“People are trying to pay for groceries, trying to pay rent.”

The working-class candidacy of Jayne Williams

Gwen Frisbie-Fulton
Reclaiming Rural


Jayne in Kannapolis, NC. Photo by author.

It’s not hard to find Jayne Williams. She drives a bright yellow Dodge Neon that she’ll tell you she’s surprised didn’t break down on the way here. On the side of the car is a large pink magnet that reads: VOTE FOR JAYNE WILLIAMS. Her laugh is the loudest in the room, her smile is huge Simply put, Jayne is not shy.

It’s also not hard to find Jayne because she is, rather literally, everywhere. She’s a familiar face at every City Council meeting, every County Commission meeting, the weekly Neighborhood Watch meeting, and delivering Meals on Wheels.

These are some of the reasons Jayne Williams pulled in just over 13% of the vote in a six-way race for Kannapolis City Council last fall– everyone knows her. 13% wasn’t enough to win, but that doesn’t mean Jayne’s campaign wasn’t a big deal for this small town. It was. It still is.

North of Charlotte and straddling the Cabarrus and Rowan County line, Kannapolis is an old textile town. Like most places, the mills here closed years ago and working folks get on at the distribution plant or in the service industry these days. “People here pay $20 on this bill, $30 on that bill, as they can,” explains Jayne. “They are trying to buy groceries, they are trying to pay rent.”

It’s the fact that Jayne knows this and kept it front and center during her campaign that caused such a stir. “People don’t talk about these things,” she explains. “I mean, regular people do– that’s all we talk about. But people running for office don’t.”

Jayne talked about it. She talked about it every single day of her campaign, and she hasn’t stopped. A single mother of five, Jayne had been moving every year trying to find a safe place to land with her children. She would move somewhere that seemed okay, but “like an apple, it would get bad,” she explains. Finally, she moved to Kannapolis, North Carolina, where she has extended family. She moved into a trailer on her great-grandmother’s land. That was 25 years ago. “Kannapolis is now my home,” she says. She rented her current home for 20 years and recently purchased it. She loves it here.

There was a time when Jayne didn’t think that people like her could run for office. “If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be doing this now,” she laughs “I would have told you ‘You’re drunk!’”

Still today she finds that some people don’t take her seriously. “When I’m around well-off people, sometimes I feel like a damn idiot. And they seem to think I’m not educated and don’t look the part,” she says. She is interrupted by her phone ringing– her ring tone is Petey Pablo’s Raise Up. She does a little dance to it before turning it down.

Jayne keeps her campaign magnet on the side of her car, even though the election is over. “In case people need to find me,” she explains.

But Jayne has something that makes her more credentialed than most people in office: Experience. “I’ve worked for a living. I know what it’s like to struggle to get off welfare, I know what it’s like to start at $2.05 and try to build it up. I know what it’s like to be hungry and to eat my children’s scraps.”

Her eyes momentarily fill with tears at this memory, but she shakes it off. “I’ll pick up a penny and dust it off,” she continues. “Tell me that doesn’t qualify me for helping a town like Kannapolis!”

Kannapolis has big challenges and the people here have big needs. The town has nearly doubled in size in recent years and is struggling to keep up with the growth. Jayne says when she first moved here rent was $600 a month, but now it’s $1,200 or more. “But wages have barely grown,” she points out.

Jayne’s political platform was simple and direct: “We need afterschool programs for kids, we need senior centers, and, by God we need affordable housing.”

She is mystified why Kannapolis’ representation isn’t representative of the town, which is multiracial and overwhelmingly working-class. “We need leaders who are biracial, who are LGBTQIA+. We need Black and Indian and Jewish leadership. We need poor and working-class people in government. How can you govern me if you don’t know me? That’s what I ask.”

Jayne recently ran into a woman in Walmart who recognized her and said she had voted for her. The woman asked if she would run again. “Hell yeah,” Jayne told her “The problems are still there, so it’s not like I can give up. You just can’t give up on people or stop before you are done.”

“It’s not easy. Look at me: A single, biracial mom. You may not win the first time. You may not win the second time. But the people are still here. The hope is still here.”

Jayne at a Down Home North Carolina meeting in Cabarrus County. Down Home organizes with poor and working people to build multiracial power in small towns.



Gwen Frisbie-Fulton
Reclaiming Rural

Mother. Southerner. Storytelling Bread and Roses. Bottom up stories about race, class, gender, and the American South. *views my own*