No Duke Next Door Campaign

In 2015 I co-organized with a group of fellow parents from Isaac Dickson Elementary School to develop and implement a plan to stop Duke Energy Progress - the nation’s largest electric utility - from building a large electrical substation next to our local elementary school.

 

In late April 2015, Duke Energy publicly announced their plan to build a substation adjacent to Isaac Dickson Elementary school. They said they were two weeks away from breaking ground. Several outraged parents and I met and spent the next three weeks researching, raising awareness among the school community, developing our message, reaching out to media and setting up meetings with government officials. We split into four committees: Outreach, Research, Social Media and Press, and Government meetings. As the self-appointed Project Manager, I was involved in all group activities to ensure communication flow. I helped develop and execute a plan of action as well as facilitate meetings with the parents and government officials.

Research

During the research phase, I uncovered a document recording a land swap between the City of Asheville and Duke Energy Progress that had occurred earlier in the year that appeared to have paved the way for the substation. We also found out Duke Energy notified the Asheville City School Board months before with no communication relayed to the school staff or community.  

The Mayor initially refused to meet with us and said she did not have the power to influence Duke Energy. Determined to be heard, We sent the CEO of Duke Energy hundreds of postcards, circulated a petition, and lobbied City Officials. Our continued pressure began to pay off when the mayor finally agreed to meet with us publicly. We kept our message political and never personal and always left room for officials to come back to the table and do the right thing.

 

  A map created by a local parents to use for tv media, social media, door to door canvassing, and large poster form to display at events.

A map created by a local parents to use for tv media, social media, door to door canvassing, and large poster form to display at events.

Strategy

We knew that this public meeting with the mayor was our best chance to change the political calculus. During this time I worked with a parent who was also a professional community organizer to plan a community-wide forum. We used the participation of the mayor to convince other key officials to attend, and we began publicizing the meeting to ensure a large turnout. Our strategy was to show our elected officials that their constituency was united in opposition to the substation, and to pressure them into making public commitments to our cause.

Media and Press

To get the word out, I helped secure radio, tv, and print stories which ran before the event. I recruited door to door canvassers and organized publicity at the school. I also produced a mini-documentary titled “No Duke Energy Next Door.”

Earned Media Links:

https://mountainx.com/news/isaac-dickson-parents-and-students-protest-duke-energy-substation/

https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/06/05/parents-vs-duke-energy/ 

https://mountainx.com/news/sparks-fly-at-isaac-dickson-school-meeting-over-duke-energy-substation/

http://wlos.com/news/local/duke-energy-holds-off-on-new-substations

Event Planning and Coordination

When the day of the community forum arrived, I was on location as event manager from early morning until the last light was turned off. Over 600 community members came out, as did our local media. I coordinated greeters who welcomed the crowd with fresh squeezed lemonade, bubbles, sidewalk art, and singing. There was a red carpet photo booth, petitions and information packets outlining our concerns. The mayor and many other government officials came, as well as representatives from Duke Energy, and we definitely had their attention!

 
   Isaac Dickson PTO president being interviewed by local news WLOS.

 Isaac Dickson PTO president being interviewed by local news WLOS.

  Isaac Dickson students helping squeeze fresh lemonade outside the event.

Isaac Dickson students helping squeeze fresh lemonade outside the event.

  Community members are writing postcards to Lynne Goode, CEO of Duke Energy.

Community members are writing postcards to Lynne Goode, CEO of Duke Energy.

  Our Red Carpet Photo Booth provided content for social media and an empowering atmosphere for the community.

Our Red Carpet Photo Booth provided content for social media and an empowering atmosphere for the community.

Public Political Pressure

With our Mayor, County Chairman, and State Senator watching from the stage, we screened a video, gave a slide presentation, and heard public testimony from our standing room only crowd. A small panel of teachers and parents asked preplanned "requests for commitments" from our government officials to work on behalf of the community.

  Asheville City Mayor Esther Manheimer, Senator Terry Van Duyn, and Buncombe County Chairman David Gantt answered community questions and were given 5 minutes each to speak to the audience.

Asheville City Mayor Esther Manheimer, Senator Terry Van Duyn, and Buncombe County Chairman David Gantt answered community questions and were given 5 minutes each to speak to the audience.

  A panel of parents and teachers asked for commitments from government officials. "At your next city council meeting, will you commit to implementing a six-month, temporary moratorium, while alternatives are fully vetted and explored?" 

A panel of parents and teachers asked for commitments from government officials. "At your next city council meeting, will you commit to implementing a six-month, temporary moratorium, while alternatives are fully vetted and explored?" 

  A crowd of 600 parents, students, teachers, and community members. All members of City Council and a representative from Duke Energy were in the audience.

A crowd of 600 parents, students, teachers, and community members. All members of City Council and a representative from Duke Energy were in the audience.

  Power point presentation by parent and Attorney.

Power point presentation by parent and Attorney.

Follow up

By the end of the community forum, we had solid commitments from our public officials to look for alternative sites to locate the substation. We continued following up with the mayor, and six months later, the City and Duke Energy settled on a site for the substation that was not close to any school or housing. This campaign demonstrated that we could come together to fight for our community's needs, and we could win!