Folks who follow politics in North Carolina are aware that things are changing fast, and not in a good way for less affluent Tarheels. Last fall’s elections gave Republicans control of both houses with a veto-proof majority — not that it’s needed, because there’s also a Republican governor.
The boys (mostly boys) in red have been on a tear since taking office, wreaking havoc with years of social progress, eliminating programs designed to aid poor and rural citizens, slicing the budget for public education, and funneling money to vouchers for parents who send their kids to private schools.
They’ve spitefully rejected the offer of Medicaid expansion under federal health care reform, they’ve cut unemployment insurance payments, and they’re doing away with the earned income tax credit, all of which will make life more difficult for the poor. They’re pushing new Voter ID laws, making it more difficult for some poor and elderly residents (more likely to favor Democrats) to vote.
Meanwhile, they’re doing away with estate taxes (which affected only the rich) and are working on changes to implement a flat income tax rate while raising sales taxes and adding taxes to food, prescription drugs, and many services — a regressive policy that will shift more of the tax burden to poor and middle income citizens while allowing the wealthy to pay less in taxes and thus accumulate more wealth, giving additional impetus to the growing disparity between the rich and poor. (For more, see the North Carolina Council of Churches’ “Raleigh Report“).
Public policies and behaviors that help the rich get richer at the expense of the poor are among the major societal sins that prophets like Amos, Micah, and Isaiah of Jerusalem railed against. Jesus also emphasized the importance of helping the poor as opposed to maximizing one’s personal wealth (remember the “rich young ruler”?).
This rampage to the right, with no checks within the government to slow it down, has led to a growing series of protests called “Moral Mondays,” in which citizens rally outside the legislature building while some venture inside to voice their concerns, even at the risk of arrest. More than 300 peaceful demonstrators have been arrested so far, including 151 this past Monday.
One of those who submitted to arrest was a former student of mine, who wrote eloquently about his actions and experience on his blog. I was proud.
People from all walks of life have participated in the protests, which have been going on for five weeks and are expected to continue on Mondays as long as the legislature remains in session. That may not be long, because both houses have the votes to overrule dissent and are pressing their agenda quickly. The June 10 protests are slated to be led by clergy from around the state.
Gov. Pat McCrory, displeased with the negative attention drawn to his administration, has rebuked the protesters, calling them “unlawful” and a drain on public resources. In the end, those who protest North Carolina’s sad slide may get no more of a hearing than Israel’s prophets, but their courage of conviction is worthy of commendation, not critique.
And who knows — if they continue to shine enough light on the short-sighted actions of the “more power to the powerful” legislature, maybe the voices of those who care about a good future for all North Carolinians will actually be heard. Whether there is hope for the state’s current leaders to moderate their course remains to be seen, but there will be future elections, and voters (at least those who have proper ID) can stand up for change — without being arrested for speaking their minds.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.