Local school board member Elisabeth Motsinger looks to unseat US Rep. Virginia Foxx
On Jan. 12,
inside the well appointed home of Stephanie Pellet and her husband
Rajesh, Elisabeth Motsinger quietly launched her campaign for US
Congress. Motsinger, a member of the Winston-Salem/
County School Board, was suffering from a cold that night and losing
her voice. She acknowledged her rasp as she addressed the roughly 30
supporters who gathered inside the Pellet’s home in the Buena Vista
section of Winston-Salem. “I feel like I should be in a smoky jazz joint
in Chicago, but I don’t actually believe in Chicago-style politics,”
Motsinger said, referring to the corruption and nepotism that has served
as the trademark of Windy City politics for decades. Motsinger, a
progressive Democrat, went on to say there was no way she could follow
the rulebook for how to run a campaign for Congress and expect to defeat
US Rep. Virginia Foxx for the 5 th District seat in November. “I won’t
spend four hours a day on the phone trying to raise $2 million,”
Motsinger said. “I can’t raise $2 million; I will not go after Mrs. Foxx
because she’s an old lady who should be home with her family. I think
it’s really important to not treat people disrespectfully or unkindly
and I’ve made that a sort of lifetime commitment and I’m not going to
give that up now.” Jan. 12 proved an eventful day in Motsinger’s
campaign. That morning, as she was composing the first draft of her
platform, Motsinger received a phone call from a local reporter who had
learned that she had filed her candidacy with the Federal Elec tions
Commission. Motsinger confirmed that she was running for the seat
currently held by Foxx — a fact she had hoped to keep a secret until her
official press conference on Jan. 17.
A few hours later, Treva Johnson, a Roaring River woman who announced her
candidacy for the Democratic nomination last fall, dropped out of the
race. In an e-mail to her supporters, Johnson said she decided to not
continue her campaign so that she could spend more time with her family.
the home of Stephanie and Rajesh, Motsinger concluded her remarks by
quoting a poem by William Stafford entitled, “Allegiances.” “It is time
for all the heroes to go home,” Motsinger recited. She offered her
interpretation of Stafford’s verse. “I think if we want a real
democracy, we have to believe that that’s true. We’re not looking for
heroes,” she said. “We’re looking for all of us together to have a
voice.” During the question-and-answer session, a supporter asked
Motsinger if the Democratic Party at the state or national level would
help fund her campaign. “The problem with funding from the state or
national is they have never been willing to fund this race,” Motsinger
replied. “They see it essentially unwinnable. From their perspective, it
can’t be done.” Foxx’s performance against Democratic challengers in
recent elections gives weight to the Democratic Party’s position on the
race. In 2010, Foxx crushed Billy Kennedy by winning 66 per- cent of the
vote. In 2008, Foxx manhandled Roy Carter, winning by a margin of
58-42. Foxx first won the seat in 2004 and is currently serving her
fourth term in Congress. YES! Weekly contacted Foxx spokes- person Caroline May seeking comment from Foxx about her intention to run for a fifth term. “Unfortunately Rep. Foxx will not be conducting interviews about the campaign until filing begins,” May stated in an e-mail.
there to be several candidates to file and comment- ing now would be
premature.” The good news for Motsinger is the redrawn 5 District is
more favorable to a Democratic challenger. Surry and Stokes counties are
no longer part of the district, which now includes Alexander,
Alleghany, Ashe, Davie, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin counties, and parts
of Catawba, Davidson, Forsyth, Iredell and Rowan counties. “This is
really the year that if things are going to change, people are saying
this is the opportunity for that to happen,” said Carissa Joines,
Motsinger’s campaign manager. “I think the redistricting will help us.
Our goal really as a direction for the campaign is we want to be getting
out and meeting people and establishing from the beginning who those
people are that we’re going to be looking to [for input].” Motsinger is
confident that the state and national Democratic Party will come throw
their support her way once they see her broad-based support among
Democrats, unaffiliated voters and even some Republicans.
“This has to be a
real grassroots [effort],” she said. “One of the things that happens
when you grow something from the ground up is that it has a strength
that nothing that comes from above will have and my real desire is we
build something that has some strength to it, not just to get me elected
but to build those relationships that are sorely missing in many of our
lives.” Joines followed on Motsinger’s comments, telling those in
attendance how to connect with the campaign. The campaign has a website —
www.nc5th.us — as well as a Facebook
page and an account with Act Blue, a political action committee website
that helps Democratic candidates raise money.
We Motsinger shared her campaign strategy with her supporters.
I’m really interested in is developing a sense of community amongst the
5th District where we can have important conversations about who it is
we want to be as a people so we can represent that voice,” she said.
“The real point is to represent people and they should always feel like
you are open and accessible to them and their needs are met.”
A supporter asked Motsinger about her experience working across party lines to get things done.
have been able as a school board member to work really well with a
whole range of people across a lot of ideological divides and have been
able to get people to agree on doing things that, frankly, really have
surprised the superintendent regularly,” she said. “So it is possible to
drew on an easel and spoke of her passion for systems thinking. She
explained that it has had a profound impact on bringing systems thinking
to the central office of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Due
in part to Motsinger’s advocacy, all assistant superintendents have
attended Peter Senge’s workshop on systems thinking.
else on our school board is at all interested in systems thinking, but I
have seven pilot schools in the Forsyth County schools that are
starting to use this work in the classrooms,” she said.
drew a graphic of the iceberg model, pointing out that that 90 percent
of an iceberg is below the surface. In the paradigm, societal problems
and issues are the 10 percent above the water’s surface. Below the
surface, in descending order, are patterns, structures and mental
models. Motsinger explained that mental models underpin our beliefs
about how the world works. Mental models create structures, which create
problems, so the real leverage comes when you reach voters at the level
of their mental models.
She explained that she used the preamble to the US Constitution as the framework for her platform.
I meet who are progressive are very, very patriotic and are very
heartbroken when they see their country operating in ways that are less
than what is possible,” she said. “And I think most progressives’ lives
are very much driven by their values and so that language belongs to us
and I want us to use it — I want us to claim it.”
first being elected to the school board in 2006, Motsinger has been an
activist in local, state and national politics. Last September, she and
her husband, John, were arrested along with more than 240 other protestors
during a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White
House. Motsinger said she felt compelled to speak out against the
pipeline because the removal and refining of tar sands would mean “game
over” for the planet.
intensified my commitment to protecting the environment,” she said. “It
made me more aware of how important it was to put my body on the line
for what I believe in.”
Motsinger has stated that she will not back down from her positions on issues like the environment or gay and lesbian rights.
don’t think anybody worries about whether my politics are on the
progressive end because they are,” Motsinger said. “I unabashedly
believe that the thing that matters most is humanity and protecting the
only precious world we have to live on, so those are my politics —
they’re pretty straightforward.”
“What I’m really interested in in is developing a sense of community
community amongst the 5 th District where we can have important
conversations about who it is we want to be as a people so we can repre-
sent that voice”
R. Weiler attended the Jan. 12 event at Stephanie and Rajesh’s home. A
longtime friend, Weiler said with Elisabeth, what you see is what you
who she is,” Weiler said. “She’s a very bright woman. She doesn’t try
to polarize people but rather she tries to bring them together and get
them to communicate, which I believe is very critical in this world. So
I’m hopeful that we have the opportunity to get a different voice in
Motsinger’s unconventional approach to politics extends to organizing her campaign staff.
Joines, the campaign manager, said she met Motsinger
when they both became involved with the Occupy Winston-Salem movement.
Joines said she didn’t have an official position until last month.
told me that she felt like she was supposed to be doing this and she
wanted me to be a part of it,” Joines said. “It’s been really exciting
to work with her because she definitely has a different mindset of how
we’re going to approach this, and I personally have had no experience in
politics at this level or running a campaign.
“For her to trust me with this is really an amazing thing — part of it is we have the same goals and values,” she added.
of Joines’ and Motsinger’s shared goals is to restore true
representation to the 5 th District “We really wanted it to be something
that wasn’t following the party machine, going through the typical way
of everyone telling us we have to do these polls, and we have to raise
this money,” Joines said. “We wanted it to be about listening to the
people in the 5th decency of healthcare for all Americans is under
attack — as if healthcare were a privilege and not a necessity.”
physician’s assistant with more than 20 years experience, Motsinger
laid out the major planks of her platform: economic fairness,
environmental sustainability and educational opportunity.
quoted author Barbara Ehrenreich when she stated, “People are not poor
because of character flaws. They are poor because they don’t have enough
money. And they don’t have enough money because they are not paid
enough for their work.”
said politics is broken by powerful political action committees and big
corporate money. She said when she was a little girl, people could
realistically work toward a better future for themselves, but that is no
longer true. However, Motsinger made it clear she doesn’t want to take
our nation back to the good ol’ days but move it forward.
“I am interested in moving our country for- — that’s been our goal.”
ward — towards one where all people can ex- The house party on Jan. 12
represented the perience the blessings of liberty and where we first
step toward achieving those goals. secure the necessary ingredients for a
livable “Tonight has been an awesome experience world for our
children’s children,” she said. and to see that’s really what people
want — Inside Stephanie and Rajesh’s home, they want to their voice is
heard, they want to Motsinger said when inspiration first struck know
their input is valued — so we hope to to run for Congress she had to go
deep inside continue to do this type of thing over and over herself to
figure what her campaign would look again,” Joines said.
Jan. 17, Motsinger stood before a gather- like and trust that it would
be possible to run ing of media representatives inside Caffé Prada a
very different kind of campaign that would in downtown Winston-Salem and
officially ultimately lead to victory in November. launched her
campaign. “I think we can do this thing, and we’ll do it “Today, the
promise of America is not by being open, honest and good-hearted,” she
equally available to all her citizens,” Motsinger said. “I’m putting
myself out here because we stated. “Half of our population is either
living can’t afford not to try. We cannot concede this in poverty or with low income. Today, the basic country.”
Winston-Salem Forsyth COunty School Board member Elisabeth Motsinger prepares to run for Congress. (photos by Keith T. Barber)