RALEIGH, NC (NEWS RELEASE) – With a symbolic act of civil disobedience on Tuesday, May 24, 2011, the North Carolina NAACP State Conference and a coalition of faith, civic and other organizations stepped up a mounting campaign to challenge “extreme right-wing policies” throughout the state. Reverend Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference, and several faith and community-based leaders were arrested after a session of the North Carolina House during which they gathered to protest sweeping budget cuts to education and social services.
“These types of cuts only serve to hurt the middle class and the poor and will not make our nation better,” remarked NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “The courage of Reverend Dr. Barber and the other leaders who were arrested shows the unyielding resolve that we must all exhibit to protect America’s promise for hard working North Carolina families.”
During Tuesday’s legislative session, Rev. Barber and a multiracial group of six other faith and civil rights leaders were handcuffed and arrested in the gallery of the North Carolina General Assembly after vocalizing their disapproval of a spending plan that would drastically cut critical funding to education and social services.
“What doth the Lord require?” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber asked the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Tom Tillis, last Tuesday. Tillis answered by ordering the arrest of N.C. NAACP President Barber and six other NAACP and the HKonJ Emergency Coalition. Tillis ordered the small General Assembly Security Force to arrest Rev. Barber, Rev. Curtis Gatewood, Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, Rev. Kojo Nantambu, Rob Stephens, Tim Hodges, and David LaMotte from the N.C. Council of Churches.
Tillis had, apparently, made a decision to close House debate before 4pm which was the same time the well-publicized Emergency Call to Action rally set to start a few yards from the House Gallery. Despite the arrest, scores of NAACP and other activists still led the 350-person rally in a spirited speak-out against the extremists’ massive budget cuts to public schools, human services, 45,000 workers’ unemployment benefits, and direct attacks on the voting rights of people of color, students and older people.
“North Carolina is in a state of emergency,” stated Barber. “The civil, education, economic, and voting rights of North Carolina citizens are under a frontal attack by ultra-extreme, right-wing elements who want to return our state to the dark days of division, segregation and economic despair.”
The leaders were released Wednesday morning and vowed to continue to advocate for smart policies and budgets that will protect the rights of all North Carolinians.
“Our state can do better than the direction we are headed,” added Barber. “The State of North Carolina has come too far to take a step back. The North Carolina NAACP and members of the HKonJ coalition will continue to organize, educate and empower communities across the state to keep moving North Carolina forward.”
The HKonJ is a statewide coalition of labor, faith, civic and civil rights organizations. Last year, the coalition organized a demonstration of over 8,000 people to oppose attempts to resegregate the schools and march for job creation policies and equal protection under the law.
In addition to the budget cuts in education and human services, the North Carolina General Assembly is also considering a voter ID bill that would disenfranchise poor and minority voters, repealing same day registration, as well as holding up 45,000 unemployment benefits for eligible workers. In Wake County, the local board just rolled back support for a highly-touted socioeconomic-based student assignment program that prevented segregation in the district.
“The actions of the right wing-led legislature on Tuesday are emblematic of the attempts across the country to decimate the rights of average citizens and working people. From Florida to Wisconsin, Missouri to Arizona, we are seeing a coordinated attempt to turn the clock back on our nation’s progress. The NAACP will not sit idly by with so much at stake,” said Jealous.
The North Carolina NAACP and HKonJ plan to launch a 20 county tour across the state to ensure citizens are aware of the devastating effects the budget cuts will have on their lives and the lives of their children.