Right-wing groups and media are waging a concerted attack on Rev. William Barber, organizer of this weekend’s “Moral March” in Raleigh, North Carolina.
North Carolina’s politics lurched to the far right after multimillionaire Art Pope poured money into a far-right takeover of the state government. A tidal wave of horrible legislation last year attacked voting rights, public education, health care, and unemployment insurance -- and raising taxes on poor families to give tax breaks to a handful of the state’s wealthiest people. Basically, if you want to see what unfettered Tea Party governance looks like, look at North Carolina.
In response, a huge statewide coalition led by Barber, the president of the state NAACP, organized “Moral Mondays” protests to draw attention to the legislature’s extremism. State GOP officials initially dismissed the movement, with one legislator deriding “Moron Mondays” and others blaming the protests on “outside agitators.” But the protests grew to thousands, with more than 900 people, the vast majority of them from North Carolina, being arrested.
The progressive Forward Together coalition drew tens of thousands of people to Raleigh this weekend for a “Moral March,” which kicked off a year of organizing and voter engagement. This progressive mobilization has generated excitement among progressive activists nationally, and has made Barber a target of the right wing.
In recent weeks, Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren have invited Sen. Tim Scott, Allen West, and Star Parker – all right-wing African Americans – to attack Barber for comments he made suggesting that Scott is a ventriloquist dummy for the Tea Party.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s march, the state’s Republican Chairman Claude Pope slammed Barber for using "inflammatory and offensive" rhetoric. And Tami Fitzgerald from the North Carolina Values Coalition snarked, “The so-called Moral March on Raleigh is anything but moral. It is spearheaded by groups that support abortion and homosexual marriage.” I am not aware that Fitzgerald has raised moral objections to right-wing state officials’ attacks on poor families’ access to health care.
At a press conference after the March, Tea Party activist David Webb, a Fox and Breitbart contributor, badgered Barber about whether he owed Scott and other black conservatives an apology. No apology was forthcoming. The unruffled Barber said his job and calling are “to speak the truth about public policies, policies that hurt millions of people.”
Barber said his critique was based on policy, not personality. “While some people may choose to get caught up on a metaphor,” Barber said, “the real indignation and upsetness should be over the regressive agenda” and over policies that are causing “real-life suffering and death.”
If folk want to get upset, get upset over the denying of Medicaid expansion, get upset over voting to reject unemployment benefits for laid off workers who are Republican, who are Democrat, who are black, who are white. Get upset over reduced access to public education and funding of it….and get upset over the attacks to turn back voting rights that were won through blood, sweat and tears.”
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and related rulings undermining the nation’s campaign finance laws opened the doors to massive corporate and right-wing spending. Nowhere have the results been more catastrophic than in North Carolina, where a right-wing takeover subjected state residents to an avalanche of far-right legislation targeting children, teachers, voting rights, and more.
Last year PFAW’s Miranda Blue and Calvin Sloan documented the far-right takeover of state politics that was funded by billionaire Art Pope with the help of GOP strategist and current U.S. Senate candidate from Virginia, Ed Gillespie. In 2012, Pope and his allies poured millions of dollars into elections for the state legislature and millions more to elect Gov. Pat McCrory.
Once they got into power, with Pope himself installed as McCrory’s budget director, North Carolina citizens were subjected to the full fury of a far-right, Tea Party-on-steroids legislative agenda. Education spending was slashed and thousands of teachers fired while tax dollars were diverted to school vouchers.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens were denied Medicaid and unemployment benefits while taxes were cut for the state’s richest residents. And in order to perpetuate the power of Pope’s puppets, one of the nation’s worst, most restrictive voting laws was put into place to disenfranchise voters, with an assist from the Supreme Court’s gutting of a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
But North Carolina has not given Americans only a terrifying look at what a Tea Party-run country would look like. It has also given us an inspiring example of grassroots organizing on behalf of a very different set of values. Led by Rev. William Barber, head of the state’s NAACP chapter, North Carolinans began “Moral Mondays” protests at the state capitol. They were dismissed as “morons” and outside agitators by right-wing legislators. One of Pope’s right-wing groups published personal information of protestors online.
But those efforts did nothing to squelch the Moral Mondays movement, which drew thousands of people to the weekly protests. Hundreds were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.
Now Barber and the diverse coalition he leads have put out a call to people across North Carolina and the rest of the country to come to Raleigh on February 8 for what they hope will become the largest civil rights gathering in the south since an interfaith, interracial group of people responded to Dr. King’s call to join civil rights marchers in Selma.
On Tuesday, Rev. Barber spoke to bloggers about Moral Mondays, the February 8 march, and the values-based “fusion” organizing that is sustaining the pro-justice movement in North Carolina. If you’re going to change America, he said, you have to change the south – with broad-based, locally led movements in every state.
Barber emphasized that his movement was not partisan – that many independents and Republicans have joined in the Moral Mondays protests against the extremist and unjust laws passed by the far-right faction that now runs the state government. What motivates the new coalition, Barber said, is a combination of the constitutional principle of the common good and the biblical principle of caring for the vulnerable. A few days before the march, a policy briefing will examine the moral, economic, political and social costs of the state’s regressive legislation.
One goal of turning February 8 into a national event, Barber said, is to discourage right-wing strategists who hope to duplicate Pope’s takeover and subsequent imposition of extreme policies that Barber describes as “constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane.”
You can find out more about the February 8 march at the event website.
When the teaching of Isabel Allende’s internationally renowned novel The House of the Spirits was challenged in a North Carolina school district last month, advocates from all corners spoke out in its defense, including PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan and North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti. Now, Isabel Allende herself has joined the conversation.
Yesterday the School Library Journal reported that Allende has mailed a letter, along with copies of her book, to the Watauga County school board, superintendent, and the principal of Watauga High School.
After acknowledging that being in the position of defending her own book is “unusual and awkward,” Allende points out in her letter that The House of the Spirits is “considered a classic of Latin American literature and it is taught in high schools, colleges, and universities in all Western countries, including the USA for more than two decades.” She expresses concern about the practice of book censorship in general:
Banning of books is a common practice in police states, like Cuba or North Korea, and by religious fundamentalist groups like the Taliban, but I did not expect it in our democracy.
Allende’s letter comes as the book undergoes a multi-step review process in the county. Last month an advisory committee comprised of teachers, students, and parents voted unanimously not to remove the book from the curriculum, but that decision has been appealed.
Mississippi’s Chris McDaniel isn’t the only Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who has allied with neo-Confederate activists. Warren Throckmorton reports today that Bill Flynn, a radio talk show host seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan in North Carolina, is a close partner of the Institute on the Constitution’s David Whitney and has taught courses through the Institute. Whitney wrote on the group’s website last week:
Our Institute On The Constituion [sic] Host Bill Flynn in Triad region of North Carolina announced his candidacy for the United States Senate race this past Sunday. Bill hosts a morning radio show on WEGO (980 AM). Bill has not only taught our U.S. Constitution course he was my co-host on the Constitutional Cruise, All Aboard America this past March. Bill is a good friend and patriot.
Whitney is the chaplain of the Maryland chapter of the League of the South, a neo-confederate hate group that promotes white nationalism.
Whitney’s bio notes that he also serves as “the Chaplain of the Southern National Congress where he is also the Chairman of the Maryland State Delegation to the Congress.” The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Southern National Congress as “a neo-Confederate group focused exclusively on advancing a new secession through political means.” Two GOP lawmakers in Tennessee were recently slated to appear at a Southern National Congress event.
The head of the Institute On The Constitution is Michael Peroutka, aLeague of the South board member. Peroutka has denounced the Union victory in the Civil War, attacked civil rights laws, demanded the prosecution of women who have abortions and warned that nondiscrimination legislation would force people to be gay.
“You may also tell them that I am proud to be a member of League of the South,” Peroutka said during his campaign for president in 2004. “I look forward to receiving the support not only from guys with Confederate flags in their trucks, but also those with the Southern Cross in their heart.”
But don’t think this GOP candidate’s close relationship with the Institute On The Constitution will trouble all of his fellow Republicans, as McDaniels in Mississippi continued to win support from right-wing groups after his own neo-Confederate links became public.
Last week after hearing about the ban, PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan sent a letter to Randolph County school board members urging them to reverse their decision. Area media outlets documented the local, national, and even international response.
The board listened to the outcry. The Courier-Tribune reports that yesterday evening, the Randolph County Board of Education voted 6-1 to reinstate the book to school libraries in the county. At the meeting, some board members reflected on their changing perspectives about censorship and constitutional liberties:
Lambeth said since the last meeting he had listened to other viewpoints and still was concerned about the book’s content and protection of students, but realized that the decision was about a child’s First Amendment rights and educational values, not his personal perspective.
Board member Tracy Boyles said he had wondered as he drove home from the last meeting whether he had made the right decision….He also reflected on his son being in the Air Force and ‘in war twice.…He was fighting for these rights. I’m casting a vote to take them away. Is it right of me? No.’
Fighting censorship has long been a priority of People For the American Way Foundation. Freedom of expression – whether in schools, museums, or any public place – is a fundamental right of Americans that PFAW Foundation will continue its work to protect.
People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan sent a letter to members of the Randolph County, North Carolina, Board of Education today urging them to reverse their decision banning Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from school libraries. Following a complaint from a parent, the board voted 5-2 on Monday to remove all copies of the acclaimed American literary work from school libraries in the county, Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune reported.
The Courier-Tribune is now reporting that the board may indeed reconsider the ban, noting that they plan to hold a special meeting about the book on Wednesday, September 25.
The full text of the letter is below:
Randolph County Board of Education
c/o Dr. Stephen Gainey, Superintendent
McDowell Governmental Center
2222-C S. Fayetteville St
Asheboro, NC 27205
September 20, 2013
Dear Members of Randolph County Board of Education:
On behalf of our 816,840 members and activists, we urge you to reverse your decision to remove all copies of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from Randolph County school libraries, which was reported by Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune.
Since its 1952 publication, Invisible Man has been targeted multiple times for censorship attempts. To be sure, it is a piece of literature that explores painful themes – one that, as journalist Roger Rosenblatt put it, “captured the grim realities of racial discrimination as no book had.” Yet despite the opinion of one board member that the novel lacks “any literary value,” Invisible Man is among the most acclaimed American novels of the past century. It won the 1953 National Book Award for fiction and was deemed by TIME magazine one of the top 100 English-language novels since 1923.
As an organization that works with elected officials, we recognize that school board members often face difficult decisions that require balancing the concerns of parents with the educational development of students. But denying students access to landmark novels such as Invisible Man because of a parent’s complaint harms students’ ability to learn from and engage with the rich body of literature our country has produced. In addition, multiple committees in your district recommended against its removal.
Our nation’s education system is designed to teach students critical thinking skills – to expose them to new, and sometimes challenging, ideas. This classic literary work must not be banned from schools. We urge you to reconsider this decision, and to make this book available once again to students in your school district.
President, People For the American Way Foundation
After months of deliberating, Southern Baptist pastor Mark Harris announced that he will run for US Senate in North Carolina as a Republican challenger to Kay Hagan. Harris’ wife described his Senate bid as “God’s will” and claimed that “the kind of preparation God has given Mark in ministry is the kind of leadership that is needed in a legislative body.”
As we’ve noted, Harris was behind the successful campaign to amend North Carolina’s constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. No stranger to anti-gay rhetoric, the Republican candidate recently sat down with Wayne Powers on “Speak Out Charlotte,” where he insisted that being gay is a choice.
“I’ve yet to buy in, as there is not the medical evidence, that an individual that chooses the homosexual lifestyle is born that way,” Harris said. “That is a choice.”
After Powers wondered why someone would choose to be gay when they will most likely face discrimination and ostracization, Harris said that “it’s kind of like if you get down to the issue of the evidence of global warming, you’ve got scientists on both sides; you have the medical community on both sides.”
Harris may want to find a new analogy, as there is indeed a consensus among climate scientists on the existence of man-made climate change.
In July, we reported on Christian-nation extremist David Lane’s closed-door pastors briefing in Iowa, and the presidential hopefuls and other politicians who have flocked to Lane’s gatherings over the years.
This week the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that Lane’s American Renewal Project is holding church-based voter registration drives on three Sundays this month: Sept. 15, Sept. 22 and Sept. 29. Steve Michael, a spokesperson for the project, told the Register that after the American Renewal Project’s $1.2 million voter registration campaign in Missouri during the last election cycle, the state saw a 3 percent increase in evangelical voters. He said it will organize in Iowa “steadily until the 2014 election.”
The "Stand-up Sundays" model goes like this: Pastors ask their congregation members to stand up if they're already registered. Volunteers will then hand out voter registration paperwork to the adults still seated. But each Iowa pastor will decide how to do it, Lane told the Register.
Iowa is among 11 states the American Renewal Project is targeting in the 2014 cycle, Michael said. The others are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Organizers will do “Pastors and Pews” events followed by voter registration drives in each state. Next up is Louisiana on Sept. 26-27….
Lane said Iowa may be one of the most registered states in the nation, thanks to the attention from the presidential campaigns, so he expects Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina to be more "target rich areas."
It’s worth noting that Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina are also among the top Senate races for 2014, as are other states on Lane’s target list.
In a WorldNetDaily column today, Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly comes to the defense of North Carolina’s new voter suppression measure with classic Schlafly logic. The new law is not politically motivated and won’t keep Democrats from voting, Schlafly claims…before adding that the law’s main virtue is that it is politically motivated and will keep Democrats from voting.
Schlafly starts out her argument by claiming that the notion that the state’s new photo ID requirement will disproportionately disenfranchise largely Democratic voting groups is “absurd” because “the poorest members of society can obtain photo ID to get taxpayer-funded handouts”….and then immediately contradicts herself by declaring “the real reason the left wants to make sure that individuals without voter ID are allowed to vote is because they are expected to vote for Democrats”:
Liberals make the absurd claim that requiring photo ID is discriminatory because some minority groups may be unable to provide proper ID. But government-issued photo identification can be obtained by anyone at very low cost.
We already need photo ID, aka a driver’s license, to drive to work, which is rather important to most people. Welfare recipients are required to show photo ID to receive money in many states, and we haven’t heard any gripes about ID discrimination.
If the poorest members of society can obtain photo ID to get taxpayer-funded handouts, they should be able to do likewise for voting. The real reason the left wants to make sure that individuals without voter ID are allowed to vote is because they are expected to vote for Democrats.
Schlafly then takes on the North Carolina law’s reduction of early voting days, including eliminating Sunday early voting, which she happily admits is a response to the popularity of early voting among Democratic voters:
The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that “early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.”
She is especially upset that the Obama campaign (or the “Obama technocrats”) ran a successful early voting get-out-the-vote effort, or, as she puts it, “identifying prospective Obama voters and then nagging them (some might say harassing them) until they actually vote”:
The Obama technocrats have developed an efficient system of identifying prospective Obama voters and then nagging them (some might say harassing them) until they actually vote. It may take several days to accomplish this, so early voting is an essential component of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign.
But early voting’s sins, according to Schlafly, go beyond being successfully used by Democrats. In fact, she says, early voting “is actually contrary to the spirit of the U.S. Constitution”:
Early voting is actually contrary to the spirit of the U.S. Constitution. Article II states, “the Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes, which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” Federal law sets the date for national elections on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
But that isn’t all! Schlafly -- who happens to be the recipient of the 2011 Citizens United Lifetime Achievement Award-- claims that early voting actually “increases the influence of big money spent on campaigns.” Not only that, she says, but it “increases opportunities for ballot fraud” because, she claims without any evidence, poll watchers aren’t present during early voting:
Early voting increases the influence of big money spent on campaigns because it requires candidates to campaign, to spend and to buy expensive television ads over additional weeks. Early voting increases opportunities for ballot fraud because the necessary poll watchers we expect to be on the job at polling places on Election Day can’t be present for so many days.
Schlafly wraps up her argument by declaring that North Carolina’s voter suppression law should “cheer up” conservatives as they work to restrict reproductive choice, cut unemployment insurance and Medicaid and mandate the teaching of cursive so that “kids will now be able to read letters from their grandmothers”:
In 2012 the Democrats were so sure that North Carolina was a happy hunting ground for their votes that they held their National Convention in Charlotte to renominate Barack Obama. North Carolina promptly responded by voting down same-sex marriage in a referendum and then passing a bunch of good laws. So cheer up, conservatives.
In addition to the helpful new voting laws, North Carolina passed stricter regulations on abortion clinics, ended teacher tenure, cut unemployment benefits, blocked the expansion of Medicaid and (despite the scorn of propagandists for the national takeover of education by Common Core) mandated the teaching of cursive writing. Maybe that’s why the liberals are so angry: Kids will now be able to read letters from their grandmothers.
The Christian Action League, the American Family Association’s North Carolina affiliate, issued a statement Friday praising a restrictive new voting law in North Carolina. The group is particularly pleased with a provision eliminating early voting on Sundays. “We have always opposed voting on Sunday for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Sunday is the church’s prime time for developing the character of a nation,” said Mark Creech, the Christian Action League’s director.
He adds that Sunday voting in fact imperils our freedom because “it is a Sunday-cultivated character that makes an electorate fit to guard and preserve its liberties.”
“These new laws will not create a hardship for anyone who wants to vote in North Carolina. What they will do is ensure — through ID checks and a slowed down registration process — that all of our votes count,” said Dr. Creech. “We’re most pleased that the shortened early voting period takes at least one Sunday out of the mix.”
“We have always opposed voting on Sunday for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Sunday is the church’s prime time for developing the character of a nation,” Dr. Creech said. “It is a Sunday-cultivated character that makes an electorate fit to guard and preserve its liberties.”
Of course, Sunday early voting hours have been particularly popular among faith communities. In 2008, a “souls to the polls” drive in black churches led to 37,000 people in North Carolina casting Sunday votes. Last year, it was a similar success.
We here at People For the American Way Foundation are deeply saddened by the passing of Julius Chambers, a trailblazing civil rights lawyer and former People For the American Way Foundation board member. In the 1960s, Chambers opened what became the first integrated law firm in North Carolina and later went on to lead the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Throughout his life, he fought and won cases on school desegregation and discrimination, including a case on public school integration – Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education– that went all the way to the Supreme Court and paved the way for the use of busing to counter segregation.
But as the New York Times noted yesterday:
Mr. Chambers’s victories came with a cost. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Swann, his offices were firebombed. After his successes in 1965, his car was firebombed and two bombs exploded in his home.
His response was defiant; he said he would “keep fighting.”
More than forty years later, during a 2008 PFAW Foundation panel on the future of the Supreme Court, Chambers made it clear that he was still fighting. He underscored his commitment to “us[ing] the courts to correct the injustices that we see still perpetuated today,” including discrimination against low-income people.
It is not difficult to see why the North Carolina NAACP chapter described Chambers as “a man of tremendous courage.”
The pastor who helped organize and finance the campaign to pass North Carolina’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions, Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, is pondering a run for US Senate against Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, a marriage equality supporter.
As reported by Jeremy Hooper, Harris, who leads North Carolina’s Baptist convention, emphasized that the Amendment One campaign wasn’t just about marriage but attacking the gay community:
Harris also preached that God would mourn the anti-gay amendment’s defeat:
His church also promoted a column by his wife that put marriage equality advocates in the same category as Nazis and eugenicists, argued that people are gay as a result of sexual abuse, warned that the supporters of the “gay agenda” like Oprah Winfrey and Katy Perry are warping the minds of children and contended that gay youth are simply deluded.
Harris has informed his congregation about his potential run for Senate, the Charlotte Observer reports:
Harris, 47, met in Charlotte last week with about 70 people from around 20 North Carolina counties who are trying to draft him to run.
“I’m certainly humbled and flattered by the confidence that these folks have expressed,” he said. “It’s a little bit overwhelming to be honest. Right now we’re doing two things. One … doing a lot of listening to people and the second and most importantly to me is just to pray and seek God’s leadership … and see if that’s his plan for me.”
Harris announced that to his congregation at the end of Sunday’s service, and walked off to a standing ovation.
Last year, Harris campaigned heavily for Amendment One, which recognizes marriage between a man and a woman as the only valid union recognized in the state.
He has hosted Republican precinct meetings at his church and last year brought in a number of prominent conservative speakers, including former presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
A few weeks ago, Harris met with GOP consultant Tom Perdue of Atlanta, onetime chief strategist for former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, now the state’s Republican chairman. Among the many GOP candidates Perdue has helped were former U.S. Sens. Paul Coverdell of Georgia and Bill Frist of Tennessee.