RALEIGH, N.C. – Nearly 5,000 protesters at a “Moral Monday” rally here, July 1, roared disapproval of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s decision to terminate federal jobless benefits for 70,000 unemployed workers in the Tarheel State that same morning.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, main sponsor of the protests, accused McCrory of a “baldfaced lie” in claiming that accepting federal funds to extend unemployment compensation would cost the state.
“Zero is the amount of dollars it would have cost this state,” Barber thundered. “Seventy thousand unemployed workers lost their benefits at 12:01 this morning. Now they have to worry how they are going to pay for their medicine, pay for food, pay the rent.”
An additional 100,000 jobless workers in the state will lose their unemployment benefits in the coming months even though North Carolina ranks 5th in the nation in unemployment, he said.
Added Barber, “The hurt you are doing to unemployed people is wrong. The hurt you are doing to voters is wrong!” The crowd roared back, “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!”
The rooftop porch of the nearby General Assembly building was packed with legislators and their aides listening to the rally speakers on a day of intermittent rain and flash-flood warnings. As the rally began, the sun burst through.
Barber also blasted McCrory for rejecting Medicaid funding under Obamacare, stripping 500,000 low-income people in North Carolina of their only health coverage.
Barber recalled that Republican leaders described the Voting Rights Act as a “headache” even as they pushed through voter ID requirements that civil rights advocates term “a poll tax by another name.”
Barber listed the martyrs who died to win the right to vote, from Medgar Evers to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Too much blood has been lost, too many tears,” he said. “If you think you have a headache now, just try to take away our voting rights. We’re going to fight them because they are wrong. We’re going to register everybody, get them to the polls like never before.”
The crowd chanted, “Not one step back.”
Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth El in Charlotte reminded the crowd that 600,000 poor children in North Carolina will be hurt by the cutbacks. She hailed the movement of many religious faiths, of all races and genders that is fighting back.
Javan Richardson, a 9th grader from Rocky Mount, recited lines from the Gospel according to Matthew: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in ….” The crowd cheered.
Yara Allen, a leader of the Rocky Mount NAACP, pointed at the General Assembly building. “If there is no justice in our house, there should be no peace in that house over there,” she said. “We will take this to the polls in the next election.”
Later, Allen told the People’s World “I’ve been coming to these rallies since they began and it has just grown bigger each week. We’ve been out in the rain, when tornadoes were forecast. Today they predicted flash floods. Nothing will stop us. We’re here to stay.”
She added, “We have become a family over the weeks. We are united across party lines, racial lines, religious lines. We are not going to be diverted by their divide-and-conquer tactics.”
There were union members in their caps and jackets with placards upholding union organizing rights – Communications Workers of America (CWA), Service Employees (SEIU), Electrical Workers (UE). Many physicians, who wore their white hospital smocks with stethoscopes around their necks, denounced cutbacks in Medicaid. Teachers in the crowd held signs protesting the drive to privatize public schools in the state. And many in the crowd were campaigning against “fracking” and demanding safe energy and clean air and water.
Harvey Smith told the People’s World he has been unable to find steady work since he moved to North Carolina 23 years ago. He and his wife survive on his unemployment compensation. “After that runs out, I’ll have to take early retirement and live on Social Security,” he said.
The governor also cut the maximum of those still receiving benefits from $535 per week to $350 a week. He slashed the amount workers are allowed to earn on part-time jobs from $156 per week to $70 per week. He reduced the duration of benefits from 26 weeks to as little as 12 weeks.
Smith pointed out that North Carolina’s budget director is the notorious Art Pope, owner of hundreds of variety stores in the region, a billionaire who also serves on the board of directors of Koch Industries. McCrory and Pope inflict maximum suffering on the poor while showering giveaways on their wealthy cronies, Smith charged.
Duke University historian Dr. Timothy Tyson scorned Republicans who think the people’s movement is a “sinking ship.” Said Tyson, “They are wrong. The ship that is sinking is the creaky old ship of white supremacy.” The new ship of multiracial unity “is bound for glory. Get on board,” he said. “There’s room for many a more.”
Photo: Thousands at this week’s “Moral Monday” yell their outrage at Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, July 1, Raleigh, N.C. Tim Wheeler/PW