The Democratic Party of Carroll County hosted a well-attended Bringing Neighbors Together campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Park at Holiday Island Sunday afternoon that included live music from three different bands, food, and speeches from candidates for state and federal offices.
Charles Templeton, chair of the Democratic Party of Carroll County, said it was a very high energy event that generated a lot of good will.
“I think everybody had a fun time,” Templeton said. “It was a very enthusiastic group of people. The speakers did an excellent job letting people know who they are and what offices they’re running for. Our primary focus was to give people running for office an opportunity to speak to the party. Hopefully, this will become an annual event for the Democrats in Carroll County and give Democratic candidates a platform to tell who they are and ask for people’s votes.”
Templeton said many Democrats have a frustration with the national party, feeling their voices are not being heard.
“But here at the county level, they can participate and have their voices heard,” Templeton said. “How many people would have talked to candidates for state and federal office without that event Sunday? The candidates were glad to talk to everybody. You could voice your concerns talking to them directly.”
Templeton had special praise for event coordinator Richard Pille and other volunteers who put a parachute over the band stand to protect musicians from the sun. Pille also provided a tent to shade the area where food was served.
“Jillian Guthrie, vice chair for community outreach, handled all our volunteers,” Templeton said. “They made my job easy.”
The keynote speaker for the event, Michael John Gray, chair of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said there is energy out there for change.
“There is a real hunger for people to run for office who represent where they are from instead of special interest groups,” said, who also serves in the Arkansas House of Representatives. “It is definitely encouraging to see such a response. My whole stance has been to understand the protests and the anger. There is room for marches and parades. But, at the end of day, the only way we are going to the change the hearts of people is having one-on-one conversations at ballgames, churches, schools and other places. Just telling someone they are wrong and putting up an obstinate front won’t get us anywhere. We have to tell our story and have the conversation.”
That story, he said, is that the Democratic Party has always been the party that cared about working people, discrimination, human rights, education and healthcare. He suggests talking to people about personal stories such as having a pre-existing condition that wouldn’t allow them to get healthcare insurance without the Affordable Care Act. Or, talk about having lost a job unfairly.
“We won’t convince them by yelling at them and telling them they are wrong,” Gray said. “Talk about what you really care about. We have to get past what is going on in Washington and worry what is going on in our living rooms, kitchen tables and public schools. Some of those conversations will be overwhelming, but we will find middle ground.”
Gray suggested telling people why you are a Democrat.
“We just want to get things done and make it better,” Gray said. “Talk about how our current state representative is more interested in national headlines than in Carroll County. If you have those conversations, you are going to break through to some of your neighbors and friends.”
Gray said on the national level, Democrats and Republicans have been pitted against each other.
“But that is not what Arkansas is about,” he said. “We want to be treated decently and we want our neighbors treated decently. Politics has become so jaded. We are not going to convince everyone. We don’t have to convince everyone. I know people don’t want to be hateful and discriminatory. We have to allow people space to change their minds.”
Gray said he was also encouraged the people who turned out for the event weren’t just from Holiday Island and Eureka Springs, but Berryville, too.
Joshua Mahoney, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives Arkansas Third Congressional District, said he has seen meetings similar to the one at Holiday Island occurring throughout the district.
“All over area, people are coming out to Democratic meetings because they want change,” said Mahoney, who has specialized in statewide nonprofits addressing education and poverty.
Gary Morris, running for the Arkansas House of Representatives District 97, said he used to be a Republican but swithed to the Democratic Party. Morris, who is a former news reporter, public relations and advertising director and currently a Methodist minister, said there is a current lack of leadership in the state advocating what is best for the people instead of big campaign funders.
Two candidates for Arkansas Secretary of State also attended and spoke, with Susan Inman saying voter suppression is a real threat and the next Secretary of State must be ready to fight any efforts to make it harder to vote. She said protecting Arkansans’ voting rights would be her top priority as Secretary of State. Inman has previously worked as director of elections for former Secretary of State Sharon Priest, and was the Pulaski County Election Director for 13 years.
Dr. Anthony Bland of Little Rock, also a candidate for Secretary of State, brought his wife, mother and eight children to the rally.
“This is the first time they have all been with me on the campaign trail,” Bland wrote on his Facebook page. “The sense of family and unity here was overwhelming. Thanks to all those who played a part in putting together this great event.”
Bland said he would protect voters’ right from elected officials with hidden agendas.
“We need to stop individuals from taking our rights as voters,” he said. “As Arkansas Secretary of State, I will be the voice of the voters and maintain a structured system that will adhere to the rights and needs of Arkansas voters.”