More than 1,600 supporters gathered outside the North Carolina General Assembly, cheering on 57 individuals who engaged in civil disobedience during recurring statewide “Moral Monday” protests as a part of what is being called the Forward Together Movement.
Organized by the North Carolina NAACP, this May 20 action led to the arrest and jailing of college professors, students, ministers, anti-death penalty advocates, a member of the Board of Education for Durham Public Schools and a 92-year-old woman. They joined a group of more than 100 other North Carolina residents who had already been arrested and jailed in three previous protests.
“This leadership wants to make our state a place of deeper stratification and inequality – and it’s not accidental or naïve; it’s premeditated,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of the NC NAACP. “Here in North Carolina we are seeing a fast march backwards toward as much unequal treatment as people will allow. We are here to say we will not allow it, and we will not go back.”
As Barber pointed out, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is a national board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization that drafts model legislation for state lawmakers to copy and spread nationwide, while Governor Pat McCrory is advised on state budget issues by multi-millionaire Art Pope. Among an avalanche of other measures, the Governor and General Assembly has passed and introduced bills this session to:
- Reject federal funding to expand Medicaid to cover 500,000 North Carolinians without health insurance
- Slash state unemployment benefits and rejected federally-funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation to 170,000 laid-off workers
- Take away the right to vote from people with felony convictions after they have completed their sentences
- Restart the death penalty in North Carolina and repeal the nationally renowned Racial Justice Act
- Cut funding from public education to provide vouchers for private schools
- Raise taxes on 900,000 poor and working people while cutting taxes for 23 millionaires
- Cut personal and corporate income tax while raising taxes on groceries, prescription drugs and many services that would disproportionally hurt poor people
“You have to always be careful when there are economic hardships because there are people who will play on the fears of regular folks in order to pass extremist legislation – and always the most marginal will be at risk,” said Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, associate minister of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham. He got arrested on Monday to protest the legislature’s dismantling of the Racial Justice Act of 2009, which allowed death row inmates to appeal their sentences on the grounds of racial bias in the court system.
“I’m here to represent the 27 percent of children in Durham who are now living in poverty,” said Leigh Bordley, a member of the Board of Education for Durham Public Schools, who got arrested to speak out against a bill that would provide vouchers for private schools. “I want to ask members of the General Assembly, ‘What path do these children have if they continue to take resources away from these children and give them to private corporations?’”