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.
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.