A good time to stand up and be counted

A good time to stand up and be counted

- in Weekly Briefing

Why you should march in Raleigh on Saturday, February 11

It’s a debate that progressives like to have amongst themselves sometimes: Are things better today (in North Carolina or in the country at-large) than they were, say, 25 years ago?

The negatives are easy enough to identify: Persistent poverty and the exploding gap between rich and everyone else; our wounded and suffering natural environment; the explosive growth in commercialism and greed and the concomitant decline in our faith in all things public; and the unabashed corporate takeover of our elections system.

And yet, positives do abound: Our slow but steady progress in breaking down some of the walls of discrimination and exclusion – be they based on race, nationality, sex, sexual orientation or disability; hopeful signs that our ill-fated infatuation with prisons and executions and the “war on drugs” is finally abating; painstaking progress on healthcare; and, of course, the end of the war in Iraq.

At the heart of all progress

Whichever side you come down on in this debate, however, one thing is patently clear: None of the bad things will get better and none of the good things will continue to advance unless average people of all stripes – lots of them – get off their duffs and speak out loudly, clearly and frequently. This means talking openly and honestly with friends and family members, voting, supporting causes and candidates for office that reflect one’s values, writing letters to the editor, calling into radio talk shows, commenting on online news stories and blogs and, yes – at least occasionally – stepping outside with other likeminded people to march for justice.

This last activity, in particular, can be scary for some people. In today’s computerized and digitized world, many people find it difficult to abandon the safety, anonymity and convenience of communicating electronically. For those who take the leap and overcome their fears and inertia, however, the experience can often be enormously positive, eye-opening and empowering.

If you have any doubts about this last proposition, you owe it to yourself to come to downtown Raleigh next Saturday February 11 to participate in the sixth annual HK on J march and rally. There simply is no better or more important multi-issue, multi-racial, and multi-generational event of its kind in North Carolina. It’s a great opportunity to learn, to share, to meet people and to have an impact on the state policy debate. If you come, you will be better off for having done so.

Still not convinced?

Of course, for some people, the warm feelings that come from doing one’s duty and being a part of a large movement are not enough. These people sometimes need a little something extra to spur them to action. Frequently, that little something is anger – as in “That’s it! I’m not going to stand by and let these people get away with this stuff any longer!!”

For these people, we present the following list of reminders of what elected state leaders have been doing and saying over the past year:

Reminder #1 – Thom “Divide and Conquer” Tillis – The following is a direct quote from the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. He said it out loud at a public meeting last fall.

“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance. We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition that needs help and we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government.”

You can watch the video of this amazingly cynical and offensive moment by clicking here.

Reminder #2 – The “back to the 1970’s” state budget – Though the 2011 North Carolina legislative session was clearly the worst in decades on several fronts, the disastrous budget was the crowning “achievement.” At a moment in time in which circumstances and public opinion demanded cooperation to craft a budget that would preserve decades of painstaking progress in education, environmental protection, social services, criminal justice and dozens of other areas, legislative leaders opted instead for a radically reactionary slash and burn approach. As a result, state spending on essential public structures and systems (as a share of total state income) has fallen to the lowest level since the Nixon era. It was a fateful decision, the negative effects of which will be felt for years to come.

Reminder #3 – The marriage discrimination amendment and the people behind it – Think for a moment about the hate and cynicism that went into the decision to place Amendment One on the May ballot. At one point, one of the chief sponsors – the Number Three man in the state House of Representatives (a man who now wants to be Lt. Governor) – held a press conference in the General Assembly in which he invited speakers to the podium to opine that homosexuality violates “biological rules” ordained by the Almighty. We are not making this up. The amendment sent to the ballot would not just ban same sex marriage; it would ban the extension of benefits to same sex partners and even jeopardize domestic violence protections for people not living in traditional, heterosexual marriages.

Reminder #4 – The “midnight madness” legislative sessions – Where were you at 1:00 a.m. on Thursday January 5? How about at the same hour last June 15?  Hopefully, you were snug in your bed. Unfortunately, that’s not where the members of the General Assembly were. They were in session passing the aforementioned budget and settling a political score with the N.C. Association of Educators in votes highlighted by little-to-no notice and/or limited debate.  Mind you, this was the work of the same legislative leaders who came to power promising a new era “openness and transparency.”

Reminder # 5 – The effort to repeal the Racial Justice Act – Who would make the repeal of a law with such a name (a modest little law that merely attempts to assure that no one is executed in our state as a result of racial bias in his or her criminal trial) a top priority?  And who would attempt to justify such action by manufacturing the excuse that the law might “turn murderers loose” even though the law specifies that the only possible outcome for murderers found to have been discriminated against is life in prison without possibility of parole?

Reminder #6 – The survival of our natural environment – As part of his unending “official announcement” that he is running for Governor this week, the former mayor of Charlotte told at least one interviewer this week that his first major initiative upon taking office would be to pursue a “drill baby drill” approach to oil and gas exploration in our state. By this, he meant opening our precious and fragile outer banks to exploitation of the kind used in the Gulf of Mexico and promoting the potentially disastrous (and currently banned) practice of fracking.

Reminder #7 – The preceding reminders amount to just a small sampling of what has been taking place in our state over the past year. The list of regressive, greed-based and backwards-looking actions and proposals is very long and includes school vouchers, voter suppression, the assault on reproductive freedom, the expansion of concealed weapons and many, many others.

Going forward

Put simply, the time to stand up and be counted has arrived. Click here for more details on how you can be one of the “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” on February 11. See you next week.

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.