Rural Assembly Everywhere Conversations
Anderson Clayton, the youngest state party leader in the country, talks with the Rural Assembly about reaching North Carolina’s rural residents, finding your people, and motivating young voters.
On what she’s hearing from voters across the state
I’ve heard a lot of frustrations — that this is the first time I’ve seen someone from the state party in a decade in my county or you know trying to get in touch with me and figure out how we can really reshape and re-energize the county party here. Or I hear a lot of what’s broken honestly and feel sometimes that there’s a a lot for us to fix. We have a long game and a long term plan I think to build out this model of what the Democratic party really should be. We really have to convince and and I think introduce the idea to people in these communities that we’re not just a party that drops in during every election cycle. We’re a party of helpers and we’re a party of public servants.
On how to energize young voters
If you’re looking on TikTok and on Twitter and on Instagram about how the world is all doom and gloom around you all the time and there’s nothing that you can do. I want to pull young people out of that mindset and put in a different mindset of that you have the agency to do something about that and it’s not by sitting on your phone. Maybe it is it’s by digital organizing or maybe it’s by getting a group of people online to get together and say we’re gonna go to this meeting and we’re going to advocate for this issue, but it’s got to be pulling people out of the headspace of that we are powerless.
On finding other organizers to support you
Find someone that you can build this movement with you because it’s going to be a long haul that we’re going to have to do. I think we got to stick it out together, but feel free to use me for motivation and I’ll give you all the energy that I’ve got to get out there, and give you every pep talk that I’ve got too, because rural is worth fighting for.
Watch the full interview and find the transcript below to learn more about Anderson Clayton.
Want stories like this delivered straight to you? Sign up for the Rural Assembly newsletter for more features and upcoming opportunities.
Whitney Kimball Coe: I’m very excited to introduce you to our next conversation. Anderson Clayton is the new chair of the North Carolina Democratic party and at 25 years old is the youngest State party leader in the country. We wanted to talk with Anderson about all the things what she’s learned from visiting rural residents across her state; how she navigates disinformation on social media in her small town; what gives her hope and why she says it’s important to find your people and keep showing up for your community. I kick off this next conversation by asking Anderson what it’s like to be a party chair.
Anderson Clayton: The the job responsibilities are wide ranging but it’s kind of fun because I always told my mom growing up I wanted a job where I never did the same thing twice in a day, and I feel like that’s what I’ve ended up in. In a lot of ways is that there’s a new problem or a new thing for me to tackle every day in this but like a lot of rural residents in North Carolina actually I commute for a job now every day. And I commute to Raleigh. I get up every morning and usually either come into Raleigh or I’m driving somewhere to go to an event to go meet with folks for um different meetings right now it’s either stakeholder meetings for 2023 municipal elections or talking about 2024 with folks. I do a lot of interviews and trying to make sure that folks are understanding and hearing the Democratic party message in all aspects of the state.
Whitney: And when you go into a community who are the people you’re looking for? Are you looking for politically active folks? Are you looking for young people are you looking for healers and helpers? Or who are you after?
Clayton: I think the way that I really look at it is that right now when I’m coming into a rural area or in any community I’m just trying to talk to Democrats I’m trying to introduce myself. I’m trying to give them the the platform that I ran on, because you know I got elected from a body of 600 people but not all of those included every Democrat throughout the state of North Carolina right? And I think there’s a lot of people in our state that need to hear that there’s a new vision and a new message for how we really interact with people going forward and the ways that the Democratic party plans to engage with folks especially in rural North Carolina more than they ever have before. Or I also kind of come in and try to listen to and hear what folks want to see and hear from the Democratic party because I think there’s a lot of of times when we say you know the Democratic party has a messaging problem. For me it is we’ve had a showing up problem, and we haven’t shown up and listened to people who have really needed our our ear.
Whitney: What have you been hearing? Have you been hearing optimism or real frustration? What does that sound like?
Clayton: I I feel like I’ve joked with folks, I feel like our party has come back to life over the last three months. You know we’ve had more folks that have signed up to volunteer, more folks have signed up to run for office, more people that really understand the stakes. I think that we’re entering into in both 2023 municipal elections (and) 2024 in a general election, but I I really hear also heard a lot of frustrations, right, that this is the first time I’ve seen someone from the state party in a decade in my county or you know trying to get in touch with me and figure out how we can really reshape and re-energize the county party here. Or I hear a lot of what’s broken honestly and feel sometimes that there’s a a lot for us to fix. That infrastructure to me takes a lot of time to build and there’s a big question in my mind of you know can we do what we need to do by 2024? And no is the answer, the short one really – we have a long game and a long term plan I think to build out this model of what the Democratic party really should be. For me to do that we really have to convince and and I think introduce the idea to people in these communities that we’re not just a party that drops in during every election cycle. We’re a party of helpers and we’re a party of public servants.
Whitney: I live in rural Tennessee and I was even having coffee with um a friend of mine who is also a local leader and organizer and I told her I was going to get to talk to you and I said you know if you could ask Anderson a question what would you ask her and she said you know how do we get folks engaged again in civic spaces in this desire and and gender a desire to participate and feel like it’s worth something it’s worth their time it’s worth their energy that there are things that they can do so how do we how do we energize um a base of people?
Clayton: I really want to bring people into their own power this year and empower folks to feel like I have so much agency and control over what this world that we’re living in is destined to be one day. And particularly for young folks, I mentioned that because they think about, you know, a cell phone right is one of the worst places I feel like your headspace can exist in right now. If you’re looking on TikTok and on Twitter and on Instagram about how like the world is all doom and gloom around you all the time and there’s nothing that you can do, and I want to pull young people out of that mindset and put it in put in a different mindset of that you have the agency to do something about that and it’s not by sitting on your phone. Maybe it is it’s by digital organizing or maybe it’s by getting a group of people online to get together and say we’re gonna go to this meeting and we’re going to advocate for this issue but it’s got to be pulling people out of the headspace of that we are powerless.
Whitney: Yeah well when I think about the theme for this year’s Everywhere virtual event we’re focusing on moving towards safer more connected communities, and you know that’s kind of a big umbrella for many to talk about many things many issues. What does safer more connected conjure up for you when you think about rural?
Anderson: I mean I’ll be honest right now in Pearson County I think there’s, what I’ve seen from studies across rural North Carolina and Rural America in general, is like you know at one point in time it was safe to go to bed leave your door unlocked at night and now it’s not anymore. And I think about public safety as a really big concern of people in our communities that don’t really see rural areas as as safe as they once were to them, and I think that for me it would mean finding a way to create jobs and opportunity for people so that you don’t have um folks that are I think in the situation where they find themselves in of being on the opposite side of that somehow and that might not make that much sense but I was thinking about the other day you know Pearson County has had more like drive-by shootings than we’ve ever experienced before in these last two years from the pandemic and I’m trying to think about you know what are the causations for that right in a rural area and a lot of times that’s the lack of job opportunity and mobility. It’s the fact that you don’t have transportation. It’s the fact that you don’t have what you need in your everyday life, and so thinking about the things that prevent gun violence in communities and how do we make that a part of the the future of rural areas everywhere. I think it’s looking at all the life necessities that you need to have which would mean a place to sleep at night. Do you have a job to go home to? Do you have an ability to put food on the table at night? And those issues shouldn’t be issues for folks but they are right now.
Clayton: I’ll be honest I think that I am just I’m so surprised every day that I ended up here and but I keep reminding myself that I ended up here because I believe so deeply in rural communities and I believe in the ability for them to go forward I believe so strongly that they should exist 50 years from now. I believe in the type of values that I learned growing up in them. I believe in rural and I think that that’s what keeps me going, and it’s the story of that that I found that’s been connecting me with so many other people that they may live in an urban community now but they’re from a rural area they’ve been touched by a rural area in some way. And it’s this power building effort that I think we have to do not only across our communities but also across our state and across our nation. And so if you’re feeling alone right now what I would hope that you would do and if you’re a rural organizer a rural fighter out there with me is that um reach out to me let’s let’s get something going because the thing that I have felt the most um empowered by is coming together with folks and so if you’re by yourself right now that’s probably how you’re going to feel is by yourself and you need to find other people and chase down other folks and if that doesn’t mean it’s not your backyard that’s okay too but find someone that you can build this movement with you because it’s going to be a long haul that we’re going to have to do I think we got to stick it out together but feel free to use me for motivation and I’ll give you all the energy that I’ve got to get out there and give you every pep talk that I’ve got too because rural is worth fighting for it never won’t be no matter where you are.
Whitney Kimball Coe: Anderson Clayton, thank you so much for this. conversation. Thank you. Whitney I really appreciate all the work that you do