"We will not allow the clock to be turned back on our democracy, for our hard-fought gains to vanish, or for our children to have less democracy, less rights, less environmental justice than we do today."
Bishop William J. Barber II, Repairers of the Breach, and the North Carolina Poor People's Campaign joined advocates, impacted people, and interfaith clergy members this week for a letter demanding state lawmakers "cease and desist" from attacks on the poor.
"In honor of all those who have given their lives to secure and protect the sacred right to vote, we are delivering a moral indictment of your cynical priorities and immoral policies," the coalition wrote to the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly just after the 58th anniversary of the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"Instead of addressing the crises of poverty and low wages, lack of healthcare, underfunded public education, voter suppression, and environmental collapse," says the coalition's open letter to North Carolina legislators, "you have chosen to use 'culture wars' that engender hate to camouflage and distract from your true agenda."
"Your deceptive and deadly attacks aimed against Black and civil rights history, women, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, students, teachers, and everyday North Carolinians, while ensuring more access to guns promotes a devastating agenda that hurts all of us," the coalition continued. "And you are doing this at a time when poverty is the fourth leading cause of death in this nation, more than gun violence, obesity, homicide, and diabetes, in the richest nation in the world."
"The lack of willingness from state officials to create a democracy where its constituents have an equal and fair opportunity to vote, access to universal healthcare, educational opportunities, justice and public safety, is morally and constitutionally offensive and a sign of your fear of the people."
Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has worked to block some policies of far-right lawmakers, but Republicans have had veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate since April, when Rep. Tricia Cotham—elected by the voters of District 112 as a Democrat—joined the GOP, enabling further attacks on election rules, LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive freedom, public education, and more.
Meanwhile, as the new letter notes, in North Carolina, over 4 million residents are poor or low-income, nearly 2 million earn under $15 an hour, more than 1 million lack health insurance, and average household debt rose 6% last year to an average of $56,590.
Five weeks after the start of the new fiscal year, the letter calls out North Carolina lawmakers for not providing pay raises for teachers and public employees and declining to fund expanded healthcare coverage while plotting to dump millions of dollars into private school vouchers and engaging in "failed and flawed trickle-down economics in the state, giving millions in dollars to the wealthy and corporations."
The letter cites portions of the state constitution and features specific demands for policies on voting rights, living wages, the right to form and join a union, gun control, healthcare, criminal justice, public schools, environmental justice, and LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities.
"At a time when ending poverty is within our grasp, we cannot and will not continue to allow the elected leaders of this state to blatantly ignore the rights of the people who put them in office," the coalition declared. "We will not allow the clock to be turned back on our democracy, for our hard-fought gains to vanish, or for our children to have less democracy, less rights, less environmental justice than we do today."
"The lack of willingness from state officials to create a democracy where its constituents have an equal and fair opportunity to vote, access to universal healthcare, educational opportunities, justice and public safety, is morally and constitutionally offensive and a sign of your fear of the people," the letter adds. "Our call today will be a part of ushering in a new era in North Carolina of revived leadership and moral vision guided by our greatest ethical and constitutional teachings. We believe, together, that this generation can finally realize the promise of a Third Reconstruction and equal protection under the law for all North Carolinians."
A statement announcing the letter points out that it "comes just months after Bishop Barber, faith communities, low-wage workers, and advocacy groups were blocked by metal barricades from entering the North Carolina Statehouse to mark the 10th anniversary and recommitment of the Moral Monday movement and to deliver a warning to North Carolina's newly minted supermajority that it must use its newfound power to uplift the people of the state."
Reflecting on a decade of the Moral Monday movement around that anniversary in April, Barber told Durham-based Indy Week that "even when the extremists led the General Assembly, we proved that you don't have to just sit down and take it, that you can continue to stand and to struggle and cry and fight together."
"On the 10th anniversary, we are not just having an anniversary; we are having a recommitment," he added. "Because even with all that has been done, North Carolina still has over 4 million people who are poor and low-wealth. North Carolina still is not paying people a living wage of at least $15 an hour. So we still have work to do."