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LETTERS / The Need for a Moral Movement in North Carolina

Dear Editor,

We went to sleep on the night of November 6, 2012 in the 21st Century. As we re-elected the nation’s first African American president, we all went to bed knowing—whether we supported President Obama or not—that our nation had changed. In both tangible and intangible ways we realized that we had moved forward.

But sometime over the course of the next several months, we travelled back to the 20th Century. And so did you. In fact by the morning of July 26, 2013 (the end of the first session of the North Carolina General Assembly) it was 1963 all over again. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

In the span of only half a year, the legislature, with the help of the state and local elections boards, have taken us back decades to a time when it is acceptable to restrict voting rights and in many cases, deny people their right to vote entirely. As a result, North Carolina has gone from a forward-looking state that was a model for the rest of the south to one of the fastest backwards-moving states in the nation.

What exactly caused this shift? The General Assembly passed laws that restrict voter rights in ways that are especially harmful to the poor, minorities, college students, and the elderly. Following suit, the state and local election boards initiated campaigns to make voting more difficult, especially for college students and homebound people.

The state also made significant cuts to unemployment and Medicaid that harm the poor, veterans, and elderly as well as citizens struggling to find meaningful work, and made still even deeper cuts to secondary and post-secondary education.

For example, the General Assembly did not give teachers raises yet again, cut teacher-assistants, ended tenure for public school teachers, shifted taxpayer dollars to private voucher schools, on and on. These changes erase many of the gains resulting from the civil rights movement and the efforts of hard-working progressives across the state.

As if not bad enough, the state imposed a regressive tax system that provides most benefits to the already wealthy and that widens the gap between the rich and the poor. And to demonstrate once and for all its lack of concern for equality, the state struck down the state’s historic Racial Justice Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in capital punishment and gave those victimized by it the remedy of having their sentences commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

All of these are non-partisan issues. The erosion of our democracy, the right to vote, the right to have access to a quality public education, a fair and equitable tax structure, a living wage, an affordable higher education system, and justice in the courts are all issues of deep concern for conservatives and liberals alike.

In the wake of these senseless and often devastating changes to law and policy, courageous citizens stood up and said, “No!” Among them was the Reverend William Barber, who was one of the founders of the Moral Monday protest movement and one of the first to be arrested protesting these unjust polices.

Ultimately in Raleigh and then across the entire state, tens of thousands of people held rallies, sit-ins, and marches—even engaging in acts of civil disobedience that resulted in about one thousand arrests. One of thirteen simultaneous statewide events calling attention to these laws and policy-changes was held here in Boone back in August.

Hundreds attended. And the most concerned yet dedicated of them formed the High Country Moral Monday-Forward Together Movement to continue the work needed to bring about change that will serve all North Carolina citizens rather than only a select few.

On Monday, October 28th, the High Country Moral Monday-Forward Together Movement will welcome the Reverend William Barber as he presents “The Necessity of a Moral Movement in North Carolina.” The event starts at 7:30 pm and will be held in the Schaefer Center for Performing Arts on the campus of Appalachian State University.

Dr. Barber, who is the president of the NC State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and organizer of the Moral Monday Movement, will speak about why the state needs a moral movement now more than ever. Barber has been a state leader in the fight for voter rights, health care reform, labor and worker rights, and serves as a defender of the poor.

The event is free and the public is invited to attend. We hope that, regardless of your political affiliation, you will come and join the movement that seeks to protect the rights of all people in the state, including Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and non-affiliated voters.

By Matthew Robinson and Gregory Reck