Sunday, April 30, 2023

Braxton Winston Running for Labor Commissioner


The offices the wolfish Republicans can't gerrymander in North Carolina are the Council of State seats, including the Commissioner of Labor. The various commissioners with their own constitutional kingdoms run statewide, along with the governor and the lieutenant governor. Every four years the voting power of Charlotte and Raleigh and Fayetteville and Greensboro isn't sliced into strips and sauteed for the benefit of conservatives too extreme to win a fair race.

So Braxton Winston has a shot. He announced he's running for Labor, and he could energize whole new swaths of infrequent voters who'll follow his banner.

Winston has served for the last six years on the Charlotte City Council and is currently mayor pro tem. He is also a labor activist -- a professional videographer but also, as a stagehand and grip, a union member, in "our region’s robust sports television and entertainment production community" (Winston website). He was born at Camp Lejeune where his father was serving in the Marine Corps, but Braxton was educated up north at the super-prestigious Phillips Academy Andover, "where he excelled in academics, arts, sports, and student government." After high school, Braxton came back to North Carolina for a bachelor's degree in anthropology at Davidson College.

But the real measure of the man came in 2016 when Keith Scott was shot dead after police say he failed to drop a gun upon their order. The officer who shot him was not charged. On the evening of September 20, 2016, at the south Charlotte address on Old Concord Rd. where Keith Scott lived and where he was shot dead, a crowd gathered and grew angrier.  Braxton was in that crowd and he live-streamed Keith Scott's daughter pleading with the police -- "Why did you just kill my father? He didn’t have to die." Something shifted in the videographer, who had after all led a pretty privileged life: "And it was just like, a chill came over me and everything changed. And I took the people’s side ... you know, we gotta get these questions answered and when the police tried to get out of there, the people demanded the conversation to keep going and that turned into a protest. We were met with riot police and tear gas after that and, you know, the rest is kind of history.” [WBTV]

That history contains a famous, viral photo of Braxton Winston, shirtless, with a clinched fist confronting a phalanx of riot cops. AP photographer Jeff Siner took the shot. Braxton said his shirt was off to serve as a gas mask. He had not been prominent before as a civil rights activist "but found himself taking on a leading role after the demonstrations, which eventually turned into a run for office. Charges against him after his arrest were dropped, as was a lawsuit he filed against the city. [Guardian]

That photo was September 2016. By 2017, Winston was running for an at-large seat on the Charlotte City Council. He was one of four Democrats elected and was reelected just last fall.

He puts his money were his mouth is. In 2020, during building fury over the killing of George Floyd, he was arrested a second time. He had joined protesters outside of Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department's metro division "in an attempt to de-escalate the tensions between the police and the citizens of Charlotte," an official Winston statement said. "During the time he was out there, he was in communication with CMPD, press, community leaders, and protesters." [WCNC]

Winston is part of a whole wave of young talent now emerging in North Carolina, and none too soon. It won't be instant, a winning wave, but it will come. Statewide campaigns will be the point of the spear.

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