The Christian Right’s Favorite New Target: North Carolina Isn’t Alone

A slate of anti-LGBTQ laws and policies is sweeping across the country with transgender and gender-nonconforming people squarely in the crosshairs. While violence and oppression continue to wreak havoc on the lives and livelihoods of trans people, as of this writing at least 44 anti-trans bills have been proposed in 16 states this year, aimed at putting an already vulnerable community at even greater risk for harassment, abuse, ostracization, and discrimination.

But this attack isn’t restricted to the Bible Belt, nor is it limited to GOP-dominated cities and states. Trans people are being systematically targeted across the country as part of a nationally coordinated effort led by a coalition of Christian Right powerhouses – organizations that have been plotting this campaign since long before even the concept of a “post-marriage equality moment” existed.

Mickyel “Micky” Bradford, a regional organizer with the Transgender Law Center, protests HB2 outside of the governor's mansion. Image courtesy of Ryan Lavalley

Mickyel “Micky” Bradford, a regional organizer with the Transgender Law Center @ Southerners On New Ground (TLC@SONG), protests HB2 outside of the governor’s mansion. Image courtesy of Ryan Lavalley

Precariously situated at the end of the LGBT family, the “T” has often been neglected and/or forgotten by those on both the Right and the Left. Now, with the LGB portion of the queer umbrella experiencing increasing levels of legal acceptance, affirmation in the media, and economic access in the United States, the Right has cast their spotlight in the direction of those whom they’ve determined are still easily scapegoated; those who dare to continue resisting assimilation – trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Last week, North Carolina’s General Assembly approved a bill that was described by Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, as “the most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation.” House Bill 2 (HB2) invalidates the recent expansion of nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals in the City of Charlotte, and additionally prevents all municipalities in the state from adding any new protections for LGBTQ people.

HB2 was introduced and passed in the span of a single day during a special session called expressly for the purpose of eliminating Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance (costing taxpayers $42,000). The ordinance in question would have (among other things) granted the right to transgender individuals to use public facilities that correspond to the gender with which they identify. In other words, this straightforward civil rights measure would have allowed a trans man (or, more simply put, a man) to utilize a men’s bathroom, and a trans woman (a woman) to use bathrooms designated for women.

Despite the valiant resistance of organizers, activists, faith leaders, and families from across the state (and the fact that, to date, there have been no cases in which a trans person has committed assault in a bathroom), anti-trans fear mongering ruled the day, and within hours of passing both the House and Senate, HB2 was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, R, who previously stated that Charlotte’s nondiscrimination policy would “create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy.”

Gov. McCrory’s words speak to the effectiveness of the massive coalition of national players behind this devastating blow to LGBTQ people in the State of North Carolina. Over the last several years, right-wing opponents to social justice have steadily honed their anti-trans tactics and rhetoric, and now we’re seeing the effects of their well-resourced, diligent campaigning.

Today's anti-trans attacks echo the "save our children themes" from Anita Bryant in the 1970s.

Today’s anti-trans attacks echo the “save our children themes” from Anita Bryant in the 1970s.

Led by Christian Right powerhouses like the Alliance Defending Freedom, Focus on the Family, and Family Research Council, this coalition aims to scare communities into believing that women and girls are in grave danger as a result of comprehensive civil rights legislation by falsely painting transgender people as deviant, dangerous, and sick. (If this sounds eerily familiar, recall that less than 40 years ago, this exact same rhetoric was applied in anti-gay witch hunts such as Anita Bryant’s infamous “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977, which successfully repealed a county ordinance in Florida that prohibited discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens in employment, housing, and public accommodations.)

Indeed, McCrory’s comments echo both the historic vitriol of the Christian Right of yesteryear and the distorted, anti-trans language that Bryant’s contemporaries are currently propagating around the country. Notably, McCrory’s rhetoric matches that of a letter he received on March 2, 2016 from John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council (NCFPC), reacting to the passage of Charlotte’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, demanding that the General Assembly call a special session to overturn it and “preempt any other municipality or county in the state from enacting a similar ordinance,” spoon-feeding McCrory the talking points needed to make it all happen.

SEE ALSO: When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right

SEE ALSO: When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right

It’s important to know that NCFPC isn’t just some obscure, local, “family values” operation. NCFPC is an affiliate of Focus on the Family’s policy arm, CitizenLink, a multi-million dollar operation that oversees a national network of 39 state-based “family policy councils” collectively committed to restricting access to abortion and reproductive justice, resisting efforts toward LGBTQ equality, and redefining religious freedom into a dangerous tool of oppression. In addition to providing strategic direction for its affiliates, CitizenLink also contributes financially. According to the most recently available IRS form 990s from both organizations, CitizenLink contributed nearly $170,000 to NCFPC in 2013, which amounts to over one third of NCFPC’s operating budget that year.

What’s also at play here is major backlash against the Obama administration’s expansion of Title IX protections in April 2014. Under the new guidelines, Title IX prohibits discrimination in publicly funded schools not only on the basis of sex, but also on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, and disability.

In a press release issued last Wednesday, ACLU-NC flagged this element of potential harm caused by HB2, noting that in addition to eliminating protections for LGBTQ people, the bill “jeopardizes the more than $4.5 billion in federal funding that North Carolina receives for secondary and post-secondary schools under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, including discrimination against transgender students.”

This isn’t new news to the U.S. Right.

According to a report from the Human Rights Campaign, within months of the 2014 change, dozens of religious colleges and universities had applied for and been granted a “religious exemption” from the law. While the exact nature of the relationship is unclear, at least four of the qualifying schools cc’d the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on their exemption request letters.

Later that year, ADF—one of the Christian Right’s most powerful legal institutions, and a longtime partner of Focus on the Family and CitizenLink—would take on an even more prominent and aggressive role in the anti-trans Title IX pushback. In December 2014, ADF sent emails to public school districts nationwide encouraging use of their model “Student Physical Privacy Policy,” which provides guidelines for how schools can supposedly “protect” [cisgender] students in areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms. In reality, the model policy effectively encodes trans-exclusionary guidelines and subjects transgender students to further scrutinization, shame, and interrogation when it comes to their privacy.

SEE ALSO: Alliance Defending Freedom: The Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools.

SEE ALSO: Alliance Defending Freedom: The Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools.

What’s playing out on the ground in places like North Carolina, Tennessee, South Dakota, Washington State, and in school boards across the country isn’t some sort of isolated, homegrown scheme, and it isn’t the result of trans and gender-nonconforming people seeking to harm or threaten women and girls. These anti-trans bills are part of a nationally-coordinated, proactive campaign that seeks to deploy dangerous transphobic myths and rhetoric in order to mobilize conservatives and preserve a gender essentialist status quo that ultimately harms us all.

To join in the chorus of social justice advocates speaking out against HB2, please consider signing this petition from our friends at ACLU Action, calling on Gov. McCrory to repeal the law.


“Klansville USA”: An Interview With David Cunningham

David Cunnigham

David Cunningham, professor of sociology at Brandeis University

David Cunningham became interested in the Ku Klux Klan while conducting research for his dissertation at the University of North Carolina. He originally focused on how the FBI dealt with the Civil Rights Movement, but his research led to a surprising discovery: North Carolina, which has a reputation as the most progressive Southern state, also had the highest percentage of Klan members in the 1960s. “What came out in the FBI’s memos was all of this granular history of Klan activity during the period,” he notes. “What surprised me most was that they were focusing mostly on North Carolina, because its membership just dwarfed the rest of the region.”

Cunningham is professor and chair of sociology at Brandeis University. He also chairs the social justice and social policy program at Brandeis, and he has worked with the Mississippi Truth Project and Greensboro (NC) Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Cunningham’s dissertation research on the Klan led to his first book: There’s Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence (University of California, 2004). In 2012, he published Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan, which analyzes the reasons for the rapid rise—and demise—of the Klan in North Carolina.

You argue that in North Carolina, the Klan provided an outlet that was unavailable through the more mainstream institutions.

North Carolina’s leaders, from the governor on down, were really clear. They said two things. One, they did not support the Civil Rights Act. But the second thing was that they would abide by it anyway, because they would follow the law. And when you combine that with an environment where there is a significant amount of competition in the labor force, there was racial anxiety around what the Civil Rights Act would do. So you have a fairly large White constituency that is concerned about this. And unlike that same constituency in a place like Mississippi or Alabama, they can’t count on their mainstream political leadership to take the lead in resisting Civil Rights. So the Klan has a bigger niche that they can fill. They really become the primary outlet for White folks who feel aggrieved by changes brought about by the Civil Rights Movement.

There is ambivalence among the mainstream institutions and the political elite. They sometimes condemn the Civil Rights Movement, and at other times sort of tacitly embrace it. How do they navigate that?

The electoral event that almost everyone pointed me to was a 1950 U.S. Senate [Democratic primary] election between Frank Porter Graham—who had been the longtime President of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—and a guy named Willis Smith, a lawyer in Raleigh. Graham was this universally beloved figure, but he was also very progressive. And he had the backing of many of the prominent political elites in North Carolina. And Graham had won the initial election by—I won’t say by a landslide, because it was not enough to prevent a runoff. But he had won handily. Willis got barely enough support to force a runoff and almost concedes, because he thinks he has no chance. But Jesse Helms, who at this time—prior to his political career—managed a radio and then a TV station in Raleigh, began a media campaign to encourage him to run.

In the runoff election, Smith baits Graham and centers his campaign on the idea that if you elect Graham, that mean Blacks will be working next to your wife at the factory, and so forth. There was this very propagandistic campaign. And he beats Graham. And then you see candidates for the next generation or two, up to the Civil Rights Act, reacting to that election in various ways. So Terry Sanford, who became governor of North Carolina in the early 1960s and saw himself as a great southern progressive, said that when he watched the Graham loss, he immediately started taking notes. He kept a notebook that was purely about strategizing on how to oppose segregation without being tagged as an integrationist.

You see that balancing act with almost all of the less conservative politicians. So, even as far to the Left as you could possibly get in North Carolina on the political spectrum, none of those people would overtly say that they supported the Civil Rights Act. They would use law and order to sway the more conservative elements—who they needed as a voting base—and not be accused of moving things in a way that would radically change White society.

And you see that there are candidates who are more outright segregationists. The most prominent was a man named I. Beverly Lake, who was a lawyer and law professor at Wake Forest University. Lake had this whole plan in the 1950s after [the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education] to establish a set of shadow private school systems, which would be funded by the state, and that only White students could attend. He had these relatively radical policies, at least for the Upper South. But he became not viable as a candidate. North Carolina, in large part because of its strong efforts to attract Northern business interests to the state, really felt like that was unpalatable. But also, outright support for civil rights wasn’t palatable. So there is this pretty narrow middle road that people tried to hold.

The desire to attract business interests—how was it different in North Carolina than in the Deep South? Do you have a sense of why it was different than, say, Alabama or Mississippi?

Part of this is a demographic, topographic story. The agricultural economy was prevalent in North Carolina, but it was prevalent in different ways, so there were attempts at diversification much earlier than in places like Mississippi, Alabama, or Georgia. Those early waves led a lot of the textile industry to move from New England down to the Carolinas. That really brought to prominence a whole set of people who became political and economic elites around those industries at an early time. It created a whole new set of incentives to extend that. It created sort of a different model of segregation, where textile mills would have African American workers and White workers segregated internally by job and by department. The factories were in theory integrated, even if there was separation within. That kind of early move was supported by various political officials and got woven into the fabric of North Carolina politics from a much earlier period—from the 1920s and ‘30s onward—than you would see elsewhere.

The poem that concludes the prologue, “Incident,” describes a cross burning, and it ends with these lines: “Nothing really happened/By morning all the flames have dimmed/We tell the story every year.” You conclude the prologue with that poem, and come back to it in the epilogue. What did that mean to you?

One thing I heard frequently in researching the book was people wanting to explain away the prevalence of the Klan in North Carolina. They would say, “Well, yeah, they were large, but they really didn’t do the sorts of things that they did in Mississippi or Alabama, in terms of violence. So really it wasn’t a big deal. There wasn’t really much going on.” Police officials would tell me this. But a lot of local people would tell me this, too.

Alongside that, I would be looking through records of people who filed police reports after their house got shot into, or a brick got thrown through their window. It would have a note on it saying they better stop doing whatever it was that the Klan thought was inappropriate, in terms of the racial status quo. So I was trying to wrestle with this idea of people continuing to tell me, “Well, it wasn’t really any big deal; not much was happening”—because nobody was murdered. But there was a huge infrastructure for the Klan going out several nights a week, in hundreds of small chapters, and intimidating people. And I would hear from people periodically who were the victims of this, and people would move away from the state because of this, or refuse to go back to particular places in their community.

There are all sorts of things that, 40 or 50 years later, people still felt powerfully affected them. And then, through a related project I was doing, I was in Mississippi dealing with a project called the Mississippi Truth Project, which was designed to have people tell their stories in a way that could ultimately lead to a truth and reconciliation process statewide. Natasha Trethewey was an invited guest at that statewide convening program, and there was an official declaration of this project. She is currently our poet laureate. And she read that poem as part of the meeting. And for me, it just connected everything. The cross that was lit in their lawn went out; the people were gone; no one had been physically struck. But it has this resonance in people’s memories, in family memories.  It crosses generations.

When you write about the demise of the Civil Rights era Klan, you say that it was in large part due to more rigorous enforcement of existing laws by the police.

The story that tends to be told is that the Klan becomes an anachronism and dissolves—that it’s an anachronistic joke by the end of the 1960s. What I found was a very pronounced shift in late 1965. When the Klan was growing, North Carolina would monitor rallies—they would have state police officials monitor rallies, but they would never do anything to hinder their ability organize. But what happens by early 1966 is that there’s a set of federal hearings investigating the Klan. Beyond all the Communist groups they’re harassing, they investigate the KKK. And the big news story that comes out, by the start of 1966, is that North Carolina is “Klansville U.S.A.” It has the highest Klan membership. That was something North Carolina officials knew but had never been overly concerned about. And once that was on the front page of national newspapers, the governor immediately forms an anti-Klan campaign. And so policing entirely changes. And it works—you see a very rapid decline in Klan membership. It may well be that the Civil Rights Act would have eroded the Klan’s support base over time, but the actual trajectory really maps onto what the police were doing at the time.

You argue that the North Carolina Klan of this era sort of pioneered the Republican Party’s “Southern strategy” of appealing to “family values.” It navigated—these are my words—between explicit racism and middle-class values, and tried to broaden its appeal by playing to both. Is that accurate?  

One thing we know is that communities where the Klan was active in the ’60s were more likely to have a more pronounced shift from Democratic to Republican voting. That’s true today. If you want to predict rates of Republican voting, accounting for all the things that political scientists would focus on, the presence of the Klan in the ‘60s still matters. The way that happened was that the Klan was one of the first groups to say, in a very forceful way, that party allegiance should be subordinated to candidates’ willingness to take principled stands for issues. And that became really important, because the South for decades had been solidly Democratic. And culturally, it was difficult for people to break away from the Democrats. The Klan’s move to saying, “You need to look at these candidates and find the people who will take principle stands for what you believe in”—that loosened people’s affiliation with the Democratic Party. It made it easier for people to shift their allegiance. The Klan really helped to loosen those allegiances and make it possible for Republican messages to really resonate. They would always talk about the importance of getting “real” White men into office, regardless of party politics. They were the first group that I ever found that would say that, regardless of party, this is the kind of person you want to have in office.

Another legacy you talk about is the high levels of violence that continue into the present day in communities that were Klan strongholds—that once you tear the social fabric the way the Klan did, that damage isn’t easily repaired.

When you have organized vigilantism, organized lawlessness, where people are organizing around the idea that their elected leadership is not legitimate, it creates a political and social culture that delegitimizes authority, that breaks the bonds that criminologists see as providing social controls against crime. That’s really difficult to repair, and in a lot of communities it goes hand in hand with a resistance to seriously dealing with a lot of the struggles during the Civil Rights era. And the ways that affected communities hasn’t been repaired. So, at least up through 2000, if you look at homicide rates, the presence of the Klan 30 or 40 years prior is a significant and serious predictor of how prevalent deadly crime is in that particular community.

This interview is the extended, online-exclusive version of an interview appearing in the Fall 2013 issue of The Public Eye magazine

Sharone Belt: The Obamacare Story You Won’t See In The News

If you watch cable news, you’ve probably seen story after story about Americans losing their insurance plans thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare.” Despite the passage of the ACA into law in 2010, and despite the Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 to uphold the legislation, and even despite the failed attempt to use a government shutdown as a bargaining chip—Right-Wing Republicans in Congress, governors’ mansions, and state legislatures are continuing their push to blame Obamacare for Americans losing health coverage.

But what about the Americans who didn’t have any health insurance to begin with, and are now being denied acceptance into Medicaid by those same conservatives? There are five million of them, people who have jobs but aren’t paid enough for private health insurance, being left out in the cold by the Right-Wing. On cable news, you don’t hear about people like Sharone Belt in North Carolina, who is being denied healthcare thanks to conservatives.

These are the stories we cannot in good conscience ignore.

Sharone Belt, 47, can't get health insurance because her state refused to expand Medicaid

Sharone Belt, 47, can’t get health insurance to cover her diabetic neuropathy because her state refused to expand Medicaid

Sharone Belt is 47 years old and lives in Hickory, North Carolina. She’s a deacon candidate at her church, collects donations for the local homeless shelter, and volunteers for the Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish Foundation. Sharone took some college classes when she was younger, but even with help from grants and student loans, she was priced out of her education pretty quickly. She now works as a balloon twister at children’s parties and restaurants to make ends meet.

“It’s not a job that pays very well,” says Sharone, “but I love working with the kids.”

Picking up as many gigs as she can, Sharone has managed to get herself just above the poverty line, making a little too much to qualify for Medicaid under the old system, but far too little to be able to afford private health insurance. Sharone also suffers from diabetes, which has led to diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) because she can’t afford the medications she needs. It’s a particularly difficult thing for her to work with, given her profession.

“I tried to use the free clinic in town,” says Sharone, “it took me six months just to get an appointment, and when I did get in, the medications I need are so expensive the free clinic wasn’t even able to get them for me.”

When the Affordable Care Act was passed, Sharone thought maybe there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel. “I was so excited, I thought maybe I could finally get my health back on track.”

Last week, Sharone found out that North Carolina is one of the 25 states refusing to expand Medicaid to cover people, like her, who are just above the poverty line. Back in March, conservative Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation that blocked Medicaid expansion for 500,000 North Carolinians, like Sharone, who don’t make enough money to purchase healthcare on their own, but don’t qualify for Medicaid, either. According to a report from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Medicaid expansion in North Carolina would have not only provided coverage for 500,000 low-income Tar Heelers but would also have added tens of thousands of jobs thanks to the injection of federal dollars. McCrory’s decision also caused a hospital in Belhaven to close, after it couldn’t keep up with unpaid medical bills from low-income patients.

Conservatives argue participation in Medicaid expansion, allowing those who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit access to the healthcare program, would bankrupt states. The claim has been repeated in media outlets around the country, despite policy experts debunking it as a conservative myth being perpetuated by ideological beliefs rather than facts. The ACA actually covers the cost of expanding Medicaid 100 percent for the first three years states participate, after which federal dollars slightly curtail over the next decade. Even at the lowest point of federal funding, states would only be liable for 10 percent of the cost of the expansion in their state, but still reap 100 percent of the benefits of not having a populace burdened by the under-insured.

To add to Sharone’s woes, she was also just notified that Congress has made significant cuts to Food Stamps, which is going to make it even harder for her to put food on the table—another instance of the Right-Wing’s assault on the poor under the pretext of “fiscal responsibility” and “small government.”

“I’m just not sure what I’m going to do next,” says Sharone. Even with all the hardship she’s facing, still manages to keep a sense of humor and giggle as she asks, “Think there’s any chance Congress will pass a single-payer system soon?”

Sharone’s story is only one of 5 million from across the country. From the 500,000 people being denied coverage in North Carolina, to the 133,000 in Utah, to the 40,000 in Alaska, the stories of the working poor being denied healthcare are everywhere. Why don’t we hear about them on the nightly news?

Taking the Voting-Rights Battle to the States and the Streets

Protesting outside the NC General Assembly building. Photo courtesy of Grant Baldwin.

Protesting outside the NC General Assembly building. Photo courtesy of Grant Baldwin.

On June 25, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which established a formula for determining whether states and jurisdictions need permission from the federal government to change their voting procedures. As a result, there is no mechanism to enforce Section 5 of the VRA, which allows the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to freeze and review changes in voting procedures in locales with a history of voter suppression.

The majority of the justices in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, reasoned that the pre-clearance formula was outdated, since Jim Crow-era voting restrictions like the poll tax and literacy test have been abolished. But voting restrictions are far from a relic of the past. Between January 2011 and October 2012, 25 restrictive voter ID laws and two executive actions passed in 19 states, according to a 2012 “Voting Laws Roundup” by the Brennan Center for Justice. Many were struck down by federal courts, including some by the DOJ under the provisions of Section 4(b). Within two days of Section 4(b) being overturned, six states that were at least partly covered under Section 5 moved forward with voter restrictions.

In light of what is at stake, it would be foolish to rely on the dysfunctional U.S. Congress to address this injustice. Nor is it sufficient to rely on legal challenges brought by organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Though absolutely crucial, they cannot serve all jurisdictions, and the seriousness of this challenge requires a broad-based, popular response.

It’s time to demonstrate our commitment to free and fair elections by building large-scale, broad-based coalitions at the state level—and taking them to the streets. This is precisely what the North Carolina Moral Monday movement, guided by the NC-NAACP, has been doing since April. All told, tens of thousands have flocked to the General Assembly building in Raleigh on Monday afternoons, protesting the extreme policies of the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Because of gerrymandering, nine of North Carolina’s 13 U.S. Representatives are Republicans, though the state’s voters are split almost evenly between the two parties.

The weekly protests top 3,000 participants. About 1,000 peaceful demonstrators have been arrested (as of late July). To make this possible, the NC-NAACP spearheaded a coalition of 150 progressive and/or non-partisan organizations that have come together to defend equal protection for all. In addition to traditional civil-rights organizations, the coalition includes groups with concerns as varied as reproductive justice, economic inequality, education, labor rights, immigration reform, criminal-justice reform, and faith-based social justice.

Protesters have made strong gains in reaching out to residents. The Republican-led legislative body no longer enjoys majority support, even within its own party, and the General Assembly’s approval rate has fallen to just 20 percent, according to a mid-July poll by Public Policy Polling.

The next goal is to provide avenues for citizens throughout the state to take part in the ongoing uprising. It will be nearly a decade before the next federally-mandated congressional redistricting (the process of redrawing legislative boundaries, which happens after every U.S. Census). In the meantime, the decline in popular support for Republican leadership means that the GOP has more incentive than ever to rig elections to favor Republican candidates. In late July, the North Carolina General Assembly began pursuing that goal by passing legislation that requires voters to show government-issued photo IDs at the polls and ends same-day voter registration. The legislation also weakens campaign donation disclosure laws.

North Carolinians face a long-term battle. The Supreme Court’s ruling means the DOJ will not come to the aid of jurisdictions previously covered under Section 4(b). With so much authority ceded to states, people who value free and fair elections must localize efforts, cast voting rights as foundational, and embrace broad inclusivity.

In North Carolina, this is creating intersectional solidarity rather than diluting the message. Weekly protesters include everyone from disaffected Republicans to members of the Occupy movement. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of the people. As the president of the NC-NAACP, Rev. Dr. William Barber, noted at the July 22 protests, “Our parents already won this fight with less than we have now.” And from here, the path is clear: “Forward together! Not one step back!”

This profile also appears in the Summer 2013 issue of the of PRA’s Public Eye magazine.

Dan Peltier, a Summer 2013 Research and Editorial Intern at PRA, recently interviewed Leigh Bordley about her participation in the “Moral Monday” protests. A lifelong resident of North Carolina, Bordley has been a member of the Durham, NC, school board since 2008. She served as executive director of Partners for Youth from 1998-2011. She has also been a consultant for Literacy South and the director of development for NC Equity. Bordley became active in the protests because she believes that legislation recently passed by the General Assembly doesn’t represent North Carolina’s true values. She attended five protests in Raleigh and was arrested during one of them. 

A lot of the media attention has focused on the protests as being heavily based in Christian prayer and teaching, including an article in which you say you “went as a Christian.”  What is your take on the Christian connection?

I went as a Christian because I am a liberal. Jesus taught that we should all help people living in poverty. Much of the legislation getting passed by Republicans is harming the poor and not helping to grow our state’s economy. It just made perfect sense to me to go to these protests and pray that the representatives hear our complaints and realize that they don’t speak for the majority of North Carolinians. I was arrested at one of the protests for speaking out against this legislature and was put in jail with the other arrestees. It was fun but not ideal. It was like a big party with no food. There were elderly people and teachers, and we all supported each other. We went to jail for what we believe in and for expressing our opinions.

Leigh Bordley

Leigh Bordley

Even though the General Assembly is now in summer recess, the protests don’t seem to be losing momentum.  Would you say that this is a sign of their success?

A: Success is hard to gauge.  We didn’t seem to get through to the Republicans. But I think we definitely made some voters second guess why they chose to elect some of the people who are behind some of the horrible legislation getting passed. That’s why myself and other Forward Together Movement members are continuing the protests and taking them on the road to all of the major cities across the state–so that voters are aware of how they are being represented, and to show that we have endurance and won’t back down.

Q: The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the NC-NAACP (which organized the protests), has said that “our parents already won this fight with less than we have now.” What are your thoughts on that? 

A: I grew up in the 1960s, watching the civil rights movement unfold, and a lot of it took place in nearby cities such as Greensboro. The African-American civil rights movement was driven by desperation and excitement, and people thought that real change was coming. While some things have changed, so many others have stayed the same.  Today, our fight is not as exciting. It can be very discouraging and even disheartening.  It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re any further along, and I’m not sure if we’ve made a net gain or that we ever “won” anything.

Q: This is the first time in more than a century that Republicans have controlled the General Assembly. Do you see North Carolina as a new battleground for the Right, and what do you see as potential future challenges?

A: This will not be an easy fight. Democrats have suffered from gerrymandering, and this is a backlash against progressives. I feel hopeful about our chances, but we really need to convince voters in these gerrymandered districts that the Republicans are not acting in their best interests. This is our biggest challenge. I have experience in working on the Obama campaign, and I know that this will not be easy–but that with enough help, we can try to make a difference. These protests have been and continue to be extremely well organized, so we have that on our side. I am a lifelong resident of North Carolina and have seen that, historically, the state has been fairly moderate. All of a sudden, it is so far right that I don’t even recognize my own state anymore. I had to get involved and do something, because what is going on inside the General Assembly Building is not the real North Carolina.