After an uplifting challenge from the state NAACP’s charismatic president Dr. William Barber, the rally closed with us all taking a pledge to work on voter registration and organizing, then joining hands and singing “We Shall Overcome.”
The march and rally was a follow up to the series of Moral Mondays held in Raleigh last fall while the legislature was in session, and a precursor to more activity to come — in the form of grassroots empowerment, voter education, litigation challenging the constitutionality of the recent gerrymandered redistricting plan, and nonviolent direct action leading up to the November election.
What Rev. Barber termed “not a moment but a movement” has been precipitated by a series of actions taken by the state government which he called “not Republican issues nor Democrat issues, but moral issues.” These include:
• Declining Medicaid coverage for 500,000 people.
• Ending federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 of our state’s citizens.
• Eliminating the earned-income tax credit for 900,000.
• Cutting pre-K education for 30,000 children.
• Reducing the number of teachers and teaching assistants, thereby increasing class size and reducing quality.
• Shifting $90 million from public education to vouchers for private schools.
• Slashing taxes for the top 5 percent while raising them on the rest of us.
• Allowing gun purchases without background checks and carried in parks, playgrounds, bars and restaurants.
• Removing public financing of judicial races.
• Prohibiting death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts.
• Instituting voter restrictions requiring a photo ID (which 318,000 registered voters don’t have), reducing early voting, eliminating same-day registration and rescinding the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.
A parade of speakers addressed these and other issues with fervor and determination. Dr. Barber then cited passages from the Bible and the U.S. Constitution, and statements and actions by former Republican presidents Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan, which have recently been violated by our present governor and legislators, whom he characterized as “extremists and not real Republicans.” Labeling their actions as “mighty low,” he called on us to take the ‘higher ground.”
This was the second inspiring event I’ve been privileged to attend in recent weeks. The first was the Haywood County Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast at Lake Junaluska, which featured special music by Chuck Beattie, the group singing of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and a marvelous talk by Dr. Dudley Flood, retired former associate state superintendent of public instruction. I was asked to offer one of the prayers that morning, some words from which seem appropriate for both these occasions:
“Grow in us, we pray:
• A renewed compassion for human need.
• An insistent desire to see that all are amply fed, clothed, housed and provided for.
• A deep commitment to work with You to create a just and provident world where the needs of all Your children for health, nourishment, shelter, and hope are fully met.
• And the energy and will to join in the struggle for a just and peaceful world.
“We also pray for our leaders, that they may place people before profits, partnership before partisanship, caring before conniving, justice before jealousy, well-being before wealth.
“Help us to draw on Your power to bring ‘good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed.’ And may the result of our efforts in Your name be that ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”