BY CASH MICHAELS
OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
As far as the eye could see – from the NC Legislative Building on Jones Street, all the way down through the block-long plaza to the state Capital – an estimated 15,000 marchers, at least a third of which were high school and college students from across the state, joined the throngs for the Seventh Annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HK on J)– The People’s Assembly last Saturday.
But unlike previous years, members of the black, white, Latino, gay, labor and activists communities came with more of a mission than ever before, alarmed by the quick actions of the first Republican majority NC General Assembly in recent history to stop Medicaid expansion, cut unemployment benefits and do precious little to address the state’s historic poverty levels.
“It was by far the largest, most diverse, most well-organized People’s Assembly the NAACP has ever organized …,” said attorney Al McSurely, NCNAACP Communications chairman, who went on to call it, “…the largest civil and human rights rally on record ever in Raleigh.”
Led by HK on J convener, Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the NCNAACP, Saturday’s massive assembly forcefully addressed the key issues of economic sustainability and ending poverty; healthcare for all; voting rights, immigration; fairness in the criminal justice system, and educational equality, among others.
Joined by National NAACP Board Chairwoman Roslyn Brock, NAACP Board member Carolyn Coleman, and Wilmington Ten leader Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Rev. Barber blasted Republican lawmakers for voting to refuse federal money to expand Medicaid to over 500,000 more poor in the state (Gov. Pat McCrory has subsequently agreed with the Legislature); voting to firing all appointees to state boards, commissions, and even 12 special judges, in an effort to replace them all with Republicans; reducing unemployment benefits from $535.00 to $350.00 per week, in addition to shortening the payment period from 12-20 weeks and expanding the wait period for benefits to begin from one to two weeks; floating tax reform that would eliminate the state personal and corporate income tax in favor of raising the sales tax, which would severely burden the poor when buying food and other essentials; and pursue establishing a photo voter ID law, even though, by state Board of Elections estimates, at least 600,000 primarily Democratic voters in state do not have any form of official identification.
Barber also warned of Republican plans to make “right to work” part of the NC Constitution.
The NC NAACP president warned that even though the GOP has super majorities in both the state House and Senate, that will not stop the over 100 members organizations of the HK on J Coalition statewide from speaking out, and opposing what they see as regressive policies that could hurt the poor, perpetuate further economic injustice, and turn back the clock on civil rights.
“The just must live by faith, and know who we are,” Rev. Barber said, referring to why, no matter what critics and haters say to derail the movement, the diverse HK on J Coalition must stand strong together.
NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn Brock, noting that 2013 holds many 100th and 50th anniversaries of significant civil rights events like the 1963 March on Washington and hundredth birthday of the late civil right icon Rosa Parks. She also marked the Feb. 12th 104th anniversary of the birth of the national NAACP, saying that Black America must continue to lead the fight for equal and civil rights.
“HK on J,” Brock called out, “We are here, and we will not be silent!”
Ben Chavis, who once again thank former Gov. Beverly Perdue “for her act of courage” for granting pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten before she left office December 31st, said he was contemplating “coming home” to his native North Carolina from Florida, so that he could engage in the struggle here once again.
‘I’m glad to see this day coming back to North Carolina,” Dr. Chavis said, adding that the many young people there were “the future of the movement.”
“We need HK on J. We need freedom, justice and equality.”
Calling them “dinosaurs in the Legislature,” Chavis also remarked that regressive Republican lawmakers should be “cleaned out” and retired to the state museum across the street from the Legislature with the other “relics” there.