Right to Assemble
Rev. Dr. William Barber, the architect and leader of the Moral Monday phenomenon, has said at the rallies, “This is not a moment. It is a movement.”
Over the past year, we have attended Moral Monday rallies throughout the state and that participation has given us an appreciation for his quote. The rallies have been energizing, instructive, heartwarming and, at times, just inspiring. We have realized we are part of an ongoing “movement” that is persistently challenging our elected officials to act for the common good and not surrender to ideology and special interests.
The motivating force behind our continued involvement is reflected in Article I, Section 2 of the North Carolina State Constitution, “All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”
These words reflect the defining principle of a democratically-governed state. Many people in our state are of the opinion that the ideal of a state governed “of, by and for the people” is under serious assault by an ideologically-obsessed General Assembly bent on moving the state toward a plutocracy instead of a government presided over by the people.
From 2011 through 2013, there were two very different streams of information that also motivated us. First, there were daily reports of the deluge of legislation being drafted and passed so quickly it was almost impossible to keep up, study and comprehend it. The majority of the legislation being proposed and ratified had nothing to do with the urgent need for a clear plan for economic recovery, and it had little to do with needs of or directives from the people. Among bills passed by the General Assembly, the following are of most concern to us:
• Amending the State Constitution to ban same sex marriages and embedding discrimination of North Carolina citizens into the Constitution.
• Restricting women’s access to comprehensive health care.
• Passing the most restrictive voter suppression legislation in the United States.
• Underfunding public schools and teacher pay, removing the cap on charter schools, and redirecting public funds through vouchers to private schools.
• Rejecting federal money for Medicaid expansion for over 500,000 individuals and families.
• Rejecting federal unemployment benefits that denied 70,000 North Carolinians extended benefits.
• Repealing public financing of judicial races and allowing unlimited private donations to judicial candidates.
Secondly, there was an equal flood of information about the efforts of national and state organizations with a clear agenda of moving state governments to the far right. As early as the summer of 2011, The Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation released news under the rubric, “ALEC Exposed.” The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), we learned, is an organization composed of state legislators and representatives of numerous corporations that drafts model bills that are to be presented to state legislatures for passage. Voter ID laws, privatization of public schools, lower taxes on the wealthiest, repeal of the estate tax, and business friendly environmental regulations are among the model bills generated by ALEC.
With this information, our concerns were heightened since Thom Tillis, speaker of the State House of Representatives, was awarded an ALEC Legislator of the Year in 2011, and he is now serving on the ALEC Board of Directors. How many of the regressive bills passed by the General Assembly have been influenced by ALEC? Were our elected officials representing the people or the interest of large corporations?
As we searched for vehicles to express our concern and outrage about the direction of our state, we realized that Dr. Barber and the NC NAACP afforded an opportunity to exercise the right to assemble and express grievances toward elected officials in a peaceful, disciplined and informed manner. Our individual voices were amplified by participating in the chorus of thousands of distressed, infuriated citizens. Enlistment in the ranks of those who were willing to be arrested punctuated the seriousness of our concern and of our resolve to be heard.
Only a large movement of unified voices can even begin to challenge the obstinate ideologues in the General Assembly and compete with their wealthy, right wing, benefactors pouring millions of dollars into the remaking of North Carolina. Being in a movement with like-minded egalitarians reinforces hope, encourages action, maintains self-discipline, and provides a structure for creative dissent. On May 19, 2014 the “movement” continues in Raleigh.
Anne Griffis Wilson and Charles Francis Wilson, Guest Columnists