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An editorial in this morning’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record rightfully echoes many of the themes in Tuesday’s edition of the N.C. Policy Watch Weekly Briefing in its critique of new rules governing access to the state Legislative Building entitled “Protests muzzled.” As the N&R notes:

“Demonstrators took a practical precaution when they entered the legislative building Monday evening. They taped their mouths shut.

How else could they make sure they didn’t ‘act in a manner that will imminently disturb the General Assembly, one of its houses, or its committees, members, or staff in the performance of their duties,’ as prohibited by the new rules approved last week?

….the overly sensitive definition of disturbance and the reference to an ‘imminent’ disturbance leave too much to personal whim. Interpretation can be as strict as someone in authority wants it to be. When it comes to dealing with people who convey dissatisfaction with the authorities, the rules might be applied very strictly indeed.

These rules tell the public there will be little tolerance for verbal expression by visitors. They had better just remain silent from the time they enter until they leave — and the sooner they leave, the better….

Of course demonstrators should not be allowed to create a real disturbance in the legislative building. They should not make so much noise that committee meetings or floor sessions are disrupted. They should not block anyone’s way.

That kind of real trouble occurred rarely, if at all, last year. But it bothered lawmakers just the same to have people come into their building and protest their policies.

Except, of course, it’s not their building. It belongs to the people, who have a right to express themselves about policies that affect them. When they come in, they shouldn’t have to tape their mouths — not even figuratively.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Moral MarchThe following essay was submitted to NC Policy Watch by the Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, a national organization based in Washington, DC that is dedicated to “advancing faith in the public square as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good.”

Attacks on Moral March miss their mark
By Rev. Jennifer Butler

The recent criticisms leveled by newspaper columnist J. Peder Zane and others against Rev. William Barber II for using religious and moral language to inspire political change displayed a disregard for history and even contempt for the role of faith in public life.

As we commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in that sought to end legal segregation, let’s never forget that the Civil Rights movement was a religiously inspired, prophetic movement led by pastors and diverse people of faith. The late Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, said the question that inspired him and three other students at the Agricultural and Technical College (AT&T) of North Carolina in Greensboro was this: “At what point does a moral man act against injustice?”

Religious leaders have been central to movements that drive political change. The struggle to end the evil of slavery, create fair labor practices and secure equal rights for all citizens were profound moral causes. We are stronger as a country because determined people of faith challenged political and social threats to human dignity. The unfinished task of living up to the ideals of our democracy and stirring the conscience of Americans continues today.

Rev Barber is raising important and often uncomfortable questions about educational disparities, voting rights and economic injustice that impact not only North Carolinians, but the entire nation. Here are some telling signs of the times. CEOs often earn as much in a single day as their workers make in an entire year. Minimum wage jobs don’t pay enough to keep many hardworking Americas out of poverty. Half of all workers are not allowed to take a sick day without being docked pay or potentially losing their job. Congress is slashing food nutrition programs for struggling families even as corporations are coddled with tax breaks. These are moral scandals. Faith leaders will continue to speak truth to power.

The separation of church and state is meant to protect both religion and democracy. Because our government does not enforce an official religion, America has a diverse religious marketplace. Speaking from deeply held beliefs about the issues that affect us all is a healthy sign of pluralism and strength, not confining moralism. Those who argue that religious leaders should be silent in public debates have not only failed to learn the lessons of the past, they deprive us of powerful voices that can help forge a more just future.

For more information on the organization Faith in Public Life, visit the website by clicking here.

Moral MarchThere were lots of highlights at today’s Moral March on Raleigh:

  • the record crowd numbering in the tens of thousands that braved frigid temperatures and wintry weather predictions,
  • the impressive organization of the event itself that resulted in a shorter route, succinct speeches, and giant TV screens and loudspeakers for the thousands who couldn’t get close to the podium,
  • the amazing way in which participants flooded social media sites with running commentaries, photos and videos,
  • and, of course, Rev. William Barber’s inspiring grand finale speech,

to name just a few. But the coolest and most-inspiring moments for me (and I’m sure, many, many others) were the countless incidents Read More

While it’s obvious that spokespeople for political parties have a job to do — namely to defend their politicians at all costs — they are also usually better served by grounding their comments in at least some small measure of reality. On this count, state GOP chair Claude Pope swung and missed today with his almost comically off-base broadsides against Rev. William Barber and tomorrow’s Moral March on Raleigh.

As someone who has had the privilege of knowing Barber and working with him frequently in recent years, I can assure Pope and anyone else who cares that he and and the movement he leads are anything but “partisan,” “left-wing,” or “radical.”

First off, as Pope seems to have conveniently forgotten, the HK on J movement was birthed during a period in which Democrats controlled all the main arms of state government.  In those days, the protests were directed against the Democrats in power.  And Pope can rest assured that were the Democrats to somehow regain power in the state, the movement would continue. Indeed, I’ve personally watched Barber chase off politicians who’ve tried to use events in which he was involved for partisan purposes.

This brings us to point #2, which is that the agenda advanced by the HK on J/Moral March movement is actually quite mainstream. If Pope would just check it out and consider it honestly in its historical context — something he’s likely never done — he’d discover that many of the ideas have long been supported by leaders of both parties and huge majorities of average Americans. Heck, go back a few years, and many of these ideas (things like health care for all, environmental justice and affordable housing) were supported (and even launched) by conservatives.

The bottom line: The HK on J/Moral March movement is about many things, but mostly it’s about mainstream, American values that are supported by large majorities of average folks — especially people of low and moderate income who have watched in dismay as their government has been hijacked by corporate plutocrats. Moreover, its leaders are more than happy (thrilled, even) to work with politicians of any party who are willing to sit down and discuss genuine societal progress.