On Friday, July 26, North Carolina lawmakers went home after passing a $21 billion two-year budget that among other things cuts public education spending by $100 million and provides no pay raises for the state’s public school teachers whose average salary ranks 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
On Monday, July 29, about 10,000 people took part in what police and the event’s organizers called the largest Moral Monday demonstration since the weekly protests began on April 29.
The ranks of the Moral Monday participants were swollen by teachers and other public school employees who traveled from all over the state to voice their anger at the Republican led legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory for their attack on public education.
“Public educators and public schools are not failing our students, politicians are,” said Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Educators Association to the thousands who filled the streets near the capital in Raleigh.
The July 29th demonstration was the 13th consecutive Monday since April 29 when demonstrators have gathered in Raleigh to protest legislative actions that among other things eliminated the earned income tax credit for workers, made it harder for thousands of low-income workers to qualify for Medicaid, left 70,000 long-term unemployed workers without unemployment insurance, endangered the health of women by limiting access to abortions, suppressed voting, and reduced funding for public education.
Some participants in Monday’s action wore green armbands signifying that they were one of 930 who had been arrested for acts of civil disobedience protesting the legislature’s agenda that privileges the wealthy and their corporations over the interests of the people.
Moral Monday organizers said that similar actions would continue across the state as their coalition seeks to build the power needed for long-term, progressive change in the state.
“We have suffered several temporary defeats in the People’s House over the past few months,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Forward Together Movement, the coalition that led the Moral Monday demonstrations. “But we’ve not gone anywhere. And we’re not going anywhere. We understand that we’re not in some mere political movement. We’re not in some mere fight over 2014. We’re in a fight for the soul of this state, the soul of the South, and the soul of this nation. By attacking poor children, sick workers and the environment, as well as committing the ultimate crime against democracy through attacking voting rights, they have united the movement that we’ve been building for several years like never before.”
Forward Together will be holding rallies throughout the state as it mobilizes and organizes opponents of the Republican actions. They will also be joined by members of the North Carolina Educators Association and organized labor.
“On August 28, we will co-sponsor 13 rallies to be held in localities throughout North Carolina to mobilize voters to go to the polls in 2014 and elect candidates who support North Carolina’s public school system,” said Ellis.
“Legislators seem to think that just because they went home that somehow we will forget what happened here,” said Mary B. McMillan, secretary treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. “I’ve got news for them: we will never forget the meanness, the arrogance, and the injustice that they brought on North Carolina. We will not go away, and we will not back down. Over the course of this next year, and over every corner of this state, from the mountains to the sea, we will organize and mobilize.”
In addition to taking the fight for North Carolina beyond Raleigh, the NAACP and Forward Together will challenge the state’s new voting rights suppression law, which among other things requires voters to show identification papers before voting, reduces early voting, and ends same-day voter registration.
“(The voting rights suppression) bill targets nearly every aspect of the voting process, restricting who can vote, where they can vote, and how they can vote,” said Penda D. Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, which will provide legal services for the challenge. “Far from having anything to do with election integrity, the legislation is about politicians manipulating voting laws for political gain.”