(My apologies for not writing about Moral Monday #8; I made it back home to Raleigh after NN13 and caught a bus from the airport directly to the N.C. General Assembly just in time for the Moral Monday protest, but I was already fighting a virus and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia within a day. I wasn't able to attend the July 1 Moral Monday protest but write from the experiences of friends who attended, as well as media coverage. I'll be back soon, though!)
Yesterday's Moral Monday, the ninth wave of the protests against the Tea Party/Republican supermajority's efforts to ramrod 2,000 pieces of ALEC legislation through the General Assembly, focused on the war against North Carolina's unemployed.
Seventy-two people chose to take songs and prayer into the General Assembly building and refuse to disperse when asked to do so by the police; they were arrested for failure to disperse, criminal trespass, and violating rules of the GA building. Handcuffed and taken through pre-processing in the General Assembly's basement cafeteria, they were then taken to the Wake County Detention Center, where they were processed and taken before a county magistrate.
The total number arrested in the nine waves of civil disobedience is at 682, including a small number who've been arrested in Witness Wednesday protests at the General Assembly and the N.C. State Capitol down the block, where Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his state budget director Art Pope maintain their offices.
Unemployment has been of great concern to North Carolinians. We were hard-hit by the recession and experienced one of the nation's highest unemployment rates throughout the recession. Recovery has been slow and our unemployment rate is still among the highest in the nation. Gov. Pat McCrory, supported by a supermajority in the NCGA that comprises a large number of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) members, has taken an unusual approach to alleviating the misery of the employed: He and his supporting legislators have made North Carolina the first state in the U.S. to not only cut the average unemployment compensation amount to the unemployed but also refuse federal unemployment aid.
Hurray! We're No. 1!
Paul Krugman explained the individual and overall effects of North Carolina's "war on the unemployed" in his June 30 column:
In general, modern conservatives believe that our national character is being sapped by social programs that, in the memorable words of Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, “turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” More specifically, they believe that unemployment insurance encourages jobless workers to stay unemployed, rather than taking available jobs.We see Krugman's analysis in action every day. A friend of mine who was laid off in January 2012 has applied for no fewer than 385 jobs in the past 18 months. The former law-enforcement administrator even applied for a security job at a local museum; there were so many applications for that position that the museum's human resources department lacked personnel to contact all of the applicants when the position lost funding and was closed. Starting yesterday, the date that the governor's refusal to accept the federal emergency unemployment tier of his unemployment benefits went into effect, my friend and his wife must subsist on the $1,177/month Social Security Disability Insurance check his wife receives because a terminal illness prevents her from working.
Is there anything to this belief? The average unemployment benefit in North Carolina is $299 a week, pretax; some hammock. So anyone who imagines that unemployed workers are deliberately choosing to live a life of leisure has no idea what the experience of unemployment, and especially long-term unemployment, is really like. Still, there is some evidence that unemployment benefits make workers a bit more choosy in their job search. When the economy is booming, this extra choosiness may raise the “non-accelerating-inflation” unemployment rate — the unemployment rate at which inflation starts to rise, inducing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates and choke off economic expansion.
All of this is, however, irrelevant to our current situation, in which inflation is not a concern and the Fed’s problem is that it can’t get interest rates low enough. While cutting unemployment benefits will make the unemployed even more desperate, it will do nothing to create more jobs — which means that even if some of those currently unemployed do manage to find work, they will do so only by taking jobs away from those currently employed.
As Krugman points out in his column, the unemployment compensation my friend was receiving went directly into the state and local economy; it's difficult to sock away $299 a week in IRAs and hedge funds when that's your entire income. Although my friend may improve his own personal situation by taking a part-time position that just came available at a local thrift shop, living off of those meager wages of less than $100 a week will in no way improve the state's economy. There is no way Gov. McCrory's plan to grow the Tar Heel economy by tanking 70,000 unemployed people will make the lives of North Carolinians better. Do the math.
Here in North Carolina, we know too many friends, family members, and acquaintances who are facing the effects of being the first state in the U.S. to turn down federal unemployment aid. That may be the reason several thousand North Carolinians braved occasionally torrential rain (we're facing a number of flash-flood situations here) yesterday and gathered at the Halifax Mall between the General Assembly Building and the Legislative Office Building to speak out against the inhuman policies embraced by our newly elected Republican/Tea Party supermajority and our Republican governor and his Americans for Prosperity budget director.
Our state, home of the Wright brothers' first successful airplane flight, features the motto "First in flight" on its license plates. As of yesterday, we added another moniker: "First in the U.S. to disqualify itself from collecting extended unemployment benefits to help repay a debt to the federal government faster, at the expense of 70,000 North Carolinians who will lose their ability to pay bills, cover housing costs, and buy groceries."
Tomorrow afternoon, July 3, more voters will converge on the N.C. State Capitol on Witness Wednesday to protest the recent repeal of the Racial Justice Act, which prohibited seeking or imposing the death penalty on the basis of race, and also the recent U.S. Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
Moral Monday and Witness Wednesday will continue at least through the end of the current legislative session. At this time, the N.C. Senate and House continue to convene in order to push through the vast number of bills submitted during the session. No public input is being considered; amendments to the bills are often not even read out in committees or during hearings. The bills are sometimes tabled and then suddenly resurface with new language (i.e., HB 937 "Gun Omnibus Bill," which was tabled in May, only to pop up without notice in June with new provisions allowing loaded firearms in elementary and secondary schools and restaurants that serve alcohol).
North Carolina was once known as one of the most progressive states in the U.S. South. Its people aren't taking Tea Party rule lying down; we're standing up and speaking out about the takeover of our state. As we chant here in the Tar Heel State each Moral Monday and Witness Wednesday,
Forward together, not one step back.Even if you can't make it to Raleigh to take part in Moral Monday or Witness Wednesday, you can be part of the movement by contributing to the NAACP-NC legal-defense fund. The NAACP-NC sponsors the Moral Monday and Witness Wednesday activities and provides legal defense for those who are arrested for peaceably assembling to pray and sing inside the N.C. General Assembly hallways.