By Jesse Jackson, Sr.
North Carolina — once poster child for the New South — now displays the nightmares spawned by the Tea Party right no longer restrained by the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s conservative gang of five disemboweled it in the Shelby case.
In North Carolina, Republicans took the General Assembly in 2010 and the governorship in 2012. The takeover received rather unprecedented support from one right-wing multimillionaire, Art Pope — who, according to progressive publication The American Prospect, singlehandedly provided about 80 percent of the funding for the state’s conservative groups.
Upon taking control, the Republicans began systematically dismantling the social infrastructure of the state. They slashed taxes on the top 5 percent and raised them on the bottom 95 percent. They eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 low-wage workers. They cut Medicaid coverage for 500,000. They ended unemployment benefits for 170,000. They threw about 30,000 kids out of pre-K, while transferring $90 million from public schools to vouchers. They voted to allow guns purchased without a background check to be carried in parks, restaurant and bars. As the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, put it: “They’ve drank all the Tea Party they could drink and sniffed all the Koch that they could sniff.”
These radically reactionary measures didn’t exactly meet with popular approval. The approval rating of the state legislature is down to about 23 percent. So Republicans set out to consolidate their unpopular rule by gerrymandering districts to re-segregate voters and weaken their opponents’ base. And they just pushed through the most radical assault on voting rights in modern memory.
In one “omnibus bill,” the legislature would create restrictive voter ID procedures that will disqualify estimated 318,000-registered voters. They cut a week out of early voting time, ended same day registration, eliminates state-supported voter registration drives and ended pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds. They require more frequent purges of voter rolls, and prohibit extending poll hours on Election Day, even if there are long lines still waiting to vote. They even eliminated Citizen Awareness Month that encouraged citizens to register and vote. North Carolina had featured some of the most enlightened election laws and ranked in the top 15 states of voter turnout nationally. With passage of this law, they are intent on driving that down.
Now the question is whether the citizens of North Carolina will allow their government to be hijacked by deep pocket donors and their rights trampled by antidemocratic zealots.
The Rev. Barber says this will not stand. “If you think you can take away our voting rights, you’ll have a headache,” he vowed.
He started organizing what became Moral Mondays, weekly demonstrations that drew thousands in protest to the state’s capital. By the end of July, some 900 people had been arrested in nonviolent civil disobedience. Now, when the legislature closes down in August, the Rev. Barber plans a bus tour through 25 counties to register citizens to vote and to protest the cruel measures.
With its decisions opening the floodgates on corporate money in Citizens United and rolling back the Voting Rights Act, the conservative gang of five on the Supreme Court has opened the way for the North Carolina nightmare. And North Carolina is not alone.
Across the country, Republicans are seeking to roll back voting rights even as they push to gut vital social programs. Citizens of conscience have no choice but to rally once more to protect our rights.
Moral Monday in North Carolina shows the way. In North Carolina, the reaction to the reaction may just have begun.
Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You can keep up with his work at www.rainbowpush.org