Editor’s note: Leslie Boney is director of the Institute for Emerging Issues.
RALEIGH – If we are to believe the predictions, we are heading toward a 10 week napalming of negative campaign ads: from radio and TV, in print, and everywhere on social media. There’s a decent shot that the onslaught is likely to leave us with the feeling that no matter who wins, we lose.
This would be a good year for a break. After five months of riding the rollercoaster of the pandemic, after a summer of racial soulsearching, sweltering heat, even an earthquake, and the still-looming threat of an “extremely active” hurricane season, you’d think there would be room for a niche candidate who could deliver a message of calm reassurance and optimism.
That person is going to be hard to find. But in this period of jigsaw puzzle mania, I think we may have a virtual one we could assemble, a composite candidate for our time.
Beginning March 19, I had a 16 week seat on the front row of a show with some of North Carolina’s best thinkers and doers, the people who are doing the day-to-day work of getting us through this crisis. Our “Connecting in Crisis” webinars were a weekly witness to the power of realistic optimism. We heard from folks working to save businesses, connect schoolkids, protect the vulnerable, keep the water on, feed the hungry, find the lost, address equity and fix systems. The heroes, it turned out, fit no profile: they were men and women, black, brown and white, rural and urban, students and seniors.
What they shared was not doe-eyed optimism or blindness to the challenge, but instead some kind of vision to overcome it, a commitment to “get ‘er done.” L.B. Prevette, a woman from Wilkes County identified by the national Aspen Institute as a “weaver,” summed that up. “What will come out of COVID,” she said, “Is resilience, not perfection. I hope we look at our communities and find resiliency.” Our goal, said Donald Thompson, CEO of Walk West, should be “survive and advance.”
They were people like Gloristine Brown, the long-time mayor of the town of Bethel in eastern North Carolina, facing the prospect of making up a budget for this year. She admitted that after the pandemic hit all her best ideas for this year “went right out the window.” But she was moving forward, encouraging her colleagues to “think smart, do some things we don’t want to do.”
We will come out of this crisis better, said Cyrus Rad, a rising senior at NC State, “If we can be humbled and humanize other people….more willing to be open and vulnerable to share our stories, share how we coped.”
We heard from folks like Pearce Godwin, who a few years ago got so sick of political rhetoric he quit his job and started an organization devoted to getting people talking again across lines of divide. Now, he said, is not the time to give up on any of that, but instead “to turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division, to move from isolation to connection.”
We heard from Tabari Wallace, principal of West Craven High School in Vanceboro, who this spring took graduation to the homes of every one of his graduating seniors and has an equal passion to make online learning work this fall: “Out of tragedy,” he said, “Comes triumph. We’ve retooled our army of educators and our educative mindset. We are ready for the challenge.” Watching and listening to him, it’s easy to believe it.
Over the next ten weeks, though, it’s going to be easy to forget him and the others as positive messages dry up and the drought sets in. We won’t have a chance to vote for candidate Prevsontine Radwallwin. But let’s remember them when we need a sip of optimism. They’ll be the ones priming the pump.