
Cassidy Hutchinson: In the days leading up to the 6th, we had conversations about potentially obstructing justice or defrauding the electoral count.
JD Wooten:The White House attorneys, including President Trump’s former impeachment defense attorney now serving in the White House, also had serious concerns about the rhetoric in the speech ahead of time.
Cassidy Hutchinson: There were many discussions the morning of the six about the rhetoric of the speech that day. In my conversations with Mr. Herschmann, he had relayed that we would be foolish to include language that had been included at the President's request, which had lines along — to the effect of fight for Trump. We're going to march the Capitol. I'll be there with you. Fight for me. Fight for what we're doing. Fight for the movement. Things about the Vice President at the time too. Both Mr. Herschmann and White House counsel's office were urging the speechwriters to not include that language for legal concerns, and also for the optics of what it could portray the president wanting to do that day.
JD Wooten:During the rally, when President Trump learned that many of his supporters were heavily armed and therefore did not want to get closer to his speaking venue, here is how Ms. Hutchinson described his response:
Cassidy Hutchinson: I overheard the President say something to the effect of, you know, I - - I don't effing care that they have weapons. They're not here to hurt me. Take that effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the effing mags away.
JD Wooten:I realize a lot of Trump loyalists have started trying to undermine the credibility of Ms. Hutchinson, but I’ll just point out that the last part of her testimony, when heard in the full context, made clear that President Trump’s primary concern in that moment was not about anyone’s safety, but about crowd size. Given his past obsession with crowd size, and that his presidency literally kicked off with lies and controversy about his Inauguration crowd size, this testimony seems particularly believable. And again, the President of the United States was only concerned with himself and his image, not the safety of anyone else around, from his staff up all the way up through members of Congress just a short march away. As committee vice chair Liz Cheney observed:
Liz Cheney: President Trump was aware that a number of the individuals in the crowd had weapons and were wearing body armor. And here's what President Trump instructed the crowd to do. [Begin Videotape]
Donald Trump: We're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you. We're going to walk down — [Applause] — We're going to walk down any one you want. But I think right here. We're going to walk down to the Capitol.
Liz Cheney: Much of this information about the potential for violence was known or learned before the onset of the violence, early enough for President Trump to take steps to prevent it. He could, for example, have urged the crowd at the ellipse not to march to the Capitol. He could have condemned the violence immediately once it began.
JD Wooten:When President Trump got back in his vehicle and learned that he would not be going to the Capitol as planned, here’s how Ms. Hutchinson describe the events as they were told to her.
Cassidy Hutchinson: once the president had gotten into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought that they were going up to the Capitol. And when Bobby had relayed to him we're not, we don't have the assets to do it, it's not secure, we're going back to the West Wing, the president had a very strong, a very angry response to that. Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of I'm the f'ing president, take me up to the Capitol now, to which Bobby responded, sir, we have to go back to the West Wing. The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We're going back to the West Wing. We're not going to the Capitol. Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And Mr. — when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.
JD Wooten:Later in the day, as the President was watching the insurrection unfold, including chants to hang Vice President Pence, here’s the scene that was unfolding at the White House:
Cassidy Hutchinson: I remember Pat saying something to the effect of, Mark, we need to do something more. They're literally calling for the vice president to be f'ing hung. And Mark had responded something to the effect of, you heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn't think they're doing anything wrong, to which Pat said something, this is f'ing crazy, we need to be doing something more.
JD Wooten:And lest there were any doubts that Rudy Giulliani and Mark Meadows knew that what they had been part of was illegal here is some of the final exchange between Ms. Cheney and Ms. Hutchinson:
Liz Cheney: Ms. Hutchinson, did Rudy Giuliani ever suggest that he was interested in receiving a Presidential pardon related to January 6th?
Cassidy Hutchinson: He did.
Liz Cheney: Ms. Hutchinson did White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows ever indicate that he was interested in receiving a Presidential pardon related to January 6th?
Cassidy Hutchinson: Mr. Meadows did seek that pardon. Yes, ma'am.
JD Wooten:Now, as if this drama were written for TV, Liz Cheney dropped this on us in her closing remarks:
Liz Cheney: While our committee has seen many witnesses, including many Republicans, testify fully and forthrightly this has not been true of every witness. And we have received evidence of one particular practice that raises significant concern. Our committee commonly asks witnesses connected to Mr. Trump's Administration or campaign whether they've been contacted by any of their former colleagues or anyone else who attempted to influence or impact their testimony. Without identifying any of the individuals involved, let me show you a couple of samples of answers we received to this question. First, here is how one witness described phone calls from people interested in that witness' testimony. Quote, "What they said to me is as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I'm on the right team. I'm doing the right thing. I'm protecting who I need to protect, you know, I'll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World." "And they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts. And just keep that in mind as I proceed through my interviews with the committee." Here's another sample in a different context. This is a call received by one of our witnesses. Quote, "A person let me know you have your deposition tomorrow." "He wants me to let you know he's thinking about you. He knows you're loyal and you're going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition." I think most Americans know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns.
JD Wooten:I mean seriously, witness tampering and intimidation? As shocking as that should be, I am sadly once again, not surprised. Well, except for how bad these people are at criminal conduct. I mean, the conclusion of Robert Mueller’s investigation years ago was not that the Trump team didn’t try to collude with Russia in the elections, but rather that the Trump team was so incompetent that they actually failed in their attempts to collude. And if you’re going to intimidate a witness testifying before Congress, it would probably help to make threats a little more believable. There is no way Donald Trump reads anything of substance, let alone transcripts of these hearings.
Anyways, there you have. We have a sizeable faction of the radical right who seem hellbent on not just undermining our democracy, but actively taking steps to overthrow it. And they’ll do it again if given the opportunity. That’s not alarmism. They’re saying it out loud.
Meanwhile, we have a dysfunctional Congress where despite having the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, at least according to party affiliation, Democrats don’t actually have enough of a working majority to push through much of their agenda. And of course we have a U.S. Supreme Court stripping Americans of fundamental rights and taking us back in time, upending decades and sometimes even centuries of precedent. It can feel a bit overwhelming, so for today, I thought put out an uplifting interview from an organization doing the hard work on the ground fighting for democracy.
A version of this interview originally aired back in April, but if you’re feeling a little down or lost and want to find something you can do to help make a difference, listen to this interview for inspiration on ways you can fight, and if nothing else, find a way to support the New North Carolina Project. Other great organizations you can look to support include the New Rural Project and Carolina Forward. I’m not playing favorites by selecting the New North Carolina Project today, that just happened to be the interview I could most easily release as a video as well today, so if you’ve heard it before, go watch it this time instead! Link in the show notes to the YouTube version as well as organizations you can support to help in the fight for democracy.
JD Wooten: With me today is the founder and executive director of the New North Carolina Project, Dr. Aimy Steele. The New North Carolina Project works to make politics represent the needs of North Carolinians by investing in communities of color, expanding the engaged electorate, and creating lifelong voters. Dr. Steele, it's a pleasure to have you with us today, welcome!
Aimy Steele: Thank you, JD. It's my honor to be here. Can't wait to jump in.
JD Wooten: Well, I can't either. And I promise we'll get to all that great work that the New North Carolina Project is doing in just a moment. But first what's your earliest memory of politics or getting involved in politics?
Aimy Steele: Wow, that's a great question. I think my earliest memory was serving on the student council during my eighth grade school year. And that was at Albritton Junior High School on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And that was probably my earliest interaction, which really gave me an opportunity to learn how to publicly advocate for others, including my classmates who wanted vending machines and all of these other fun privileges in the eighth grade.
JD Wooten: I hear the kids today still want the vending machines.
Aimy Steele: Right, they just want the things inside to change.
JD Wooten: I love it. It sounds like similar wants and needs across generations. So your educational and professional background are in education specifically K-12 public school operations if I understand correctly. You also ran for the North Carolina House in 2018 and 2020. What led you to make that leap to running for office?
Aimy Steele: So what led me to make the leap was really understanding the power that the state legislature had on public education. And if I wanted to change public education, I needed to go to the source of the power. And that was the State House. What happened was, you know, in my teaching career, I taught and I was perfectly content to be a teacher until a moment of advocacy came up that I could not ignore. So I took that moment of advocacy to then become an assistant principal and a principal, because I felt like that's where I could address that, that issue. And I stayed that way until another moment of advocacy potential came up and that was with class size legislation. So to summarize, you know, the State House and State Senate passed a group of, of rules that allowed or made it mandatory for schools to have certain class sizes from kindergarten through third grade. So you have to move students and you have to move teachers. And what we noticed was that this piece of legislation just put an unnecessary and undue strain on the entire school system, not just one school. I was going to run for county commissioner, but then was told that the real power rested with the state general assembly. And so I decided to run for North Carolina House.
JD Wooten: Yeah, the education piece, especially here in North Carolina and the General Assembly, it feels like we've still got some work to do there, but we'll turn to that in a moment. So what was your most memorable moment from your two campaigns, good or bad?
Aimy Steele: I think the first, most memorable moment was when my god-brother, who is now serving as the Assistant Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of Education. He was my campaign manager from a distance at the time, while I found one who was in North Carolina. One day we were out, we had just had a campaign training with my team and I had to go to an appointment for something else. And he said, you know what? No, you, you don't have campaign discipline. And I was like, I don't have campaign discipline. I was like, what do you mean no, one's going to take me seriously. And that I don't have campaign discipline. He said, until you get this campaign under control and you have some campaign discipline, you are not going to win and people are not going to take you seriously. That was the changing point in my campaign. I thought just putting my name out there and being a person who was stepping up to run for office was good enough. My friends, it was absolutely not good enough. Kicking the butt really impacted my entire campaign.
The second thing that I think that impacted my campaign actually happened in the same election cycle. And that was by June. I had only raised about $6,000. And I had a person who represented a national organization that wanted to endorse me. He said, if you don't raise $10,000 by the end of the second quarter, no one's going to take you serious. So I had two people say no one was going to take me seriously if I didn't develop campaign discipline and raise more money. And those two things had the biggest impact on why I campaign the way that I did. I did raise the money and it really helped me to see that if you do stand up and put your name on the ballot to run for office, someone is waiting on you to show up for them. Whether it's the people who gave you the money or the people who, whom you have to visit when you go into the field, either way you owe it to the constituents to run your best race.
JD Wooten: For the benefit of any candidates or prospective candidates that are listening what was the first thing you did to address that campaign discipline?
Aimy Steele: The first thing I did was created a schedule. When you are faced with running for office, you have to raise money. And I really did think, like I absolutely believed that my friends were going to all give me a hundred dollars each. And by the time I counted up all my friends, I would have about a, I thought I calculated about $50,000. If some people gave me a hundred and some people gave me a thousand and some people gave me 2,500. It did not happen like that, JD. Nothing happened the way that I planned. So I developed the discipline of scheduling my call time. I was able to schedule call time for the first two hours of the day. I then scheduled in field time. So knocking doors and making phone calls, phone banking with my team meeting volunteers, all of that became a part of my routine. So I set up the campaign like a part-time job. That was the first step.
The second step was believing all of the things that were said about my race were not true. In other words, developing a new belief. I was told that, and had I known this and really understood what it meant, I might not have run for office, but anyway, probably so, but anyway, I was told that my district was what's called R 11, R+11. And I was like, okay, later when I understood that, I was like, well, why didn't anybody tell me why didn't anyone explain what this meant? Because I didn't know what it meant. R+11 means Republicans are favorites to win it by 11 points. That's a lot of points are plus two and three, you know, you can work with that. R+11 is like a death trap, but I ran anyway. And guess what? We made it into an R+3. So...
JD Wooten: I love it!
Aimy Steele: Not knowing all of that. That's what I had to develop discipline around. It was around my schedule. It was around my personal life and personal expenses because when you run for office, you're not running by yourself. It's you, your kids, your husband, your wife, your cousins, your aunties, or uncles. Everyone's running for office because any of their business could end up on a mailer. So everybody's involved.
JD Wooten: Your, your next door neighbor, the the guy or the gal that delivers the mail. You're all in the race.
Aimy Steele: Everybody's in the race. It's a group affair.
JD Wooten: That's just too funny. I remember in my 2018 race I filed and announced my candidacy all at the same time. It was sort of a last minute deal. And three, four days into it, I was doing the back-of-the-paper-napkin math. I was like, okay, if all my friends gave me what I thought they should've given me, why haven't I raised any money yet? Why haven't people just come to me to give me money? No, I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, that is not how it works.
Aimy Steele: Not at all, quite the opposite.
JD Wooten: Even trying to get money out of your best friend is sometimes pulling teeth for politics, but that's what we're here for. So were there any particular experiences, sort of transitioning now to the New North Carolina Project, were there any experiences coming out of those campaigns that really led you into this next chapter?
Aimy Steele: Yes. I would have to say every single time I went out canvassing, every experience I had where someone was so excited to see me, or where someone said, I have never had a political candidate come to my door and ask me for my vote. Or better yet in the second election, when we finally started knocking doors again, people said, oh yeah, you came to my house last time. It's good to see you again. They remembered, and I know they voted and I know they shared it with someone so they could vote for me. Those types of experiences were particularly uplifting. But I must share this one particular experience that really started to get my heart engaged in a slightly different way. So when we go to homes and we see people and we talk to them, we always want them to engage in voting. We always want to turn it into a, you need to go vote, right. But people have other issues. And when you go to them on the doors and you have sensible reasonable conversations with people, oftentimes it's over things that are just very. And we need to start localizing our elections more so than making them so national.
So three instances I'll talk about . So one was I was passing some high school students. They were getting off from school and I said, you know, are you 18? Are you registered to vote? And they were like, yes. And I was like, okay, all right. And we, you know, I used to be a high school administrator, so I know how high schoolers are. And I said, well, you know, what's the biggest issue that's most important to you. And, you know, they thought a little bit. And the young man and young girl did not engage, you know, other than to smile, but there's one young man stood up and said, we need to legalize marijuana. And I was like, huh? I said, well, your high school, what do you know about marijuana? And he just had this big, old smile on his face. Like I know everything about Mary Jane, you know? And I thought, well tell me, why do you think that? And he really articulated some really good points. And really is centered around the criminalization of people and criminalization of marijuana in one state when it's not that way in another state. So how can that be fair? That's where his mind was. So I was able to engage with him, get his information, and have a conversation with him and then turn it into now, this is why you need to vote. You need to vote for people who are aligned with that same value. And then we had a good conversation.
Second incident was, I went to a door and it was raining. So I canvas in the rain. There was a man and a woman on the porch and I saw them and they were clearly a couple, but they were on the porch. So I was curious as to why they were outside, but I asked if they were the person on my list at home and they were like, no, that's our cousin. And I thought, oh, okay, well you must be waiting for your cousin. He's coming home anytime soon. And they said, no, we live here, but we can't go in because my cousins at work. I said, I'm sorry, could you explain? They said, well, we're homeless and my cousin doesn't let us into the house until he gets home. And I was like, wow, like that, that just took me out. So I had to take a pause. I had to like breathe. I talk to them about their situation, but then referred them to a person who can give the man a job. I made a few phone calls about housing. Like it wasn't just vote. It was what is your current life situation and how can I be of assistance? And that's really what we do in the New North Carolina Project. We do a lot of referrals. We do a lot of directing toward resources because we don't know it all, but we also know that people can tell us what's going on in their lives if we just stop and listen. And can we be a solution for people? And then how do we turn that into electoral organizing? So that candidates like me and others, and like you, who ran for office, have a fighting chance to win because people are going to turn out. It's a wonderful cycle if we just pay attention to it.
The last story there's so many, but this particular one was a woman. I knocked her door and she didn't really know what world she was in. She was registered to vote, but she really didn't know what world she was in. And she was. She had to wait for her granddaughter to come home. And she was hungry. I don't know if she could fix food for herself or not, but she said, I really would like some KFC. I said, you know what, let's pause this conversation. I'm going to go get you a box of chicken. I'll be right back. So I went and grabbed her. Some ticket, came right back, you know, got her sides together. And we sat on the porch. And that is the kind of stuff people need. They need human to human interaction and touch. And that's what led me to really understand that this work, in addition to Stacey Abrams and all of her amazing amazingness, and all the women in Georgia and men. But that coupled with my experiences on the doors really led me to want to do this work.
JD Wooten: That's phenomenal. And I don't think I had any experiences in my canvassing during my campaigns that come anywhere close to those experiences. I certainly had some interesting ones, but nothing, nothing quite like that. Thank you for sharing. So as I understand it, tying all that together. The primary purpose of the New North Carolina Project is to increase the electorate and turnout in traditionally Black and Brown communities. So let's just start with the basic, what percentage of those communities have been voting in the last few cycles? And what do you think is a reasonable goal?
Aimy Steele: Yeah. So a reasonable goal is a hundred percent.
JD Wooten: I love it!
Aimy Steele: That's my reasonable goal. I'm unreasonably reasonable. The percentage has been pretty high as it relates to people of color, which is our primary target group and their percentage of registered voters. So for instance, of the eligible Black people who are registered to vote, that is about 63%. Of those 63% we saw 90 plus percent vote in 2020. So if registered, voting will likely take place. That's just for the Black community. Now what's the gap and what's the issue? Well, we have about 37% of the eligible population who are not registered to vote. And that's one of the lower percentages of people who are not registered to vote. Latin X and Asian-American, Pacific Islander, as well as Native American voters are even higher in terms of how many more people in those demographic groups who are eligible to register as a percentage of how many are already registered, but a percentage of the total. So basically what we know is that we have a huge opportunity within communities of color to register more voters and then subsequently turn them out to vote.
JD Wooten: So then building on that, I know that a lot of groups have worked to try and register voters over the years with varying levels of success. As I understand it y'all are not just looking though for the registration side, but rather really building on that, and having true engagement, especially in the longterm. Could you tell me a little more about that?
Aimy Steele: Yeah, so yeah, voter registration is not our primary focus. Our primary focus is on engaging those who are already registered and then registering those who are not ready. There are many, many groups that are working and that are doing this work. They were responsible for tens of thousands of registrants who voted, which is why I think North Carolina has been on this kind of steady pace in terms of how many people are being registered every year. And what we have to not ignore is that so many people are relocating to the state every single day. You know, in the Charlotte Metro area alone, we have between 60 to 90 people coming into this area every single day on average. That is not letting up. That means that the more people who come here, the more opportunities there are to register new voters, especially for our state. They may have been registered in another state, but that doesn't count here. So because of that, we've seen this like flatline in North Carolina with voter registrations and with people engaging in the electorate. What we're ignoring are people of color who are registered to vote, or who are eligible to register to vote, but they need outreach and they need investment in those communities.
JD Wooten: So as you're working on that, I understand the New North Carolina Project has quite the extensive field program across the state already. So what's that field infrastructure look like as of now, and what's the goal between say now and November 22?
Aimy Steele: Our goals are high and our field infrastructure is really big. I have to be vague, you know certain people listening. They like to talk about us on social media. I'll say this, the field infrastructure is in the beginning stages of addressing the core issues that we need to address, which is infrastructure around organizing and around field in target areas across the state. And that infrastructure needs to really be built up in a solid way that engages groups who are already working and doing the work and then building up our own infrastructure to do the work as well, where there are clear gaps. Now we know there are gaps because if you look at the 2020 election, and you analyze the voting results, you have to know that there are gaps because of all the people who didn't win. Particularly 17 Black women who ran for State House, State Senate, and Council of State races, and Judge who did not win. Not to say that all the Black women should have one just because we were Black, but why did we all lose? What was the commonality between all of us and why and how we lost? It was a lack of field and infrastructure in places where people of color were running and in places where people of color lived. And even though we saw record high turnout, we still had a gap of people who actually were able to access the ballot because they weren't registered to vote. So when you put all those factors together, we have a crisis on our hands and it's the divestment in communities of color, but we have to invest in those communities of color. So our field and our organizing structure represents what we feel is needed to get more turnout and to get more people registered to vote.
JD Wooten: I know off the top of my head, at least one of those Black women who didn't win, it was only by 401 votes. And there've been many nights where I've laid awake thinking, okay, could I have found 401 more votes in my district? It wouldn't have gotten me over.
Aimy Steele: Right.
JD Wooten: But they would have had to turn the ballot over to vote for me. And they would have voted for her.
Aimy Steele: That's exactly right. And not only that...
JD Wooten: Well, presumably, Chief Justice Beasley.
Aimy Steele: Right, presumably. You have to look at how many people were progressive leaning, who didn't show up to vote. White, Black, Asian, Native American, Latin X, how many were progressive leaning who just didn't show up to vote? Those people need to be addressed too. Our lane is the lane of people of color, period. Other people's lanes are other people's lanes. And then if there are other partners who are already doing that, we honor the work that they're doing. We're new kids on the block. But also, we know there's a deficit because of those same 17 Black women that I just talked about. And there were a host of other women who lost white women, Native American women, other women who lost. But because we lost, something had to have been wrong when our state is pretty balanced, but it was so imbalanced on the ballots in 2020.
JD Wooten: I like to think of it as same team, same fight. There are a lot of lanes that we can all take and we can hold our own for that common goal. I know some of the initiatives you're undertaking include a Community Ambassador Program and Deep Canvassing, let's start with the Community Ambassador Program. What can you tell me about that?
Aimy Steele: Yeah, so the Community Ambassador Program, and it's gone through a few name iterations, but right now we'll call it that, is an opportunity for community members to really get engaged with volunteering with the organization and actually going out and helping us do this work because we know there's so much to do. We can't do it alone. It allows the community find other community ambassadors who live in the areas where we're targeting, who can help make video content and other types of messaging for that area, and really serve as a trusted messenger to the communities because we don't claim to know everything there is to know about every community. I can tell you a lot of stuff about Concord and Cabarrus County, and Kannapolis, but I'm still not from here. Been here 22 years, but I'm not from here. So there's still things that I don't know in terms of the underbelly of the culture. So that's what our trusted messengers do within the Community Ambassadors Program.
Our other effort around Deep Canvassing is really centered around what I explained earlier. Understanding what communities of color are talking about, what they need, what's important to them and then listening to them. So instead of that campaign style rapid fire on the door, get off the door, go to the door. You got three minutes off the door. We may spend 10 to 15 minutes at a door when you're deep canvassing, or when you're talking on the phone, because you want to develop conversations with people to really understand what they're saying, how to then frame it in a way that moves it to the next level of engagement.
So for instance, I talked to a young man who had worked in a maximum security prison in North Carolina. And he said, that was the only job that he could do that did not involve slinging drugs on the street or working in manufacturing in his rural town. So he chose that. And so the job opportunities are very limited. The education system is very limited, and this is a rural North Carolina Eastern North Carolina. And I really started to understand what he was saying, but then I had so many more questions and he was happy to engage. Well, that conversation took 20 minutes. That's an example of deep canvassing. Not just saying, hey, you're going to vote? Can we count on you? Okay, when are you going to vote early, tomorrow, by mail? That is not Deep Canvassing. So we do engage in a little bit of strategic conversation with people to be able to hear what they're saying.
JD Wooten: Yeah. So that's certainly not trying to hit a hundred or 200 doors in an afternoon. A completely different mindset.
Aimy Steele: Absolutely.
JD Wooten: So is this a year round effort that you'll be doing that then? Not just right at the end of an election cycle, I suppose?
Aimy Steele: Exactly it has to be year-round. The transactional approach just does not work. And that transactional approach has been something that we've been doing in communities of color for years. And frankly, we're tired of it. I'm tired of it. And you know, I've only been engaged in politics since about 2017. But people of color are really tired of it as a whole.
JD Wooten: I felt the sense of that as I was canvassing.
Aimy Steele: Yep. Nothing like canvassing to bring you back to reality.
JD Wooten: Oh, amen, amen. You'll hear some real stories there and you'll also get some pretty candid feedback very quickly. So, what would make you get to the end of this year and think, yes, this was a successful year for the New North Carolina Project?
Aimy Steele: That's a great question. I don't think anyone's asked me that before. I think getting to the end of the year and saying that we are proud of the infrastructure we've stood up, whether that turned into a certain amount of votes or a certain amount of registrations or anything like that, even though we're tracking those metrics too, but whether or not it turns into the record breaking turnout that we'd like to see, or the record breaking new voter engagement that we'd like to see. I think we need to be proud of the infrastructure that we've built. If we can say that we did not put it all on the table and that we did not do all the things we said we were going to do in a manner of excellence, then I think we won't be proud. I will be happy and proud of my team for exerting their best effort without completely burning out so that we can continue doing this work because it's not going to stop after November. It's going to keep going. And it's so important to realize that's the deficit. That's the gap. You can take a break for three weeks, but you certainly can't take a break for a year and expect nothing to go wrong in that one year while you gear up for the next year. Why would you have to gear up for an election, when we have an election twice a year? It seems like you never have a time off, but for some reason in our state, we think the presidential is the Big Kahuna and that's all we are looking forward to every four years. No, sir. No, ma'am. We have an election every six months if you want to basically put it like that March and November. And really it's like nine, three, whatever the difference is. But we have two elections every single year, period. There never is a downtime. So our organization will be proud when we stand up our infrastructure in an excellent manner and do that with excellence and grace. And then on top of that, we want to see good results.
JD Wooten: And does that measure a success look the same, or obviously the numbers would be different, but a similar idea for what success would look like by the end of the decade?
Aimy Steele: Oh, gosh, no. By the end of the decade, we want to see infrastructure in place. So these are first year goals and dreams. We want to see infrastructure in place. We want to see professionalism established at the field level. I mean, I see a vision where field staff are treated as professionals and not as, you're down there and I'm up here. It's nothing like that. We're all responsible for the quote unquote field and organizing. But I also see in a decade that more and more people of color are registered and are voting. And at those percentages live in the 90s so that when they get to the high 80s, people are super concerned. Right now, we're just so content at 40, 50, 60, that's not contentment. That's laziness, lackadaisical thinking, and just pure T trash. Like you cannot be comfortable with 40, 50 and 60%. If my doctor was 40, 50, or 60% likely to do a great job on my open heart surgery, I don't think he would be my doctor. I want the doctor that's been tried and true and has been through multiple open heart surgeries and has a 99.99% effectiveness rate, if that is even a thing. But I want the one who has more experience with this, who's going to be the best who has been the best. And, you know, I don't want someone playing around with my life. That's how I view voting. And that's how I view success. If we are comfortable in the mid- 40s, 50s, and 60s, then this might not be the work for us. So that's what it'll be like, I believe, in the next decade.
JD Wooten: I love it. So we need to aspire for pilot success rates on landings, not baseball hall of fame batting averages.
Aimy Steele: That's exactly right.
JD Wooten: I'm good with it. Aside, from contact information and how people can find you what have we missed? What should listeners know about the New North Carolina Project that we didn't cover?
Aimy Steele: Well, I really want to go back to the question you mentioned about year round. This is a different way of looking at political engagement. traditional political investing and traditional political engagement involves one year on, one year off, one year on, one year off, and that's how funding cycles are. To anyone listening, we need to change that. Instead of putting a gazillion dollars in one year, divide up that gazillion over four years, and systematically invest in campaigns or entities like the New North Carolina Project who are doing the work of keeping people engaged so that by the time it's time to actually vote, we can show progress with these same people voting over a consistent amount of time, but we also don't have to close our doors, theoretically, every off year and then hire new staff. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to train staff to make sure they have your vision, make sure they also get to input their vision, and then make sure you have the infrastructure in place to actually execute the vision? If you have a turnover that's as high as what I see on some campaigns or some resumes I review, it doesn't help you really get into the belly and the heart of your mission over time. So we want an infrastructure that lasts for years and years. We want people to be professionalized in this organization and work for it for many years, not just three months, not just six months, and then they move on to the next thing. And that's going to take systematic investment.
JD Wooten: I went through three campaign managers and two cycles, and I love them all, but that's a lot of turnover for what was essentially a small startup that then spent all this money and then had to become a small startup all over again. Even the difference, literally an order of magnitude difference, in what we raised and spent between one cycle and the next. And I think it could've gone a lot more efficiently for everyone involved had it been a little bit more of a peanut butter spread between the two.
Aimy Steele: Exactly, I completely agree.
JD Wooten: So where can people go to learn more about the work happening at the New North Carolina Project and how to support those efforts and get involved?
Aimy Steele: Absolutely. So you can support us by visiting our website, newnorthcarolinaproject.org. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok at newncproject. On our website or any of those social media platforms, you can sign up to volunteer, or you can also donate. We are on ActBlue. So feel free to find us: New North Carolina Project or New North Carolina Project Foundation. But most importantly, figure out something you want to do, and do it. Don't just do now. Don't sit still. Don't just think everyone else has got it under control. No, they do not. It's up to you. Stand up, speak up, and do something.
JD Wooten: I love it. So, any closing thoughts?
Aimy Steele: I just want to say thank you, JD. You ran a heck of a race all the times you ran. We're all so thankful that you decided to put your name in the hat, but thank you for this encouraging podcast and all of the things that you're doing. And to all your listeners, thank you for supporting him. Keep supporting him, share his podcast, and make sure you subscribe on every single channel where this podcast is listed. That's what I have to say.
JD Wooten: That was not requested, but I appreciate the plug. Thank you so much, Dr. Steele, and thank you for being with us here today. We'll make sure to leave links in the show notes so everybody can find the New North Carolina Project. God bless and Godspeed.
JD Wooten:Thanks everyone for listening today. Links are in the show notes for everything from today’s episode. If you have questions or comments, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And again, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend so all our guests can reach the largest audience possible. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!