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North Carolina Is the New Wisconsin | The Nation

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Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

North Carolina Is the New Wisconsin


“Moral Monday” protesters demonstrating inside the North Carolina General Assembly on June 10, 2013. (Photo courtesy of the North Carolina NAACP)

“Outsiders are coming in and they’re going to try to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin,” North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory said yesterday, in response to the growing “Moral Monday” protest movement.

North Carolina is the new Wisconsin, but not for the reasons McCrory alleges. Like in Wisconsin, a homegrown grassroots resistance movement has emerged—and grown rapidly—to challenge the drastic right-wing agenda unveiled by Republicans in the state. Just like the Koch brothers backed Scott Walker, the Koch’s billionaire ally and close associate Art Pope funded North Carolina’s Republican takeover in 2010 and 2012. (Only McCrory went a step further and actually named Pope to his inner circle as deputy budget director.) And North Carolina, like Wisconsin, is “a state fight with national implications,” says Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP. Republicans have imported a slew of ALEC-inspired policies in an attempt to turn the New South back into the Old Confederacy.

Melissa Harris-Perry covered the North Carolina “Moral Monday” movement extensively on her MSNBC show last Saturday. I was one of the panelists.

In a few months since taking over power for the first time in one hundred years, North Carolina Republicans have passed or introduced legislation that would: eliminate the earned income tax credit for 900,000; decline Medicaid coverage for 500,000 and privatize public healthcare in the state; end unemployment benefits for 165,000 in a state with the country’s fifth-highest unemployment rate; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; cut taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent; allow for guns to be purchased without a background check and carried in parks, playgrounds, restaurants and bars; do away with public financing of judicial races; prohibit death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts; and on it goes. (Unlike in Wisconsin, North Carolinians have no collective bargaining rights to protect).

In order to make it harder for opponents of these right-wing policies to challenge their sponsors, North Carolina Republicans have unloaded the kitchen sink of voter suppression. As I reported in April (“7 Ways North Carolina Republicans are Trying to Make it Harder to Vote”): “North Carolina Republicans have introduced a series of bills in the legislature that would require state-issued photo ID to cast a ballot, drastically cut early voting, eliminate same-day voter registration, end straight-ticket voting, penalize families of students who register to vote where they go to college, rescind the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons, and ban “incompetent” voters from the polls. The legislation has been dubbed the ‘Screw the Voter Act of 2013’ and ‘The Longer Lines to Vote Bill.’ The goal is to make this racially integrated swing state a solidly red bastion for the next decade and beyond.”

Forty of 100 counties in North Carolina are subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, based on a history of voting discrimination, and must have their election changes approved by the federal government. But North Carolina Republicans, judging from the legislation introduced, are already acting as if the Supreme Court has struck down Section 5. If you want to know what a post–Section 5 world will resemble, without Section 5’s powerful deterrent and enforcement effect, look no further than what’s currently happening in the Tarheel state. (For more on the consequences of repealing Section 5, read this great new report from the Brennan Center for Justice.)

Barber, who has lived in North Carolina since 1966, kicked off the “Moral Monday” movement on April 29. “A couple of months ago, when we called for moral witnesses based on Gandhi and Dr King’s brilliant examples of nonviolent direct action, we had 17 ministers and other leaders answer the call and participate in the first inaugural ‘Moral Monday,’” he wrote in The Guardian this week. “We were pleased, but not shocked, when 29 additional North Carolinians came the second Monday; 49 the third, 59 the fourth, and 151 last Monday, 3 June. Each week, the number of supporters multiplies; from about 300 the first week to more than 4,000 on 3 June.”

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Several thousand joined the demonstration inside the North Carolina statehouse this past Monday, braving rain and tornado warnings, with clergy across the state taking the lead. The clergy, teachers, historians, politicians and civil rights leaders who are now getting arrested on a weekly basis, many for the first time, are hardly outside agitators, which, incidentally, was the kind of language used by Southern governors to defend segregation during the 1950s and ’60s. Of the 338 people arrested so far, only eight are not from North Carolina.

The Forward Together coalition is holding a “Witness Wednesday” event today to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Medgar Evers and to launch a new statewide voter registration campaign. Says Barber, “2014 is a major time and our rights are under attack.” The 1960s civil rights movement began with a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the “Moral Monday” movement shows how the fight for equal rights and justice continues in the state today.

Read Ari Berman’s article on John Lewis and his fight to save the Voting Rights Act.

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