It’s time to Break It Down!
The American Right Wing has adopted what has become a familiar refrain; “Take our country back!” North Carolina has become a leader in the movement to make this version of the “Dream Act” (which some will certainly find a nightmare) a reality. The Old North State took the first giant step in this direction in the 2010 General Election, when the GOP captured both Houses of the State’s General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. Republicans then, for all practical purposes, sealed the deal in the 2012 General Election, when former Charlotte Mayor, Pat McCrory, ascended to the Governorship. Absent any semblance of checks and balances, the Party was large-and-in-charge.
At first, I wondered from whom these would be patriots deemed it necessary to rescue our country. After a period of reflection, I arrived at two answers. It is important to recognize America, as we know it is changing. Prior to the Health Care vote, Census data indicated that births to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics accounted for 48% of all births in the 12 months ending in July 2008. At the same time, the data projected that by 2012, non-Hispanic white births would be in the minority. The Tea Party Movement is nearly all white. There has not been an African American Republican in the House or the Senate since 2003. There have been only three since 1935. To say there is anxiety about an evolving America is an understatement.
Therefore, answer number one is “they” feel the need to “Take Our Country Back” from among others, the Black President, the woman Speaker of the House (done), the wise Latina member of the Supreme Court, and the gay House Committee Chairman (also done). If you think that sounds crude, answer number two is perhaps even less palatable. Ultimately, I believe the real focus may be directional in nature. That is to say, “they” want to “Take Our Country Back” to a time when those with the wherewithal denied voting (and other) rights to those whom were not empowered to prevent themselves form being “jacked.”
One of the most recent trophy victories of North Carolina’s powerful triumvirate is an expansive Voter ID law; and calling it that (Vote ID law) is really a charitable appellation. It is, after all, so much more. I will expand on that later! First, let us review a few of the other notable initiatives springing forth from the current North Carolina Legislature:
Ended the earned income tax credit for 900,000 North Carolinians
Declined Medicaid coverage for 500,000 North Carolinians
Eliminated unemployment benefits for 165,000 in North Carolina, which has the country’s 5th 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
Allowed gun purchases without a background check, and carried in parks, playgrounds, restaurants, and bars
Eliminated public financing of judicial races
Prohibit Death Row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts
Inserted abortion restriction measures into a bill ostensibly about Sharia law
In response to this overwrought right-wing agenda onslaught against citizens’ rights and privileges, a grass roots movement known as “Moral Monday” emerged. Since April 2013, each Monday, demonstrators have assembled at the State Capitol to protest the serial enactment of this spate of new ALEC-inspired policies (American Legislative Exchange Council). Police estimate an average attendance of 2,500 at the weekly gatherings. Because of the protests, authorities have arrested more than 800 demonstrators.
Last week, the State’s proposed Voter ID law was on deck. North Carolina placed this measure on the fast track after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). The Act applied to nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – and to scores of counties and municipalities, including Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, and not surprisingly, 40 counties in North Carolina.
The VRA made it illegal to discriminate against voters based on race. While the Court did not strike down Section 5, which requires covered jurisdictions to seek pre-clearance from the Justice Department before changing voting laws, it is of no consequence unless Congress agrees to pass new legislation identifying which states are covered. The odds of the current dysfunctional Congress reaching such an agreement are slim and none.
For all practical purposes, the VRA is dead, and that leads me to the point of the story. The North Carolina General Assembly approved a Voter ID law on steroids. The House approved a bill in April that required Voter ID. The Senate then, in the closing days of the session, added 40 pages and over 50 provisions.
In the final analysis, the law did not stop at requiring voters to provide a government ID in order to execute their ballot. In addition to disenfranchising 319,000 voters who do not have such an ID (Driver’s License, State ID, Military ID, and U.S. Passport), the bill also:
Ends same day registration
Rescinds automatic restoration of voting rights to ex-felons
Legalizes the right for any person to stand in a polling place and issue a challenge to ones right to vote
Eliminates straight ticket voting
Abolishes pre-registration by 17 year-olds
Reduces Early Voting from 17 days to 10 days
Requires voters to make all address updates or other changes at least 25 days prior to Election Day
Weakens disclosure requirements intended to make clear who underwrites campaign ads
Permits political parties to raise unlimited corporate donations
Raises the cap on individual donations from $4,000 to $5,000
Republicans assert the new law will restore faith in elections, and prevent voter fraud, which they say is endemic and undetected (an interesting, almost contradictory argument on its face). They maintain this claim, even though the State Board of Elections says there was one only case of voter fraud identified in 2012.
Nonpartisan voting rights groups, Democrats, and Libertarians counter that the true goal of this wide-ranging initiative is to suppress voter turnout among young, old, poor, and minority voters. Three hundred nineteen thousand North Carolina voters do not possess the requisite ID; most are students, the elderly, the poor, or black. That President Obama won all of those groups, except the elderly, in 2008, and again in 2012 is no coincidence. Moreover, according to North Carolina voting statistics, Democrats are more likely to vote early, and more likely to vote straight ticket.
Protest against the aggressive drive by the Governor and Legislature to reverse decades of hard-fought and previously won rights have not been limited to Moral Mondays. Last week, prior to the General Assembly’s approval of the Voter ID bill, six staunch defenders of freedom and voting rights staged a sit-in in the Office of Speaker of the House, Thom Tillis. These activists cogently presented their case, in fact the people’s case, for why Speaker Tillis should have killed House Bill 589.
The bill cleared both Houses the next day and is now on the Governor’s desk, awaiting his approval. However, before the General Assembly sent the bill to the Governor, like their Moral Monday counterparts, authorities arrested The Tillis 6. Of course, they knew the likely outcome of their noble deed, before undertaking it. Still, they “stood their ground”…for decency, for integrity, and for your vote, and mine. I salute The Tillis 6!
The current reactionary pattern evident in North Carolina and in a number of other places in our country should concern all of us. Some of the ideas and measures stemming from them resemble strategies and actions that ensued as Jim Crow displace Reconstruction. The shrillness of the debate has the feel of an anachronistic demographic resorting to “Any Means Necessary” to preserve, no, restore, a passé life and times. In those days, it was apple pie and baseball for some, lynching, beatings, and disenfranchisement for others.
My advice to all who will listen is stay vigilant. We are well on the way to the reality of “NC Voter ID Legislation: Taking Our Country Back!”
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Thanks for another thoughtful and well researched blog, Leon. I wonder what is being done to get the state ID cards now required by the new laws. Instead of waiting for Congress and the Justice Dept to overturn these measures, effort must be made to comply with the law so that the currently disenfranchised will be able to vote.
Thanks for following the blog, and for responding to this particular issue. Obviously, it is near and dear to my heart. I firmly believe that anyone who cares about issues of diversity, equal access to basic services, and fair play in general has to be disappointed with the retrenchment efforts of our State elected officials.
But you are correct; assuming the position (of victimhood) is not the (appropriate) answer. We must seek, find, and leverage opportunities to challenge & rid ourselves of these despicable clock reversing measures.
I appreciate the work of Rev. Barber and the NAACP in organizing and executing Moral Mondays. I even admire it. I know William personally. The simple truth is, it gonna take much more. I hope we’re up to the challenge.