Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill January 27, 2021
Eﬂand Residents to Texas Oil Giant:
BY SARA PEQUEÑO, P. 8
Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 3
The Nasher may be closed, but an ambitious new campaign brings public health awareness to sites throughout Durham, p. 23 PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NASHER MUSEUM OF ART
CONTENTS NEWS 8
Orange County grapples with the specter of Bucc-ee's.
BY SARA PEQUEÑO
10 Durham protects residents against natural hair discrimination. BY THOMASI MCDONALD
EPA won't force Chemours to fund PFAS studies–yet. BY GREG BARNES
Will 2021 be the year for Raleigh parks bonds? BY LEIGH TAUSS
Campaign finance data show North Carolina awash in cash ahead of redistricting. BY JEREMY BORDEN, MICHAEL TAFFE, AND KATHY QIAN
ARTS & CULTURE 22 Some Kind of Heaven only scratches the surface of life's final chapter. BY LEIGH TAUSS
23 A Carrie Mae Weems campaign comes to Durham. BY JAMEELA F. DALLIS 24 Outdoor exhibit In Plain Sight honors the storied history of a long-neglectd Black burial site. BY THOMASI MCDONALD 26 Reviews of three recent local albums. BY BRIAN HOWE, JORDAN LAWRENCE, AND NICK WILLIAMS
28 Speed Stick's debut is the brainchild of two drummers.
BY BRIAN HOWE
THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes
COVER Illustration by Jon Fuller
WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper
Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald
EDITOR I AL
Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño
Editor in Chief Jane Porter Interim Managing Editor Leigh Tauss Interim A+C Editor Sarah Edwards Interim News Editor Eric Ginsburg
January 27, 2021
Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods Contributors Will Atkinson, Paul Blest, Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Brian Howe, Kyesha Jennings, Mary
King, Drew Millard, Glenn McDonald, Neil Morris, Dan Ruccia, David Ford Smith, Chris Vitiello, Ryan Vu, Nick Williams Interns Anna Mudd, Emma Lee Kenfield
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BACK TA L K
Last Wednesday, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
Some of our readers rejoiced. “Look forward to tRump indictment for income tax evasion (remember Al Capone) and bank fraud,” wrote JOHN HAMMOND. “Look forward to his next term behind bars.” “I am so relieved that he-who-must-not-benamed no longer has access to the nuclear codes,” wrote GRACE VB. Of course, not everyone agreed. “Congrats to the Biden Crime Family,” wrote Facebook user JAMIE HARRIS. “Cry some more, snowflake,” ERIC CARLSON replied. “Today is the day before Biden takes over,” JASON WILLIAMS responded. “Diesel is currently $2.75 per gallon, gas is back up over $2.00 at about $2.65 a gallon. Interest rates are 2.25 percent for a 30 year mortgage. The stock market closed at 30829.40 though we have been fighting COVID for 11 months. Our GDP growth for the 3rd Qtr was 33.1 percent. We had the best economy ever until COVID and it is recovering well. We have not had any new wars or conflicts in the last 4 years. North Korea has been under control and has not been testing any missiles. ISIS has not been heard from for over 3 years. The housing market is the strongest it has been in years. Homes have appreciated at an unbelievable rate and sell well. And let’s not forget that peace deals in the Middle East were signed by 4 countries—unprecedented! WILLIAMS’S response continued: “Unemployment sits at 6.7% in spite of COVID. #Biden takes over on 1-20-21. Let’s see how fast he screws this up. Copied from a Friend.” “So I guess you’re digging in and still supporting domestic terrorists and seditionists. Got it!” replied MARI KAY SCOGGINS HANNAH. “your text has holes and your desire to prop up ex tory president trump gets nowhere,” wrote GLENN MAUGHAN. “Your statements are subjective; go back and count the servicemen and civilians kia [sic] these past four years. Reread the ups downs of all financial activity these past years. Check the status of the minimum wage. Waiting for an excuse for a president to screw up is like waiting for a sunrise; inevitable.”
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15 MINUTES Brooks Raiford NC Tech CEO BY LEIGH TAUSS firstname.lastname@example.org PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SUBJECT
What do you see as the top tech trends emerging in 2021 in the Triangle? I definitely think you will see changes in the workplace—not just in tech companies. Tech will help inform what that change might look like for lots of offices—ranging from figuring out how to have a lot fewer doors that require you to touch [people] as you walk through the building, [to] having spaces that are more flexible within your office space, rather than fixed offices and fixed walls. But it’s not necessarily a case that [companies] will reduce their footprint. They may need the same office space, because people need to be spaced out more. In the past, we were all about densification—cubicles next to each other, people kind of packed in on a per-square-foot basis just to be efficient— and now we’re going the other direction.
The Triangle has been a growing tech market, with people moving here from places like the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Do you see that trend continuing? Absolutely. We already saw a lot of that. The Triangle in North Carolina had ranked pretty high on the national surveys of where people were moving to, and a survey that recently came out had four North Carolina cities on the top 20 of where people are moving to from elsewhere, [including] Raleigh and Charlotte. There’s a lot of press these days about [how] now companies understand that a lot more of their workforce can work remotely than maybe had been the case before. The need to physically be in a Boston, or San Francisco, or you name it—it’s just not as strong. And if you can live where you want to, why not? And so now, the mantra of economic development, in many cases, is: Let’s advertise how wonderful it is to live here and attract people who are talented and skilled.
If you had one prediction for the tech scene here in 2021, what would it be? I think the demand for talent will continue to increase. We’re fortunate to have some pretty good resources in this region. The higher education system is strong; we have a strong economy that draws in existing talent. People who already have achieved some degree of professional success [in] tech elsewhere want to come here. And then we have a really strong network of community colleges that help educate and upskill existing workers without having to go back and get a college degree. Automation certainly will also become much more prevalent. We were already on that path, but anything you can do to automate and streamline processes in this new era of distributed workforce becomes even more important. We’re well-positioned, with IBM and others that are leaders globally [in terms of] predictive analytics—analytics that allow decisions to be made on how to operate more efficiently, what lines of work to get into, what kinds of efficiencies can drive internal operations, as well as how [to] better identify customers and engage those customers. More and more and more, we’re seeing discussions around that.W To learn more about the Triangle’s tech scene, check out NC TECH Association’s 2021 Outlook for Tech virtual conference on Wednesday, January 27. INDYweek.com
January 27, 2021
ATTORNEY AT LAW Un c o n t e s t e d Di vo rc e Bu s i n e s s L a w UNCONTESTED In c o r p o r a t i o n / L LC / DIVORCE Pa r t n e r s h i p MUSIC BUSINESS LAW Wi l l s INCORPORATION/LLC WILLS C o l l e c t i o n s SEPARATION AGREEMENTS Mu s i c
Q UICKBA I T
Ghost Roast BY LEIGH TAUSS email@example.com
ast week, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office tweeted a video of its favorite new toy—a “ghost car” with “low profile graphics,” so “you’ll never see it coming, especially at night.” Don’t know about you, but knowing an invisible cop car could pop up behind me at any moment doesn’t make me feel any safer. The INDY wanted to know more, so we asked how much these cruisers cost and how many they bought. Turns out, the sheriff's office only bought one of these 2020 Dodge Charger V8s with all-wheel drive in the special, stalker-stealth "ghost" color. And, just FYI, here's how brutally the public ratioed that tweet.W
967-6159 (919) 967-6159
$29,24 v. $27,477
cost of Ghost Car*
cost of typical cruiser*
Here were some of the best comments:
businesses by purchasing gift cards, shopping online, donating, ordering takeout, and tipping more *NC State contract base price: $24,044 4
January 27, 2021
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1,305 Days WORDS + PHOTOGRAPHY BY JADE WILSON
For three and a half years, JosĂŠ Chicas, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, sought refuge at Durhamâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s School for Conversion after facing deportation. On January 22, the day after the presidential inauguration, Chicas learned that he could leave sanctuary. Dozens of community members surrounded the front porch of the Onslow Street nonprofit, where Chicas and his family addressed media one last time before he returned to his home in Raleigh. W
January 27, 2021
Dammed Plans After a month of public comments, Orange County sends Buc-ee’s back to the drawing board BY SARA PEQUEÑO firstname.lastname@example.org
s the nation fixed its eyes on Washington pomp on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration, some Triangle residents were focused on a local commissioners meeting that could mean changes for the entire area. On January 19, the Orange County Board of Commissioners spent hours discussing Efland Station, a proposed rezoning project anchored by a massive gas station in the northern part of Orange County. The commissioners asked questions and gave comments, grilling the applicant on its plans for the future. They could have voted; they didn’t. Instead, the board had some conditions to negotiate with Buc-ee’s, a Texas convenience store vying for several parcels of land along Interstate-40 in the unincorporated community of Efland. They voted to send the company’s lawyers back to their lodge to consider the commissioners’ requests. Orange County residents didn’t speak at last week’s meeting, but they’d already made their voices heard. Nearly 100 people had given public comments across three different meetings, overwhelmingly voicing opposition to the plan. And up until last week, those who couldn’t attend made phone calls and sent emails to their commissioners. Just one in five public speakers supported the project; the rest made it clear that Buc-ee’s massive development plan was not what they wanted, nor what they expected from the county based on its previously stated goals. A Voice For Efland & Orange—a newly formed group that’s organizing against the development—has mobilized many of the plan’s opponents. It isn’t often that a rezoning problem takes over the public conversation like this, especially when the focus is on an 800-person unincorporated community that’s generally overlooked by other county residents and big businesses. But this isn’t an 800-person problem: If this beaver makes its home in Efland, it could have consequences for Hillsborough, Mebane, and even Raleigh. 8
January 27, 2021
ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER
At best, Efland Station would be a multi-phase construction project that could include sit-down restaurants, retail outlets, a hotel, and an urgent-care facility. Its centerpiece would be Buc-ee’s, which describes itself as a travel center with walls of snack options, good-paying jobs, and the cleanest restrooms in America. At worst, Efland Station would only ever be a 120-gas nozzle behemoth—one of the largest gas stations in the United States—built on top of a watershed that feeds directly into Seven Mile Creek, then the Eno River, then the local water supply. It could be the reason other gas stations in the area close down—or worse, a gas spill could threaten the Triangle’s clean water and create myriad environmental consequences. Buc-ee’s proposed North Carolina outpost would sit atop the Upper Eno Protected Watershed, which exists
near the border of a watershed that is critical for drinking water. When surface runoff inevitably occurs, or if an underground tank ruptures, the oil could eventually pool into the Eno River, a 40-mile body of water running through Orange and Durham Counties. Buc-ee’s representatives say they have never had a reportable underground spill, and that they try their best to limit the spills on the surface. They also contest the idea that the project would have a potentially negative effect on local water systems: The company said in a statement that it’s “physically impossible for it to happen,” since the site is downstream of Hillsborough’s water source and Orange-Alamance Water System intake facilities. They say they confirmed this with the Orange County Planning Department. But at a January 12 public hearing, an Orange County
Planning Board member said the company left some important details out. “At the November 4 planning board meeting, the developer stated that this project was not in the Upper Eno Critical Protected Watershed,” Kim Piracci said. “This, of course, is a true statement. What they did not tell us, but the Triangle Land Conservancy did, was that this project has two tributaries that empty into the Seven Mile Creek, which serves as a water supply for Hillsborough, and then eventually Raleigh.” Environmental groups have concerns about the plans: Orange County’s Commission for the Environment recommended the county deny this project, as did the Eno River Association. College students majoring in environmental studies, university professors, and members of the Sierra Club have also shared their worries with the county commissioners. Other residents told the commission during the public meetings that they’re worried about potential traffic congestion: Buc-ee’s could close westbound Exit 160, I-40/I-85’s exit for Efland. Residents say this could be a nuisance, and potentially dangerous for residents. Others aren’t buying the economic benefits promised by the company. Several residents brought up Buc-ee’s Glassdoor page during the meetings: Comments from alleged current and former employees mention that their breaks are short, and that management can be strict and uncompromising with employees. Some speculated that the Lone Star State company’s profits wouldn’t stay in Orange County. “They’re interested in gaining money for themselves and essentially taking it back to Texas,” John LaRusso said at the final hearing. “We, as a county, need to think about ourselves. No one else is going to think about us. We need local business owners to build things in our county.” Some residents just think it’ll be a headache—an I-40 version of South of the Border, or a truck stop with tacky advertisements up and down the interstate. Many mentioned that they originally chose to live in northern Orange County because it’s quiet and rural. Buc-ee’s contests this, since the area includes an interstate and an active railroad. “It’s more like a general store where fresh food is prepared onsite, local arts and crafts from North Carolina artisans, household goods—they’re actually the third-largest retailer of Lodge cookware,” Buc-ee’s lawyer, Beth Trahos, told county commissioners. “They have hunting and fishing gear, toys, games, books, et cetera.”
“Buc-ee’s is to Sheetz what Wegman’s is to a Piggly Wiggly. These things are not the same.” “Buc-ee’s is to Sheetz what Wegman’s is to a Piggly Wiggly,” Trahos continued. “These things are not the same.” Buc-ee’s supporters want residents to focus on the jobs the development will bring to the area: jobs that meet living wage requirements for Orange County, and ones that potentially offer benefits. “I’ve been troubled by the criticism of some about these jobs, which again will pay $15 an hour—the Orange County living wage—which we’ve just heard will provide benefits, which I don’t believe are even provided to the folks who, you know, clean our schools,” Commissioner Mark Dorosin said at the January 19 meeting. Trahos brought up what she perceived to be an inconsistency on the part of Orange County residents: She says Wegman’s has a starting salary of $9 an hour, and that the company received tax incentives from Chapel Hill, but those jobs aren’t scrutinized. Commissioner Earl McKee reminded the board that the county is losing its younger residents without college degrees, who are being priced out to Alamance and Chatham Counties. Though outnumbered by detractors, several residents spoke in favor of the proposal, too. The land has been on the market for years, they said. They mentioned that the Board of Commissioners had rejected multiple other proposals for the area.
“I hear some of you saying ‘Let’s wait for something better,’” Efland resident Kenneth Woods said at the final hearing. “Will there ever be anything better for us in Orange County? Especially in northern Orange?” Despite the “general store” sales pitch, Buc-ee’s spokespeople are tied to the gas pumps. When asked by multiple commissioners whether scaling down was possible, a Buc-ee’s representative said that the size of the store, including its five dozen gas pumps, is what “makes it work.” Commissioner Amy Fowler told her colleagues that she would consider the project if the gas station could be scaled down to at least a third of its proposed size. Although Buc-ee’s spokespeople said that sort of scaling back wasn’t possible, it’s one of the conditions they now have to consider. It’s unclear if the Texas-sized Buc-ee’s can fit in the progressive Orange County framework. Commissioners recommended adapting the height of the Buc-ee’s sign, adding solar panels to the first phase, securing partners for the second phase, having fully functioning electric vehicle charging stations, and reducing the size of the project. The decision to consider the conditions passed 5-2. Chair Renée Price and Commissioner Jean Hamilton were the only dissenters; the other five, even those in support of higher wages, were on the fence about the project overall. Buc-ee’s and the planning department will return to the board at the February 16 meeting to see if they can make it work. If the commissioners deny the plan, or if Buc-ee’s withdraws its proposal, the parcels of land can’t be rezoned this way for a year, according to county planner Michael Harvey. A different company could buy the land to use for the current zoning, which allows for office buildings and factories. The commission may or may not consider other types of rezoning for the site in the future. It’s also unclear if Buc-ee’s has its eye on other parts of North Carolina If the commissioners approve the project, A Voice For Efland & Orange doesn’t have a concrete plan yet for how it would respond. “We’ve talked about what we do if it goes forward; we also have talked about we do if it doesn’t go forward,” organizer Jared Cates says, “and how we can stay connected as a group of rural folks who have made some connections with folks in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to stay more engaged in our county processes and hold our elected officials in our county departments accountable.” W INDYweek.com
January 27, 2021
Hair Care Durham leads the way in protecting residents against hair discrimination BY THOMASI MCDONALD email@example.com
t’s now safer for people of color—especially Black women—to wear their hair natural in Triangle workplaces. The Durham City Council added protections for natural hair to its new anti-discrimination ordinance, which was approved on January 18. Carrboro and Greensboro both protected natural hair in recent updates to their anti-discrimination ordinances, too, according to the News & Observer. Durham went one step further. In a January 21 virtual work session, the council unanimously approved a resolution in support of statewide legislation that would prohibit race-based hair discrimination in North Carolina’s workplaces. The three-page resolution seeks to protect coiffures, hairstyles, and hair textures associated with people of color, from braids to cornrows to locks. State Senator Natalie Murdock, a Black woman who represents half of Durham County in the General Assembly, applauded the news on Twitter. “Elated that #Durham will be among the first but not the last municipality to fight against natural hair discrimination 10
January 27, 2021
in #NC,” she tweeted. “Thankful to the many individuals and orgs that will continue to fight for a full #CrownAct at the state and federal level.” The Bull City resolution was born out of state and federal legislation first introduced in California two years ago, when West Coast lawmakers sponsored the “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair,” or CROWN, Act. In 2019 and 2020 respectively, U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey sponsored the CROWN Act to amend “a panoply of existing federal civil rights law that prohibits race discrimination in federally assisted programs, housing programs, public accommodations, employment and access to equal rights under the law,” according to the resolution. The movement was spearheaded by the CROWN Coalition, a national partnership founded by the National Urban League, Color of Change, Dove, and the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
others. I resolutio address ious rac styles an PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER people o The ha reads like referencin to braids Murdock told the INDY that next month, she intends to cornrows sponsor a bill that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. The co She says her staffers are speaking with attorneys “regarding mind the some of the provisions to ensure we align with state law.” gling the “We are working with municipalities to get local reso- book beg lutions passed to build support,” she added. “Then those and Lori local governments can encourage their legislators to sup- spiraling evolution port [the new bill].” Durham’s resolution notes that for nearly two years, “Like n the coalition has sparked a “wave of legislation” that adds kinky hai race-based hair discrimination to the legal definition of tal intens The au race discrimination. Two Durham council members—the city’s mayor pro tem- century, h pore, Jillian Johnson, and the council’s newest member, sages in m “Ever s Pierce Freelon—both wear natural hairstyles. “I’m fortunate to have never faced any discrimination for hairstyles my choice to wear my hair natural, but I know of many son’s ma Black people who have dealt with discrimination from identity, w school administrators and employers,” said Johnson, who munity,” t That c wears a crown of thick locks. “I’m glad this issue is getting more attention from the arrived o government, and that we’re taking steps to protect Black dominan with hair residents from this injustice,” she added. Freelon, who wears slender locks that tumble below his ferent sto consigned shoulders, echoed Johnson’s sentiments. “No problems here,” he wrote in an email to the INDY. their mo “I did grow up in Durham—the progressive center of the badges o Conseq South!” Freelon did recall a few mild incidents, but it certainly “served as discrimin wasn’t discrimination. “When I ran for mayor, it was mostly Black grannies That ra asking if I was going to cut my hair,” he said. “Bless their ing” biase to result hearts—they were trying to protect me!” There have been recent high-profile reports of racism deprived targeting people who wear natural hairstyles, particularly opportun locks, including the story of a high school wrestler in New That r Jersey who was forced to cut his locks to participate in a workplac tective ha match. Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a Duke University business of African professor and senior associate dean, co-authored a study The res published in the Social Psychological and Personality Sci- 2018 tha ence journal last August that found that “Black women grooming with natural hairstyles were perceived to be less profes- protectiv sional, less competent, and less likely to be recommended African d for a job interview than Black women with straightened The m hairstyles and White women with either curly or straight as “unke descriptio hairstyles.” Councilmember DeDreana Freeman sponsored the res- stereotyp olution. She was not immediately available for comment, With th but thanked the city attorney’s office for its assistance in “prompt inatory p crafting the document. The CROWN Act has already struck a chord nation- non-facto wide. So far, the measure has been adopted by seven rily perfo states and is under legislative consideration in 20 or serve i
others. It’s described in the city council resolution as “a national movement to address the effects of long-term, insidious racial discrimination against hairstyles and hair textures associated with people of color.” The hairstyles listed in the resolution reads like a celebration of Black attitude, referencing styles “such as, but not limited to braids, locks, twists, tight coils or curls, cornrows, Bantu knots, and Afros.” The council members’ resolution calls to mind the 2001 book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. The book begins with authors Ayana D. Byrd and Lori Tharps writing that “the dense, spiraling curls of African hair demonstrate evolutionary genius.” “Like natural air conditioning, this frizzy, kinky hair insulates the head from the brutal intensity of the sun’s rays,” it reads. The authors note that in the early 15th century, hair functioned as a carrier of messages in most West African societies. “Ever since African civilizations bloomed, hairstyles have been used to indicate a person’s marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth, and rank within the community,” they write. That changed when enslaved Africans arrived on American shores, where the dominant culture used skin color, along with hair texture and hairstyles, to tell a different story: One about a subjugated people consigned to society’s lowest caste, where their most distinctive features became badges of inferiority. Consequently, skin color and hair have “served as a basis of race and national origin discrimination,” according to the resolution. That racist perspective fueled “longstanding” biases and “stereotypes” that continue to result in people of African descent being deprived of educational and employment opportunities. That racism continues “in school and workplace policies that bar natural or protective hairstyles commonly worn by people of African descent,” the resolution adds. The resolution notes that it was not until 2018 that the U.S. Armed Forces rescinded grooming policies that “barred natural or protective hairstyles that servicewomen of African descent commonly wear.” The military described the hairstyles as “unkempt,” before recognizing the description “perpetuated derogatory racial stereotypes.” With the resolution, the council supports “prompt legislative action” to ban discriminatory practices over an issue that is a non-factor in a person’s ability to satisfactorily perform their job, learn in a classroom, or serve in the military. W INDYweek.com
January 27, 2021
N E WS Aerial view of the Cape Fear River PHOTO COURTEST OF THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
NEARLY 300,000 EXPOSED
Dead in the Water EPA rejects N.C. environmental groups’ PFAS petition BY GREG BARNES firstname.lastname@example.org
he U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rejected a petition from six North Carolina environmental groups that would have forced the Chemours chemical company to fund health studies on 54 types of “forever chemicals” released from its Fayetteville Works plant. The EPA said in a January 7 response that the petitioners failed to prove the requested data was needed. The petition was filed on October 14 by the Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, North Carolina Black Alliance, Democracy Green, and Toxic Free NC. The group sought a rule of order under the Toxic Substances Control Act compelling Chemours to fund and carry out health and environmental testing of the 54 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—commonly known as PFAS—through a panel of independent scientists. 12
January 27, 2021
Leaders of the groups had strong words following the EPA’s denial. “I believe the EPA is lying to North Carolinians, and, by extension, the rest of America,” Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, said in an email. “If, as the EPA suggests, enough scientific data already exists to deny our petition then where are the drinking water standards for these 54 PFAS? Fish and wildlife consumption advisories? Fact sheets for medical practitioners and state health departments?” She continued: “The required data doesn’t exist to produce these vital protections. The EPA knows it and my children are still being exposed to many of these PFAS. My friends and neighbors are sick. My husband almost lost his eyesight to a brain tumor and I’m tired of a government, funded by taxpayer dollars, refusing to do its job.”
The environmental groups say Chemours—and before it, DuPont—are responsible for PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River, downstream of the Bladen County chemical plant, and in more than 4,000 private wells surrounding it. Before 2015, DuPont owned and managed the Fayetteville Works facility; then the company spun off Chemours into a separate entity. Nearly 300,000 people surrounding the plant and living downstream of it are believed to have been exposed to elevated levels of PFAS from decades of unregulated PFAS being discharged into the river and the air. The substances have also been found in vegetables grown near the plant and in fish, alligators, and other wildlife downstream. Potential adverse health effects from PFAS include liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone and immune suppression, and cancers of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, testicles, and thyroid. Chemours contends that the levels of PFAS found in drinking water drawn from the Cape Fear River and in private well water are not enough to cause human harm. Yet mounting evidence suggests that even extremely low levels of certain types of PFAS may cause adverse health effects. The groups that filed the 49-page petition want Chemours to pay for studies on the 54 PFAS, so people can know the health risks and perhaps how to mitigate them. The action would emulate studies conducted in the Mid-Ohio River Valley in the earlier part of this century, which found most of the people studied had some level of PFAS contamination in their blood. “Medical practitioners in our region know we were overexposed to PFAS but lack the guidance and support on how to offer preventive medical care,” said Donovan, who lives in Brunswick County. A study last year by the national Environmental Working Group found that water from a drinking fountain in
a Brunswick County elementary school contained the highest level of PFAS detected in the country. “There’s a data gap inside our health care community regarding exposures to mixtures of PFAS,” Donovan said. “We deserve to know all the risk factors.”
CHEMOURS SAYS PETITION FELL SHORT Chemours disagrees. Shortly after the EPA rejected the groups’ petition, the company released a statement saying it was happy with the outcome. The statement also touted Chemours’ efforts to substantially reduce PFAS from the Cape Fear River. “The petition failed to establish any of the factors required under TSCA to support the proposed action,” the company said in a statement. “Several of the compounds cited in the petition have no known connection to Chemours’ Fayetteville Works operation. Others are byproducts and intermediaries that occur at such small quantities, levels that continue to decrease, that it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to manufacture the volumes required for testing.” Following the EPA’s decision, the groups who filed the petition vowed to continue fighting on behalf of at-risk communities against PFAS pollution from Chemours. “EPA’s petition denial does not dispute the serious health effects concerns associated with PFAS, or the extensive contamination of the Cape Fear River basin caused by Chemours,” the groups said in a joint statement published by the Center for Environmental Health. “Instead, it seeks to justify its refusal to require testing with a self-serving recitation of its actions on PFAS generally—actions which have been widely criticized as ineffective and inadequate.” The statement continued: “Under [President] Donald Trump, protecting the profit margins of corporate polluters has repeatedly taken precedence over public health.
EPA’s refusal to require Chemours to fund testing that should have been conducted decades ago is one more example of its willingness to sacrifice public health to protect industry’s bottom line.” The groups said they will ask President Joe Biden’s administration to approve the petition. Biden has nominated Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, to lead the EPA. Biden has said he will declare two of the oldest and most troublesome PFAS—perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)—hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law, which could provide a major boost in cleanup of the toxic chemicals. An estimated 5,000 different types of PFAS are known to exist. They are used to make products grease- or water-resistant and are found in many everyday products, including non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant carpets, lubricants, firefighting foams, paints, cosmetics, paper plates, and fastfood packaging. Nearly everyone in America is thought to have some level of PFAS in their blood, but few states have as much of the contamination in drinking water as North Carolina. PFAS are called “forever chemicals,”
“My children are still being exposed to many of these PFAS. My friends and neighbors are sick. My husband almost lost his eyesight to a brain tumor and I’m tired of a government, funded by taxpayer dollars, refusing to do its job.” because they don’t break down easily in the environment and accumulate in the body.
PFAS ARE UBIQUITOUS Elevated levels of PFAS have been found in drinking water throughout the Cape Fear River basin, from Greensboro to the coast. In a video conference last month announcing findings from a study of PFAS in Pittsboro residents’ blood, Duke Uni-
versity researcher Heather Stapleton said 1 million people who draw their drinking water from the basin could potentially be exposed to elevated levels of PFAS. Stapleton also said the types of PFAS found in the blood of Pittsboro residents are “strikingly similar” to those found in the blood of Wilmington residents. Yet, some types of PFAS, including GenX and Nafion byproducts, are almost exclusively released by Chemours in North Carolina. Both compounds were found at extremely
high levels in drinking water downstream of the Bladen County plant before the company was forced to stop releasing its wastewater into the river in 2017. Elevated levels of the substances are still found in the river, however, coming largely from groundwater seepage, runoff, and sediment. Last year, The state Department of Environmental Quality took additional action against Chemours that it says will significantly curtail the PFAS loading into the river. But the environmental groups that filed the petition want more than promises to stop the pollution. They want industries to be held accountable, and they want to know what decades of contaminated drinking water could be doing to their health. “Chemical giants continue to reap financial benefits of their reckless behavior at the expense of human health and the environment,” Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch, said in the statement. “This petition holds at least one polluter responsible for paying to figure out just what damage they have done to the health of those in their community in North Carolina.” W This story was originally published by N.C. Health News.
January 27, 2021
Parks and Vindication Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin hopes 2021 will be the year her moonshot comes to fruition. A parks bond on the ballot this fall could fund the first phase of Dix Park’s master plan. BY LEIGH TAUSS email@example.com
efore COVID-19 altered life as we knew it, 2020 was supposed to be the year Raleigh taxpayers cosigned the biggest check in the city’s history: an ambitious bond package that included funds for affordable housing, parks and greenway maintenance, and the first phase of Dorothea Dix Park’s redevelopment. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and an incoming slate of development-friendly council members were quick to throw the weight of their campaign promises behind the referendum. Plans were quickly downsized, however, once the pandemic hit. Instead of the moonshot trifecta, voters were left with an $80 million housing bond—which they overwhelmingly approved—and an “I owe you” for parks. Now, Baldwin hopes to pick back up where she left off, resurrecting a parks bond likely to top $100 million. “During COVID, I think parks and greenways became everybody’s oasis,” Baldwin told the INDY. “That’s where people go to escape—it’s where we go to walk, play, ride, socially distance with friends—and I think we’ll get support because people realize how important parks and greenways are to the community.” It’s still a big ask, especially with no clear end to the pandemic in sight and a projected $28 million budget shortfall. The first phase of Dix Park, which includes the creation of the Gateway Plaza & Play area, costs $55 million alone. If the bond includes the second installment of the John Chavis Memorial Park project, which is estimated to cost $45 million, that’s already $100 million, without even taking into account other much-needed parks maintenance projects. 14
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The current proposal falls about $20 million short of what the Dix Park Conservancy had planned for, said the non-profit’s president and CEO, Janet Cowell. In total, phase one is expected to cost $200 million, of which the conservancy will fund $50 million. That would leave the city on the hook for $150 million, which Cowell said could come from two bonds over five years. If Dix gets less than $75 million this year, Cowell says the City and the conservancy will both need to make up the shortfall. “We’ll certainly push to get as close to that $75 million as possible,” Cowell said. “If that is not possible, then I think we should look at tax increment financing districts and figuring out other ways to complete the master plan that everybody agreed on.” The city’s Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board is dreaming even bigger: up to $200 million in bond funding, which doesn’t even include a proposed $50 million for the first wave of Dix Park. Separate from the bond, the board is also asking the city council to consider a one or two-cent property tax to help fund park maintenance. Representatives from the parks board could not be reached for comment before the INDY went to press. Last week, council member Patrick Buffkin acknowledged that the council and advisory board were unlikely to see eye to eye on bond priorities. “I want to suggest that everyone be comfortable with the possibility the council is going to disagree with the parks board,” Buffkin said at the January 19 council meeting. “It is a recommendation from an advisory board, it will carry a great bit of
Proposed view of Dix Park from Lake Wheeler Road to top of the ridge, Dix Park Master Plan
weight, but the council retains final prerogative to set the list and make decisions about how much in total.” Council member David Cox, the often odd-vote-out District B representative, took issue with the lack of projects proposed for his district. “Unless the number of proposed projects for District B has changed, I would not be in support of a parks bond going forward,” Cox said. The council plans to take up the matter at its March retreat. The bond would appear as a referendum on the ballot for Raleigh’s October 5 municipal election, which will also include the council and mayoral races. The council must vote on a preliminary bond resolution by June and
a final proposal by August for it to get on the ballot. While the council has the final say over what goes into the bond, ultimately, it’s up to voters to foot the bill. “The voters will decide, and it will be their choice,” Baldwin said. “We are going to make sure that we make a compelling case, that we’re fiscally responsible, and we’re fully informing them and transparent.” Given low-interest rates, Cowell thinks the time to go big on a parks bond is now. “I know there’s been a lot of hurt in the community, for small businesses and individuals, and as we look to recover from COVID, I think investing is a good thing,” Cowell said. “This is the time for government to step forward.” 2
OP - E D
Academic Freedom Liberate our education from deep racial bias and disparities BY NICHOLAS BROWN, MARIAMA DIOUF, AND GENESIS DANQUAH firstname.lastname@example.org
t’s about time, America. In this year of turmoil and despair, we are reckoning with the epidemic that has oppressed Black people throughout history: systemic racism. In 2020, “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for Black liberation, and it echoes the cries of Black people throughout centuries demanding human rights. The “United” States has claimed to offer the American Dream to all its inhabitants, yet education, one of its most important facets, has been denied to Black people for generations. As Black students, we’ve been pushed out of education, affecting the way we learn, earn, and yearn for acceptance in this country. Liberation in education is not a new concept. We’ve seen it debated, rejected, and somewhat accepted in efforts to integrate schools during the Civil Rights era. Despite the generational effort to liberate Black students, we are still subject to myriad barriers that block us from a quality education. White and Black students misbehave at similar rates, but in North Carolina, roughly 10 Black youth were incarcerated for every white youth in 2017, according to U.S. Justice Department data. And in Durham Public Schools (DPS) during the 2018-2019 academic year, Black students comprised 86 percent of youth who found themselves on the receiving end of school-based complaints to the justice system, despite representing 44 percent of DPS enrollment, according to DPS data compiled by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Not a single white student received a school-based complaint in the same year. This environment of racist policing caused one Black DPS student to say, “I
“As Black students, we’ve been pushed out of education, affecting the way we learn, earn, and yearn for acceptance in this country.” believe my safety is not being put first when law enforcement officers are placed in schools, because they specifically target students that look like me.” Racial disparities are fueled by oppressive forces like racial profiling, scarce mental health resources, and academic tracking that funnels students of color into less
academically challenging courses. By putting the focus back on students and giving them mental health spaces, easy access to opportunities and resources, better restorative justice programs, and a manageable workload, we could help create an equitable school environment. As Malcolm X once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” We must reform the education of our nation to secure Black students’ liberation. The prejudicial foundation of the education system is impeding upon Black success. Understanding the value of a great education, we at the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice have started the #LiberateToEducate plan. This plan addresses educational barriers by demanding police-free schools, alternatives to harmful school discipline, student self-determination in course selection, and culturally relevant curriculum, as well as mental health spaces and safe spaces for marginalized students. In order to systematically dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in DPS, we need the support of elected officials and the community. Join our movement by signing our petition and telling Durham school board members they must #LiberateToEducate. No Black student in DPS should fear physical abuse by a police officer while having no mental health support. DPS should be a place where all Black students are free to pursue the American Dream. W This op-ed was written by members of the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
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January 27, 2021
Roe v. Wade Anniversary – Jan. 22, 1973 48 Years of Reproductive Choice “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. … When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.” —RUTH BADER GINSBURG, 1995 SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARING
We, the undersigned, support a woman’s right to safe, legal, and accessible birth control and abortion. We condemn the acts of violence and intimidation directed at women and their health care providers. We agree that these rights extend to all women regardless of economic status, and, as taxpayers, affirm our support of public funding for family planning services and funding for abortions for indigent women. THIS AFFIRMATION OF A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE WAS PAID FOR BY THE NORTH CAROLINIANS WHOSE SIGNATURES APPEAR AND WAS ORGANIZED BY THE NORTH CAROLINA NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN.
Virginia Adamson Jennifer Albright Martha Alexander Jennifer Alexander Andree Allen Elizabeth Diane Anderson Ora Aney Bruce Arnold Molly Arnold Ann N. Ashford Dr. Naveed Aziz Ethelyn Holden Baker Ruth Baker Esther Barkley Deirdre Barlaz Shana Becker Thomas S. Benton, MPH Dr. Albert Bethke Jenny Black Nancy Blood Jackie Blue Violette Blumenthal Tolly Boatwright Amber Bogle Mary E. Bolstad Susan A. Bondurant Suzanne Botts Susane Boukamel Betty Tucker Boyd J. Glenn Boyd Chad Boykin Emily Bragg Yevonne Brannon Luis Bravo Lydia Bravo-Taylor Aliza Bricklin Virginia Bristol Carrie Browder Tammy Brunner Barbara Bryan Lori Bunton Dr. Rebecca Campbell Helen Campbell Karen Carson Virginia Carson Mandy Carter Becky Carver Pamela Carver
Curtis Carver Mary Cason Kicab Castaneda-Mendez Abby Catoe Margaret K. Champion, MD Channel Chance Cathy Chandler Chris Chato Caroline Christian Kelly Ziglar Clay Meta A. Weaver Coaxum Sue Cockrell Nancy Cook Carolyn I. Cooper Lea Cordova-Salas Jeannette Council Bev Cowdrick Charity Crabtree Jimmy Creech Megan Cunningham, M.Ed. Gail Austin Curry Marci Curtis Anne C. Dahle Jeanne Dairaghi Patty Daniel, RN Joann Dare Jane D. Darter Robin R. Davis Penney De Pas Darilyn Dealy Phoebe DeGroote Vicky DeGroote Beth Dehghan Judy Deighton Dani Devinney Lorelei DiBernardo Rabbi Lucy Dinner Donna Dodson Emma Dolan Jane Dunhamn Bethany A. Dusenberry Jo Anne Earp Rebecca A. Edwards Michael Eisenberg Wendy Eisenberg Rebecca Elliott Andy Ellis Helena Ellis
Jacalyn Engler Sonia Ensenat Catherine Evangelista Melba Evans Barbara Faison Robbin Flowers Dana Rees Folley Bea Baxter Fordham Cindy Fox Laurie Fox Nadine Fox David & Kathy Freeman Suzanne Gaither Mr. Jimmy Garlich Victoria Gerig Sally Gillooly Anna Go Barbara Goldstein Rachel Goldstein Jean & Mark Goodwillie Laura K. Gordon Randee Gordon Sally Goshorn Phyllis Gould Ileana Grams-Moog Lynette S. Green Kathy Greggs Kate Griffin Emily Grimes Irene Grimes Marena Groll Jenny-Jaymes Gunn Betty Rogers Gunz Robin Hamilton-Brooks Cindy Hanford Eileen Hanson Lucy A. Harber Jeanne Harris Arianne Hartsell-Gundy Lindsey Hedrick Martie Heinrich Jill Hendrickson Scott Herman-Giddens Alma Hernandez Pat Hielscher Pamela K. Hildebran Catherine H. Holcombe Marjorie Hoots
Chrissy & Joel Huber Robert D. Hudson Frances Lynam Huffman Aiden Hutcheson Brian Hutcheson Sandra Hutchinson Eric Hyman M. Deborah Jackson Arlyle C. Jannuzzo Edith Jeffreys Dana Jennings Amy Jeroloman Keith Johnson Paige Johnson Gwendolyn Johnson Sharon Johnson Mary Jones Annette Jurgelski Rabbi Raachel Jurovics Lynne Kaplan Sue Karpen Millicent Kaufman Jeanne Kauss Mary-Jo Keenan Susan Kelemen Jane Kendall Sheila Kerrigan Susan King Ellie Kinnaird Stephanie Klapheke Marilyn Knowles Natalie Knowles Kathy Kos Jenny Kotora-Lynch McLean Kram Phyllis Kritz Priti Lalka Betsy Lambert Naomi Lambert Lucy S. Lancaster Dr. Jeffrey Land Terry Landers Betty Jane Lazo Bob Leker Nancy Levin Gabrielle Li Debbie Liebers Chuck Liebers
Elizabeth Little Patricia Long Judy Lotas Jan R. Lowe Judy Lowe Sara Lowe Sharon Lowery Susan Lundberg Anna Lynch Jeffrey Lynch Sherry MacQueen Roberta Madden Margie Maddox Karen Mallam Erik Mancini Ronni Margolin Mary Marshall Denise Matthews Nancy Mayer Brenda McCall Margaret McFadden Rosemary McGee J. Denny McGuire Teresa McInerney Randa McNamara Peggy McNeill Marsha Mello Stef Mendell James Merchant Kate Mewhinney Wendy Michener Mary Middleton Ann Mixon Miller Eula Miller Ms. Marlyn Miller Roslyn Minor Lisa Misrok Tom Mitchell Cynthia Mixon Henry Mixon Sarah Moessinger Yvonne L. Monroe, MD Merry K. Moos Mary Moseley Audrey Muck Jonathan Mull Gail Munde Ms. Beth Neece
Devon Newton Marie & Jay Novello Patricia Oakley Paul Offen Linda Orr Pat Orrange Sara Oswald Jill Over Elise Paliga Gailya Paliga Maurita Paprocki Fran Parrott Cheryl Smith Passarelli Gary Pearce Sandy Pearce Margaret Peeples Judith Pilutti Anne Platsky Joyce H. Pollack Andrew Porter Cheryl Posner-Cahill Page Potter Lucia H. Powe Margaret Powell Max Powell Jimmie Pratt John Price Blanche Radford-Curry Annette M. Randall, Ph.D. Kathe Rauch Robert G. Ray Cecilia Redding Redmoonsong Larry Reed Cynthia Reimel Carol Retsch-Bogart George Retsch-Bogart Gerrie Richards Kitz Rickert Ann Ringland, MPH Barbra Roberman
Mona J. Roberts Amanda Smith Jan Robertson Jim Smith Joan Robertson Maxine Smith Patricia Robinson Maxine Solomon Susan Rockett Rabbi Eric Solomon Chris Roerden Rabbi Jenny Solomon Lois Roewade Aaron James Songer Marilyn B. Roll Mindy Grier Songer Nan Romaine Jenna Spencer Tara Romano Sharron K. St. John Ms. Louise Romanow Karolyn Stanley Sherri Rosenthal Ellen Brasington Stein Heidi Ross Edward Stelli Liz Ross Janet Stern Judith Rice Rothschild Aimee Stewart Kathy Ruffner-Linn Joanna Stockton Jo Sanders M. L. Straight Jill Sansoucy Jill Strickler Dr. Frank Sargent Carol Stubbs Mrs. Dudley Sargent Carrie Sutton Margaret Scales Griselda Sutton Mary F. Schickedantz Deborah Swain Noelle Schofield Bill Swallow Rob Schofield Barbara Szombatfalvy Wanda Webb Schrader Ana Tampanna Sue Scott Ms. Dale Thompson Sue A. Scott Stephanie Thompson Deborah Seehorn Cynthia Thomson Shoshana Serxner-Merchant Judy Thorne Susan Sewell Julie Tomlinson Harvey L. Sexton Charlene Torrest Joyce Sexton Joyce Johnson Tucker Kitty Sherwin Charity Van Dyck Stephanie Shipman Gwen Chappell Vezey Nancy Shoemaker Lothie Villeda Pamela Sinclair Floyd Waddle Naomi P. Slifkin Julie Waddle Avery Sloan Roberta Waddle Carolyn Berger Sloan Brittany Wade David Sloan Kathy Wade Jared Sloan Mary Gale Wade
Pamela Wade Daryl Walker Elaine Walker Andrea Wallace-Williams Saunicia Wallace-Williams Joan Walsh Margret Ward Jo Anne Warren Attorney Jane Watson Dr. Wendee Wechsberg Dr. Joy Weeber MargaretYoung Weeber Chris Weedy Paul Weichselbaum Maureen Wertheim Allie West Deborah West Jessica West Marla West Betty Whisnant Kristin White del Rosso Brooks Wicker Wendy B. Wierzbicki Clare K. Wildenborg Amanda Williams Mary C. Williams Polly Williams Heather Williams Judy Williams Ann Willoughby Douglas Wingeier Paula Wolf & Lary Dial John Wolff Mary Frances Woods, MD Sue Anne Wrenn Janet Wright Dianna Wynn RhondaYocum Lisbeth Zajac David & Norma Zendels Karen Ziegler
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January 27, 2021
January 27, 2021
Exterior, New Legislative Building, Raleigh, N.C., 1973 PHOTO COURTESY OF STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA
The Money Game A spatial analysis of campaign finance data reveals a 2020 statehouse landscape awash in cash as Democrats tried new efforts to win seats ahead of redistricting BY JEREMY BORDEN, MICHAEL TAFFE, AND KATHY QIAN email@example.com
masked Scary Movie-type character sits holding a coffee cup emblazoned with an emoji at a kitchen counter and, in a singsongy voice, says: “Terri wants to defund the police. Defund the police? That’s scary liberal!” The attack ad against North Carolina state Senate Democratic candidate Terri LeGrand from her GOP incumbent opponent, Joyce Krawiec, is a humorous, flippant bite that was just a blip in terms of the overall spending during 2020’s historically expensive election–just a few hundred dollars and around a few thousand impressions on Facebook, according to the site’s political ad tracker. It was also categorically false, blatantly misrepresenting LeGrand’s position on police reform. But advertising like “Scary Terri”—coupled with the millions of dollars that outside groups spent to push similar messaging, a strong turnout for President Trump, and an underestimated GOP voter registration effort—worked for Republicans in North Carolina and elsewhere at the state level. The GOP gained four seats in the North Carolina House, and Democrats netted just one in the state Senate, in a year when Democrats focused on state House and Senate races. Unprecedented donations poured in from all around the country because of a focus on the upcoming redistricting, a process of drawing legislative lines that takes place only every 10 years and is a key in who controls Congress and statehouses. Given the massive amount of funding and focus on statehouse races, this project, funded by the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, sought to isolate and analyze how campaign finance and interlocking national and state power networks work in state legislative races. North Carolina made history with the most races where one or both 18
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candidates exceeded the $1 million mark, said Anna Beavon Gravely, the executive director of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, an organization that advocates for business interests and tracks money in politics. We did this through network analyses—a type of spatial analysis most often used in fraud detection, counter-terrorism, and other fields. Visual analyses of the relationships between different kinds of people and entities in North Carolina’s legislative races are rarely if ever applied to campaign finance data outside of academic research settings. The resulting visuals and underlying data allow for a more nuanced understanding of the financial interplay between candidates, their donors, and the myriad other groups that play a role in funding politics at the state level. The analysis also helps show how an ad like “Scary Terri,” and the money that pays for such ads, are important factors in determining the balance of power. A bird’s eye view of campaign finance spending in legislative races shows a somewhat unsurprising picture, given the stakes in the 2020 election: both parties and candidates awash in campaign cash from various sources. A closer look reveals how power players interact. Any analysis of campaign finance spending is just a partial picture. In this case, the numbers analyzed are through the third quarter of last year, as fourth-quarter financials were due this month. The project used only a subset of total data available, due to technical issues associated with how the data is stored by the North Carolina State Board of Elections; and some groups are not required to disclose what they spend on campaigns or advertising. The project also only analyzed committee transfers, rather than all spending.
Given limitations in tracking campaign finance data, this analysis focused on the 10 most expensive and 10 closest legislative races. We also examined state House and Senate races as a whole, by analyzing committee transfers through the third quarter of last year. Those numbers and the resulting network analysis show how money moved within Democratic and Republican networks. The analysis revealed: Large corporate political action committees (PACs) from key industries—healthcare, energy, and real estate—contributed in all of the top-ten close races the analysis examined. Corporations, though, tended to favor incumbents, who were more often members of the GOP. Even when candidates do not directly receive money from special interest political action committees, some of this money may indirectly end up in their pockets, as campaigns often pass money to each other. In the races analyzed here, Democratic candidates in safe races who received special interest money passed money to challengers in more competitive contests. Federal entities are central contributors to both Democratic and Republican candidates. But on the Democratic side, they tend to be PACs, while on the Republican side, they tend to be U.S. Congressional candidates or in-state Republican power brokers. The network visualizations illustrated here are a way to explore each of these trends. For the Senate District 31 race, one of the most expensive races we examined, it’s easy to see in the visualization (Graphic 1) how many special interest PACs have given to Senator Krawiec, the Republican incumbent. The colored dots and lines represent specific large corporate interests from specific sectors (use the key on the left to see which
ones), and the graphic shows them closer and with specific transfers to Krawiec. The Democrat in the race, LeGrand, received special interest dollars second-hand. In this case, four Democratic incumbents in safe races sent dollars to LeGrand, some of whom received money from special interest PACs. While they are relatively small amounts, it shows that even candidates who don’t directly receive large dollars from special interests may be a recipient of that money through other means.
LeGrand had outraised her opponents by about $730,000 through the third quarter, with a total of $1.9 million, state campaign finance numbers show. She lost by six percent to the Republican incumbent. Campaign dollars are a key ingredient in any election, and experts say that when the final figures are reported, the total may go north of $60 million for the state House and Senate races alone. Adding the presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns and independent expenditures on advertising
from national groups, the total amount spent on politics in North Carolina in the 2019-20 cycle may be close to $1 billion. The visualization (Graphic 3) shows the 10 closest and 10 most expensive races in the statehouse last year. The special interests that were a part of this analysis are at the center of this network visualization. That means that even though they are physically closer to the GOP candidates in the visualization–meaning that they give more direct contributions to those candidates–being in the center means that they are powerful players for both parties. Interestingly, even though our analysis isolated specific races, other candidates appear, because they play a role in passing along money. Democratic Representative Graig Meyer is one of the biggest contributors. He told us in an interview that because he is in a wealthy district and had no challenger, he was able to fundraise on behalf of other Democrats to try to win back a majority. (Search for him in the visualization Graphic 3, and you can confirm that he does indeed take money from a variety of special interests and others and pass it along to candidates in these races.)
A CONCERTED DEMOCRATIC EFFORT A decade ago, Democrats vowed that 2020 would be different. In North Carolina and elsewhere, the 2010 Tea Party wave ushered in majorities in Congress and in statehouses across the country. The GOP and conservative groups
focused an unprecedented amount of time, effort, and money at the state level—and reaped their reward through controlling the legislative redistricting process and drawing lines that favored Republicans. Last year, Democrats said they would rise to the challenge in part by having dedicated groups fundraise specifically around state legislative races and the redistricting issue. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee was led by former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., and groups like Flippable also vowed to allocate unprecedented resources for state races. The analysis (Graphic 4) shows how establishment Democratic money flows around, even with new players such as the NDRC and Flippable in the game. Groups closely associated with Democratic causes are at the center, with tentacles to the greatest number of candidates. The N.C. Democratic Party and the associated N.C. Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) are on the periphery of the visualization. It’s clear that those driving money to the greatest number of candidates in the state are the groups at the center, like Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, and Lillian’s List, which funds progressive female candidates. Overall, one might expect North Carolina’s Democratic power players to be at the center. The size of the squares indicates how many candidates and groups they are giving money to (not the size of the donations). So, while a lot of money flows through the in-state Democratic Party committees, the national Democratic interest groups give to a far greater number of candidates. It is a striking example INDYweek.com
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of how out-of-state groups are building influence using a different strategy than in-state Democratic power brokers. The NDRC gave the maximum contribution to 38 Democratic campaigns in North Carolina through the third quarter, the data shows. The bulk of its spending, about 85 percent, went to several state Democratic Party entities. Flippable maxed out to more than two dozen Democrats, but gave about two-thirds of its total spending to the state Democratic Party. Of the 20 races that the Coalition analyzed—the closest by result, and the most expensive by third quarter total—Democrats handily outspent Republicans. They outspent Republicans by a total of $2.7 million in those 10 close races, and $2.9 million in the 10 most expensive races.
BREAKING THROUGH THE NOISE The visualizations of races (Graphic 5 and Graphic 6) show a similar dynamic as the S.D. 31 race discussed above. The Republicans are receiving more special interest cash, while Democrats in safe races help fund those in these more competitive districts. It is also likely that more groups tend to give to Republicans, as indicated by their wide constellations in this graphic, because they are the incumbents. In other words, the number of state corporate interests giving to Republicans is one way of understanding why it’s difficult to be a challenger running against entrenched money and power. 20
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In the 10 expensive races analyzed, Ricky Hurtado and Brian Farkas, in H.D. 63 and H.D. 9 respectively, were the only Democrats to eke out close victories. Democrats won four of the 10 closest races. “It is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to break through the noise with state and local issues,” said Representative Meyer, the Democrat who headed the party’s efforts to try to win back the N.C. House. Democrats were not able to combat a “defund the police” mantra from the GOP, amplified in outside mailing—which falsely represented the Democratic House candidates’ positions, he said. Coupled with the GOP’s strong turnout, it made for a difficult year in a state Trump won by 1.4 percent statewide. “In my mind, what it shows is that Trump and the Republicans were able to bundle their negative messages effectively up and down the ticket,” Meyer said in an interview. “The media universe that we’re in right now makes it very difficult to have an in-depth discussion of any issues down at the local legislative level.”
REPUBLICAN MONEY CONTROLLED BY STATE POWER BROKERS In contrast to Democratic spending, the GOP visualization (Graphic 7) shows in-state groups wielding the most amount of influence. The leaders in the party itself are the influential players. For example, GOP House Speaker Tim Moore’s campaign committee has one of the largest
squares, indicating that he gives to a large number of candidates on his side of the aisle. Also, unlike the Democrats, the PACs associated with the Republican Party have the greatest number of donations to the party’s candidates. Dylan Watts, director of the Senate Republican Caucus, which controls the
Senate Majority Fund, agreed. He said Trump’s get-out-the-vote effort, coupled with strong fundraising and messages that worked—he cited the LeGrand “Scary Terri” ad as a favorite—were the keys to victory. Republicans hit the “defund the police” messaging in mailers, on TV, and on Facebook.
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Republican donors were receptive throughout, Watts said. “When they realized how much was on the line and how much was against, they stepped up,” Watts said. Groups like Citizens for a Better NC, an independent expenditure group, also spent vast sums in the state, giving the GOP a cushion across its races, Watts said. The group was one of several shadowy GOP groups WRAL sought to track, finding it difficult, if not impossible, to see where the money attacking Democrats had originally come from. The data also show that corporate PAC donors play a role in helping the GOP maintain its majority. Most political action committees or organizations that receive contributions and spend on candidates or issues are partisan, and only donate to candidates from one party. But corporate PACs tend to contribute to incumbents regardless of party. The NC Realtors PAC, Duke Energy Corporation PAC, and the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of NC Employees PAC were the three largest contributors among corporate PACs this cycle. All three backed incumbents in the house and senate’s five closest races— six Republicans and two Democrats. For example, both Democrat Sydney Batch and Republican John Szoka, from a nearby district, received the support of the highest spending corporate PACs. Both were incumbents. In all of the races for House and Senate that ended within a margin of 10 points, these PACs either contributed to
the Republican candidate, or didn’t contribute at all. Meyer decried the corporate money in his GOP counterparts’ campaigns. “There are times when I wonder, how can corporations continue to financially support candidates that consistently use rhetoric and take action that is in conflict with some of those corporations’ stated values?” he said of donations to Republicans. Meyer said GOP messaging was “a dog whistle to stoke race-based fears and animosity,” but it successfully drowned out local issues. North Carolina’s statewide political spending this cycle may total more than $1 billion, including the U.S. Senate and presidential races. “The idea that we would spend nearly a billion dollars on campaigns in the middle of a pandemic and a huge economic crisis—it’s just ridiculous,” Meyer said. To change the system, Democrats will have to win majorities. And to do that, they’ll need campaign cash. “I feel so conflicted,” Meyer said. “I’m sickened by the fact that that’s what you have to do.” W This story is a project of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, a nonpartisan nonprofit group dedicated to improving access to public information and educating citizens about the importance of government transparency. Graphics by Kathy Qian. Find the story and interactive graphics on readsludge.com INDYweek.com
January 27, 2021
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Ripe Old Cage Lance Oppenheim’s new documentary, Some Kind of Heaven, only scratches the surface of life’s final chapter BY LEIGH TAUSS firstname.lastname@example.org
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January 27, 2021
f Baby Boomers molded the American Dream, as we know it, in their image, perhaps they deserve the fresh hell Lance Oppenheim’s new documentary serves up on a plastic saucer. Some Kind of Heaven follows a handful of seniors in The Villages, a massive Florida retirement community that seems to have it all: rolling hills of golf courses, synchronized swimming, a Jimmy Buffet-themed nightclub, stunning beach sunsets, and a small-town feel lifted straight from the set of Mayberry. “We needed to create this place—not brand-new; we wanted to create it old,” explains Harold Swartz, The Village’s co-founder and conceptual architect. But the veneer of the American Dream, as picturesque as high-definition can ren-
der, only scratches the surface of life’s final chapter. Lacking in depth, the film left me wanting more. Here, heaven is kind of like Disney World for people in their sunset years. Folks flock to The Villages from all over and, like incoming college freshmen, are given the chance to reinvent themselves while pursuing life’s simple pleasures. Some of them are single and looking for love, while others just want one last hurrah. It’s a fantasy, and of course, fantasies have their limits. “It’s not the real world,” says Anne, one of the movie’s central characters. “We live in a bubble.” The Villages boasts a population of more than 130,000 residents, with a
median age of 68, but the film follows just four. Reggie and Anne are a couple who have been married for 47 years, but their marriage has hit a rough patch, mostly spurred by Reggie’s late-life drug crisis. Next, there’s Barbara, a cynical Bostonian widow hoping companionship will rekindle her thirst for life. The maraschino cherry in this Old Fashioned is Dennis, a perpetually single 81-yearold party boy living out of his van while searching for a monied honey to shack up with. At times, the film’s close coverage of these characters feels claustrophobic. While their stories are unique and compelling, I found myself craving a more panoramic view of The Villages—particularly the ever-present specter of death churning under the fabricated cobblestone and the clock-work mechanisms that ensure dinner is served on time and the piña coladas never run dry. The film is finely shot and tightly edited, helped amply by the bright vistas, floral prints, and the sort of kitsch interiors only a highly curated retirement community can provide. You can feel the ominous pull of producer Darren Aronofsky at certain points in the film, but it never quite goes off the rails à la Black Swan, and ends, instead, on a hopeful note that feels strangely unearned. Now, onto the spoilers: Dennis finds a gal to move in with, but realizes he prefers his freedom. Reggie and Anne rekindle their marriage (despite Anne deserving so much more), and Barbara realizes her spark is her darkness and chooses to dance with it. In the end, the specter that Dennis, Reggie, Anne, and Barbara can’t outrun isn’t death—it’s themselves. That’s a bittersweet sentiment, but also a story we’ve seen many times before. W
CARRIE MAE WEEMS: RESIST COVID / TAKE 6!
The Nasher Museum of Art, Durham
A RESIST COVID / TAKE 6! billboard in Durham PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NASHER MUSEUM OF ART
Across the Board Carrie Mae Weems’ bold, sprawling new Durham campaign marries public art and public health BY JAMEELA F. DALLIS firstname.lastname@example.org
t the corner of Broad Street and Markham Avenue in Durham, a striking black-and-white photograph is currently displayed across several windows of the American Dance Festival (ADF) building. In the photograph, several people hold hands; red and black text on the right reads, “DON’T WORRY, WE’LL HOLD HANDS AGAIN.” The image and message resonate and recall a time before COVID-19 when we touched our friends and loved ones freely. The message is also aspirational and gestures toward such a future while reminding us that the distance we keep now will allow us to meet again.. The photograph is part of a multi-city project, RESIST COVID / TAKE 6!, by multidisciplinary artist Carrie Mae Weems—that is currently hosted by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. As of late January, more than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. By
mid-February, that number is expected to grow to half a million. To say we’re in an unprecedented public health crisis is an understatement—and clear, accessible messaging about how we can protect ourselves and stay healthy is paramount. RESIST COVID / TAKE 6! weaves Weems’s decades-long exploration of image and text into a public health awareness campaign that centers those disproportionately impacted by this pandemic—Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people—and pays homage to frontline and essential workers. Though the Nasher Museum is still closed to the public, the project is available to viewers as a public art exhibit at nearly 50 sites on Duke’s campus and beyond, and is made further accessible via a student-made interactive map on the Nasher’s website. Weems, a 2013 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow renowned for her iconic, story-rich
photographs, is also a filmmaker and installation artist. In January of last year, she became Syracuse University’s first University artist-in-residence; as the COVID19 crisis unfolded, she began working on the project alongside her friend and collaborator Pierre Loving. Since its launch in Syracuse, the project has touched down in several U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, New York City, and Portland. “I’m not a policy-maker. I’m not a politician,” Weems told artnet News, of her drive to create the project. “I’m a citizen concerned about what’s going on in my community. This coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, and neither are the underlying issues affecting people of color that it has made even more apparent.” According to census data, Black people comprise 22 percent of North Carolina’s population, yet account for 26 percent of COVID-19-related deaths. Hispanic and Latinx people comprise less than 10 percent of North Carolina’s population, yet account for nearly 25 percent of all COVID-19 cases. Health literacy and access to care are key to slowing the virus’s spread in our most impacted populations here and across the country. Weems’s work, which emphasizes CDC recommendations, both informs and connects. As she told artnet News, “I hope to build awareness by asking questions, by providing the simple facts of our extraordinary realities, and embedding them inside powerful imagery.” Installing RESIST COVID / TAKE 6! at Duke was a multifaceted endeavor, with work on light poles, billboards, windows, and other sites throughout campus, reaching essential and frontline workers and students alike. The project has also expanded into the community: In collaboration with the City of Durham, other display sites include Lakewood Shopping Center, Duke hospitals and clinics, Durham Technical Community College, and inside several city busses. Black, red, and white are the project’s predominant colors, helping to convey a sense of gravity. At the Nasher Museum entrance on Campus Drive, banners fea-
ture an out-of-focus person in a hoodie—recalling the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin—and read, “BECAUSE OF INEQUITY, BLACK, BROWN, & NATIVE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN THE MOST IMPACTED BY COVID-19. THIS MUST BE CHANGED!!!” The text speaks directly to Weems’s assertion, on the project’s website, that “Structural racism has always been a pre-existing condition.” Several light pole banners lining Duke’s campus read, “STOP THE SPREAD / MASKUP / BACK-UP / WASH-UP,” in white and red text against a black background. One banner, with white text against a red background, reads, “DON’T FORGET TO WASH YOUR HANDS!” Another: “THANK THE WORKERS OF THE WORLD!!!” These messages remind Duke faculty, staff, and students that stopping COVID-19’s spread is also their responsibility—that they are members of a larger community, and that their actions matter. And then there’s the large window cling at the Rubenstein Arts Center, telling passersby to stay home and stay safe. Beside it, the words “LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL,” in large red text, sprawl across a black-and-white photograph of Weem’s mother, a factory worker, from the artist’s portrait series, Family Pictures and Stories (1981-1982). Similar to conceptual artists Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger—known for textbased works informed by what they perceive as truths about society, capitalism, power, living, and loving—Weems asserts that she is “making work that I need to see because I believe that it’s important for myself. And because I am not an alien, I assume that it’s going to have an impact on somebody else.” The project’s images and messages are both practical and beautiful: a mix of straightforward facts and aspirational aphorisms. “I’m hoping to see all my friends and my family on the other side of midnight,” Weems told Atlanta Mayor and COVID-19 survivor Keisha Lance Bottoms in an interview. “And that we can make it through this thing.” It’s a statement as simple and profound as holding hands. W INDYweek.com
January 27, 2021
IN PLAIN SIGHT
Geer Cemetery, Durham | Through March 7
Geer Cemetery PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
Beyond the Grave In Plain Sight, an outdoor educational exhibit, honors the storied history of a long-neglected Black burial site in Durham BY THOMASI MCDONALD email@example.com
ore than a few of the grave markers at an old Black cemetery in North Durham are inscribed with the words, “Gone but not forgotten,” or “In loving remembrance.” Nestled in the Duke Park neighborhood, on Colonial Street between Camden Avenue and McGill Place, Geer Cemetery sits on about four acres of raised land. Many of the people who were buried at the cemetery were born during slavery, and for nearly 80 years, they were forgotten, or at best, barely remembered. Two granite monuments attest to the importance of Geer Cemetery in the lives of African Americans in Durham at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. These markers honor two of the city’s Black Christian pioneers, whose churches still stand along the Fayetteville Street corridor in south Durham: Margaret Faucette, who started the White 24
January 27, 2021
Rock Baptist Church in a rented room used for worship, and Edian Markham, who started the St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal Church at a brush arbor in the woods. Faucette and Markham’s graves have not yet been located at the cemetery. “We don’t know where they’re buried unless we find a headstone,” says Debra Taylor Gonzalez-Garcia, president of the Friends of Geer Cemetery. “Their death certificates say they are buried there. We know they’re buried there. Right now, we don’t know where.” After a years-long effort to restore and renovate the cemetery, and remember, and revere some of the city’s earliest African American residents, In Plain Sight, an outdoor educational exhibit at the cemetery, opened this Saturday. It will continue through early March.
The exhibit, according to its website, “will challenge us to confront the persistence of long-standing inequity—in death as well as in life.” The website notes that more than 1,500 men, women, and children were buried in Geer Cemetery from 1877 to 1944—“many of them experiencing slavery, rural-to-urban-migration, and the inhumanity of Jim Crow firsthand.” As part of the exhibit, William Sturkey, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, is scheduled to participate in a February 20 virtual panel discussion. In 2019—during Black History Month, and at the height of the Confederate monument debate—Sturkey wrote an essay for the News & Observer on the impact of the cemetery. “Those black people, ranging in age from less than a day to over a hundred years, lie interned in the northeast corner of Duke Park,” Sturkey wrote. “They were workers and worshippers; dreamers and builders; and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. They were people who lived diverse, complex lives in this place. They were black people whose legacies and memories our society should value. They were black lives that mattered.” North Carolina Central University historian and archivist Andre Vann will also take part in the panel. “Finding a cemetery is a form of activism, because it gives us an opportunity to reveal people who deserve our attention and who should be a part of the public memory,” Vann told the INDY. “It’s giving dignity to those who are interred, and it offers us the opportunity to write them into history.” Vann added that the law did not allow Black people and white people to be buried side by side, and that the City’s gravest sin was making African Americans pay taxes “for other people to be buried,” prior to the City opening the Beechwood Cemetery for Durham’s Black residents. “In essence, that’s taxation without representation,” Vann said. “These are invisible pioneers, and they are so deserving to be recognized.” The exhibit also highlights individuals whose history is still alive. According to Vann, Maggie Bryant, the 105-year-old great-great-granddaughter of White Rock Baptist founder Margaret Faucette, will supply photos for the exhibit. On a recent walk through the cemetery, on a cold and wet January afternoon, the grounds were matted with brown leaves and fallen branches from the stand of tall deciduous trees that dot the cemetery. Some of the grave markers are without birth dates; more than a few are chipped, cracked, or even broken in half. Some contain only the initials of the deceased. Others have no name at all. Yet they stand. The entire setting is an invaluable antique—a Bull City family heirloom. The first known deed for the property, Gonzalez-Garcia told the INDY, shows that the land was sold in 1877 to
“Finding a cemetery is a form of activism, because it gives us an opportunity to reveal people who deserve our attention and who should be a part of the public memory.” three African Americans: Nelson Mitchell, Willie Moore, and John O’Daniel, who was rumored to be the half-brother of wealthy industrialist and prominent racist Julian Carr. The three men purchased the rural farmland to create an African American burial ground in what was then Orange County, from Jesse and Polly Geer. “It was created because there were no public cemeteries for African Americans to be buried,” Gonzalez-Garcia said. “Today, the community is predominantly white, but at the time of the land purchase, there were no neighbors.” The cemetery was known by various names over the decades before it closed: the City Cemetery, Old City Cemetery, East Durham and Mason Cemetery, City Colored Cemetery, Old Colored Cemetery, Geer Cemetery, Ferrell Cemetery, and East Cemetery. “I’m not sure why it was called the City Cemetery, because it was not managed by the City at all,” Gonzalez-Garcia said. “Right now, it’s listed as abandoned.” The Herald-Sun reported in 2015 that the cemetery was closed in 1939 by the health department because it was overcrowded, although there was a burial in 1944. “There are oral stories of people being buried on top of each other,” Gonzalez-Garcia said. “Some of the graves had wooden [markers] that have long since deteriorated.” She says a list of deceased buried in the cemetery was compiled in the 1930s by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, and is currently available on the Cemetery Census website. She also has a list of the names of people who were buried, though it’s unclear where. In 1924, Durham City officials created Beechwood Cemetery to, according to the city’s website, “consolidate overfilling and neglected black cemeteries in the city” at the Geer, Violet Park, Geer Fitzgerald, and Hickstown burial grounds. “There were burials [at the Geer Cemetery] after that, but it was with families who had plots,” Gonzalez-Garcia said. “Even before Beechwood opened, there
are records of Black leaders approaching the city for another burial ground. Beechwood was the answer to ‘equal but separate.’” Many of those buried were moved to Beechwood Cemetery, including O’Daniel and Augustus Shepard, the father of James E. Shepard, who was the founder of N.C. Central. Decades before it closed, the cemetery was in worrisome condition. In early 1900, The Durham Sun published a story with the headline, “Colored Burying Ground North of City Need Attention.” In the early 2000s, the group now known as Friends of Geer Cemetery began to clean up the area. The group received a big boost last year, when the City started to assist with maintenance. Supporters visit the cemetery quarterly to lend a hand. “We come out to help get rid of the poison ivy,” Gonzalez-Garcia said. “It’s lots of poison ivy out there.” In recent months, the organization has focused on preserving the historical legacy of the burial grounds. That work includes collaborating with Duke University students who research the histories of the deceased. Volunteers turn those individual histories into literary celebrations of the deceased, by posting their stories on social media on their birthdays. On January 18, for example, as a group of high school students worked to clean the cemetery, the Friends of Geer Cemetery Facebook page honored William Bullock, whose grave marker indicates that he was born that day in 1852 and, according to the tribute, was a “tobacco hand and a tobacco picker, with his family living east of the city limits and then on Proctor Street, in the emerging Hayti neighborhood.” The Geer and Beechwood cemeteries, Gonzalez-Garcia says, “are remnants of Jim Crow,” and evidence of Black American resiliency and triumph. “We were good at taking care of ourselves while fighting the good fight,” she told the INDY. “This exhibit is incomplete until all their stories are told.” W INDYweek.com
January 27, 2021
M U SIC
Bittersweet Symphony Three recent releases span the expanse from utopian overtures to meticulous musical brutalism BY BRIAN HOWE, JORDAN LAWRENCE, AND NICK WILLIAMS firstname.lastname@example.org
DOUGLAS VUNCANNON: SELECTIONS FROM SYMPHONIC/ELECTRONIC HHH 1/2 [Self-released; Nov. 27]
In November, the Durham-based composer and seeming pan-instrumentalist Douglas Vuncannon released Selections from Symphonic/Electronic, a compact, gemlike EP of highlights from studio recordings dating back to the 2000s. Though Vuncannon is versatile on local stages, playing with quirky post-traditionalists such as Felix Obelix and Curtis Eller, his own music is a determined pursuit of the singularity where his favorite genres merge: classical, jazz, post-rock, and synthesizer music from the sixties, a time when there was no such thing as a consumer-grade Moog and musical mad scientists paid loving attention to the strange new sound’s every murmur. But melodic immediacy is Vuncannon’s lodestar, with results closer to The Apples in Stereo than Silver Apples of the Moon. The centerpiece is “Breakfast Nook,” where a wistful but brightening melody wends through more than six minutes of dreamy rainbow variation. With its drifting ribbon of guitar, cloud-puff strings, jazzy changes, and subtly blended electronic warbles, it is the most complete statement of Vuncannon’s sophisticated synthesis. But it’s also a mere Sufjan Stevens or Andrew Bird away from being an indie-pop song. Other mirages beckon: “Journey to a Specific Place,” a 33-second utopian overture, is like a tone poem about the green zone of a classy Sega Genesis game. “Armored Cars and Igloos” might be the theme song of a seventies sitcom set on the moon. The composer played most of the instruments—piano, harpsichord, harmonium, synths, guitars, double bass, drums, many winds—though loads of guests added everything from xylophone to French horn. The record’s coruscating patina is deceptively light, considering the density of the composition. Vuncannon is adept at making synths play organically against acoustical voices—and at coaxing relaxed drama from pithy themes. If these recordings are, as he says, adequate placeholders for the “perfect recordings” he’s long sought, then the fruition of his quest should really be something to behold. —Brian Howe
DAN MELCHIOR: ODES
HHHH [Cudighi; Dec. 18]
The seventh track on Dan Melchior’s new album consistently makes me tear up. Like all the instrumentals on Odes, “Tybee” is relatively simple. Spare, echoing picks on electric guitar amble patiently at the start, before lead lines surge, raw and bright, sprinting but never quite catching up. The song evokes a feeling of trying to get back something that you’ve lost. 26
January 27, 2021
My reaction to “Tybee” is, admittedly, wrapped up in the story that surrounds it. Melchior, the cult-favorite garage-rock adventurer who currently lives in Carrboro, recorded these songs shortly after moving from Durham to Akron, Ohio, in 2016, following the 2014 death of his wife, the artist Letha Rodman Melchior, following a protracted battle with cancer. “The impact of losing Letha didn’t fully hit me until I was away from North Carolina,” Melchoir’s Bandcamp album states. “I had to find ways of channeling my feelings so that I wouldn’t become completely overwhelmed.” The resulting nine songs, played into “a partially working 4 track” and a “karaoke machine that had very good reverb,” navigate the expanse between grief and acceptance, demonstrating that few—if any—guitarists have better mastered the expressive potential of lo-fi recording. On album opener, “Louisiana Honeymoon,” earthy acoustic guitar undulates as the reverb shifts and effect-drenched notes prickle, charting a melody that’s alien by comparison. Louder, more intensely distorted guitar slinks through “Jaguar Girl.” “Night Song” and “Happy Good Night” let electric guitars ripple and dissipate through the analog haze, like memories fraying and fragmenting over time. “Coney Island” evokes the titular setting, with its mix of gritty history and youthful exuberance, setting dayglow lead lines over strums that crackle and crunch. Released four years after it was recorded and dedicated to Letha, Odes is unvarnished and earnest, but also meticulously composed, offering powerful emotion and immersive texture. It is a rare and intimate gift. —Jordan Lawrence
TESCON POL: GAI LAN
HHHH [Concrete Collage Records; Jan. 21]
Durham’s Tescon Pol—the electronic duo of Mic Finger and Ariel Johannessen—do not make what you might call “happy, fun-time” music. In fact, there’s no other act in the Triangle that better embodies the meticulous musical brutalism of Einstürzende Neubauten or Front 242. Shadowy, alluring, earnest, and often punishing, this is hardly the sort of music you’d expect to light up central North Carolina on a Saturday night. However, about 100 seconds into “Via”—the opening track on Tescon Pol’s first fulllength, Gai Lan, out on French label Concrete Collage—queasy atonality gives way to a muscular synth groove that an electronic dance pioneer like Gary Numan would have killed for back in the day. The moment doesn’t linger, but it genuinely rocks. And like all the surprising nods to pop music on this tenebrous debut, it’s thrilling. The haunting “greyforms’’ showcases Finger’s baritone. It wants for some modulation, but it’s undeniably effective among the swaying synth pads and computerized crackle, and could easily get the denizens a goth club slow-dancing together. In keeping with the bloodthirsty traditions of industrial music, Tescon Pol can be unsettling. “Myriapoda” floats through a vast industrial sewer—with liquid bass tones collecting into a subterranean throb—only to emerge into “Cathodica,” a science-fiction landscape of ambulatory machinery and shrieking robotic birds. “Waiting So Long” is slightly more playful, its sampled vocal stab and pinging percussion suggesting a disco song spun in a blender. And “Girl in the Adjoining Room, Yesterday” plays like the “fun” side of the IDM canon, before dissolving into a mechanized glitchscape. But it’s “Gailan” that’s the biggest revelation here, invigorating and weirdly accessible. A mannered trip-hop beat pushes steadily through a surging river of noise that threatens to wash the listener away, but has the politesse to hold back until the very end. —Nick Williams W
January 27, 2021
M U SIC
SPEED STICK: VOLUME ONE
[Don Giovanni Records; Jan. 22]
Rocket Fuel How Speed Stick shot from experimental rock to its startlingly poppy debut album BY BRIAN HOWE
t first blush, Volume One sounds like the kind of what-the-hell project that droves of cooped-up musicians have been doing since March: Record 10 double-drummer tracks, send them out to friends to finish, and then wrestle the results into an album. But the road leading to Carrboro supergroup Speed Stick’s debut, released last week by New Jersey’s Don Giovanni Records, was longer and more unique than that. With a group featuring members of Bat Fangs, The Love Language, Polvo, and The Paul Swest, plus contributors as august as Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan and The Breeders’ Kelley Deal, a spirit of merry contradiction reigns on Volume One. Far-flung genres crash together, from gnarly noise-rock to cozy indie-pop to— why not?—a hip-hop song by the moody party-rap lifer Juan Huevos. Elsewhere, artists with well-worn wheel tracks make hard turns. Though the songs are composed, even poppy, the album is as improvised as the core group’s music. This anything-goes approach led to the ultimate paradox: One of the heavier experimental rock bands around has made one of the more effervescent local albums in recent memory. And it all started, as even the biggest projects often do, with a single intuitive connection. In 2014, Laura King and Thomas Simpson were both among the 16 full-kit drum-
mers playing in a Hopscotch concert called IIII. King, who now pounds hard rock in Bat Fangs, was in the punk band Flesh Wounds then, while Simpson roams glossier indierock pastures in The Love Language. Still, stationed side by side, they connected so well that they knew they wanted to perform as a duo—though, at first, it wasn’t quite clear how. They came from rock contexts, where having two drummers was rare enough. But only two drummers? That’s not even a thing. In 2016, Charles Chace, of the free jazz band The Paul Swest, asked King to perform at a residency he was curating at The Station. She quickly enlisted Simpson. They practiced twice, at Nightlight (King came up with the name Speed Stick because they were sweating so much), and then never practiced again. At that first show, they established their tradition of playing faceto-face, sharing a single bass drum—two performers with one heartbeat. “We’re a lot alike as drummers, but we also complement each other very well,” King says. “We never know what we’re going to play until we get together.” More shows followed, while Chace and Polvo’s Ash Bowie osmosed from collaborators to official members, sealing the deal at one of those big shows at The Cave, back when everyone thought it was about to close.
“ I really love Stu [McLamb]’s song, because he wrote it about Tommy and I playing drums together. Twin collision.”
January 27, 2021
Speed Stick PHOTO COURTESY OF DON GIOVANNI RECORDS
“When we start playing, there’s no direction, but someone will do something and we’ll all catch onto it,” King says. “It’s this sort of follow-the-leader thing we play live.” By January 2019, Speed Stick was ready to record. Knowing that the furious spontaneity of their live duo might not translate, they set a plan to create by committee when they began recording in Chace’s home studio, tailoring each track to friends. They were surprised and delighted by what they got back, as a record that they never would’ve thought to make was taking shape. “We’d be like, this beat’s for Mac; he loves punk rock,” King says. “So we did a punkrock beat, which he totally turned around with this synth. Another surprise is Ryan Gustafson’s song.” That’s an understatement. The cryptic folk-rocker (The Dead Tongues) drifts closer to ambient house than anyone ever would have guessed with “Let It Shine.” King and Simpson made the track imagining him playing banjo. Even Chace and Bowie got in on the table-turning after their bandmates served them the kind of freak-out they usually feast on. “It had no steady beat—drums completely falling apart,” Chace says. “I shocked them by looping stuff and making it into a song.” The result, opener “Protect Your Magic,” kicks off the record with a fanfare of squalling noise, flinty post-punk, and free-jazz Chinese horn. It also sports a vibrantly deranged video, the first King has
ever made. It’s not a huge leap from there to “Knots,” where Deal and R. Ring collaborator Mike Montgomery also employ drum loops in their atmospheric vamp. But it is a leap from “Knots” to the pert, synthy “Twin Collision,” where Love Language leader Stuart McLamb goes meta. “I really love Stu’s song, because he wrote it about Tommy and I playing drums together,” King says. “Twin collision. It’s what we are when we get on stage and go.” Ben Felton also blurs boundaries with his flashing anthem, “Plants,” based on a driving drum break from a phone recording he made of one of Speed Stick’s earliest shows. Not everything came as a shock: Nora Rogers and Jenny Waters turned in the kind of epic dual-guitar grooves that fueled their recent debut as Object Hours. Pipe’s Ron Liberti enlisted Casey Cook for some pogo-ready pop-punk, while Clarque Blomquist came up with a typically unidentifiable musical substance. “What did Clarque even do with the drum recordings?” Chace wonders. “Maybe it just inspired him to make a song, and the beat’s slowed down in the background or something.” They didn’t bother to find out. By then, they were all in on making an album without knowing what kind of album it was—only that it would be collectively dreamed into being, powered by enthusiasm and oblivious of destinations or goals. The patchwork of Volume One may be a one-time shot, but it leaves a dazzling streak.W
January 27, 2021
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