Nicole Townsend

Nicole Townsend

Running For and With the People

Nicole Townsend
Nicole Townsend, social and community activist.
Photo: Renato Rotolo/Urban News

Nicole Townsend launches her 2020 City Council Campaign.

On Tuesday, December 3, 2019, an enthusiastic crowd of supporters gathered in West Asheville to help Nicole Townsend kick off her campaign for Asheville City Council. The people who filled the Mothlight that night reflected Asheville’s rich diversity of race, age, class, immigration status, and gender. Drawn by Townsend’s platform of education equity, public safety, and environmental justice, her advocates are clearly invested in working for a better Asheville for all.

“It’s about community, it’s about building, changing, and reimagining what is possible,” Cortina Caldwell, founder of Artists Designing Evolution – The adé PROJECT, said as the event opened. “We need someone who gets it, someone who has been working side by side in community, grassroots style … and who also has compassion, who has fire, who has grace, who knows how to strategize and mobilize people. I’m here to say that person is Nicole Townsend.”

Another speaker, Zeke Christopoulos, Executive Director of Tranzmission, asserted, “A candidate like Nicole, who can bring our voices to the places that we need to be heard as a beloved community, as people working together towards equity, is what Asheville needs right now.”

With poetic language, City Council member Sheneika Smith talked of the parallel and intersecting paths she and Townsend have shared through cultural organizing and movement work. She spoke of Townsend’s efforts towards stopping mass incarceration and cash bail, of her work bringing a race and class analysis to environmental justice organizing, and how she centers the people who are most impacted by systems of oppression.

“The time is now,” said Smith. “Each election we need to place the building blocks for a paradigm shift. Each election…we can choose the leaders of a new Asheville.”

Nicole Townsend and supporters. Photo: Renato Rotolo/Urban News

Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Townsend began by leading everyone in a song by June Jordan, “We have come this far, we won’t turn ’round, we’ll flood the streets with justice, we are freedom bound.”

Townsend encouraged the crowd to take a few minutes to discuss their wildest dreams for Asheville.

As part of her explanation for her candidacy, Townsend first identified herself as coming from a “family of poor and working class roots, always on the margins.”

She continued, “I, along with many who live in this community, am tired of performative liberal politics. This is not a bash, and this is not shade, and we live in a city where most of our elected officials are on the left side of the political spectrum, yet our communities are still suffering.

“Political affiliation is not going to save us, it’s not going to support us. The people in this room are the ones who are going to do the work, we’re going to transform our community,” she stated. “We need elected official officials who are on assignment, we need elected officials who will say ‘yes’ for the people, we need elected officials who say ‘no’ for the people. I’m running for the people, and I am very clear I will not sell the people hopes and dreams for a vote.

She outlined her policies this way: “The pillars of the platform I am standing on are education equity, public safety, and environmental justice. They are personal to me and my people. We don’t need another study to tell us that our black kids are suffering in Asheville Schools, we need action,” and mentioned strategies such as transformative justice and statewide collaborations.

Townsend also addressed public safety, noting, “Usually the focus on police, but we need to figure out what people feel will make their community safer.” She asked those present for their responses, which ranged from a living wage, less racism, and fewer anti-immigrant policies, to knowing our neighbors and an end to police harassment of black people.

Townsend was clear that, “We need a green new deal in Asheville only if it has a race and class analysis, and makes sure black and brown folks are centered.” For Townsend, environmental justice includes ending food deserts, fare-free transit, incentivizing urban famers, investing in community land trusts, and cooperative housing. “It’s time to stop apologizing for redlining and gentrification: we need actual action,” she said.

“This is not my run alone, this is our run,” she closed. “We have to do this together. If we want transformation, it’s ‘we’—not Nicole Townsend. My role is to take that seat and be on assignment for community, and that is what I want to do.”


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