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Protests in North Carolina Challenge Conservative Shift in State Politics

Week by week, Monday by Monday, since April 29, a growing coalition assembled by the N.A.A.C.P. has challenged the newly conservative Republican leadership in North Carolina, raising its voice against the loss of the state’s centrist government and what they see as diminished recognition of the poor and minorities.

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The Rev. Curtis Gatewood, left, and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, center, at a Moral Mondays demonstration organized by the N.A.A.C.P. in Raleigh, N.C., Travis Dove for The New York Times

RALEIGH, N.C. — By now, the sixth week that the police and protesters have faced off in a series of political rallies called Moral Mondays, everyone knew what to do.

The singing stopped. Hands went behind backs. While hundreds of people watched from the rotunda that separates the House from the Senate chambers here, officers slipped plastic cuffs onto Duke University professors, ministers, teachers and union members, who were charged with trespassing and other minor crimes. Even a Charlotte newspaper reporter was arrested as he took notes.

At the end, 89 people went to jail. They were out by morning.

Week by week, Monday by Monday, since April 29, a growing coalition assembled by the N.A.A.C.P. has challenged the newly conservative Republican leadership in North Carolina, raising its voice against the loss of the state’s centrist government and what they see as diminished recognition of the poor and minorities.

“These folks have lost their constitutional minds and their moral minds,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, the president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. and the force behind the protests. “We can no longer allow the ultraconservatives to have the moral megaphone.”

N.A.A.C.P. leaders and an increasing number of labor, immigration and civil rights groups are bent on turning the protests in North Carolina into a national movement to stop a hard swing right that they say has sprung from the election of President Obama and the rise of Tea Party-style politics.

“If you are going to change the nation, you have to change the South,” Mr. Barber said. “And if you are going to change the South, you have to focus on these legislatures.”

As the protests have grown, so has the list of causes. At the center is a package of changes to voting rules and a tax reform plan working its way through the legislature that would reduce individual and corporate income taxes and expand the sales tax.

Protesters have also rallied against the expansion of school vouchers, cuts to unemployment benefits, the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, efforts to allow hydraulic fracturing and the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid benefits as part of President Obama’s health care plan.

But the protests are quickly turning into a platform for all kinds of causes. A woman holding a sign that read “Just Say No to GMOs” — genetically modified organisms — wandered through the crowd on Monday.

Many at the rallies are individuals who work with the poor.

Sylvia Ray, 72, works for a small social services agency in Fayetteville that helps people find jobs. A $50,000 program for displaced homemakers was recently cut.

“That’s just one small example of what’s happening everywhere,” she said. “This state is hurting the people who are struggling for every penny.”

Other states in the South have been advancing equally conservative social and fiscal agendas, but in North Carolina, long considered one of the least conservative Southern states, the shift right has seemed sudden, stark and well-executed.

“I want the American people to watch the conservative playbook unfold in North Carolina,” Representative G. K. Butterfield, a Democrat in Congress who represents one of the poorest districts in the country, said Monday to the crowd. “It’s meanspirited, and it’s wrong.”

The powerful Republican revolution in North Carolina began in earnest in 2010, when for the first time in more than 100 years Republicans took control of both the House and the Senate. Helped by a round of redistricting, the Republicans increased their majority in 2012 and put Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, in the governor’s office.

He began an agenda aimed at reducing spending and stimulating business that has been well received by many in the state.

Whether the protests are having much effect on the governor and legislators is difficult to discern. At first, they ignored Moral Mondays. But as the arrest totals crept over 300 and crowds topped a thousand, politicians began to respond.

Some pulled no punches. Thom Goolsby, a Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, renamed the protests “Moron Mondays” in an opinion column and called the protesters “mostly white, angry, aged former hippies.”

Governor McCrory, who declined a request for an interview, told reporters last week that outsiders were stirring things up and that he would not meet with Moral Monday leaders. He called for an end to what he said were illegal assemblies.

Thom Tillis, the speaker of the House and a board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that proposes legislation based on limited government and individual liberty, was more measured.

Mr. Tillis, who is running for the United States Senate, suggested both sides find a way to talk.

“There are so many positive things we can do if we can lower the volume and sit down and talk and show some mutual respect,” he said.

But the protesters are realists.

“We don’t think this is going to change the legislature’s mind right now, but it highlights what’s at stake in the next election,” said Jedediah Purdy, 38, a law professor at Duke who was arrested Monday evening.

He said the battle mirrored the issues that divided the country in the 2012 presidential election. “The states are the new front line in politics,” he said.

Material below from NC NAACP and Daily Kos -- Moderator

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Why We Are Here Today

Why We Are Here Today

April 29, 2013

NC General Assembly

16 W Jones Street,
Raleigh, NC

 

North Carolinians Who Choose Nonviolent Civil Disobedience in the Face of an Avalanche of     Extremist Policies That Threaten Healthcare, Education, Voting Rights, Especially the Poor, African-Americans, Latinos, Women, Seniors and Students

 

NC Constitution Article 1

Declaration of Rights (Section 1,2,3)

 

We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.

All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.

The people of this State have the inherent, sole, and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police thereof, and of altering or abolishing their Constitution and form of government whenever it may be necessary to their safety and happiness; but every such right shall be exercised in pursuance of law and consistently with the Constitution of the United States.

The book of Micah asks us, “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” It is in a spirit of openness to the prophet's question that we gather here as people of faith and citizens of North Carolina.

We have written to Governor McCrory and to the General Assembly, asking them to reconsider their assault on the poor, the unemployed, our many citizens without healthcare and our embattled public schools.

They have already voted and pass legislation to:

Deny federal funds for Medicaid to 500,000 poor North Carolinians.

Take unemployment benefits from 165,000 North Carolinians.

Raise taxes on 900,000 of North Carolina's poor and working poor by ending the Earned Income Tax Credit to pay for tax cuts to 23 millionaires.

That took over a billion dollars last year from public education, made plans to implement a  voucher plan to hand out public money to private schools, and reduce eligibility to preschool for poor children.

To re-start the death penalty and repeal the Racial Justice Act that has exposed the racially discriminatory application of the death penalty.

To codify anti-labor language in our state constitution.

To roll back Early Voting, ban Sunday Voting, end same-day registration and impose an unneeded poll tax disguised as Voter ID bill that will cost the state millions, deny student ids from private schools,
increase disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated, charge parents a $2500 tax (poll tax) if there college student votes at college and not at home, and leave us with voting laws more restrictive than Alabama and South Carolina; when you pursue policies that hurt most voters, you can't afford a big turnout.

Many of those pushing this agenda got into public office because of a race-based redistricting plan that is the most discriminatory since the 19th century. Its racial impact is undeniable. And the
Voter ID bill is simply a modern poll tax in disguise, even more restrictive than the ones passed in Alabama and South Carolina. Ending the popular Early Voting and Sunday Voting is an outrage. They do not want the people to vote.

And this is only the first 50 days of their work, and we haven't even seen the final budget.

The policies pursued in these chambers will devastate hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who are already suffering. The leadership of this Republican "super-majority" are deaf to the cries of those whom Jesus called "the least of these."

Early on just after they were elected we brought thousands of NC Citizens to Jones Street for the seventh annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street Peoples Coalition Assembly and placed before our
General Assembly an forward moving agenda. We lifted up five principles that we believed were bigger than Democrat or Republican but good for the whole:

          
1) Economic sustainability and ending poverty by fighting for full employment, living wages, the
alleviation of disparate unemployment, a green economy, labor rights, affordable housing, targeted empowerment zones, strong safety net services for the poor, fair policies for immigrants, infrastructure development and fair tax reform.

2) Educational equality by ensuring every child receives a high quality, well-funded, Constitutional, diverse public education, access to Community Colleges and Universities and equitable funding for minority colleges and universities.

3) Healthcare for all by ensuring access to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and providing environmental protection.

4) Fairness in the criminal justice system by addressing the continuing inequalities in the system and providing equal protection under the law for black, brown and poor white people.

5) Voting rights by defending the right to vote and expanding voting rights for all people by standing against suppression tactics, such as voter ID, restriction of Early Voting, race-based redistricting, or any other effort that undermines equal protection under the law.

Instead they have turned a deaf ear and a defiant posture towards moving forwards and instead have chosen to take our state backwards

Surely, in the end, the people will rise up and sweep such leaders from office. Even the Republican leadership knows this to be true. That is why they now seek to reduce the access of eligible voters to the ballot box.

Their unconscionable Voter ID bill is only the best known of their assaults on the sanctity of the ballot. Their claim of voter fraud is fraudulent itself, as even NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis has
been forced to acknowledge. A partisan desire to make it harder to vote and a deep fear of  accountability to the voters are what drive this Voter ID mess.

The Voter ID menace must be understood alongside Republican efforts to eliminate Early Voting and to outlaw Sunday Voting, even if local communities want to keep these policies that make it easier for everyone to vote.

It must be understood alongside their efforts to keep college students from voting by inflicting a heavy financial penalty on their parents if they attempt to vote away from home. It is part of the package that refuses to accept federal funds to help communities pay for the machinery of democracy through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money. We need more, not less, public access to the ballot.

Voter ID must be understood alongside LaRoque v. Holder, the lawsuit to overturn the Voting Rights Act of 1965, filed by former Republican leader Stephen LaRoque, who stands before the judgment of our courts today for misdirecting millions of tax dollars into his own pocket.

LaRoque says he is "entitled" to the money, but the Republican leadership apparently does not believe voters are entitled to cast a ballot without standing in a long line or making a long drive to a distant polling place.

Apparently, Governor McCrory intends to be the new George Wallace, pushing the so-called "Southern Strategy" of Strom Thurmond, Governor Wallace, and Richard Nixon. The leadership of our General
Assembly clearly sees political advantage in blocking the vote, attacking the public schools, and dividing North Carolina even further into the haves and have-nots. We need an economic development strategy that includes all parts and all people of our state. They need to understand that we are a New South; a South rooted in the best traditions of North Carolina.

The Voter ID bill constitutes the most egregious trampling of democracy in these halls. But none of these efforts to decrease voter access to the polls are acceptable. They too, will stand before the
judgment of our courts. But we cannot wait for the wheels of justice to grind while this legislature grinds up the poor and downtrodden. We have to bear witness to the moral wrong that is being committed here. We have asked the leadership to rethink their unconstitutional and immoral attack on voting rights. But now the House has passed a ruthless attack on democracy, a poll tax in disguise, an attack on college students, the elderly, minorities and the poor. They have no ears to hear.

So we have no other choice but to assemble in the people's house where these bills are being presented, argued, and voted upon, in hopes that God will move in the hearts of our legislators, as he moved in the heart of Pharaoh to let His people go. Some ask the question, why don’t they be quiet? Well, I must remind you, that it has been our collective silence that has quietly opened the city gates to these undemocratic violators of our rights. If we must pray forgiveness for anything today, it will be the silence with which we have allowed this to happen in the dark. Thoreau said in his famous essay, "Civil Disobedience," that if he had to repent of anything, it would be his good behavior. What possessed me, he asked himself, that I behaved so well in the face of such evil?

As people of faith, we understand that we have been called to be the voice of the voiceless and the shepherd of God's beloved community. What we do here today is only what any responsible shepherd does to alert God's flock to the presence of the predators of democracy.

Make no mistake about it; this is the beginning of something new in the Old North State. This is a new birth much as it was on February 1st, 1960 in Greensboro when four students from North Carolina A&T
sat down at the Woolworth's lunch counter and a new generation rose up to freshen the wellsprings of democracy. It is a new birth much as it was in April of 1960 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was born down the street at Shaw University, with students from colleges all over North Carolina and all over the South.

This is the South where our voting rights were won; this is the South where our youth and our elders brought us the Voting Rights Act. It was always a struggle that some called untimely, always a battle
between our fears and our hopes, always a disturbance of consciences grown silent with disuse; and sometimes made its path through the blood of the slaughtered. Did anyone really believe that no one here in the ever New South would rise up and say, “No, you will neither divide nor conquer in this our homeland; here is the city of Zion, where God's people bring together the odds and ends of our common necessity and stitch a quilt of matchless beauty; here is where the Nuevo South, in all its patchwork colors, accents and aromas, came together and said, "No mas! Viva la causa! Viva la huelga!" And here we stand, like a tree beside the water, and we shall not be moved.

In the spirit of the ancestors as they speak to the new day, in the spirit of our youth, who see beyond the moment and into the movement, we call on all people of goodwill, regardless of race, political
affiliation, or socio-economic background, to examine the tools of the non-violent moral movement to expose the hurtful, immoral, and unconstitutional policies being passed in the people's house. Those who cannot put on the yoke of nonviolence can still join and support this movement. But if we care about this great state and its entire people, if we wish to act as moral leaders in our homeland, we must shine the light of words and deeds on these shameful attacks on the poor and working families of North Carolina.

We say to the leadership: You rejected federal funds for Medicaid that stripped over a half million poor people of health care. You rejected federal money for unemployment benefits for over 150,000 workers looking for jobs. You have repeatedly disrespected our sisters and brothers from Latin America. You insist on promoting policies to de-fund public education—which will lead to further re-segregation of our children's schools and the eventual abandonment of public education. You cut the tax credit for over 900,000 poor and working people, while giving a tax break to 23 of the wealthiest people in our State. And you introduced your voter suppression law on a day that all African Americans and people of good remember—April 4th—when Dr. King was assassinated for trying to expand the electorate, not take it back to the days of the white-only ballot box. While you take aim at the voting rights of the poor, elderly, students and minorities you seek to make it easier to get guns. You divide the people of North Carolina against one another while putting government into the service of the rich.

Did not Jesus say to us in Matthew 25,  

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

From the moral framework of the scriptures and our constitution we are calling together a coalition of goodwill, a nonviolent volunteer army of love, to oppose this legislature's heartless, ideologically
driven agenda. We call on all people of goodwill to join us, that we might build the bridges of understanding, not the walls of division. We call on all residents of North Carolina who believe in the common good to pray and partner with us as we use the tools of protest and the tactics of nonviolent moral suasion to illuminate for the nation the shameful acts taking place here. We are not alone. We shall speak and we shall act. We will become "the trumpet of conscience" and "the beloved community" that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called upon us to be, echoing the God of our mothers and fathers in the faith. Now is the time. Here is the place. We are the people. And we will be heard.