Long-time Berryville resident and civil rights activist Roland Clarke says that he is considering another run at Berryille’s town council. Clarke lost a 2008 election bid to Lawrence Russell by 70 votes. Clarke says that he is specifically dissatisfied with the lack of progress that Berryville’s town council and mayor have made in the areas of affordable housing and jobs for young people.
Clarke says that part of his decision will be dictated by his personal health. Clarke recently experienced open-heart surgery but says that he feels stronger every day.
“I expect to make a decision by June” Clarke said. “I also would like to see other African Americans run as well.”
Clarke says that he is a strong supporter of the democratic process and expressed repeated dismay over voter apathy in local elections during a Monday interview in his Berryville home office.
“People need to stop making excuses for not being active in their community. I wish that everyone would get out and learn more about what’s going on in our community. Most people here don’t even know who their elected representatives are.”
Clarke says that he is particularly dismayed by Clarke County’s African American community when it comes to placing pressure on elected officials to address problems. “I am so tired of seeing our local black community being only interested in sports and food” Clarke said. “It hurts me to me to have to say that, it really does.”
But while Clarke, who is African American, feels strongly about race-related issues, he also supports economic change that could have far reaching impacts on the entire Clarke County community.
“My main concerns are senior citizen housing, affordable housing for working people and growing the county’s commercial base” Clarke said. “The current business owners are cleaning up on the rest of us. That’s why they won’t let new stores in that might cut into their profits.”
Clarke said that the community has been strapped with limited commercial options for long enough. “It would be nice to have another grocery store or maybe another flower shop and a better pharmacy that doesn’t close at 5pm” Clarke said. “The mall that Mr. Echols proposed was a good thing. We need something like that along with transportation options so that senior citizens can get to the shopping areas.”
Clarke said that if local government continues to refuse to listen to community demands for additional commercial options one option might be to consider an economic boycott of downtown businesses.
“We could do here what they did in Memphis” Clarke said. “Just don’t shop.”
In December 2010 ministers in Memphis, Tennessee joined forces and threatened a massive shopping boycott over the Memphis School System’s plan to surrender its charter. As the Memphis debate continues, shoppers have boycotted local businesses on successive Mondays.
Clarke says that while he believes that Clarke County government needs to be more responsive to voters generally, he would like to see local churches and church leaders play a stronger role in motivating local African Americans to get more involved in their community.
“Even though there’s a heaven we have to live on Earth now” Clarke said. “I want local pastors do more to inspire people to make a difference in their community.
Clarke says that he was encouraged during his 2008 election bid by meeting so many voters that expressed a desire for change. Clarke sees the coming election as a financial referendum on the county’s fiscal and business policies that he believes benefit the wealthy at the expense of blue-color voters.
“Working people really don’t have any representation in Clarke County. “I think that I could bring new ideas that would make sense to most people in our community. Most of us have the same goals and it’s time that we come together for change. I love this town and this county. Clarke doesn’t need to become Loudoun County in order to be better. If I do decide to run it will be because I want to offer hope and new ideas and vision to show voters that their vote counts. Dreams can become reality if you’re just willing to believe.”