Monday, October 7, 1996

Independent Groups Fight Specific Candidates

The Charlotte Observer, 10/7/96

By JIM MORRILL, Staff Writer

Until this year, Patsy Clarke had been a lifelong Republican and faithful supporter of Republican Sen. Jesse Helms. When her husband, Harry, died in 1987, Helms called in sympathy and even paid tribute to his late friend in the Congressional Record.

So when Clarke's 31-year-old son Mark died of AIDS in 1994, she wrote to Helms, an outspoken critic of homosexuals. She asked him to support AIDS research and not pass judgment on other people. Helms replied.

"I know that Mark's death was devastating to you," he wrote. "I wish he had not played Russian roulette with his sexual activity. I have sympathy for him - and for you. But there is no escaping the reality of what happened."

What the 67-year-old Clarke saw as coldness in Helms' reply prompted her to co-found the Raleigh-based "Mothers Against Jesse in Congress."

MAJIC is one of several groups - small and large - trying to influence North Carolina's U.S. Senate race and other contests with money or manpower. Many are anti-Helms. Others are expected to weigh in against Democrats, including Helms' rival Harvey Gantt.

They range from national organizations such as organized labor's AFL-CIO to groups such as VANISH (Voters Against N.C. Incumbent Sen. Helms), started by a handful of Chapel Hill rock bands that raised $16,000 at a benefit concert in July.

Such groups are no strangers in politics. Most are required to file spending reports with the Federal Election Commission and generally are barred from cooperating with candidate campaigns.

Like their motives, their levels of involvement vary.

An AFL-CIO spokesman recently said the group was spending "less than $100,000" a week running ads in the 2nd Congressional District against Republican Rep. David Funderburk. Spokesman Deborah Dion said the ad campaign is "not political. It's educational." She said it's unclear what, if anything, the group will do in the Senate race.

While labor helps Democrats, other groups typically aid Republicans.

The FEC currently is suing the Christian Coalition, arguing among other things that it illegally contributed to Helms' 1990 campaign by distributing 750,000 "voter guides" and making 29,800 phone calls as part of a get-out-the-vote telephone bank.

One of the largest independent efforts in North Carolina is being run by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group. For it, Helms is the year's No. 1 target.

It plans to spend $225,000 in the state to defeat Helms, according to Michael Armentrout, head of the N.C. effort. He says the group, which raises much of its money in North Carolina, plans mailings and phone calls, particularly to swing voters. The group does not expressly identify itself as a gay-rights group in mailings, but doesn't hide it if asked, Armentrout said.

"It's not focused at all on gay issues," Armentrout says. "It's focused on what the (voter) in North Carolina tells us are important to them. We know the issues are education, crime, the environment and those sorts of things."

Helms spokesman Eddie Woodhouse says the campaign takes such groups "very seriously."

"These are radical, liberal groups, most from out-of-state, who are trying to influence the voters of North Carolina," Woodhouse says. "They can raise money. They can mobilize troops."

Some groups organized to fight Helms - including the Charlotte-based "Not Helms PAC" - already have dissolved. Those still active include:

* N.C. Mobilization '96. The gay-oriented group based in the Raleigh area has raised less than $20,000 so far, says organizer Mandy Carter, 47. But she says she feels more optimistic than she did in 1990, in part because gays and lesbians are more visible and active.

* Musicians Organized for Voter Education. This is a Chapel Hill-based coalition of musicians and performers critical of Helms' opposition to public arts funding. Spokesman Erik Ose, 25, says the group has focused on registering young people at festivals and concerts.

* Clean Up Congress. Working on college campuses and in communities, the group has raised more than $100,000 since May, says spokesman Alex Kaplan, 25. He says volunteers are distributing 100,000 copies of Helms' environmental voting record, which he called "the worst."

Patsy Clarke of MAJIC says she tries to be realistic about what groups such as hers can do.

"There are times when I think we're going to have a big impact because our message is one of emotion," she says. "Realistically we feel like David and Goliath. We only hope that the result could be the same as David's."

Monday, July 8, 1996

North Carolina Rock The Vote "MOVEing" Young Voters To Defeat Jesse Helms

Press Release - For Immediate Release

Contact: Mary Lee, MOVE Coalition Co-coordinator, (919) 933-MOVE
Erik Ose, NC PDP Director, (919) 933-3455

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- This year may be our nation's last, best chance to rid the U.S. Senate of the corrosive influence of Jesse Helms, R-N.C. He is currently waging his toughest re-election battle yet, a heated re-match with his 1990 challenger Harvey Gantt. Helms only barely beat Gantt six years ago despite outspending him by two to one.

This time around, Helms faces not only a formidable challenger but grassroots opposition from citizens' groups and activists across North Carolina. The progressive community in North Carolina is better organized and united in their opposition to Helms than ever before.

One of the groups actively working to defeat Helms is targeting the age group that voted most heavily for Gantt six years ago - young voters. The North Carolina Participatory Democracy Project (NC PDP) is a grassroots, youth-led organization set up to re-connect N.C. citizens with the democratic process. Six years ago, NC PDP organizers were also involved with the anti-Helms struggle through their work with N.C. Senate Vote '90, a gay and lesbian-directed coalition of progressives from around the state working to elect Harvey Gantt.

NC PDP's primary focus this year is working across North Carolina to register and educate young voters aged 18-30 in time for the fall elections. During the past six years, registration drives organized by NC PDP on a volunteer, no-budget basis have already added nearly 20,000 young N.C. voters to the rolls.

"Few special efforts have been made by N.C. election boards to reach out to young voters," said Erik Ose, NC PDP Director. "When the opportunity to participate has been extended to young voters through our work in recent elections, they have voted in large numbers."

One of the most innovative ways NC PDP is signing up young voters is through a Rock The Vote-type project called Musicians Organized for Voter Education (MOVE). MOVE is a coalition of N.C. performers and musicians who oppose the threat to free speech Helms represents. MOVE members are committed to encouraging their audiences to register and vote in this fall's elections.

MOVE was originally founded in 1990 by the Chapel Hill-based band Dillon Fence, and grew to include over 100 N.C. bands, performers and musicians. Over 8,000 voters registered at MOVE events before the 1990 election. This year, the coalition has re-formed in response to the continuing threat Jesse Helms' re-election bid poses to artistic expression. N.C. bands involved with MOVE this year include the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Polvo, June, the Archers of Loaf, Superchunk, Dish, the Backsliders, and Pipe.

Through MOVE, NC PDP is reaching out to young voters in non-traditional ways, making voter education and registration accessible to them at concerts, festivals, record stores, and other convenient sites. Across the state, volunteers are distributing information about Helms' voting record on issues of particular concern to young voters (education, the environment, AIDS research funding, censorship, etc.), using language and materials that speak directly to them as young people.

"The work we're doing has incredible potential to mobilize a heavy youth vote in November for Harvey Gantt," said Mary Lee, MOVE Coalition Co-Coordinator. "Operating on a nearly non-existent budget, we've already registered more than 2,000 new voters in over 20 counties."

NC PDP volunteers are also organizing on N.C. college campuses to set up large-scale voter registration drives for the fall. Finally, NC PDP is waging a broader education campaign designed to show older North Carolinians that young people in their communities are overwhelmingly opposed to Jesse Helms.

If supporters would like to host an informal house party or cocktail fundraiser in their area to benefit NC PDP, please call (919) 933-MOVE. Donations can be sent c/o NC PDP/MOVE, 1507 E. Franklin Street Ste. 505, Chapel Hill NC, 27514.

"We've already accomplished a lot, but we can do so much more to make a difference in this race," said Erik Ose, NC PDP Director. "Every day we don't have to spend fundraising is another day we can register more pro-Gantt voters and educate more voters about Helms' dismal record."

More than any other age group, young people in North Carolina realize Helms represents the past, not the future for their state. "Our 400-strong volunteer base is young, energetic, and committed," said Dana Terebelski, NC PDP Volunteer Coordinator. "They're eager to continue helping the campaign against Helms."

At N.C. State University in 1990, students cast 81% of their votes for Harvey Gantt. At UNC-Chapel Hill, Gantt received 84% of all student votes. With the continued grassroots efforts of groups like NC PDP, young voters will play an important role in the coalition that unseats Jesse Helms this November and ends a national nightmare that has gone on far too long.

Friday, May 10, 1996

Help Us Defeat Jesse Helms

This year may be our state's last, best chance to rid the U.S. Senate of the corrosive influence of Jesse Helms. As young North Carolinians, we are working hard to register and mobilize 100,000 of our fellow young N.C. voters who realize Helms represents the past. But we need your help to make the difference this fall and retire Jesse Helms once and for all!

Dear Active Citizen,

For more than two decades, the power of the far right has increased steadily in America. Groundwork for 1994's frightening takeover of Congress by radical Republicans was laid by years of behind-the-scenes organizing.

Cheerleading and nurturing the conservative movement every step of the way has been the right's elder statesman - North Carolina's own Senator, Jesse Helms, R-N.C. His high office and mastery of Senate rules have long allowed him to be a brutally effective roadblock against progressive legislation that would benefit average North Carolinians. At the same time, his position has given him a national bully pulpit to fan the flames of far-right causes such as anti-gay bigotry, repeal of laws protecting our environment, censorship, and the abolition of women's right to choose.

The North Carolina Participatory Democracy Project is a grassroots, youth-led organization set up to re-connect citizens with the democratic process. One of our primary focuses this year is working across North Carolina to register 100,000 young voters in time for the 1996 fall elections - a figure that would have changed the results of the 1990 Gantt-Helms race. During the past six years, registration drives organized by N.C. PDP have already added nearly 20,000 young N.C. voters to the rolls.

In four closely fought elections, Helms' margins of victory have always been razor thin. The times have changed, but Helms has not. Over the years, his status as a creature from the South's ugly past has become more apparent to North Carolinians embarrassed by our Senator's callous comments, tired of his unceasing negativity, and sick of the unflattering attention he almost daily brings to our state.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the minds of our state's young voters, who voted against Helms by a wide margin in 1990. At N.C. State University, students cast 81% of their votes for challenger Harvey Gantt. At UNC-Chapel Hill, Gantt received 84% of all student votes.

Volunteers with our N.C. Youth Empowerment Project are working now to register voters across the state and organizing on college campuses to set up large-scale registration drives for the fall. We are reaching out to young voters in non-traditional ways, making voter registration accessible to them at concerts, festivals, record stores, and other convenient sites.

N.C. PDP also provides funding and logistical help to Musicians Organized for Voter Education (MOVE), a coalition of N.C. performers and musicians founded in 1990. MOVE members oppose the threat to free speech Helms represents and are committed to encouraging their audiences to register and vote in this fall's elections.

In November, Helms will again face his dynamic 1990 challenger, former Charlotte, N.C. mayor Harvey Gantt. Their re-match promises to be among the most watched political races in the country. This time around, progressives in North Carolina are prepared to more than match the resources and efforts that have given Helms his slim margins of victory in the past. But we must pull together and stand united in this fight, and we need your help. By making a contribution to N.C. PDP and our work through the N.C. Youth Empowerment Project and MOVE, your aid will be especially effective.

We are focusing our voter registration and education efforts on a group overlooked by other organized drives now underway in North Carolina - young voters. In the process, we are laying the groundwork for a more progressive future for our state. It is essential that young people develop habits of voting and becoming informed about election issues. In the long term, we see this as crucial to reversing the decline of citizen political participation so evident today.

Few special efforts have been made by election boards in N.C. to reach out to young voters and provide them with convenient access to voter registration. When the opportunity to participate has been extended to young voters through our work in recent elections, they have voted in large numbers.

Please join us in this fight by making a contribution of $25, $50, or more if you can. Over the past six years, registration drives organized by N.C. PDP have added nearly 20,000 young N.C. voters to the rolls - all on a nearly non-existent budget. Imagine what we can accomplish this year with your support.

Recent news from the national political battlefields has shown that no part of the progressive agenda is safe when far-right ideologues are elected to public office. In North Carolina, we have endured the presence of one such demagogue long enough. From race-baiting in 1950 to deny Frank Porter Graham a Senate seat, to demonizing AIDS victims in the 1990s, Helms' influence on our state's proud political tradition has been profoundly long-lasting and negative.

With your help, this year we can finally send Jesse Helms and his lack of vision for our state to history's dustbin - where they belong.


Erik Ose
Director, N.C. Participatory Democracy Project

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