By Ben C.
Raleigh, N.C. — It came on the heels of a powerful sit-in at the office of North Carolina’s Speaker of the House Thom Tillis on May 27, during which 11 fast food workers and four clerics were arrested after nearly 12 hours of sitting in at the speaker’s office. This time the Moral Monday movement rallied nearly 1,000 people at the North Carolina Legislature — called the General Assembly — on June 2 around the theme of environmental and health justice.
On the Sunday night before the rally, both houses of the legislature unexpectedly announced that they would be out of session on Monday — a clear move to avoid the growing resistance of the people of North Carolina, expressed through the Moral Monday movement.
Speakers at the rally addressed a broad range of topics: the long history of illegal dumping of waste on communities of color across the state; a bill to open the state to hydraulic fracking that was racing through the North Carolina General Assembly; the state’s coverup of numerous violations of environmental regulations by Duke Energy and other corporations, including Duke’s recent spill of tons of toxic coal ash, and the denial of Medicaid by the far-right cabal that has taken power in the state.
“These legislators are setting us up for a perfect storm of disasters while they simultaneously knock down our protections,” said John Wagner of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network in a release issued by the state NAACP. “Our legislators weakened local landfill laws and regulations last year, right before they planned to flood our communities with toxic fracking landfills. We are facing terribly hard times imposed by cruel and blatantly immoral legislation, but together — and it has to be together — we have to fight.”
As the rally convened on Halifax Mall behind the State Legislative Building, a group of 11 began a sit-in at Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, just blocks away. They attempted to deliver a letter to the governor outlining demands around environmental and health justice and declared their intent to wait outside his office until they had the opportunity to speak with him directly.
The 11, along with other activists from a variety of organizations, entered the building just before it closed at 5 p.m. When police announced the building was closed, the 11 remained. Two hours later, they were arrested, issued citations for trespassing and then released.
Right wing inflicts more pain on workers
Since the General Assembly reconvened in mid-May for its short legislative session, its members have wasted no time inflicting even more pain on workers in North Carolina.
Last session, they passed a number of laws that robbed workers to line the pockets of the 1%. These included severe cuts in unemployment insurance, elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit, repeal of the estate tax that applied only to the wealthiest few families in the state, lowering of the corporate tax rate, so-called “tax reform” that raised taxes for workers and lowered them for the 1%, denial of Medicaid expansion, and deep budget cuts to public services, to name just a few.
This year, the state Senate approved another disastrous budget. Public workers in the state have not received a substantial raise in more than six years. Teachers and other public workers have been organizing and calling for a raise, highlighting the low pay here in comparison to other states. North Carolina teachers’ salaries rank 46th in the country.
The budget approved by the Senate offers teachers a raise of roughly $6,000. However, in order to get this raise, teachers would have to give up what is known as tenure rights or career status — the very minimal due process rights they currently have. This means they could be fired or have other disciplinary action taken against them with no recourse.
But that’s not all. In order to pay for the raises, the Senate’s budget would fire 7,400 teaching assistants, along with 70 school nurses, in the K-12 system across the state, exempting only teaching assistants in kindergarten and first grade classes. This is after years of budget cuts to the K-12 system. The North Carolina Association of Educators and a rank-and-file teachers’ caucus called Organize 2020 are preparing to do battle over the proposal.
It would also kick several thousand elderly and people with disabilities off Medicaid, leaving them without health insurance. Additionally, the initial draft of the Senate budget also included a proposal to close Elizabeth City State University, one of five “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” in the state that are part of the University of North Carolina system. This proposal was dropped after opposition from ECSU and student groups, along with the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.
The General Assembly also rammed through a bill that would open the state to energy corporations for hydraulic fracking in the fall. The bill, passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. McCrory, also handed over nearly $2 million in state funds to corporations to pay for exploratory wells.
Groundswell of resistance to continue
The continuing attack by the right wing — spearheaded by House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger, Gov. Pat McCrory and the right-wing multimillionaire Art Pope — has continued to face significant opposition from the Moral Monday movement and a number of other organizations and coalitions across the state.
At the Moral Monday on June 2, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the state NAACP, issued a call for a campaign of sit-ins, drawing inspiration from the days of the Civil Rights movement.
The coming weeks will tell how this call is taken up. One thing is for certain: the racist, right-wing attacks from the legislature have awakened a resistance that is continuing to deepen across the state. People here are determined to carry the struggle forward for as long as it takes to defeat the attacks on working people in North Carolina.