July 23, 2013. On a day with record turnout, the leadership of the North Carolina state legislature worked to subvert the Moral Monday protest. Yet, thousands of diverse families packed the statehouse and surrounding areas in protest of bills that will make it harder for North Carolinians to vote.
The theme for yesterday’s protest was voting rights and the legislature’s contempt for the issue was on full display. In a calculated move, the leadership of the General Assembly held their session an hour earlier, making it possible for them to leave the building before throngs of concerned citizens, prepared to engage in peaceful civil disobedience, arrived. The scheme backfired as protesters staged a sit-in, forcing police to make arrests in order to clear the building.
“When you mess with the right to vote, you mess with the heart of our democracy,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of the NC NAACP. “It’s important to view the current struggle through historical lens: our ancestors beat back slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid, etc., with fewer resources than we have today. Thurgood Marshall beat the Supreme Court with less than we had; Nelson Mandela beat apartheid with less than we had. If Harriet Tubman could win then, surely we will win now. The Republican supermajority in the legislature might win a vote but we will ultimately prevail,” Rev. Dr. Barber concluded.
Both blacks and whites, young and old, gay and straight, religious and those professing no faith, have joined the North Carolina NAACP’s Forward Together Movement. The most striking aspect of the movement is the diversity of the people involved. It is unique to have white working class families joining an African American leader and communities of color to jointly protest draconian cuts and attacks on voting rights. With the racial divide that has been so keenly brought to the surface with the Trayvon Martin verdict, this is a hopeful movement that is ironically uniting people from all corners of the state over common interests and shared pain. One woman who testified last Monday was from the rural mountain white community of Asheville and shared her experience of both heads of households laid off, niece and nephew with disabilities on Medicaid and getting ready to lose unemployment benefits and Medicaid. She asked “what are we to do” as she was led off in handcuffs.
“I’m here today because I’m fired up,” said recent North Carolina State graduate Brian Perlmutter. “In addition to these extreme measures being taken to keep people from voting, they don’t want people to know about it. This new voter ID bill makes it so that no college student IDs are acceptable. This extreme bill goes further than ever to make it harder for students to vote, and it has become clear that the North Carolina General Assembly is scared of the students of this state.”
“In addition to the voter ID, they want to trim early voting,” said Bob Hall, Director of Democracy NC. “They want to take away same-day registration. 100,000 voters – brand new voters — used it in 2012. They’re telling those voters their vote will never count again.”
Support continues to pour in for the Forward Together Movement, including legal and communications support from Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization dedicated to addressing issues of democracy and race.
“As a national civil rights organization that works extensively on clearing barriers to the ballot box, we view the attacks on voting rights in North Carolina to be among the most extreme and regressive we’ve seen in the country” said Eddie Hailes, Managing Director and General Counsel for Advancement Project. “As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rightly affirmed, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere’ and we will do everything we can up to and including litigation to preserve the fundamental right to vote.”
Since the beginning of the current legislative term, voting rights have been under attack via a slew of discriminatory bills proposed by the state legislature’s Republican supermajority. Regarding one such piece of legislation, Anita Earls, Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, pointed out before a crowd of thousands, “If the senate bill that were being proposed right now passed, it would be easier to buy a gun than it would be to vote.”
Among the voting measures being pushed by the General Assembly are:
· Strict state-issued photo ID requirements
· Cutting a full week from the early voting period and all early voting on Sundays
· Repealing same-day voter registration
· Slapping a tax penalty on parents whose children register to vote where they attend college
· Enforcing a 5-year waiting period, after a person has served their time, before they can get their voting rights back, creating the most restrictive felony disenfranchisement law in the country
· Eliminates pre-registration for 16 & 17 year olds
· Eliminates paid voter registration drives
· Allowing voters to be challenged by any registered voter of the county rather than precinct
· Weakens disclosure requirements for Independent Expenditure committees
“Election officials should work to make clear barriers to the ballot box, not erect them. Attempting to steal, stifle and suppress the right to vote is a crime against democracy and an attack on our foundational principles,” Rev. Dr. Barber concluded.