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August 08, 2013

North Carolina: They Gave Us Extremism, We Gave Them a Movement

Moral Monday 08-05-'13-1


Mountain Moral Monday in Asheville. Photo: (c) Don McGowan/EarthSong Photography.


During the longest legislative session in memory,  North Carolinians began demonstrating as our state's General Assembly voted to reject federal Medicaid funding for those most in need. Our voices were raised louder as the legislature deliberated cutting a half billion dollars from public-education spending. And we took to the streets in unprecedented numbers when they attacked women's health, our air and water, and our right to vote. Started by a few visionary souls at the NAACP and growing stronger every week, Moral Mondays have shone a bright light on this new General Assembly, which is making laws without regard to their effects on our families, our communities, our planet, and those who need help the most.   

To top it all off, the General Assembly even wants to weaken the public's ability to fight back against the extremism. The fundamentals of our democracy were rolled back with the passage ofthe Voting "Reform" Act, which is widely regarded as the worst voter-suppression bill in the country.  North Carolina voters will now be required to show ID to vote -- even the 318,000 registered voters who have no acceptable form of photo ID to use and in spite of the fact that there are have been no documented prosecutions of voter impersonation during the past decade.  

In addition, early voting has been cut in half, same-day registration has been eliminated, the mandate for high-school voter registration drives has been repealed, limits on campaign contributions have been raised, and disclosure requirements for the money behind political ads have been erased. What kind of government wants to limit access to voting instead of making it easy for people to cast their ballots?

In response, tens of thousands of North Carolinians have come together for Moral Mondays over the past 13 weeks in Raleigh, outside of the State House. An amazing, genuine grassroots movement has been born as citizens from every walk of life and every demographic have  come to Raleigh to stand up to the radical legislature and demand a more rational, moral approach to governing. Because the legislature has finally returned home for the session, Moral Monday events are now taking place around the state to keep the movement alive and growing.  

On August 5 in Asheville, NC, nearly 10,000 people came from across western North Carolina for the most inspiring demonstration that I've ever been part of. Mountain Moral Monday was organized in just a few short weeks by groups including the NAACP, local churches, the Sierra Club, Lillian's List, the Campaign for Southern Equality, teachers' organizations, and a broad coalition of other concerned constituents. Decisions about funding for public education, protecting the environment, caring for the elderly and the poor, and providing equal access to health care are all based on a fundamental bedrock of democracy:  our right to vote. The Sierra Club got involved because we know that can't protect our environment if we don't protect our democracy.

Sierra Club volunteer leader Ken Brame spoke to the massive crowd about the legislature's devastating attacks on our air, water, and health, such as newly passed laws that will allow more pollution into our groundwater, eliminate environmental watchdog commissions and boards, restrict local government's abilities to hold polluters accountable, and repeal existing safeguards against air pollution from heavy-duty trucks.These blatant assaults on our health and planet are just a few of the entries in the long list of this legislature's failings that have driven so many to speak out.  

That's why environmentalists stood shoulder to shoulder with civil rights activists, teachers, faith leaders, champions for equality, women's rights advocates, moms, dads, grandparents, and kids, ready to fight back. And we started on Monday by registering voters, getting organized, signing up new supporters and rallying with the chant, "Forward Together, Not One Step Back."

At the Mountain Moral Monday, Reverend Barber, director of the NC NAACP, said of the NC General Assembly, "Instead of depressing us, they've made us determined to fight. Instead of dividing us, they have united us."

Thank you North Carolina legislature. You have incited a movement for justice, democracy, and equality in our once great state, the likes of which have not been seen in North Carolina for decades. As Moral Mondays travel across the state, the voice of the people will finally be heard.

--Kelly Martin, Senior Campaign Representative -- Beyond Coal, Asheville, North Carolina


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