‘You’ve got to be a fighter’: NC Dem leader urges young people to get involved in politics

NC Democratic Party Chair, Anderson Clayton speaks at a primary election night party in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

By Bonnie Fuller

May 20, 2024

The 26 year-old Anderson Clayton, who was elected to lead the state’s Democratic Party last year, says that young people’s voices will only be listened to when they get involved and fight to change the system.

Anderson Clayton doesn’t mince words when she’s asked if young women in North Carolina are aware they’ve lost their reproductive freedom in the state and if they’re upset about it.

“I’d love to give you a deeper answer to it, but I’m just like, yeah, people are f**king pissed,” the state Democratic Party Chair, told Cardinal & Pine in an interview.

According to Clayton, they also know exactly who is responsible for restricting abortion in North Carolina to 12 weeks: Donald Trump—who appointed three of the six Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade—and North Carolina Republicans, who passed a 12-week abortion ban last year.

The 26 year-old Clayton, who was elected to lead the state’s Democratic Party last year, is certain that reproductive rights will play a key factor in this year’s elections.

“Abortion is going to be the number one issue we run on across the state for people in North Carolina to make sure that folks know we’ve got to protect the right to not only have an abortion, but also contraception,” Clayton said.

Mark Robinson, the Republican nominee for governor has promised that if elected in November, he’ll pursue a six-week abortion ban and ultimately aim for a complete ban.

“We are in the fight of our lives to keep abortion access free and fair in the South, at least at that 12 week abortion ban limit right now,” Clayton told Cardinal & Pine. “And then also trying to make sure that going forward, we can fight to ensure that Roe is codified into our state law under Democratic representation.”

North Carolina’s Democratic candidate for governor, Josh Stein, and the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Jeff Jackson, have both vowed to defend reproductive freedom for women in the state.

But there’s only so much they can do with a Republican supermajority running the legislature—thanks in large part due to gerrymandered district maps that manipulate the voting process to all but guarantee Republicans can’t lose control of the legislature.

The long fight ahead and Clayton’s efforts to organize young voters

 

The fight to undo those maps, make North Carolina’s elections more fair, and restore reproductive freedom and other rights is a long one—and so Clayton, who only graduated from Appalachian State University in 2019, is intensely focused on building an active youth movement in the state’s Democratic party.

Her aim is to put young North Carolinians in leadership roles.

“They’ve seen a state legislature that wants to restrict students voting on campus, that wants to take away their abortion rights, that doesn’t care about gun violence,” said Clayton. “I mean UNC went through two school shooter [lockdowns] last year and unfortunately saw a faculty member die on their campus because of gun violence.”

“We have serious issues this year that young people care about. They’re energized and they’re galvanized to get involved,” she said.

Clayton also asserted that young North Carolinians know which party is to blame for taking away the rights they cherish.

“Young people aren’t stupid.”

That’s why the state Democratic Party had a youth convention with over 350 attendees this year, she said, and is training many galvanized young people to join campaigns and become campaign managers.

“The state party has made the teen Dems, the college Dems, and our young Dems, an official youth arm and auxiliaries of the state party,” Clayton explained to Cardinal & Pine.

She’s also urging the Democratic party’s candidates to step onto college campuses to meet with young voters there.

“You got to show up. You got to have candidates show up on their campuses,” Clayton said.

She’s sure that‘s an essential key to getting the student vote out in North Carolina in 2024. She pointed to Jackson’s recent decision to visit the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Democratic State Treasurer nominee Wesley Harris’ visit to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus as positive developments for engaging young voters.

‘You’ve got to be a fighter’

 

But some of it is also up to young people themselves, Clayton said. They have to want to get involved.

“A lot of young people need to see the fact that change is possible when you put your hand on something and you drive it, but you got to be willing to get involved with it, and democracy is something right now—I need more young people putting their hands on because no, y’all aren’t going to like the future that we’re living in if you’re not the one deciding what it looks like,” she said.

She wants young people to ask themselves: “How are you getting involved in this system that you may think right now doesn’t support you, doesn’t represent you well? It doesn’t, so you need to figure out how to change it.”

She knows it’s not easy to do so, especially in a system that often ignores young voices like hers.

“I had to fight like hell in order to end up in a role like this,” the native of Roxboro, who was elected to her position at age 25, said.

She’d love to see others her age take up that fight, even if they think it’s not possible to land a leadership role in the Democratic party.

“I would say that you’ve got to be a fighter and you’ve got to want something worse than you’ve ever wanted in your entire life, and you may not really like it sometimes when you get there”.

“But”, she warns, “it’s going to be something that is going to teach you a lot of lessons and that you are going to learn from and you’re going to learn to really get to engage in a way that you never thought you could in your life.”

An exhausting job

 

Clayton doesn’t sugarcoat the demands of her role or of those that other young North Carolinians are undertaking in the party.

“It’s a really hard job,” she admits.

Anyone doubting that just needs to check out her social media feed to see how she has crisscrossed the state, driven up to D.C., and jetted to Chicago to organize, attend fundraisers, join events for her North Carolina candidates, and to be on the ground with volunteers who are knocking on voters’ doors. Her days start at 5 or 6 a.m. and her work weeks are seven days long.

But she nonetheless radiates energy and an enthusiasm for attracting other young people to work within the political system.

“I think young people are the people to change systems and unless we operate within the systems, we’ll never get them to places that they need to be right now,” she explained.

“So I chose right now to have my fight play within the system, to change it to the place we need it to become and the party to really embrace young people and uplift them into positions of power,” she said. “I think in politics, that’s all people are craving, is for us to give another generation a chance at coming up in it.”

Clayton didn’t allow her own frustration with the system to derail her goals of making positive change happen for North Carolinians. During the 2020 election cycle, she worked as an organizer for Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy McGrath, the Kentucky Democrat who challenged Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat.

That experience taught her a lot—and it wasn’t all positive. “My heart just broke because I realized that the National [Democratic] Party was never going to invest in rural North Carolina and rural places that I thought were worthwhile.”

However, instead of giving up on one of her goals—to make Democratic gains in rural North Carolina—she took an “I’m going to show them” attitude and doubled down, helping flip three Roxboro City Council seats to Democratic candidates.

Now she advises other young people who want to follow her example and work for change within the current political system to get involved in their county Democratic parties, to volunteer for a campaign, or to get involved with the Labor Caucus of the Democratic Party of North Carolina and their fight to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour.

The outlook for 2024

 

With a far-right Republican slate of candidates running, Clayton thinks Democrats have a real chance to win the races for governor, attorney general, and state superintendent of public education. She’s also optimistic that Democrats can break Republicans’ supermajority control of the state legislature, a key first step in winning back power.

Despite her optimism for 2024, she is realistic that her goal of building a Democratic majority in the state legislature is a long term project.

“It’s going to be hard for people to understand what a Democratic majority can do until we really get there, and that looks beyond 2024, which is why Democrats cannot let our foot off the gas this year,” she said.

Clayton considers this “election cycle the most consequential election cycle of our lives for the future of democracy,” but she knows that can’t be the only issue Democrats talk about.

“…For people living paycheck to paycheck right now, that were like me at the age of 26, worried about where their healthcare is going to come from next, and struggling, it’s hard to think about democracy being the only thing you’re going out to vote for.”

But she wants young voters to consider that in North Carolina, Republicans have had complete control over the state legislature for the past 10 years and have done little to improve their lives.

“Republicans are trying to keep you poor and sick and in debt right now. They’re trying to keep you that way, and that’s from not giving you the resources and what they could,” she said. “Republicans in North Carolina could do anything right now, they’ve got power everywhere.”

Clayton believes North Carolinians, especially young ones, deserve better than that—and that Democrats can deliver better.

“Everyone needs to be voting this year!”

Anderson Clayton advises young people who want to get involved with North Carolina’s democratic party to email [email protected] or email her directly at [email protected].

Author

  • Bonnie Fuller

    Bonnie Fuller is the former CEO & Editor-in-Chief of HollywoodLife.com, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, USWeekly and YM. She now writes about politics and reproductive rights. She can be followed on her Substack at: BonnieFuller1.

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