We’re all too familiar with the problems the Triangle is facing: rising housing prices putting ownership out of reach (especially for millennials), sprawl, police brutality, long commutes, poverty, the climate crisis, etc. The path we choose now will determine whether we’ll be a region comprising moral, equitable, and sustainable cities or a failed urban landscape featuring inequity marked by unsustainable systems and processes. 

Now more than ever, we need leaders and an engaged electorate focused on developing a model of morally based good governance designed to yield equitable, sustainable outcomes in a high-accountability environment. 

What will organizers and activists be tasked with addressing over the next twenty years? Let’s use Raleigh as an example. 

Right now, the amount of money you have determines how much you matter. As Raleigh grows, only the wealthy are seeing the benefits. We see politicians run on promises of affordable housing and equality while also taking money from luxury developers who have made Raleigh the ninth-fastest-gentrifying city in the country. One out of every 7.1 residents lives in poverty, 131,740 people are food insecure, and, in the face of our climate crisis, Raleigh’s mediocre plan will take thirty-one years to become carbon neutral, while scientists have only the given the planet eleven years to head off disaster. 

As our region grows, so will poverty and crime. The number of homeless children and youth in our school system has increased 27 percent in the past two years. We will face dwindling resources and inequalities in access to food and water; by 2040, the demand for water will exceed supply in Raleigh. 

Social justice movements will have the difficult job of addressing present challenges while thinking innovatively about the future. We’ll need to pursue a bold agenda: eradicating poverty and systemic racism, saving our environment, and changing the narrative about poverty from one that ignores the poor to one that recognizes their strengths while questioning the morality of public policy. The next twenty years for community organizers will be exhausting and mentally taxing, but the most important in modern history. 

Our region will need a moral revolution that places the needs of the poor and the planet at the heart of our policies and budget. Issues will be advocated for holistically, and communities will need to collaborate strategically. We’ll need to utilize technology to scale out initiatives, build partnerships with public and private entities, and elect leaders who will value morality over money. But we’ll also need the power of the people to attend every public meeting to push forward this moral agenda. By building power, shifting the narrative, and by organizing, organizing, organizing, we’ll make sure that people have a right to thrive, not just (barely) survive. 

Every resident will be affected by these issues, but our empowerment lies in the fact that we are not alone, and that we are willing to come together to fight, to answer the tough questions around sustainability, resilience, economic vibrancy, and inclusiveness. The Triangle will need everyone—rich people, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople—but we will be working with the poor, not for the poor. 

We’ll imagine a different region because things don’t have to be this way. We will redefine, reimagine, and retool new visions of prosperity. This will create more jobs, build our infrastructure, strengthen our economy, and protect our resources for future generations—generations that will be grateful for the generations before them who set them up to live equitably in the place they love calling home. This will redound to the benefit of all, instead of the few. 

In the next twenty years, the Triangle has a rare opportunity to become an international model for how to shape a thriving and moral region. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” It’s time, y’all. 

Zainab Baloch is a former candidate for Raleigh mayor. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com. Click here to read the rest of our 2040 predictions.

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