Activist Spotlight: Cara McClure
In 2013, activist Cara McClure and her husband were on vacation when the verdict of the Trayvon Martin case was announced: George Zimmerman, who never denied that he shot Martin, was found not guilty. Soon after hearing the news, McClure received a call from her son, who had also seen the news. “Your generation dropped the ball,” he told her.
“And so, my son and I had this deep conversation where I didn’t fight what he said. I just listened,” McClure told Supermajority News. He expressed his fear at seeing how Trayvon Martin’s death was treated by both the justice system and greater culture. In response, McClure said, “‘When I come home, we are going to change that. We’ll find something to do.'”
And they did: In December, McClure and her son attended a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Birmingham. It was McClure’s first exposure to the Black Lives Matter movement and, since then, “I haven’t turned back,” McClure said. “That started my activism.”
Just a few years earlier, from 2008 to 2011, McClure was homeless after she and her husband separated. McClure and her son made it work until he graduated high school in 2011, at which point McClure moved back to her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. In 2012, McClure built on her experience with housing insecurity to create a product to help individuals and families find their ideal homes. She started her own company: ASAP Apartment Locators.
In addition to her entrepreneurial work, McClure immersed herself in organizing. In 2014, she began to work with the Birmingham BLM group. She quickly discovered, however, that not only was the group male-dominated, but many members resisted the national movement’s guidelines for affiliation. Specifically, some members refused to adopt the national charter due to its inclusion of language that supported the LGBTQ community.
In 2015, McClure and a co-founder applied to join the Black Lives Matter Global Network on behalf of a separate group following the group’s guidelines for affiliation and became the nationally recognized Birmingham Chapter of BLM,
Over the next few years, McClure expanded her activism. She supported the “Fight for 15” campaign, which fights to increase the current minimum wage to a living wage, and ARISE, which at that time was working to target predatory lending practices in the state. She also helped launch Showing Up For Racial Justice Birmingham, a group that works to undermine white supremacy and to work toward racial justice through community organizing, mobilizing, and education. In 2017, she spearheaded Birmingham’s “Black Mama’s Bail Out Day,” part of a national effort to bail out mothers, and reunite families, in time for Mother’s Day in Alabama.
In 2018, Cara applied to the first cohort of the Alabama chapter of the organization Emerge, which recruits and trains Democratic women who want to run for office. She learned of an opening to run for Public Service Commission Place 1 — an office that can influence the ways that utilities are priced and administered in the state.
The previous year, McClure had obtained a job driving medical patients to their doctors’ appointments all over the state. Some patients’ appointments were over 50 miles from their home, which gave McClure plenty of time to listen to stories about their lives — including the choice many had to make between buying groceries and paying their utilities bills.
The Public Service Commission, McClure said, is the most “important agency in the government that nobody knows about.” While the agency is supposed to regulate utilities on behalf of customers, she learned it more often had been working to benefit the utilities companies. What’s more, no black person had ever served in the role in Alabama. So McClure decided to run for Public Service Commission Place 1 because of the role’s potential to significantly change the lives of lower-income Alabamians.
McClure needed $1900 just to apply to run and launched a fundraiser to help pay the fee. She raised the money quickly and, in the process, realized that Alabamans wanted “someone who has a track record of fighting for people,” to represent them in government. McClure, in turn, wanted to provide representation — to let other black women know that they “can make a difference where they are, with what they have.”
McClure ended up losing the election, but still felt that “the work that I did was transformational.” The problem, she said, was that it was “limited based on resources and capacity of a small team. I often thought to myself: What would be possible if funders invested in black women-led work in communities in need on a larger scale? What would happen if we truly restored power to everyday people?”
Since her campaign, McClure has set out to answer these questions. She currently works as a state coordinator for the Black Voters Matter Fund, which involves building relationships with organizations on the ground to help them build capacity, and is in the process of launching a new organization: Faith & Works, a non-partisan, statewide civic engagement and social justice organization which aims to organize and empower faith leaders to rekindle their leadership as integral to the survival of the community.
“I feel like faith leaders have been sitting on the sidelines, and I believe they are the missing link to finding unengaged voters or unlikely voters,” McClure said of her decision to start the organization.
There are currently over 247,000 inactive voters, of which 75,000 are Black, according to McClure. Houses of faith are often the hubs of Black Alabamian communities, and Pastors and Faith Leaders have the ability to drive change and galvanize the community behind important issues.
Increasing voter turnout, however, is just the beginning. “If we are really going to impact our communities in need across the state effectively, we have to tackle social inequities on all levels,” McClure says.