Press Release: Democracy in the Park

Democracy in the Park 2018

ASHEVILLE, September 18 2018: On Sunday, September 30th, community members are invited to Democracy in the Park, a public gathering at the Carrier Park Pavilion from 12 – 6 pm. Democracy in the Park is a convergence space for community members to engage with local activist and organizers about City government, how it works, how it could be improved, and to discuss with each other ways to expand public participation in the process. All are welcome.

Too often in today’s world the only options presented for participating in our democratic process are getting out to vote, making calls and writing letters to elected officials, or participating in some form of street protest. These activities are essential parts of our current democratic system, but there is a wide range of activities outside of voting and protesting from which most people are excluded. Democracy in the Park is the place to explore those opportunities together.

Voting is not enough. It is important to do but only one way we can engage in guiding the decisions that affect our lives. Voting for one person to represent all our complex values and concerns while they write policies and budgets gives us very little say in what actually happens. Large Corporations on the other hand have entire teams dedicated to engaging in lobbying and law writing (e.g. ALEC). “Representative democracy as it is practiced currently in America does not represent the voice of all citizens and ultimately disempowers us as we are painfully aware of our lack of power. At this point in American history Corporations have more Rights to decide what happens in the places we live than we do” says Kat Houghton, co-founder of local nonprofit Community Roots.

Locally, the City of Asheville drafts and approves a budget for each fiscal year. However, public participation in this process is almost nonexistent. Outside of voting for City Council members (who vote whether or not to approve the budget presented by City Staff) the public has very little say in how funds are distributed. The budget work sessions held by the City of Asheville prohibit public comment. The only opportunity to have one’s voice heard is to attend the public hearing on the budget. There, community members are given three minutes to share their thoughts and opinions on the allocation of resources. Once the public hearing is closed, there are no further opportunities for the public to comment on the budget, and City Council votes whether or not to approve the budget. Rarely, if ever, is the presented budget not approved.

The process was clearly not designed with participation from citizens in mind. If you could manage to get to City Hall by 5pm on that particular Tuesday then you could say your piece (or at least some of it) but have no confirmation that your thoughts have been heard or will be acted on. If you couldn’t make it to City Hall that day then there were no other options available. In other US cities, including NYC, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago citizens can work together in a process called Participatory Budgeting to propose and vote on projects which improve the community and is funded by the City.

“Making meaningful decisions together is the key to vibrant, sustainable communities” says Kim Roney, piano teacher and activist who serves on the the Multimodal Transportation Commission.

No such process exists in Asheville. Community members are held out of having meaningful input about what to fund. While some recent City Council campaigns and elected representatives have run on a platform of participatory budgeting, there has been little to no movement at the level of the City to explore its potential in Asheville. Democracy in the Park attempts to answer where in Asheville do we go to engage with other citizens who want to be involved in making collective decisions about our shared resources? We can go to the twice monthly City Council meetings and make a 3 minute public comment but it’s not a conversation and we don’t get to make any decisions together.

“Democracy in the Park is a place for us to get together, listen, discuss, ask questions and begin to think together about how we can push the limits of of current system of governance to facilitate the emergence of the new one”, says Mic Collins who is part of a group organizing the gathering. “Our goal is to politicize public space outside of City Hall. We hope to create a space where people can come out from behind their screens and keyboards to gather in person and dialogue, exchange ideas, and collaborate for innovative solutions about the needs of our community,” says Collins.

“Democracy in the Park is a safe, inclusive container for local citizens to engage in dialogue around local government, understand how it works and vision how we’d like to see it change,” says Houghton.

“There are many people and groups in Asheville talking about social change and how to create the world we want to see, one that is more equitable, inclusive, sustainable and spiritually fulfilling and some adminarable work being done towards these goals. However, a fundamental system of how we relate to each tends to be dismissed from those conversations – our local government.” says Houghton.

https://www.facebook.com/events/376179899579230/

Leadership Quotes – WNC 100% Renewables Coalition

Asheville becomes First North Carolina City to pass Resolution Calling for 100% Renewable Energy by 2050

“This is a great step, we are fully in support of the City of Asheville passing this resolution and now we need to give it some teeth. The City and County need to commit to this goal and begin taking actionable steps toward implementation so we can avoid, or at least lessen, climate catastrophe.”Kat Houghton PhD, Community Roots Board Member and Asheville Community Rights project co-lead

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Blue Ridge Public Radio – Opponents of Duke Energy Rate Hike Speak Out At Hearing

Opponents of Duke Energy’s plan to raise monthly rates close to 17% packed a public hearing in Asheville Wednesday night.  The North Carolina Utilities Commission is holding a series of public hearings across the state to get ratepayer reaction to Duke’s plan.

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Press Release – Street Theater Rally Against Duke’s Proposed Rate Hike September 27th

Asheville — The North Carolina Utilities Commission, the government body tasked with regulating Duke Energy’s activities in NC, is holding a public comment session on Wednesday September 27th 7-10pm. Community Roots, an Asheville based nonprofit, is organizing a Street Theater Rally and March starting at the Vance Monument at 5pm. Duke Energy is requesting a 16.7% rate increase from residential customers to cover, among other things, cleanup of their coal ash and the construction of new gas-fired plants including the one in Arden. Community Roots and its partners believe the public must take advantage of this opportunity to voice their opinions to the Commissioners and Duke Energy.

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Upcoming Event – Rally Against Duke’s Rate Hike and the Regulatory Fallacy: September 27th, 5 pm – 6:30 pm.

Join us to tell the NCUC we don’t want to pay to support Duke’s monopoly and continued use of fossil fuels. Duke Energy, comfortable in their entrenched monopoly, are proposing to the NC Utilities commission that they raise our electricity rates by 15%. They plan to use the additional $200 million a year to clean up their coal ash mess and build new infrastructure to keep us dependent on life destroying fossil fuels.

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Stand Against Duke’s Rate Hikes September 27

Street Theater Rally Against Duke’s Proposed Rate Hike

Asheville — The North Carolina Utilities Commission, the government body tasked with regulating Duke Energy’s activities in NC, is holding a public comment session on Wednesday September 27th 7-10pm. Community Roots, an Asheville based nonprofit, is organizing a Street Theater Rally and March starting at the Vance Monument at 5pm. Duke Energy is requesting a 16.7% rate increase from residential customers to cover, amongst other things, cleanup of their coal ash and the construction of new gas-fired plants including the one in Arden. Community Roots and its partners believe the public must take advantage of this opportunity to voice their opinions to the Commissioners and Duke Energy.

Suzannah Park, leader of the Wild Asheville Community Chorus and director of the Street Theater Rally believes “it’s easy to get lost in the maze of utility regulatory law; we want people to understand the issues at stake, what Duke Energy is asking for and feel empowered to go speak their mind to the Utilities Commissioners. Street theater is a powerful way to reach folks on a personal level by making the invisible or confusing issues, both visible and more easily understood.”

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New Proposed City Ordinance Fights for our Rights to a Healthy Climate

Asserting Our Rights to a Clean Environment

“When it comes to our energy future, who has more rights: one large energy monopoly, or the combined citizens of Asheville?” asks Jamie Friedrich, an organizer with local nonprofit Community Roots. You probably guessed correctly. Corporations have been seizing power all over this country, with disastrous effects upon our air, water, and land. Our pro-corporate, heavily Republican state legislature currently has the power to pre-empt any local laws that are in conflict with the corporate agenda. But people are organizing to challenge that, thanks to the work of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) who have been working on Community Rights since the 1990s.

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