July 2, 2013. Cheering, prayer and song filled the air outside the North Carolina General Assembly on Monday, as the Forward Together Movement held its ninth Moral Monday protest. Led by the North Carolina NAACP, youth leaders, ministers, a rabbi, labor organizers, and a state senator addressed thousands of North Carolinians from across the state, who descended upon Halifax Mall to show their opposition to the extreme agenda being pushed by the state legislature. Eighty-one moral witnesses, who walked inside the statehouse to exercise their constitutional right to petition their lawmakers for redress of their grievances, were arrested and jailed.
This Moral Monday, the ninth wave of weekly nonviolent civil disobedience at the General Assembly, fell on the same day that 70,000 laid-off workers were cut off from critical unemployment benefits. Under a state law passed by Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature, North Carolina became the only state in the nation to reject federal funding for EmergencyUnemployment Compensation. The protest also came less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which will make it easier for far-right legislators to push through attempts to restrict access to the ballot.
“No governor or legislature before this one has gone backwards on the provisions of unemployment insurance,” said Rev. William J. Barber, II, President of the North Carolina NAACP. Emphasizing the moral principles that fuel the rallies every Monday, he shared four passages of biblical scripture that challenge the cuts in unemployment and proposed attacks on voting rights. One citation, Isaiah 10:1, reads: “Woe unto those that legislate evil and pass laws that rob the poor of their right.”
Among the speakers at the rally were unemployed workers who are directly impacted by North Carolina’s attacks on the poor and unemployed. “We are the faces to those numbers that they’re crunching,” said Yara Allen of Rocky Mount. “Last night 70,000 people went to bed for a restless sleep and woke up this morning only to face a dark day. But if we have to wake up from a restless sleep in our house, then we need to make sure that they’re restless in the legislature. If we have no justice in our house, then they should have no peace in that house.”
Javan Richardson, a rising ninth grader from Rocky Mount, also spoke at Moral Monday, his first protest. Illustrating the tremendous hardships that thousands of North Carolina families are facing, he asked the crowd, “Can you hear the cries of the children whose parents cannot afford to pay their mortgages?”
This year the General Assembly has also passed laws to reject federal aid for extending Medicaid to 500,000 poor and uninsured North Carolina families, and to end the Earned Income Tax Credit for more than 900,000 low-income working families. Lawmakers have also introduced an extreme package of restrictive voting bills, including legislation requiring strict forms of photo ID to vote and repealing same-day voter registration. The recent Supreme Court ruling will make it easier to enact these laws by no longer requiring them to be submitted for federal approval.
“With the recent Supreme Court decision, our nation’s voting rights are far more vulnerable to attack, and the bills proposed in North Carolina are among the most extreme in the country,” said Penda D. Hair, Co-Director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that is providing legal support to the NC NAACP. “Moral Monday participants are fighting for democracy, not only in the state, but in the rest of the nation as well.”
Rabbi Judy Schindler, of Temple Beth El in Charlotte, spoke about the impact of unemployment cuts on North Carolina’s children. “Six hundred thousand children in our state live in poverty, and I fear what today’s termination of benefits to 70,000 will do,” she said. “In Judaism, the highest level of supporting the needy is job creation. Yet when jobs are not to be had, when there is 8.8 percent unemployment in our state, we are called not to abandon the needy, but to provide for them.”
“The GOP said one of the reasons they did this to the unemployed was so they can find work,” said Rev. Dr. Earl Johnson, pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh. “They have labeled the unemployed as lazy and unproductive and those who are not serious about working. This is a slap in the face to all the unemployed workers. In a state with the fifth highest unemployment in the nation, what people need are jobs – not jabs and personal insults.”
Rev. Kenneth Cooper, pastor of Raleigh’s Christian Faith Baptist Church, appealed directly to Gov. Pat McCrory, saying: “Mr. Governor, this is not an acceptable day for the masses of North Carolinians. And far more tragic for you, Mr. Governor, this is not an acceptable day for the Lord.”
Baldemar Velásquez, President of the Farmworkers Organizing Committee, which represents 10,000 unionized, organized farmworkers around the country, explained why he joined the movement from his home in Ohio. “I’ve led hundreds of marches and demonstration in my 44 years of organizing poor people,” he said. “Today I come as a follower, a simple soldier to join this movement. … I can’t sit in the pew of my church in Ohio when there’s a moral call to come down and join the fight.”
Also in attendance on Monday were members of the North Carolina General Assembly who voted against the bill to reject federal unemployment benefits. “In February of this year, the majority legislators voted to turn their backs on struggling families – shame on them,” said Sen. Earline Parmon. “My colleagues and I, we are saddened today, and we are concerned. But we are also fired up. We stand here with you, the people of North Carolina.”
Click here to read about Watauga County residents attending the ‘Moral Monday’ protests.