1. Roy Cooper
Since taking office in January, Gov. Roy Cooper has spent much of his time countermanding edicts from the federal government. So far he’s voiced opposition to fracking and drilling off our coast, the travel ban, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the current tax plan. In his own state he’s taken stands against education vouchers, a merger of the State Board of Elections with the Board of Ethics, judicial restructuring, changes in gubernatorial power and the state budget, which he vetoed in June and was soon thereafter overridden.
2. Tournament-less town
After HB 2, a law that prevented city governments from protecting transgender citizens, passed in 2016, the NCAA and other groups reacted by pulling tournaments, concerts, tourist groups and other events from North Carolina. As a result of the boycott, the Greensboro Coliseum, which regularly hosts the men’s and women’s ACC basketball tournaments, held neither this year. And the round of the Final Four tournament scheduled for Greensboro this year was held in Greenville, SC.
3. Salem College strike
In the first tumultuous year of the Trump presidency, student protest in the Triad emerged with the most ferocity, not at large-scale state schools like UNCG or NC A&T or the prestigious Wake Forest University, but at tiny Salem College. Armed with laptops, students took over Main Hall and live-streamed their discontent beginning at 11:15 a.m. on April 11. Students cited a wide range of sources for their grievances, from racism and transphobia to sub-par food service, inadequate course offerings and poor living conditions in the dorms.
4. Greensboro redistricting scheme squashed
In April, US District Court Judge Catherine Eagles drove a stake into a plan by state Sen. Trudy Wade to impose a new election system on the city of Greensboro, finding that it violated the one-person-one-vote provision of the US Constitution by packing Democratic-leaning districts to maximize Republican advantage. Voters would later issue a rebuke of their own in November by replacing Tony Wilkins, the sole Republican on council. Also notable: Jim Kee, one of a handful of prominent African-American politicians supporting the Wade plan, changed his registration from Democrat to Republican in the middle of the election. He lost, too.
It started long before 2017, and we’ll be feeling the effects for years to come, but our state’s illegal districts — in the state House and Senate and also some districts of the US Congress — were finally overturned after a series of court battles that culminated in a Supreme Court decision in June. New maps were adopted in August, but the story’s not quite over.
6. Nathan Persily
The Stanford University law professor directed to draw new, nonpartisan maps for North Carolina House and Senate districts double-bunked some longtime incumbents. And Republican lawmakers filed a critique of his work, saying, among other things, that he relied too much on racial data to make them. The three-judge panel in charge of this mess reconvenes in January to address these concerns.
7. Legal notices
Sen. Trudy Wade’s SB 343 removed a requirement that North Carolina counties publish their legal notices in paid-circulation (that is, not free) weekly and daily newspapers. After pushback from the newspaper industry, which has enjoyed this subsidy for more than 100 years, the bill was whittled down to exclude 99 of the state’s 100 counties before it passed. The outlier: Guilford, Wade’s home county, where her animosity towards the press is well documented.
8. Jose Charles
A 15-year-old with mental health challenges became a symbol of the struggle for police accountability in Greensboro in March after he and his mother went public with their complaint over a forcible arrest at Center City Park the previous year. Lindy Perry-Garnette was removed from the police community review board after speaking out against the police department’s handling of the incident. Charles’ supporters expressed their displeasure with the city by taking over the dais at a city council meeting and later blocking traffic on Friendly Avenue. The city manager and a majority of city council wound up backing the police department, but Jose was vindicated when prosecutors dropped charges related to his encounter with police.
9. Greensboro Police Community Review Board restructuring
Widespread dissatisfaction with the Greensboro Community Police Review Board culminating in the city’s handling of Jose Charles’ complaint against the police department led to a recommendation from Human Relations Commissioner David Sevier to fold the committee into a new Criminal Justice Advisory Commission that will regularly publish trends data on complaints against the police. The city council has yet to approve the changes.
10. Democracy Greensboro/BLM electoral moves
A new progressive electoral force emerged on the scene in Greensboro in 2017 when former Bernie Sanders supporters turned their attention to local politics by forming Democracy Greensboro. They quickly made common cause with Black Lives Matter and other groups pushing for police accountability. Meanwhile, BLM turned its focus towards electoral politics, fielding three candidates for city council. None of the three, who adopted platforms aligned with Democracy Greensboro’s agenda, prevailed in the November election. Earlier in the year, in April, BLM leader April Parker came close to winning appointment to fill Ray Trapp’s unexpired term on Guilford County Commission, but narrowly lost a Democratic Party vote to veteran politico Skip Alston.
11. Jamal Fox resignation; return of Goldie Wells
Jamal Fox, the two-term councilman who represents District 2 on Greensboro City Council abruptly announced his resignation in June; he accepted a job with the parks and recreation department in Portland, Ore. Goldie Wells, a former council member and longtime community leader, accepted appointment to fill Fox’s unexpired term, initially viewing herself as a placeholder. Wells later decided to file for election after taking umbrage to the other candidates’ criticism of Fox’s legacy. She won handily.
12. Michelle Kennedy
Michelle Kennedy was the undisputed rising political star of 2017 in Greensboro. As executive director of the Interactive Resource Center, she established herself as a poverty fighter, and earned bona fides in police accountability efforts as a member of the human relations commission. She emerged from a crowded field of human relations commissioners as the strongest progressive contender, unseating moderate Democrat Mike Barber while becoming the first openly gay member of city council.
13. Hello Tammi Thurm/Goodbye Tony Wilkins
Few political observers would have predicted that Tammi Thurm, a Democrat and law firm administrator with ties Greensboro’s philanthropic community would unseat Republican Tony Wilkins in the city’s most conservative district. That’s exactly what happened during this year’s progressive wave election.
14. Greensboro parking decks
The new Greensboro City Council wasted no time creating an uproar by approving up to $60 million in public spending for two new downtown parking decks that are essential components for dual hotel, retail and office developments. The Dec. 19 decision outraged progressive activists and a neighboring property owner who is pledging to take the city to court to block one of the projects. And fiscal conservatives stripped of their political voice have found themselves making common cause with anti-corporate leftists. Strange bedfellows.
15. Kids’ Path
Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro announced in November that it would drop pediatric home-care services to 19 terminally ill children, part of a suite of services delivered through its Kids Path program. The families expressed doubt their children will receive the same quality of care under the new provider, Advanced Home Care.
16. High Point stadium
It all happened so quickly: In April, High Point City Council approved funds for a land purchase at English Road and North Elm Street for the purpose of building a multi-purpose stadium. High Point University President Nido Qubein got involved, and the plan evolved into a sort of district, with a hotel, a children’s museum and some retail and restaurants. We argued about it all summer and then it became an election issue that swept its supporters into a new city council. Ground broke for the project on Dec. 1.
17. High Point City Council election
The city council election in High Point essentially functioned as a popular ratification of a decision by city leaders in the spring to make a bold public investment in a stadium envisioned as a downtown catalyst project. Voters eliminated Jim Davis, the mayoral candidate most skeptical of the initiative, during the primary, and then dropped Cindy Davis, previously the most popular at-large member, during the general election while choosing stadium boosters for every single seat. Jay Wagner, a longtime revitalization proponent won election as mayor, although former Guilford County Commissioner Bruce Davis ran a close second.
The number of homicides in Greensboro and High Point surged in 2017, about a year behind a national trend. When police discovered 35-year-old Kenya Ricardo James dead in hotel room on East Seneca Road on Dec. 22 brought Greensboro’s homicide count to 42, compared to 29 the previous year — and the highest number per capita in 10 years. With the shooting death of 27-year-old Qumain T. Pratt on Christmas Eve, High Point’s homicide count jumped to 18 in 2017, compared to seven in 2016. In Winston-Salem, Travaris Gourdine, 22, who was found dead from a gunshot wound at his home on Tise Avenue on Dec. 16, was the 25th homicide victim in 2017, putting the city just one homicide above its count for 2016.
Poverty has remained a stubborn fact of life in Triad cities eight years into the recovery from the Great Recession. Candidates for Greensboro City Council committed to combating it, although there was little consensus about what approaches are most effective. Officials in Greensboro questioned a reported jump from 16.2 percent to 22.8 percent from 2015 to 2016, but few disputed that the rate has been stuck somewhere around 20 percent since the onset of the recession. And despite an effort to combat poverty announced by Mayor Allen Joines in late 2013, Winston-Salem’s poverty rate is stalled out in the same neighborhood.
20. Women’s March
More than 4 million people participated in the Women’s March in the day after President Trump’s inauguration — the largest single-day demonstration recorded in US history — about 4,000 of whom converged in Greensboro for the Triad’s Women’s March. More of a call-to-action than protest, the worldwide demonstration sought to develop a platform that could inform specific actions of resistance at both the national and local scale.
21. Trump executive orders reaction
Almost immediately after his inauguration Trump signaled to his white, Christian base that he was serious about his extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda, issuing a slew of executive orders covering everything from interior immigration enforcement to suspending entry from majority Muslim countries and reducing the number of refugees allowed into the country. And civic leaders and academics in the Triad’s progressive cities responded with predictable defiance. Mayor Nancy Vaughan noted during a Jan. 27 rally that Greensboro City Council had voted to call itself a “stranger to neighbor” city, adding, “We intend on staying that way.” During an over-capacity panel discussion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, law professor Margaret Taylor astutely took Trump’s measure. “If you think about how this exclusion order was carried out, there was a massive amount of chaos and confusion, and it creates fear,” she said. “And I really go back and forth as to whether that is just utter incompetence or it is strategic because the whole point is to create fear.”
22. Winston-Salem’s “Welcoming City” fumble
With federal pressure coming down on “Sanctuary Cities,” those that protect their residents from federal immigration law, Winston-Salem tried to split the difference in March by declaring itself a “Welcoming City,” a designation which has no real definition. But the resolution was pulled in April after the Forsyth delegation to the General Assembly threatened to punish the city — likely by withholding state funds — if they went forward. “Despite Winston-Salem’s long history of compassion and integration, we have come to a place where welcoming our neighbors is radical,” Wake Forest University graduate student Jennifer St Sume observed at the April council meeting.
23. Nestor Marchi
Following President Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on interior immigration enforcement, the US Immigration Customs Enforcement put in motion a more aggressive deportation policy, sweeping up unauthorized immigrants who otherwise avoided trouble with the law. One of them was Nestor Marchi, a Brazilian airplane mechanic suffering from congestive heart failure who was ordered to leave the country after 20 years and after raising a son who is a Greensboro firefighter.
24. Greensboro sanctuary women
Building out of its legacy as a station on the Underground Railroad and progressive network of churches, Greensboro became the first North Carolina city where an undocumented person took sanctuary in the Trump era. Juana Tobar Ortega, a Guatemalan seamstress from Randolph County, went first, taking sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on May 31. Meanwhile, a Winston-Salem woman named Minerva Garcia was also maneuvering to avoid deportation, and on June 29 she followed Ortega by taking sanctuary at Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro. Ortega remains effectively detained at St. Barnabas, while Garcia emerged from sanctuary on Oct. 2 after learning that a federal immigration judge had vacated her deportation order. Since then, another immigration judge ordered her to wear an electronic angle bracelet, and her status remains tenuous. Like Marchi, Ortega and Garcia had avoided trouble with the law up to the time when they were ordered to leave the country.
When President Trump announced in September that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA program, he set in motion a Dec. 31 deadline for Congress to create a solution for 800,000 Dreamers; at this point, the odds of action are vanishing to none. Fourteen DACA recipients from the Triad converged on Sen. Thom Tillis’ DC office in November to protest Congress’ failure to implement immigration reform.