A Tale of Three Marches and Two Durhams

17 Feb

Jesús "Chuy" Huerta

Jesús “Chuy” Huerta

Anonymous | February 17, 2014

The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous. 

On November 19th, 17-year-old Chuy Huerta died while in police custody under circumstances unbelievable and unacceptable. After his family called the police concerned for his safety, he ended up shot in the front of his head while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. The Durham Police Department used the press to ask for understanding and forgiveness while they extended none to this child or to his family that night or after. Hundreds of people in Durham took to the streets not once but three times to support the Huerta family and to protest against the Durham Police Department; some demonstrators opposed not just its conduct, but its very existence.    Continue reading

The racial politics of Bob Rucho and the far right

20 Dec

Bob Rucho's tweet

When I read North Carolina Republican state Sen. Bob Rucho’s recent tweet, I immediately thought of Tim Wise’s most recent book, Dear White America. Wise writes about far-right media personalities such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who have tirelessly compared Obama to Hitler and his policies to those of the Nazis. Limbaugh has compared the Obamacare logo to the Nazi swastika and claimed that Obama rules “by dictate,” just like Hitler. Beck has asserted that the Obama administration’s advocacy for community service and volunteer organizations will result in groups like the Nazi SS or Hitler Youth.

Do Limbaugh and Beck even believe these claims? It doesn’t matter. But their point is to stoke white racial fears that are, and have been for quite some time, essential for sustaining far-right political power. Hitler, a “racial fascist” (Wise’s term) was set on destroying one ethnic group. By associating Obama with Hitler in the minds of white America, these right wing champions make white Americans wonder, “Which race will [Obama] be coming for? Should we be scared?” The same commentators have called Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Attorney General Eric Holder racist against whites.

Prominent conservative politicians are doing the same thing.  Sarah Palin’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) “death panels” evoked the Nazi’s Aktion T4 extermination program. Sen. Ted Cruz said in September that he could not give up his fight against Obamacare, like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had done in his appeasement strategy with Hitler. (Chamberlain later declared war on Germany.) Sen. John McCain echoed Cruz’s rant by recently likening Obama’s handshake with Raoul Castro to Chamberlain’s handshake with Hitler. Main Gov. Paul LePage said, “You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo – the IRS.”

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the absurdity and the insult of the Rucho’s assertion that the mastermind of the Holocaust and the Russian dictator who killed tens of millions of people, plus “terrorism” (in general, I guess?) have done less combined harm to the U.S. than the ACA. (The ACA, which has yet to be fully enacted, seeks to insure millions more Americans, lower health care costs, abolish discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and expand preventative care.) Let’s put aside that I’m Jewish, I have relatives who died in the Holocaust, and I’m going to save a lot of money on, for the first time, affordable health coverage because of the ACA.

These Obama-Hitler comparisons are not (only) some right-wing lunatics mouthing off. They’re politically calculated falsehoods to gin up fear against a black president and his policies, and by extension, Democratic politicians in general. Rucho’s tweet might seem like a cranky, horribly misinformed overshare at 7:41 AM on a Sunday morning, but it’s part of a long-standing ultra-conservative strategy. The ACA is the law of the land, set to fully premiere in two weeks, but there’s another election in 10 months.

Variety Wholesalers: first in customer disservice

13 Dec

Photo by Alex Kotch

Alex Kotch | December 13, 2013

On a cold, rainy afternoon, people stood at a street corner in Durham holding signs that read “Art Pope: Job Poverty Creator,” “Art Pope: using your money to keep people poor,” and “Save our safety net.” Sometimes they sang, “Hey hey, ho ho, Art Pope has got to go!” The sign holders were roughly 25 activists who took to Fayetteville Road for an “informational picket” regarding the discount stores of Art Pope, North Carolina’s biggest political donor, CEO of Variety Wholesalers, and state budget director. In a picket campaign that has spanned six cities so far, protestors seek to inform the public about Pope’s political practices. These practices, which hurt the poor, including many of his stores’ shoppers and employees, are funded with money earned from Pope’s large network of discount chains such as Roses and Maxway. Pope inherited Variety Wholesalers from his father, John W. Pope. The privately held corporation manages over 440 locations, which are situated in areas with a “minimum 25% African-American population within 5 miles” and a “median household income of $40,000 or less.” 44% of the stores’ employees might be black, according to Pope in a letter to Rev. Dr. William Barber, state NAACP president, but what kind of jobs are they offering? This Facebook post from one Roses employee indicates a $7.25/hour starting salary (national minimum wage) and awful treatment by the management. According to Democracy NC, many workers at these stores fail to earn a living wage, have meager benefits, and are thus forced to depend on government assistance to get by.

In a letter to Pope, Rev. Barber cites the budget director’s support for the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, huge cuts to unemployment insurance, and the voter-suppressing elections bill signed into law this year. Rev. Barber asks Pope to support a special “Redemption Session” of the North Carolina General Assembly “to reverse laws that will harm the most vulnerable in our state – the poor, low wage workers, people of color, and women.” But Pope won’t heed this call. His family has funneled its money into the John William Pope Foundation, of which Art Pope is president. The foundation sends nearly 70 percent of its funds to conservative advocacy groups and think tanks, supplying almost the entire budget of the Civitas Institute. Variety Wholesalers itself has given millions to conservative political causes in the state. Continue reading

In North Carolina, a hard-right shift hits a roadblock

30 Nov
In North Carolina, a hard-right shift hits a roadblock

A crowd of thousands cheer in support during a speech by Rev Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP in Asheville, NC’s Pack Square Park during Mountain Moral Monday on Aug 5, 2013. PHOTO BY MIKE BELLEME FOR MSNBC

Zachary Roth | MSNBC | November 29, 2013

During an appearance at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C, a key center of power for the conservative movement, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory portrayed himself as a business-minded policy wonk, earnestly extolling the benefits of infrastructure development and government-efficiency measures. He might as well have been describing someone else.

For the last year, McCrory has engineered a hard-right shift in North Carolina that has crippled millions in his state. His 2012 election gave Republicans control of all three branches of the state’s government for the first time since Reconstruction and they took advantage of it. In 2013 alone, North Carolina has said no to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, approved a tax plan that redistributes wealth from poor to rich, cut education by half a billion dollars, instituted perhaps the toughest voting restrictions in the country, weakened campaign-finance laws, and passed its own version of Texas’ controversial abortion measure.

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via In North Carolina, a hard-right shift hits a roadblock.

A classical devotee at it again

12 Nov

Last week, a Duke graduate student in musicology penned an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution defending classical music (“Classical music is more than a historical relic”). We’ve seen this movie before; books such as Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value, by Julian Johnson, and Why Classical Music Still Matters (Lawrence Kramer) have come out in recent years. Because classical audiences continue to dwindle year after year, as does the funding, devotees feel the need to make their case for the music.

Inevitably, the argument boils down to an “us” versus “them” mentality. “It was sobering to realize how many more of them there are than of us,” thought Harrison Russin, the author of the recent op-ed, when he heard how many people had attended the Country Music Awards. It is this state of mind that has held classical music back, and its defenders can’t see that they’re getting nowhere by keeping it up. Russin acknowledges that classical is way outside the mainstream today. Hardly anyone can name a living American composer, he writes. “John Williams doesn’t count.”

As someone wisely wrote on my Facebook wall, “Perhaps [Russin’s] failure to appreciate how movie soundtracks are a way that young people and other plebeians have positive encounters with classical music is related to the dilemma he faces.”

But his crowning achievement is this elitist opinion (which, if it were even remotely accurate, is no substitute for an argument):

[Classical music] offers an emotional, harmonic and rhythmic range that no other music can match.

An article I come back to year after year is Richard Taruskin’s “The Musical Mystique” (2007), a review of three books that he turns into a diatribe against classical music defenders. I’ve found no better summation of the devotee problem than this paragraph:

The discourse supporting classical music so reeks of historical blindness and sanctimonious self-regard as to render the object of its ministrations practically indefensible. Belief in its indispensability, or in its cultural superiority, is by now unrecoverable, and those who mount such arguments on its behalf morally indict themselves. Which is not to say that classical music, or any music, is morally reprehensible. Only people, not music, can be that. What is reprehensible is to see its cause as right against some wrong. What is destroying the credibility of classical music is an unacknowledged or misperceived collision of rights. The only defense classical music needs, and the only one that has any hope of succeeding, is the defense of classical music (in the words of T.W. Adorno, a premier offender) against its devotees.

Don Yelton’s Greatest Hits: The Facebook Chronicles

28 Oct
Don Yelton on Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

Don Yelton on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

Alex Kotch | Vocativ | October 28, 2013

You thought he was racist on The Daily Show? Get a load of this…

We all met the charming Don Yelton last week, but it turns out we hadn’t seen the half of it.

Yelton resigned abruptly as Republican precinct chair for North Carolina’s Buncombe County (home to chic Asheville) after making racist comments on The Daily Show about the state’s controversial new elections law. He derided “lazy black people that want the government to give them everything.” He also said the restrictive new voting law will “kick the Democrats in the butt.”

And even after resigning in supposed disgrace, Yelton stood by his Daily Show comments, adding that he’d made more remarks in the interview (edited out) that might have portrayed him as even more of a racist. He complains, “When a n***** can use the word n***** and it not be considered racist, that’s the utmost racism in the world, and it’s hypocrisy.”

We are talking here about a guy who once posted a picture of Obama as a witch doctor on Facebook.

Take a dive now into the mind and worldview of Don Yelton, via his thoughtfully curated Facebook page. Our friends at The Daily Show were just scratching the surface of his robust philosophies:

Continue reading

NC NAACP Releases Open Letter to Governor McCrory Calling for a Redemptive Legislative Session to Repeal Harmful Cuts

23 Oct



23 October 2013

For More Information: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President, 919-394-8137

Atty. Jamie Phillips Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 828-713-3864

For Media Assistance:  Laurel Ashton, Field Secretary, 828-713-3864

DURHAM – Just a few weeks after extremist ideologues swore on the General Assembly Bible to defend the Constitutions of North Carolina and the United States, they passed two bills that spit in the face of poor and working families across the state regardless of color, party, or geography. Gov. McCrory signed both bills into law.

The first bill rejected available federal Medicaid money that provided health insurance to more than 500,000 poor families. An estimated 2,800 people will die prematurely as a result of this decision. Almost one-fourth of working North Carolinians earn less than poverty wages for a family of four. More than one-fourth of North Carolina’s children live in poverty. One out of three children of color live in poverty! The Medicaid insurance money will be cut off abruptly on New Year’s Eve as the clock strikes midnight.

The second bill also rejected available federal funds for extending unemployment insurance to North Carolina families who were hit by the recession. Like the Medicaid insurance rejection, 100,000 families will lose their unemployment insurance on the morning of January 1, 2014.

Gov. McCrory supported and approved the ideologues’ regressive and mean-spirited bills. He apparently agrees that it is the poor and jobless people of North Carolina who are the problem. He and his ideological partners in the legislature, including Speaker Thom Tillis, President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, and Budget Director Art Pope, not only rejected available federal funds–they rejected the two basic tenets of all major religions and our constitution to love our neighbors and to create societies based on justice.

As we stand upon a precipice of a great human disaster and approach the season of redemption, the Forward Together Moral Movement calls upon Gov. McCrory to reconvene the legislature to rescind these draconian laws.

Faith leaders at the NC NAACP Convention on 12 October 2013 wrote a letter to Gov. McCrory that will be circulated online at naacpnc.org and through the Moral Monday/Forward Together Movement network. After gathering as many signatures as possible, the Movement will deliver the letter to Gov. McCrory on 27 November 2013, the first day of Hanukkah. The letter, included below, requests Gov. McCrory to convene a Special Redemption Session and rescind the two anti-family, anti-children, anti-poor people policies that were driven through in the early weeks of 2013. We call on this because while we dislike these policies, we love our elected leaders and the people of this state and we believe always in the possibility of repentance, redemption, and renewal. This type of session could renew many people’s hope in the possibility of a government that works for the good of the whole.

On Moral Monday, December 23, the Forward Together Moral Movement will hold a Service of Redemption in Raleigh to, we hope, celebrate Gov. McCrory’s successful Special Redemption Session, and the General Assembly’s grace and wisdom in rescinding the two inhumane laws. The Moral Monday Service will become a service of Redemptive Witnessing modeled after previous Moral Mondays, if Gov. McCrory and his ideological colleagues insist on maintaining their course of destruction. We will not stand silent, while our neighbors and families are excluded from the touch of human love and kindness by the rigidity of a band of ideologues. We will witness against these policies which go directly against our deepest constitutional values and our deepest moral values. The Forward Together Moral Movement will not allow hundreds of thousands of our neighbors in North Carolina to be crucified without a moral witness.

The Open Letter to Gov. Pat McCrory is Below:

Open Letter to Governor McCrory by North Carolinians of Good Will

Dear Governor McCrory:

We, the undersigned concerned clergy and people of good will in North Carolina, have seen the devastating impacts of the immoral policies of our state legislature, supported and approved by you.  We write to remind you that the measure of a society is its treatment of the least among us — the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the incarcerated.

Our state’s policies and practices are being weighed on the scales of justice.  They, and all of us who stand on the sidelines and watch them go into effect without raising our voices, are judged on the criteria established in our faith traditions and the principles in our documents which first constituted our nation and state.  No matter which measure of human decency is used, our moral profile is a scandal.  We ask you to focus on two of the most arrogant and hurtful policies you supported and approved.

Your denial of Medicaid insurance to some 500,000 of our neighbors will cause many to be without health care. The denial of health care is not because of their inability to pay or their lack of concern for their health.  Rather it is caused by their own government!  When this ideological policy goes into effect, it will result, according to some estimates, in 2,000 of our  North Carolina neighbors each year dying untimely, otherwise preventable, deaths.  We therefore implore you to accept the federal funds available for medical insurance for our half million neighbors which you rejected for ideological reasons at the beginning of your term..

Meaningful employment and a living wage are necessary for human dignity.  We believe everyone able to work, should work.  We must acknowledge we are in financially difficult circumstances.  Thousands of our neighbors are still struggling to find work.  North Carolina has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation. We therefore implore you to accept the federal funds available for unemployment insurance for our 170,000 neighbors which you rejected for ideological reasons earlier this year.

You have the power to address these two inhumane policies.  In less than 70 days their full fury will be felt by our neighbors, as they both go into effect on January 1, 2014.  We respectfully request that you call a Special Redemption Session of the Legislature, and use your powers to guide them out of the ideological and moral dead-ends of these dumb inhumane policies.  We would be pleased to celebrate with you, on the Moral Monday that falls on December 23, 2013, when you lead the state away from these acts of moral irresponsibility.

We shall hold a Moral Monday Service of Redemption. The many faith and ethical traditions our Moral Monday movement represent all have special days we celebrate during this season.

You have said that as you govern you are “not afraid to step on toes.” As you step on toes, we pray you will not step on God’s toes.  We pray you have the grace and wisdom to accept the federal funds for the medicaid and unemployment insurance for those who are eligible.  We pray you will heed God’s call.  We pray you will listen to all faiths and ethical commands.  We pray you will uphold our constitution.

In the spirit of our Holy Scriptures and the Constitution,

Rev. Dr. Rodney Sadler            Rev. Dr. William Turner

Elder Carrie Bolton,                   Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

The Initiators of this Letter

The Letter was first crafted by four clergy who were arrested during Moral Mondays last Spring.  They are the Initiators of this Letter.  They brought the letter to the NC NAACP 70th Annual State Convention, where it was unanimously endorsed by over 600 delegates and friends.  We warmly invite all North Carolinians who agree with its two requests to sign below.  We also invite you to participate in our Moral Monday Service of Redemption at the State Capitol in Raleigh on Monday, December 23, 2013.

The NC NAACP will deliver the letter to Gov. McCrory during the Hanukka and Thanksgiving season.


Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. The NC Conference of NAACP Branches is 70 years old this year and is made up of over 100 Adult, Youth and College NAACP units across the state, convenes the more the 150 members of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) Peoples Assembly Coalition, and is the architect of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement. 

Frustration over shutdown in Rep. Mark Meadows’ conservative N.C. district

20 Oct

Mike Tate (66) of Hendersonville, N.C. (Photo by Adam Jennings for The Washington Post)

Greg Jaffe | Washington Post | October 19, 2013

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — The shutdown may have changed little about politics in Washington, but here in the home town of one of its biggest champions, it had a measurable impact. And not in a good way.

The area encompassing the district of Rep. Mark Meadows lost as much as $1 million per day during the more-than-two-week stretch when the national parks were closed, according to one estimate, suspending the foliage tourism industry that usually props up the local economy this time of year.

Some residents blame Meadows, a Republican elected in 2012, for writing the original letter that suggested party leaders could kill President Obama’s signature health-care law by hobbling the federal government. More than 79 Republicans signed on to the Meadows missive in August, and by the time the shutdown began in October, Meadows had been labeled a chief architect of the strategy.

Yet on the day the shutdown ended, residents here seemed most disgusted by Washington writ large. “I think all those people in Congress are idiots,” Mike Tate, a 66-year-old retiree who voted for Meadows, said as he ate breakfast at a small coffee shop. “I feel they ought to be replaced.”

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Inside Moral Mondays

13 Oct
Ivanna Gonzalez speaking at a press conference/info session before the protest on May 20. Photo by Alex Kotch.

Ivanna Gonzalez speaking at a press conference/info session before the protest on May 20. Photo by Alex Kotch.

Alex Kotch | The Brooklyn Rail | October 3, 2013

I am here as a student to stand by the liberal arts education that made me who I am today. As a woman, I am here to declare that this body is mine. As an immigrant, I am here to remind everybody that at some point our families were from somewhere else. And as a human being, I am here because I know that the attacks on my gay friends, on the people that I love in immigrant detention centers, on the housekeepers on UNC’s campus are all interconnected.

These powerful words came from 22-year-old Ivanna Gonzalez before the doors to the North Carolina Senate chamber, inside the General Assembly rotunda. That day, May 20, was the fourth “Moral Monday” demonstration, when 57 people were arrested for failure to disperse while protesting the ultra-conservative policies of the GOP-controlled state government. Republicans rule the State House, Senate, and Governor’s Office for the first time since Reconstruction, and their flurry of laws threatening the poor, the working class, women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, and students has sparked the biggest protest movement the state has seen in decades.
The North Carolina NAACP initiated the Forward Together Movement on April 29 with 17 arrests and a modest crowd of supporters. Since then, 17 additional Moral Mondays have occurred; nearly 1,000 protestors have been arrested in civil disobedience, and some have estimated crowds at multiple events topping 10,000. Launched in Raleigh, the movement has branched out, with a giant demonstration in the mountain city of Asheville and protests in Charlotte, Burnsville, Manteo, and Rockingham County. August 28, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, saw 13 simultaneous protests across the state.

Reverend Dr. William Barber II, president of the state NAACP, has fused progressive, liberal, and moderate groups into a diverse coalition against the regressive politics of North Carolina’s conservatives. Forward Together questions the morality of politicians who have slashed unemployment compensation for 170,000 people, raised taxes on the poor and middle class while cutting them for the wealthy and for large corporations, rejected the federal Medicaid expansion for half a million residents, passed harsh anti-abortion legislation, severely cut education funds, and passed what many call the nation’s strictest voter suppression law.

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Without Medicaid expansion, no insurance for 500,000 in N.C.

13 Oct

Dee Baginski, 54, watches television Friday as she eats at Durham’s Urban Ministries. Baginski lives in the shelter while she appeals a disability benefits denial. In North Carolina the “poorest of the poor” are not eligible for subsidies on the new online health insurance marketplace. And current Medicaid eligibility excludes them from coverage, too. CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

John Murawski and Karen Garloch | Raleigh News & Observer | October 12, 2013

The last time Dee Baginski worked was 2-1/2 years ago as a manager for Walmart. Then a car wreck and cancer diagnosis slammed the door on “a whole life in retail management.”

Now, at age 54 and two surgeries later, Baginski finds herself at an Urban Ministries homeless shelter in Durham – uninsured and applying for disability. Her former $28,000-a-year job today seems like an unattainable dream.

While Baginski’s reversal of fortune is beyond anyone’s control, the fate of her health care rests in the hands of North Carolina politicians. She is among a half-million state residents who would have been eligible for Medicaid in January had officials here opted to expand that government program for the poor and disabled.

Since North Carolina, like 25 other states, rejected Medicaid expansion earlier this year, many of the state’s poorest residents will go without insurance despite the national health insurance law that was intended to slash the number of uninsured Americans.

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