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.
Tim Funk is the Faith and Values Reporter for The Charlotte Observer. He was assigned to cover "Moral Monday" on June 10, when members of the clergy led hundreds of people into the North Carolina General Assembly to protest voting restrictions and other policies they say will adversely affect the poor, children, the working class, and the middle class.
During the moments before Tim's arrest, there were a series of warnings from Chief Jeff Weaver of the General Assembly police. There was a lot of noise in the room, and the bull horn was most audible when pointed directly at us. It is possible Tim did not hear the final warning. From our vantage point(s), it looked as if Tim was the second person arrested, out of a reported total of 89. The charges include failing to disperse from an "unlawful assembly."
The golden doors that you see toward the end of the video lead to the state senate chamber. On the opposite side of the circle is the state house chamber.
Nearly 400 people have been arrested in the North Carolina General Assembly since April 29, when 17 people, mostly clergy, were arrested as part of a civil disobedience campaign led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and the North Carolina NAACP.
NOTE: Nancy Brown will be a guest on "The Middle Ground," on Coffee Party Radio tonight at 8 pm ET.
I caught up with Nancy Brown at 3 am at the Wake County Detention Center. She had been released hours earlier, but the person with whom she was riding home had not yet been released. She recounted her experience of being arrested by Capitol Police as part of the "Moral Mondays" civil disobedience campaign led by Rev. Dr. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP. Annabel Park and I then visited Nancy's home six days later.
New laws would target the parents of college students who register to vote with tax increases (parents would not be able to claim their children as dependents if they register to vote near their campus, rather than at their parents' address), end Sunday voting and same-day registration for early voting, and, reduce the number of early voting days resulting in long lines at polling places in well-populated areas. A "voter ID" law would create a financial and logistical barrier for hundreds of thousands of American citizens who wish to continue voting, but do not own cars, or were born many years ago before hospital births were commonplace.
Meanwhile, tax increases would hit the poor and the middle class, while tax breaks are being afforded to two dozen wealthy families. Assistance from the federal government is being refused, including unemployment benefits and Medicaid expansion that would have helped half a million people get health insurance.
Nancy's primary concern was for the poor — people who are worse off than she, even though she said she had never earned more than $20,000 in a year. Nancy lost her husband at a young age and makes her living as a gardener. In her interview with Annabel, she talked about formative experiences involving race relations. She mentions "white people" who can be a bridge between the races, recognizing perhaps that she herself is modeling this kind of civic engagement by joining a movement that was triggered by actions by the North Carolina NAACP. Moral Mondays protests in Raleigh North Carolina are as diverse and dynamic as the state's population is becoming. Historians and political scientists point to the demographic shift taking place in the state (and, Barack Obama's victory here in 2008) as a catalyst for the aggressive policies to restrict voting, and financially undermine the poor, the working class, and the middle class.
This video has a comprehensive list of the voting restrictions being proposed by Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly:
If the North Carolina General Assembly is concerned about its place in history, it looks like they've 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."
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.