Moral Monday Arrestee: Why I Am Not Willing To Take Another Step Back
On June 3, 2013, I was arrested along with 150 other people for “Loud Singing and Yelling” in the Senate chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly on Moral Monday. It is true, I did sing. There was no mention of praying in the magistrate’s order, though I would wager that may have been loudest of all.
Beginning with our initial processing in the legislative cafeteria and continuing through the long night at the Wake County detention center, we turned to each other and asked: What is your name? What brought you here?
I had pondered this question a lot already in deciding whether or not to risk arrest, and in a desire to sound articulate should I be asked by a reporter (I wasn’t). The list is long, and many of us joked that it was very efficient of our state lawmakers to commit so many grievous offenses of legislation that we could protest them all at the same time:
- Ending unemployment benefits when so many North Carolina families (who want to work!) are struggling.
- Refusing Medicaid expansion money from the federal government that has already been paid for by citizens’ tax dollars.
- Cutting public education spending to the point where we will rank third from the bottom among the fifty states.
- Cutting Pre-K assistance to disadvantaged children despite decades of research documenting how important Pre-K is for future success.
- Rolling back environmental regulations that will result in dirtier air and water in our state.
- Passing a Voter ID law to prevent non-existent voter fraud.
Fellow arrestee Jen Geurin Ferrell said to me (after fingerprinting, before the magistrate), “They say they don’t have the money for Pre-K? Take the millions of dollars it will take to institute Voter ID (hello, big brother government!) and pay for Pre-K instead.”
Everything on the list is egregious but I believe the Voter ID to be the most nefarious. It is a sorry, thinly, and badly veiled attempt to keep people from voting who are less likely to vote for the majority who passed the bill.
This all brings me back to the question: Why was I there?”
For me, the answer to that question lies in growing up in this state, seeing how far it has progressed, and then watching it be knocked back thirty years in one sorry legislative session fueled by the power-drunk fancies of a few extremists.
In the early 1980’s my mom sent me to school in green and white pins that counted down the months until North Carolina voted on the Equal Rights Amendment. Democratic (male) representatives who had promised they would vote in favor failed to do so, and the amendment was never ratified by our state.
That was a step back.
Then I paid witness as my mother and countless others volunteered long hours to get Harvey Gantt elected as the first black mayor of Charlotte, stuffing many an envelope myself.
Then we all saw how Mayor Gantt’s likely upset of Senator Helms in 1990 was derailed by the awful, racist, and very effective “white hands” ad. The day after that election, I came home from high school to a message intended for my mother who worked as deputy campaign manager for the Gantt campaign. A man snarled into our machine, “See, you didn’t need to sleep with that n****r, he didn’t win anyway.”
In 1999, the successful use of busing to integrate Charlotte public schools was ended by court decree. Many schools that had been lifting up students of all backgrounds – including my alma mater West Charlotte High School – became instead burdened by the ills of concentrated poverty.
Another step back.
Then in 2005 Anthony Foxx, grandson of legendary Gantt campaign volunteer known to me as simply “Mr. Foxx”, and West Charlotte graduate from my older brother’s class, was elected as mayor of Charlotte.
In the meantime, over the years at the state level, lawmakers realized that our state would be attractive to business and prosper if we had an educated workforce, economic opportunity, and beautiful places to visit. Accordingly, they passed budgets strengthening our excellent university system, supporting public schools, protecting our air, mountains, and coasts, and under Governor Jim Hunt’s insistence created Smart Start to assist families in need with Pre-K tuition and other immediate needs, and under Governor Mike Easley – More at Four designated exclusively for Pre-K.
The road has been rocky and imperfect and incomplete but rest assured, we are not going back. These past few months I have watched in dismay as day after day, week after week, some new and worse bill was put forward by this group of extremists led by majority leaders Senator Phil Berger and Representative Thom Tillis.
My mouth is near permanently agape such is the frequency of my astonishment that elected leaders would actually deign to put some of these terrible ideas in writing.
These are not, as Reverend Barber has said many a time, the Republicans of past decades who recognized the importance of a well-educated workforce and having one’s basic needs met. This is a group who won only by artful redistricting and seems to be leading out of spite more than anything.
The damage will happen, and it will be real, because these folks in charge just don’t care, but I love this state too much to stand by idly and watch it happen.
And that is why I chose to go to the Senate rotunda on Moral Monday to exercise my right to join with other citizens to air my grievances. That is why I chose to stay when asked to leave. Because though the current majority was elected it is still their duty to listen to and govern all the people. Because when people aren’t paying attention you have to make them.
Because I had the desire to take a step beyond my Facebook bubble of “liking” the posts of everyone else who also feels enraged, but powerless. Because there are so many of us, tired of feeling isolated behind our computer screens, in the carpool lane, in the machine shop, in the sweet potato fields, in the classroom, in houses of worship, in sick beds, in the unemployment line, on the treadmill, in the checkout line, who are choosing to come together, choosing to join a movement that seeks to take all citizens of North Carolina forward to a brighter and better life in this state that we love so much.
We. Are. Not. Going. Back.
Forward together. Not one step back.