Protestors target state budget director’s retail empire
(pictured above: Picketers brave the rain Monday to protest outside of a Durham Roses store.)
Protestors are expected to gather outside Northside Shopping Center Saturday near the Maxway store for an “informational picket campaign” against the retail store, one of many owned by N.C. Budget Director Art Pope.
The North Carolina NAACP, Democracy NC and the Institute for Southern Studies are leading pickets throughout the state at stores owned by Pope’s Variety Wholesalers, Inc. Protestors at Roses stores in Charlotte, Durham and Fayetteville are also being targeted.
“We’re not boycotting the stores … we’re just boycotting Art Pope’s decisions and we want him to help reverse some of the extremist laws and policies that were passed by the North Carolina General Assembly back in the 2013 session,” said S. Wayne Patterson, president of the local NAACP chapter. “We just want Art Pope to be a good neighbor. We just want Art Pope to realize that the people who support him as a businessman, he needs to support them also.”
The pickets are part of the months-long NAACP-led Forward Together Moral Movement – a collaborative of more than 180 organizations that has included a series of rallies held across the state to condemn laws and budget cuts pushed through by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Organizers say the store pickets are being held to bring awareness to the connection between Pope, who was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory as the state’s budget director in January, and the role they say he has played in the state’s “avalanche of extremist, regressive policies.”
Like the Maxway at Northside, many of Pope’s stores are located in low income, minority communities and many employ a high number of black employees. In a statement earlier this week, NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber II railed against Pope for using the funds he has secured from these communities to fund political candidates and policies that Barber says are ultimately designed to hurt them.
“This holiday season we will be picketing to inform North Carolinians who shop at Pope-owned discount stores – the very people who have made Pope tremendously wealthy – that he is behind the vicious public policies that adversely affect their lives,” Barber said. [pullquote]“The Forward Together Movement is letting Pope know that he cannot come for poor people’s money by day, and then use his political power to pass laws that crush their economic survival, limit their opportunities to healthcare and education, and restrict their right to vote. These untenable actions must be exposed.”[/pullquote]
In a letter response to Barber, Pope took exception to the group’s claims and criticized the tactics of Barber and other leaders.
“I am shocked that you and your allies would demand any public official to support your political positions by threatening a business which is not part of state government,” he wrote. “It would be wrong for me to respond to your demands as state budget director because you are carrying out your threats against my company and our employees…”
According to the NAACP, Pope “personally helped draw a set of racially discriminatory maps for new General Assembly and Congressional districts which packed African-American voters into a small number of districts, weakened their political influence in the state, and maximized Republican control.” Accounts linked to Pope made up for 75 percent of spending by independent groups in NC’s 2010 state legislative races, and more than 80 percent of the candidates he backed won, the NAACP reports. The legislature Pope helped to put in office has been responsible for a bevy of cuts that hurt poor and working families, including that of earned income tax credits, unemployment benefits and Medicaid expansion, Barber says.
“Art Pope holds one of the most powerful positions in North Carolina, and is arrogantly using his influence to promote practices that are diametrically opposed to the future of hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians,” he stated. “With his refusal to reverse his regressive agenda against the very communities that line his pockets, he leaves us no choice but to vocally oppose it, day after day. His customers should know how their consumer dollars are being used against them.”
In his letter, wherein Pope states that he is responding as president of Variety Wholesalers Inc. and not as budget director, Pope denied the group’s claims that he does not support voting rights and that he is bankrolling candidates for his own political gain. Both he and Moral Movement leaders share the “common goal of alleviating poverty,” Pope said.
“…In a free and small ‘d’ democratic society, every citizen should be free to support the candidates of their choice and advocate the policies they believe in, without retaliation,” he wrote. “…Let us respectfully disagree while we debate the merits and better policies with consensus support of the people will be enacted through the democratic process.”
Despite his conciliatory words, Pope is no ally for the progressive agenda, said Linda Sutton, the local Democracy N.C. leader. She said the budget director’s actions speak far louder than his words.
“I’m sure the budget director had a lot of say-so in the budget, and the budget is full of cuts to services that the poor – more than anyone else – utilize,” she noted. “It sounds good for the press, but I don’t believe this is the case, or his actions and deeds might be different. If that was the case, he could’ve fought against the budget, even if the governor and legislators wanted to cut … funding for everything.”
Though Pope eluded to the fact that the protests could hurt members of the black community, many of whom have economic ties to Variety Wholesalers retailers, Sutton disagrees.
“We’re not boycotting his stores. We just want to educate the communities around those stores to know the facts of the owner and how he uses his money,” she remarked. “We’re not trying to hurt the employees, we’re just trying to educate the community about who the budget director is and what he’s done.”
The Winston-Salem protest will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday. For more information, contact Wayne Patterson at 336-995-3072 or Linda Sutton at 336-870-2168.