With five simple words, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James revealed the true purpose for a constitutional amendment filed in North Carolina's legislature in 2011 that would ban all relationship recognitions for same-gender couples.
"We don't want them here."
The "them" the amendment proponent referred to in the Raleigh News & Observer was easy to identify.
The "them" was me.
On Sept. 13, 2011, for the first time in the eight years it had considered what many called the "anti-gay amendment," the first conservative-led North Carolina General Assembly in 140 years voted in favor of such an amendment. In doing so, the Assembly placed the measure on the ballot in 2012, allowing a simple majority in a primary election to decide whether North Carolina would write this very blatant discrimination into the state's founding document.
Those were also the five words that inspired what would become Race to the Ballot, a five-week campaign within North Carolina's official coalition anti-amendment campaign, designed to educate and register every North Carolinian of voting age in the state in preparation to defeat this harmful legislation where it currently lives: squarely in the hands of the state's citizens.
From Jan. 27 to March 2, 2012, I, trailed by a team of organizers, coalition partners, and filmmakers, will run 322 miles across the length of North Carolina, from the mountains of Asheville to the coastal city of Wilmington, to raise awareness about the many harms of the amendment.
Along the way, the Race team will stop at over 900 miles worth of voter registration events on major college campuses, spotlight the state's many enlightened employers, reflect on North Carolina's important historical human rights perspectives and parallels, stay late with lock-ins among many fair-minded faith communities, and, in the process, kick off a four-month campaign goal to have "1 million conversations" with our regional communities about the impacts of this discriminatory measure.
The Race team will also capture the entire experience online -- in real time -- to provide the full participatory experience, allowing the state, the nation and the world to virtually Race to the Ballot with North Carolina, the last Southeastern state to consider this type of amendment.
We're doing this not because I'm a runner. I am 5'6", 240 pounds, and likely the opposite of whatever fine stuff a true runner is made of.
We're not doing this because it's the easy way out. Educating and registering half the college-age population in a state with over 100 campuses, while staying overnight at open but sometimes not-so-affirming houses of worship, amid runs on the Blue Ridge Parkway during the harshest of winter months, is not easy.
And we're certainly not doing this because it's the only way. We know that in some states, a simple plan of getting out the vote among likely, progressive voters and an ever-widening, moveable middle, using television or radio, is a trusted path.
But this isn't our path through North Carolina.
Rather, we're doing this because when Mr. James said, "We don't want them here," he wasn't just talking about me.
He meant thousands in North Carolina living without health care, jobs, and a proper public education system, little served by a legislature willing to put the political wedges of the day above the priorities of its people.
He meant the thousands of parents of all stripes in the state, who know well that these types of bullying political tactics so quickly drift from the top down to impact the health and safety of our state's youngest citizens.
He meant the thousands of state workers on unemployment lines whom he would rather have distracted by the divisiveness of this social legislation than focused on 2012 political recrimination.
He meant the unmarried victims of domestic violence, those incapacitated in the hospital, or those too young to dictate where they call "home," whose minimal protections are threatened by the passage of an amendment so broad, and so untested, that even in 2012, when the tide has clearly shifted toward support for marriage equality, it ranks as one of the most oppressive attacks on equal rights for loving couples -- straight or gay -- in the country.
He meant every other household in the neighborhoods, cul-de-sacs, blocks, fields, and farms where which we all live, who, with this amendment's passage, would no longer fit the government's vision of a family deserving of the state protections.
Sure, they want to run some of us out of our state. Well, instead, we're going to run across it and, in doing so, have face-to-face conversations with the people who truly matter: the "them" inside of all of us.
Join us daily as we Race to the Ballot: www.racetotheballot.com.