I just learned we have an incredible guest [Tues. May 14] on THE MIDDLE GROUND. In North Carolina, people compare Rev. Dr. William Barber II to Martin Luther King, and say it is only a matter of time before the nation recognizes his tremendous potential to build diverse coalitions and stand up to the corrupting influence of money in politics.
If North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) is concerned about his place in history, it looks like he's got something to worry about. Several of the world's top historians, three of whom appear in the video below, have been arrested in recent days protesting what Rev. Dr. William Barber II called an "avalanche of extremist policies that threaten health care, education, voting rights." McCrory has said he will sign bills that threaten the poor, the elderly, and minorities while giving tax cuts to the 23 wealthiest families in the state.
The civil disobedience campaign is being led by Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP. Each Friday for the past three weeks, they have announced their intentions for the following Monday. So far, over 50 people have been arrested. This past Friday, we filmed as more than a dozen people volunteered to risk arrest on Monday May 13.
In a widely read op-ed published on Thursday in the Raleigh News and Observer, William Chafe of Duke University and Jacquelyn Dowd Hall of UNC Chapel Hill wrote:
This week, we were arrested at the General Assembly. We chose the path of civil disobedience – along with 29 others – as a means of calling attention to the headlong assault on our state’s history by the governor and the state legislature.
We are not radicals. Each of us has been president of the Organization of American Historians, the leading professional organization of all American historians. We cherish the history we have spent our lives studying. Yet now we see a new generation in Raleigh threatening to destroy the very history we have spent our lives celebrating.
I believe that Robert R. Korstad and Tim Tyson, also of Duke University, contributed to this piece, but the Observer only allows two authors for op-eds. The piece concludes:
This political juggernaut runs totally contrary to what North Carolina has stood for during the last half century. It represents class warfare against the middle class and the working-class residents of our state. Justice lies at the core of our civic life. And we are all responsible for sustaining that justice.
As Robert F. Kennedy told students in apartheid South Africa in 1966, “Each time a [person] stands up ... to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walks of oppression and resistance.”
Molly McDonough turned 18 a few days after the 2012 election. She was arrested during a demonstration at the North Carolina state capitol to ensure that her right to vote is protected. Among a slew of new laws intended to restrict voting rights in North Carolina is an astonishingly cynical law aimed to limit the vote of college students. The parents of students who vote in North Carolina will be penalized on their tax returns, unless the students return home to cast their ballots.
So, if Molly feels more connected to the community surrounding North Carolina State University than she does to the community in which she grew up, or, if she does not have a car and traveling is difficult, or, if she has classes on that day and making a trip across the state would mean missing one of them, her parents will be penalized if she decides to exercise her Constitutional right to vote.
In this video she talks about her experience being arrested at the North Carolina state capitol.
Eric Byler and I have been traveling around America with the goal of trying to understand why Washington is so gridlocked and the people apparently divided 50 years after the March on Washington. In Alabama, we encountered some dramatic expressions of that division. We also found people showing great leadership and working towards reconciliation such as Chief Kevin Murphy, the Montgomery Police Chief.
In Selma, we came across a situation where the people celebrate and honor two different versions of history of Selma and America. There is the community of people honoring the sacrifices made by people in 1965 on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge as they tried to march to Montgomery from Selma for voting rights for all people in America and were brutally beaten, an event known as Bloody Sunday. Every year in the month of March, there is a celebration and a re-enactment of the march from Selma to Montgomery attended by people from across the country.
Then there is the community that honors the sacrifices made by people at the Battle of Selma exactly a hundred years before Bloody Sunday. Every April, they celebrate Confederate Memorial Day and organize a re-enactment of the Battle of Selma attended by people from across the country.
Although these historic events occur every year in Selma, they are largely organized and attended by two distinct communities of people.
Do you ever think that we have the wrong people in jail? At tax payers' expense, we imprison people for years for marijuana possession and for not having proper immigration papers. We put people in jail for protesting too big to fail and political and economic inequality in America.
What about the people who cost us $22 trillion with their criminal Ponzi scheme? Not only did we bail them out, we allowed them to give themselves bonuses, and not a single one went to jail.
We lost our homes and jobs because they wanted to get rich and we gave them a free pass. And then we get upset because people from Latin America come and build our homes without proper paperwork and then throw them in jail? How is this right?
Capitalism and democracy do not work without a foundation of trust, honor and fairness.
The first step to fixing our system is accountability. We haven't had accountability on Wall St. and no one has gone to jail. We are sending out the message: If you are rich, you can buy political power. If you have wealth and political power, you are above the law.
We cannot reconcile our tradition of egalitarianism with the current reality that we have a group of people who are deemed to be above the law and superior to the rest of us. This is a system that is separate and unequal. And an unjust system is an unstable one.
We will continue this economic stagnation and social instability unless we begin to align our values with our reality.
Note: I rewrote a previous essay published a month ago.
News from North Carolina is that a new Voter ID bill will be introduced this week. Many conservatives we have talked to in North Carolina are concerned that demographic shift will make it more difficult for Republicans to win elections, especially at the statewide level. Others have told us that the motivation for Voter ID laws has to do with concerns about voter impersonation. They point to the fact that, often, voters who move out of state or have passed away are not removed from voter roles in a timely fashion, which leaves the door open to fraud.
There is no evidence of voter impersonation in North Carolina, but Republican media outlets have generated countless stories suggesting that there could be. This has created concern among constituents, and offered lawmakers a justification for a series of new government regulations that will spend taxpayer money to make it more difficult for North Carolinians to vote.
North Carolina has a US Senate race next year, and legislation that would limit the number of young people, people of color, and poor people who make it to the polls could determine the outcome. Voter ID laws are only one avenue being considered to achieve this. GOP legislators in North Carolina are also considering restrictions on voter registration and early voting in order to decrease turnout, and create long lines at the polls in more populated, more diverse areas of the state. Also, partisan redistricting has carved up areas where students and people of color live, changing their districts and polling places so that they are confused about where to vote.
To their credit, the North Carolina House of Representatives has held extensive hearings to ascertain whether a bill can be written that would address concern about voter fraud without disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of American citizens who do not have a drivers license or other government issued ID, but still wish to vote in North Carolina. Above is the moment that I found most revealing. Rep. Deborah Ross, a Democrat, is questioning Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, a non-partisan advocate for clean elections.
My general worry is that the economic elite has irreconcilably split the rest of the country into a red and blue fight over mostly settled issues while they simultaneously siphon off most the growth in wealth of this country.
It's a common tradition for people in the United States lie to their children about Santa Claus. As the children grow older, most of them figure out the truth. But it's surprising how long some continue "to believe," even in the face of overwhelming evidence from their peers. It's also interesting to note, that when the parents are finally caught in this silly lie, their credibility is not questioned. In fact, there is often the development of a nostalgia for the time before the kids "found out" about Santa Claus.
I’m reminded of this when I listen to conservatives who yearn for better days when gender roles were unquestioned; the races lived separately but in harmony, and a booming economy lifted a growing middle class. There were few prominent depictions of disenfranchised minorities. Our views of society were mostly shaped by what we saw on TV (Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Dick Van Dyke, etc). Even though large parts of society were being left out (people of color, people who questioned gender roles, people who questioned sexual identity, people who questioned authority...) many of today’s conservatives look to the 50’s and 60’s as a romantic ideal.