About 180 York County Democrats turned out Saturday morning in Rock Hill to sign up as precinct officers and delegates to the county convention in March and write resolutions for what they hope the party's direction will be.
Rose Irby, who came from the Sunset Park in Rock Hill, said she came because she doesn't want "to repeat history over again."
She said the country has yet to rise above the same divisions that plagued it when she was a 10-year-old girl, watching the tensions of the Civil Rights movement play out in her own hometown when the Friendship Nine staged their famous sit-in at McCrory's lunch counter on Main Street in protest of racial segregation.
Now, nearing retirement age and still looking for a job after being laid off several years ago, Irby feels she faces another challenge - she's been branded "too old to hire," she said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
She wants the country's leaders to focus on "getting people back to work" and providing "training for all ages."
She recently joined the York County Democratic Women's Council and came to Saturday's meeting to get involved.
"This is history," she said, "and I want to be a part of making history."
Jerry White of Clover sat at a table with three others. Together, they represented three western York County precincts, two in Clover and one in Filbert.
A button on his suspenders read: "Danger: Educated Union Member."
White, who works for Duke Energy, is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
He said he disapproves of the rhetoric about unions in South Carolina and how "right-to-work" is often used as a way to say unions aren't allowed, which isn't true.
Unions are also mischaracterized - they're not about getting more and more money, he said.
"Everybody wants to make a decent wage" to afford "a reasonable house" and maybe take a vacation every once in while, he said. Unions also help workers secure benefits such as sick leave and health care.
"You can't make it on seven and a quarter an hour," he said.
Instead of just listening to the debate, White decided this year he "wanted a seat at the table to help foster the party."
Richards McCrae, chairman of the York County Democratic Party, urged those in attendance to consider running for local offices in York County and called them "the best Democratic candidates that we are going to find."
He said the local races won't be easy, but "until you start offering yourselves, we won't have a viable alternative" to what are mostly Republican-held local offices.
McCrae said he was happy with the turnout, which came close to doubling the usual showing.
Proximity to Charlotte, where the 2012 Democratic National Convention will be held, is the reason for the added draw, he said.
The York County Democratic Convention will be at 6 p.m. March 15 at the Baxter Hood Center in Rock Hill.
Anyone can attend, but only delegates can elect officers for the county party.
Seven delegates to the national convention, which will be held in September, will come from the 5th Congressional District. They will be elected at the state convention.
Among the Saturday attendees were Republican Party transplants.
Jim Thompson of Fort Mill, who was elected Saturday as the 1st Vice President of the Riverview precinct, was a Republican once - he has an elephant tattoo on his forearm to prove it.
That lasted until the GOP turned "very extreme" he said, and he said he voted for President Barack Obama in 2008.
As a GOP member, he campaigned for Ronald Reagan, a president he still respects highly.
Republicans today don't understand Reagan, he said.
"Reagan knew how to campaign with the conservative base, but he knew how to govern from the middle."
The people at Thompson's table were busy crafting ideas about what they'd like to see their party support in 2012 and beyond.
Tega Cay's Linda Dyer Hart and Roberta Whitaker said they want to see elected officials protect the Catawba River to ensure its use for recreation and drinking water.
Both consider themselves long-time activists who value getting involved in the political process.
"You can't complain unless you are a part of the process," Hart said.
York County Convention
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, March 15
Where: Baxter Hood Center, York Technical College, 452 S. Anderson Rd., Rock Hill
What: Election of York County Democratic Party officers and delegates to the state convention