The Common Good

Moral Mondays: A Cry for the Old North State

It’s true that by some standards I am not North Carolinian, nor or am I Southern. I was not born there — I have no extended family there. I don’t speak with a drawl. And I don’t (gasp!) like sweet tea or Cheerwine.

When I moved to central North Carolina at age nine, I did not consider the Old North State my home. But after 14 birthdays, nine years in the public education system, four years at UNC-Chapel Hill, countless pounds of barbecue, numerous trips to the Appalachians and the Outer Banks, and many lifetime milestones — including voting for the first time! — passed in that beautiful state, it is now the closest thing to home I know.

And since home is where the heart is, living in DC for the past year has been difficult for me in many ways. Since January, the difficulty has only increased.

My millennial idealism often blinds me to the hard realities of budgets and debts and taxes, but it does not blind me to obvious politics, bipartisanship, or tightfistedness. It certainly doesn’t blind me to the shortsighted, regressive policymaking that is tearing through my home state’s legislative and executive branches with the force, strength, and destruction of a forest fire.

New York Times editorial, appropriately titled “The Decline of North Carolina,” has gone viral this week. It outlines many of the policy rollbacks that have been enacted since Republicans took control of the both the legislative and executive branches in over a century. Lest I unwittingly set up false dichotomies between the two political parties, let me emphasize that Republican does not equal heartless and Democrat does not equal compassionate. Both parties need frequent reminders that their policies affect actual people.

And the policy that is being enacted in North Carolina right now is going to affect hundreds of thousands of actual people. Children across the state will be negatively impacted as the education budget is cut yet again, even though North Carolina education spending already ranks at 46th in the nation. Some children will get hit with a double whammy when their parents lose federal emergency unemployment benefits after state employment benefits were slashed, making North Carolina ineligible for EUC aid.  Between 70,000 and 170,000 North Carolinians will have their unemployment benefits either lost or severely trimmed.  Also gone is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which was designed to help low-income working families, despite 907,000 North Carolinians qualifying for the credit in 2011. Not even the most dedicated of public servants — school teachers — salaries’ are exempt from trimming, even when the NC average teacher salary ranks at 46th in the nation. Troublingly, Racial Justice Act of 2009 was also repealed this June. It was the first bill of its kind in the country, and it allowed death row inmates a chance to challenge their sentences if there was evidence they were given under the influence of intense racial discrimination.

This list doesn’t even begin to cover the bills that will affect the environment, early childhood education, Medicaid, housing, voter rights, income taxes, and more. And all of this only took six months. Public Policy Polling now reports the North Carolina General Assembly only has a 20 percent approval rating.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”

Then there’s Samuel Johnson who said, “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”

By either standard, North Carolina is failing.

These changes are disheartening at best, infuriating at worst. I want to join the thousands of protestors at Moral Mondays. I want to pound my fists on the legislative building doors. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I want to be arrested and join the hundreds who have passed through North Carolina jails over the past three months for protesting peacefully. But mostly, I just want to cry for my home state and weep for its citizens.

Fellow North Carolinians: The General Assembly is still in session. And Moral Mondays are still going on. You may not know everything there is to know about politics or budgets or government. Neither do I. Neither do the thousands who are lending their voice in protest every Monday. And neither do the politicians running our state. If you feel even an ounce of disapproval over the process, now is your time to speak up.

And for the rest of the country, do you know what your state government is doing these days? Now might be a good time to check in.

Jenny Smith is Executive Assistant for Sojourners.

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