In spring, 2013, a series of weekly protests began in North Carolina that continue until this day called “Moral Mondays.” The Moral Monday protestors came together to provide a voice to those who are being further disenfranchised by actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The protestors were at first discounted by some legislators as people not from North Carolina, but surveys of the protestors revealed they are almost entirely from our state. The protestors were also lampooned on a website which made fun of those who were arrested in Raleigh for violating trespassing rules and failing to disperse. That was extremely poor form by the website owner. As of this writing almost all of the 900 cases have been dismissed.
I have attended two Moral Monday protests as an Independent voter, one in Charlotte and one in Raleigh with my oldest son. What I witnessed were doctors, teachers, professors, ministers, rabbis, deacons, lawyers and people from all walks of life, races, and ethnic groups. What I witnessed is what’s best in America. I shared with my son how proud I was for the two of us to see democracy in action.
We should remind ourselves of why the Moral Monday protestors came to be, as many of the challenges they are protesting remain an uphill battle. Yet, we should also give kudos to the Moral Monday protestors who, in concert with teachers and parents across the state, helped convince the General Assembly to enact a long needed pay increase for teachers after harmful cuts were made in education funding. The General Assembly and Governor should be commended for acting and I am glad they made the effort, but we should also remember they were filling the hole they and previous Assembly’s dug over the years, so atta boys and girls should be somewhat tempered by that memory.
While the General Assembly has done some good things, actions have also been taken to infringe upon the rights of our common citizens, which have given our state some unfortunate national notoriety. This is why the Moral Monday protestors came into being. In addition to the cuts made in education and disenfranchisement of teachers which is causing flight to (and recruitment from) other states, the protestors are concerned over severe unemployment cuts that went further than needed. The protestors are concerned that a tax cut primarily benefitted those who made the most, while taking away things like the state Earned Income Tax credit for low-income earners. The protestors are concerned about not expanding Medicaid which would help several hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, help rural hospitals from closing and help our state economy.
The protestors are concerned with a voter suppressive law which is being touted in commercials, but is being challenged in court and will likely be ruled unconstitutional next year as was done in three other states – Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The stated purpose of the Voter ID law is to combat fraud, but voter fraud is immaterial and per retired General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, the real problem to solve is not enough people voting. It should be noted two other laws passed by the General Assembly have been ruled unconstitutional, so the Voter ID law overturn would not be the first one. Plus, yesterday the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals placed a temporary order to restrict two features of the Voter ID from being used this November.
And, the Moral Monday protestors are concerned with the changes that will harm our environment. These changes include, but are not limited to, making it easier to cut down trees to put up distracting electronic billboards, not accepting a peer-reviewed scientific report that echoes the 39 feet expected sea level rise by 2100 approved in other states like Virginia, hamstringing the Department of Environment and Natural Resource’s governance, and pushing forward a fracking agenda even though evidence continues to mount that fracking causes environmental problems. Coupled with the failure to fully understand how prevalent solar energy is in our state (and the number of jobs created as a result) reveals an unhealthy fossil fuel industry influence. When I attended a Raleigh Moral Monday protest in May, more environmental advocacy signs were apparent than the one I attended in Charlotte the previous summer.
I recognize some may still discount the veracity of the Moral Monday protestors’ arguments. However, in my view, these protestors should be commended for their efforts. At the very minimum, their voice needs to be heard. With teachers adding their voice and voting with their feet, change did occur this past summer. Now, we need more. Three things could be done in short order to help many in our state, plus doing more of something the Governor is advocating. First, either advocate the US Congress to increase the minimum wage or introduce one in NC that is larger than $7.25 per hour. A living wage in NC for one adult is $9.12 per hour. Second, expand Medicaid in our state before another hospital closes or more people go without needed, but unavailable treatment. It should not take another GOP Mayor walking to Washington to save a hospital and lives to get Medicaid expanded here. *
Third, let’s embrace solar energy as there are more solar jobs than coal jobs in our country and we have a huge start here, even before Duke Energy’s announcements the past two weeks. There is also more sun for energy and tourists than natural gas to frack, plus fracking and tourists do not mix and it does not mix too well with the residents either. And, wind energy can be further leveraged, especially offshore, where ocean acreage has been zoned for consideration.
Finally, we should provide kudos to Governor McCrory for pushing the community college training and redevelopment efforts that began with the Stimulus Act under the President. This is where we should be investing our time, dollars and energy as evidenced by Siemens, Snyders-Lance and others partnering with CPCC. Our state is blessed with one of the best community college systems in the country and we should leverage these assets more.
Thank you Moral Monday protestors. Please keep the faith. Your voice is needed. Your issues should be heard. Let’s hope more legislators are listening. And, thanks Governor for pushing the community college investment.
* Per the Associated Press on September 25, 2014, “The report from the Department of Health and Human Services said hospitals in states that have taken advantage of new Medicaid eligibility levels have seen uninsured admissions fall by about 30 percent. The report estimated that the cost of uncompensated hospital care will be $5.7 billion lower in 2014.”