Sunrise protesters call out Madison Cawthorn’s response to flood victims

Kevin McCall
Arts & Features Writer
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Photographed by Kevin McCall Counter protesters crowd the sidewalk to support Madison Cawthorn

On steps of the Haywood County Courthouse, Asheville’s local Sunrise Movement finds strength in its community as they call out Madison Cawthorn’s handling of the recent flooding in the area. 
At the protest, Chelsea White, a partner of the Sunrise movement in Asheville announced her bid to run against Cawthorn in the next election. If elected White said she would co-govern alongside members of the community and actively engage with them to make sure they are represented. 
“I would be helping to build a bridge between D.C. and Western North Carolina so that the folks here have a voice through me and a seat through me,” she said. 
According to White, Cawthorn does not properly represent his district or take the steps necessary to reach out to members of the community. 
“He has not taken action to be on the ground talking to us to ask us what are some solutions,” she said. “He has done nothing with his time in congress to improve Western North Carolina.”
White said Congress plans to vote on the Reconciliation Bill, which hopes to fund a recovery package for Western North Carolina and provide jobs with benefits.
“The action was meant to draw attention to that infrastructure package that is on the table being voted on right now,” she said.
UNC Asheville Student Benjamin Freeman said the goal of Sunrise’s protest in Waynesville is to draw attention toward Madison Cawthorn’s denial of federal funding for relief for recent flood victims in the area. 
“This is more about showing our support to the people themselves and trying to get them on our side to vote Madison Cawthorn out,” Freeman said. 
Rachel Spector, a newer member of Sunrise, said tropical storm Fred caused flooding in the community which led to the loss of homes and property of families which Cawthorn failed to respond to.
“He lacks any type of emergency around climate change,” she said. “Cawthorn is also on the House Senate Committee which is going to be the one to decide whether we get a civilian climate corps in Appalachia which will bring sustainable good paying jobs in the area for new infrastructure projects.” 
According to Spector, Cawthorn’s anti-environmentalist stance and his lack of acknowledgment of the climate crisis are where his biggest failures lie. 
“Appalachia is going to suffer from the increase of natural disasters that are going to happen,” she said. 
Before the protest, Freeman said members of Sunrise canvassed throughout the community to engage with members who were affected by the recent flooding in the area. 
“People’s houses were damaged and they can’t live in them because there was black mold growing which damages the lungs after just 24 hours,” Freeman said.
White carries a history of doing volunteer work for her local community and started the Progressive Nation at Western North Carolina.
“That led me to making friends with a lot of the folks who ended up helping start the Sunrise hub in Asheville,” she said.
White’s interest in participating in activism began after a family member, unable to afford the treatment they needed, died of pancreatic cancer.
“That was really a catalyst to my community involvement,” she said. “For a long time I was waiting tables and cashiering and was sort of organizing in between shifts at my two jobs. I previously started a group called Progressive Nation at Western North Carolina.”
Spector said she joined the Sunrise movement recently within the last few months and helps organize the action in their protests.
“I was a student organizer at Virginia Tech which I recently graduated from,” she said.
Maggie Rumley, a volunteer of the group, said she only recently became involved with the local community, but has a history of climate activism and even helped organize climate awareness groups in Appalachian State.
“I moved to Asheville not too long ago and wanted to get plugged into a climate movement around here locally,” the 23-year-old said. 

Photographed by Kevin McCall
The Sunrise Movement stands on the steps of the Haywood County Courthouse to
protest against Madison Cawthorn.

The group’s vocal and active advocacy towards climate issues within the community intrigued Rumley.  
“I had seen Sunrise nationally and they were really active within the community so I thought I’d plug in and see what it’s about,” she said. 
Freeman said he became involved with the Sunrise Movement due to his recent interest in activism and wanting to aidin the fight for climate justice. 
“I am a political science major and I’m getting into that to specifically improve people’s lives,” the 19-year-old said. 
During the protest, the group faced counter-protesters who showed up ahead of Sunrise’s protest to create a demonstration in support of Cawthorn which, according to Spector, happens on a regular basis. 
“I have dealt with counter protesters in the past,” the 22-year-old said. 
Spector said she is unable to rationalize the motives behind the counter-protesters who showed up at the courthouse, many of whom experienced the effects of the flooding first-hand. 
“It’s just really disappointing and sad that people feel the need to protest what we’re asking for, which is just aid for the local community in the face of mass flooding and climate disaster,” she said. 
White said the biggest success from the protest at the courthouse came from the vibrant, hopeful energy from the protesters and the support they have received from members of the community. 
“The outpouring of support and love and excitement from folks who are really tired of sitting around and waiting for someone to come through with all the answers, but who are ready to build a movement for ourselves and bring our solutions to the table,” she said. 
According to Freeman joining Sunrise, or any other activist movement, is relatively quick and easy and anybody who is interested in joining activist groups has the ability to. 
“Usually it’s just as simple as looking up ‘climate movements in my area’ or ‘political movements in my area,’” Freeman said.  
In order to take the next step and help raise awareness, White said the community must come together and be open for discussion to help solve issues that arise. 
“We can start building relationships with our neighbors and lifting each other’s stories and asking big questions about what we are going through right now. What do we need and what can we do for each other,” she said.