Statement of Conscience[This statement was developed and used by Audra Killingsworth in successful first political campaign in which she gained a seat on the 5-person Apex Town Council. Her campaign made heavy use of social media, light attention to yard signs, and none for direct mail.]
My name is Audra Killingsworth. I am 34 years old. I live in Apex, North Carolina just south of Raleigh. I am a mother of 4 children. I am married to a wonderful man. I work full time and in November 2017 I was elected to office as a Town Council Member in Apex by a huge margin. If you take nothing else away from this speech, make it this: Get involved if you want change. You must be willing to make it happen.
My first foray into politics besides voting was in the spring of 2016. I attended a precinct meeting and cluster meeting. I took my writing to the precinct meeting. It said this:
The weight upon my heart beats heavy
The weight upon my shoulders weighs too much
The heaviness on my brain leads me to despair
To imagine our country being so far away
From accepting people for who they are
Black, white, yellow, red, pink, brown
Female, male, intersex, asexual, omnisexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, gay
Conservative, liberal, libertarian
Religious, atheist, the I don’t cares
That people are judged by the clothes they wear, the metal that’s placed in their skin, the ink that lays in their epidermis, the people they choose to kiss, the way they choose to be has nothing to do with you or me. Unless, it hurts me or someone else.
I shared my writing, but it didn’t feel finished. It felt like there was something missing.
The spring, summer, and fall of 2016 I canvassed for the first time, talked to people about good candidates running for office, handed out literature, worked a polling place, shared a lot of information on social media, and educated myself about state and national politics.
In January of 2017, I took my young daughter – 10 years old at the time - to Washington, D.C. to the Women’s March.
I was overwhelmed with the togetherness I saw there. We had something in common. We were all unhappy with the current administration. The camaraderie was amazing.
The enthusiasm inspired me and they offered us solutions to fix the process.
They asked women to get involved in the political process. How could I do that?
I educated myself. I voted. I helped candidates by canvassing. I volunteered at the polls. What else could I do?
I asked myself questions. What could I do to change anything? What needed to change?
The biggest thing I saw that needed to change was that our representatives needed to listen to and represent us. I had reached out countless times to many of the elected officials that represented me. I had not felt heard. In fact, I felt like they scoffed that I had contacted them. I hated the form letters I received. Those letters telling me my opinion didn’t matter, that my representative was going to vote however they wanted. I wanted change. I felt I could be that representative who listened, who contacted those who reached out in good faith, hoping for fair representation. But who am I to step into this arena?
I am a woman who has many labels and facets. Some of which could be limiting in my involvement in politics.
Number 1: I am a Full time worker: how would I have time for all that is required for running for office, election, and then the actual position on top of a full time job?
The lack of a full time paid position and salary for either local or state representatives is limiting for many people that could potentially run for office and who might be better representatives of the people. I was able to still continue my career as an Occupational Therapist and Rehab Director and work as a Town Council Member anywhere from 10-20 hours per week above my full-time job. When I campaigned, I did so after work during the week, and on the weekend. I had a team of volunteers and ran in conjunction with 2 others who had similar views as me. This position I could handle.
Number 2: I am a Mother: could I afford to spend that amount of time away from my children? I asked myself don’t my kids deserve a better future than the potential one they have now? The road we are going down is treacherous and has disastrous consequences for future generations. We need more conscionable people making decisions for our combined future.
There are also people who question whether a mother would make a good politician. However, if I was a man, would I get the same questions about what would happen with my kids?
Number 3: I am a Wife: Could my relationship with my husband withstand the demands of a campaign, election, and office holding should I win? Could my husband help me with the kids, household, and other responsibilities without it becoming too much of a burden?
Number 4: I am A bisexual woman: Would my sexuality be an issue in the election in an area that was very recently a fully conservative area stronghold?
Number 5: And significantly, I am an atheist and secular humanist: What would happen when people found out I held no belief in a deity? And not only that, while not enforceable, North Carolina has a statute that says you must believe in the Almighty God to hold office.
When I was first deciding if I could run for office, I talked to local party members and former candidates. When asked what skeletons I had in my closet, I said I was an atheist. One of them said, “Why should that matter?” Our area had grown exponentially in the last 5-10 years and the people moving in were much more open to diversity and progressivism. Would that help?
And Did I truly have the mental and emotional ability to handle what was needed to become a target in a campaign?
Of course I did! I have been on the outside of everything from the time I was little with being born into a Christian fundamentalist religion. We were always different.
As an aside, I’m going to tell you a little about my background. I’m from a very rural area in Louisiana. My parents went to a church called the Worldwide Church of God – could be called a cult. We were biblical literalists. My dad was the head of the household – no matter how wrong he was. My mother, though strong and smart, has never questioned the reasonableness or rationality of what she grew up in and what we were brought up in.
As I child I had a severe infection. An infection that got worse after I received two different types of antibiotics that didn’t work. After that, my mother took us to a naturopath and homeopathic doctor. I ended up with sepsis and missing half of the school year. Somehow my body fought it and I’m here to tell the tale, though I still suffer the consequences. We never received vaccinations because we should trust in the will of God. It wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina 12 years ago that received the first of many vaccinations.
The community we lived in was a very small, depressed town and had no opportunities for a better life. From the time I was in middle school, I knew I had to get out of there. I read voraciously. It was the only way I knew there was a different way of life, opportunities, and a better existence. It also led me to read the bible – from cover to cover. I never really reconciled the idea of a loving god with the god described in the Old Testament.
And the thought of ideas being written down hundreds of years later and being exactly the same as when first told? Pause. Yeah right. I was well versed in Strong’s Concordance, apologetics, and rationalizations for the bible. But that was certainly a house of cards that collapsed quickly once I got away from the influence of my childhood. My transition to college helped me gain the independence I needed to really understand what life was about. I made the transition from a very conservative Christian, to a deist, to a spiritualist, to an agnostic, to a nihilist very briefly, and then to a very liberal atheist and secular humanist.
I always stood up for what I believed in, regardless of the consequences. And now as a moral and ethical human being, I still stand up for what I believe in. I must stand up for what I believe in. Secular humanism is my philosophy in life and what makes me a better person.
That is why I decided I wanted to make a difference through politics. I want to represent the people in my area by listening, making myself available for conversation, and standing up when things are going wrong.
Facts matter, ethics matters, civility matters, and so does our ability to right wrongs.
In March of 2017, I started going to town council meetings consistently, and attending as many meetings as possible in the community to understand what the position was like. I began talking to people in the party and in the community, and started a local atheist, agnostic, and humanist Facebook page for our town. I filed in the spring of 2017 for the Apex Town Council race, ran the campaign with contributions from people like you, and won election in November of 2017. I took my oath of office over the North Carolina and United States constitutions being sworn in by the first Iranian American woman judge in North Carolina.
While I did not make my atheism or secular humanism a central focus of my campaign, I answered honestly when asked. I learned it wasn’t as big of a deal to most in my community and even learned about quite a few more just like me as I opened up and stepped out.
Our area had turned from a red/conservative stronghold, into a blue, liberal, progressive wave with all the people that have moved into our growing area. We flipped our council for the first time. Other people believed it was time for change too.
For the first time we now have a Freethought Caucus in Congress! Politicians who have been in the closet have been willing to say who they truly are. This current and the recent administrations at the state and federal levels have been pushing the limits of separation of church and state by passing legislation protecting “religious freedoms” over civil rights, removing powers from the executive branch, and gerrymandering the legislative and judicial races. Civil rights, constitutional rights, and future rights must be protected by the people we elect to office or they will be lost.
It’s like we’ve got a pool full of children and it’s time for more adults in the pool.
We need people, good people, to volunteer for campaigns by working polls, hosting meetings, knocking on doors, calling people. Or can you contribute to campaigns or causes that support what you believe in? Can you manage campaigns; become campaign treasurers; or even run for office. Can you do any of these?
What steps should you take if you want to run for office?
First you should find a position that you can reasonably handle. – All areas of government need good, reasonable people running at the local, state, federal levels.
Then you need to file with the proper board to begin your campaign. Is it full time, part-time, paid, or volunteer? Research the position. Can you handle the hours, the dedication, and the exposure to the public?
Next find out when filing dates are and when the next election is.
Then research thoroughly campaign finance and board of elections rules (which are different for every race and election at every level).
Next take a candidate training course, many of which are free.
Then start going to as many events as possible to meet and talk with people. And do talk to as many people as possible.
My strategy was to ask open-ended questions (what is going well in our area? What would you change?) and then just listen.
And educate if necessary. Things don’t always happen the way people think they happen.
Do start on the campaign trail as early as possible.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
Be ethical, civil, and honest.
Always ask for help including contact info, contributions, volunteers, and connections.
Be ready to meet someone that doesn’t agree with you and be able to deal with that.
Don’t be surprised if your best supporters are people you wouldn’t expect.
And finally, get ready to hold office.
A few months after being elected, I finished my writing. Here it is:
The weight upon my heart beats heavy
The heaviness upon my shoulders weighs too much.
The despair on my brain leads me to sadness.
To imagine our country being so far away
From accepting people for who they are
Black, white, yellow, red, pink, brown,
Female, male, intersex, asexual, omnisexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, gay,
Conservative, liberal, libertarian,
Religious, atheist, the I don't cares.
that people are judged by the clothes they wear, the metal that's placed in their skin, the ink that lays in their epidermis, the people they choose to kiss, the way they choose to be has nothing to do with you or me: Unless it hurts me or someone else.
The lack of empathy seen today by a multitude of people is disheartening.
Do you know what empathy is?
It's not arresting people of color because they walk down a sidewalk in the other side of town,
Or the fact that we have an other side of town.
It's not following a black man around a store because it's thought he might steal something as he picks up diapers for a baby girl, or tampons for his partner, or food for his grandmother.
It's not throwing that same girl who has a different skin tone on the ground because she dared stand her ground like the white kids do every day.
It's not applauding a man who shot a teenager in self defense because he dared to walk through a neighborhood with a hoodie on.
It's not sitting on top of a man who tried to sell cigarettes until he could not breathe.
It's not shooting people in the back as they run away that obviously are not a threat.
It's not acknowledging that lives are being lost from one race at a higher rate than all others in this "great" nation. Black lives do matter because right now they do not matter as much.
It's not allowing a rapist to go free because it might hurt his future.
It's not breaking up families because a person is called illegal.
It's not removing a chance for a woman or a girl to make her own decisions about if and when and where and how she chooses to give life to another generation.
It's not purposefully paying a woman less than a man simply because of the equipment she lacks.
It's not demanding a child be pushed into this world but forcing it onto the street as soon as it takes its first breath.
It's not denying people, including children, food and housing.
It's not forcing others to follow the dogma or philosophy you subscribe to.
It's not forcing others to use a bathroom their minds don't belong in.
It's not allowing people to drink poisoned water because it saved a few dollars.
It's not paying CEO's millions when most of their employees have to work multiple jobs just to pay the bills.
Do you know what empathy is?
It is filling children's bellies before bloated bank accounts.
It's making sure people are healthy and whole if they want to be.
It's allowing people to make rational choices based on science and reasoning, not biases and power, or faith of another person.
It's voting people into office who have the long term future in mind instead of power and short term gain.
It's remembering that people have thoughts, and dreams, and desires.
We want to make our own choices and be accepted without caveats.
We all have the desire to be respected and to truly live.
We are all humans on this planet we call earth.
Can we live together or destroy each other for simply being different?
We need a good balance of reasonable, secular, humanist people helping to push this country to what we are capable of:
A country that is a leader in every way.
A place that others aspire to.
A place we need to be, but are nowhere near yet.
Help us get there.
In conclusion, if you have ever thought about jumping into political waters, now is the time. It’s not nearly as uncomfortable as you might think. And we definitely need more adults in the pool.