The repressive ALEC agenda happening in North Carolina is slated to arrive in your state sooner or later, so this report on yesterday’s Mountain Moral Monday protest is more than local news. Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. Yesterday I participated, not only in a rally but in a movement against this agenda, as ten thousand of us gathered to protest the North Carolina legislature’s restrictive new voting rights law and their draconian cuts to the full spectrum of human services.
The homemade signs people carried told the story even better than the line-up of speakers and singers. My favorite, featuring a lion illustration, was, When Spiders Unite, They Can Tie Down a Lion, Ethiopian Proverb. Many placards linked the seemingly disparate issues. Some examples: NC protects the rights of, followed by a list with all items crossed out except one. Here’s the list and you can guess which one was left inviolate: Voters, Women, Minorities, Underprivileged, rich White Men, Lbgt People. I imagined families creating these signs on their living room floors; carpeted floors, stone floors, wooden floors. I imagined people bent over their kitchen tables with markers, in their apartments or houses or churches or senior housing complexes, thinking about what it was they cared about. Keep Your Hands Off My Voting Rights, Medicare, Water, Uterus! Yes, the NC legislators this session dipped their hands deep into every one of these areas, and did drastic harm. A man with a sign lettered in thick red marker holds it high. It says, CUTS HURT, blood is dripping from each letter.
In a six-month session, 1700 bills were introduced in the NC legislature, hundreds of them straight out of the ALEC manual. This organization promotes legislation all across the country that works against the people. Shame on You, said one protest sign. What About Progress? asked another. An elder couple strolled by carrying an American flag between them. A woman stood in front draped in a huge rainbow flag with the single word imprinted on it: PEACE. One of the “jailbird” women asked us from the stage to find out which members of our so-called representatives have attended the ALEC conferences, and which members have accepted money from millionaire Art Pope, whose outsized political machine has caused judges to buckle and legislators to fawn. You are supposed to work for us, not against us, said a sign carried by an outraged mother. Cruelty will not be re-elected, said another. Our governor is a pusher for the ALEC agenda, proclaimed the next. These signs were mostly hand-lettered, and some were works of art. The woman sitting next to me was a middle-aged redhead who told me her people have been in these mountains since after the Revolutionary War. It took her all morning to create her beautiful colored drawing of a huge tree standing by the water, with glitter letters spelling out, We Shall Not Be Moved. She said if she didn’t know it would cost her job, she too would have gotten arrested in Raleigh along with the 930 others.
This is what democracy looks like. A labor speaker told us we have found our way back into union on issues. A speaker on Immigration Reform spoke about undocumented workers arrested at the Shogun Buffet Restaurant who are scheduled for deportation, without even being paid by the Shogun Buffet for their 70 hours a week labor at less than minimum wage. (August 19 ,8:00 AM, Wages Claim case at the Buncombe County Courthouse). His speech in Spanish was translated sentence by poetic sentence. He said we are like birds in the mountains singing with one marvelous voice. Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of The Campaign of Southern Equality, made me cry when she declared that, “Our elders need to know we will be recognized in their lifetimes.” She brilliantly linked gay rights to voting rights, saying that the restrictive new Voter ID law and Amendment One will both be defeated.
In between speakers, Emmy-award nominated, local blues singer Cat Williams belted out Stand By Me; the Green Grannies, who sing for the climate every third Saturday in front of the Vance Monument, led us in their version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic; Peggy Ratusz gave us a profound rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia with her lyrics, We’re not shades of black and white, we’re the human race and we unite tonight. While she sang, a little girl handed me a flyer to come back at 3 PM on August 8 to rally for FemCare, the reproductive health clinic closed down in Asheville last week, the last abortion clinic that had been open in North Carolina after the regulation bill passed in the NC legislature.
Reverend Barber of the NAACP, who started Moral Mondays in Raleigh, gave us the history of resistance and reminded us that we have reversed the course of history before, that we are children of a multicultural movement, that we can use our hearts to love the legislators even while we stand against their actions. Because he has schooled himself to add all sexualities to his litany of all those who are being brought together in this movement, I could tolerate his overuse of the Lord, and let go of his tendency toward the military lexicon of enemy, warrior, army of resistance, right winning out over wrong. He ended his exhortation with a secular plea for peace: We are saved by hope. As I left the rally, I passed one more amazing sign, held by a teacher who told me that North Carolina is now 50th in the nation in teacher salary increase. Her sign was a quote from Audre Lorde: The learning process is something you can ignite— like a riot!
And then I saw the two children. I will let these future citizens have the last word. Here are their handmade signs.
Adelante Juntos!Forward Together, Not One Step Back.