June 18, 2013. Thousands of citizens converged outside the North Carolina General Assembly on Monday to speak out against the flood of harmful legislation being pushed by state lawmakers. With a focus on health and environmental justice, the rally – which was the seventh of weekly, North Carolina NAACP-led protests known as Moral Mondays – emphasized bills that threaten the well-being of both the planet and the people.
This week’s rally, sprawled across Halifax Mall, also marked the biggest Moral Monday crowd ever, with participants coming from as far away as Asheville and Greenville. Eighty-four people were arrested inside the statehouse after petitioning their legislators, including doctors, nurses, clergy, environmentalists, teachers, a business leader and grassroots advocates for the poor.
“We have a moral call to protect the environment,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of the North Carolina NAACP. “When these leaders deny people the basic human rights of health care, education and environmental justice, so that they can give more to the wealthy, they are defying one of the greatest moral principles of faith and the values of our Constitution.”
“We are encouraged to see the crowds growing as more and more people from across the state get involved,” said Penda D. Hair, Co-Director of Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization providing legal support for the movement. “While we work all over the country, what we’ve seen in North Carolina is uniquely special. This broad and diverse coalition, lifting up an array of important but seldom debated issues, is unlike anything we’ve seen in the rest of the nation.”
Barber and other speakers listed the decision by Gov. Pat McCrory to reject federal funding for expanding Medicaid to cover 500,000 North Carolinians without health insurance, as well as bills to raise taxes on prescription medicine; issue permits for shale gas mining, or “fracking;” limit public input for landfill citing; and loosen requirements for cleanup of groundwater contamination as pieces of legislation that are particularly hazardous.
“The environment and health care go hand in hand,” said Naeema Muhammed of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. “While they’re cutting health care, they’re destroying the environment, which makes people sick. It amounts to double jeopardy on poor communities of color.”
Robin Lane, a nurse from Greensboro spoke of the fear that North Carolina medical professionals are feeling in light of health care cuts. “We fear for our patients, we fear for our community, and we fear for our state,” she said. “But we will not give up. We will stand together and move forward.”
Holly Jordan, a Durham public school teacher railed against the legislature’s education agenda, which includes measures to divert over $100 million from the public education budget over the next two years, and put that money toward private school vouchers and stationing armed officers in schools. “What teachers want is no different than what our students need,” Jordan said. “What the General Assembly wants is in stark contrast to what the children of North Carolina need. … But what I do get to tell my students is that thousands of North Carolinians testify to their worth during these Moral Monday protests, and that a movement that believes in them is coming, it is growing, and it starts right now.”
Barber called for another mass Moral Monday next week, which will focus on labor rights, economic justice and women’s rights.
For more information, please contact Cynthia Gordy, Advancement Project, at 202-341-0555.