I have written earlier about some of the inane legislation that has been passed and considered in my home state of NC by our conservative led legislature. Much of this has been around unwinding renewable energy initiatives and making it easier to frack and drill off shore. Yet, even more troubling has been the onslaught against those who are not well off. These folks are in poverty or living paycheck to paycheck, just above the poverty line. It will not take much to push these fragile people over the edge. While poverty is an equal opportunity offender, when taking together, the legislation bent has been to come down hard on the African-American and other disenfranchised groups.
To make their voice heard, there have been a series of protests over the past five weeks called, “Moral Monday” protests, at the NC state legislative building, and 153 people have been arrested, including doctors, lawyers and ministers. Five others were arrested during a May Day protest. This past Monday four Charlotte ministers were arrested for second degree trespassing and failure to disperse. Yet, what is about to happen is an even greater number of ministers will convene in the month of June as these protests are intensified.
Per WRAL in Raleigh, “the arrests have all started much the same way, with crowds bustling into the atrium between two giant sets of brass doors marking the entrance to the state House and Senate chambers. They sing, they chant, they hear testimony from some of those gathered. During that time, the General Assembly Police Chief uses a bullhorn to warn the protesters that they are trespassing and in jeopardy of being arrested. After about 20 minutes, bystanders are cleared away, and those determined to be arrested are obliged.” Please check out the entire WRAL article at :http://www.wral.com/general-assembly-braces-for-biggest-moral-monday-protest-yet/12502394/
Why are they picketing each Monday in the first place? There are several factors:
– NC decided not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act which impacts over 500,000 residents. (passed and signed by the Governor). Other bills restrict access to pre-natal care, make it easier to smoke in public places and restrict information to teens on STDs and mental health treatment.
– NC severely restricted unemployment benefits in total, but also limited the duration for the extended unemployment benefits (usually older workers who have been laid off, downsized or RIFed). This becomes effective July 1.
– NC is considering a Voter Rights bill that is expected to pass which will take us back to Jim Crow-like restrictions requiring a picture ID, eliminating Sunday voting, reducing Early Voting and making it more difficult for groups who have tended to vote Democratic to vote.
– NC is considering a Voucher program for education which will usually gut the funding for public schools and give a subsidy to people who were already prone to put their children in a private or parochial school. So, those with no choice get less school funding. Also, access to pre-K schools for those in need is being lessened.
– NC is considering new tax laws that will reduce the taxes paid by the upper middle class and higher and require more taxes by those who have less ability to pay. The shell game is to reduce tax rates, but increase more things subject to sales tax (groceries, Rx drugs, etc.) which has been shown to hit the impoverished very hard. The rich come out like bandits. These laws are in very poor form and the backlash has been severe by newspaper editorial writers and others.
There are other changes that chip away at protections to those in need. Yet, as a fiscally conservative and socially progressive person, these changes are kicking people in the groin while benefitting a few. The Medicaid expansion is a no a brainer and some GOP led states are now seeing this, but many still don’t. Many see this as a political move to defeat Obamacare, but the pawns are the ones getting hurt. Dr. Charles Van der Horst, one of the people arrested, has been very vocal of this restrictive NC law as he says it is very harmful to the lives and care of many residents.
These are real people. They are not just African-American; they are Hispanic American, Asian American, and Caucasian American. Poverty is not just in the cities, it is in rural areas. These folks need help and need a place at the table. Our legislators need to go outside and talk with them. If they did, they may rethink some of these bills. But, this is not just me or the protestors saying this. Outside of NC, the legislature is being referred to as “the reign of error.” Esquire Magazine said NC is trying to become like Mississippi, which I did not interpret as a compliment, although I like Mississippians.
But, even others in the state see this. The Business Journal in NC cities took an informal survey of readers and got over 5,000 responses. The question they asked was how do you grade the legislature thus far. 41% gave them an “F” and 14% gave them a “D”. This is a group of readers of business news that ranked them, so I would guess there is a heavier weighting of conservative voters than a random sample of NC residents which makes the ranking even worse.
Getting back to our protestors, I would ask one key question of our legislators. If these folks are risking jail time, you have to ask yourself “are we doing right by them?” The answer is no. So, the next question is “what are you going to do about it?