March … in February

March … in February

- in Weekly Briefing

NAACP Calling Progressives to Raleigh on February 10

By Rob Schofield 

Quick take:

  • For years, one of the great sleeping giants of the North Carolina public policy world has been the NAACP.
  • Over the past year, however, things have changed dramatically under the energetic leadership of the state chapter’s new president, Rev. William Barber of Goldsboro.
  • Next month, the organization will take another step toward establishing itself as force to be reckoned with in state policy debates when it sponsors an historic march on the state capital.

In 2007, it stands to reason that the NAACP – the nation’s most visible voice for people of color – would be an organization of significant power and influence. And so it is – at least at the national level, where for decades, NAACP lawyers, lobbyists and policy experts have become forces with which to be reckoned. Recently, in deference to the organization’s stature, even President Bush revived the tradition of presidential speeches at the NAACP’s 2006 national convention.

Now, after an uneven past in recent years, the North Carolina’s chapter of the NAACP appears to be on the cusp of constructing a comparable presence at the state level. In 2005, the chapter elevated the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a Goldsboro pastor to the state presidency. Since his election, Rev. Barber has helped to bring a remarkable new energy to an organization that had displayed relatively little ability to influence state policy in recent years.

“H K on J”

The next major step in the organization’s progress in North Carolina has been scheduled for Saturday February 10, when it will spearhead an ambitious march and rally in Raleigh to lay out a progressive state policy agenda for 2007. The event has been dubbed “HK on J” for “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” (the site of the state Legislative Building).

According to the rally plan, marchers will begin to gather at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium at 11:00 a.m. At around noon, those in attendance will hear from a series of inspirational speakers who will describe the organization’s 14-point “People’s Agenda” (see below). At the conclusion of the presentations, the group will march to the Legislative Building on Jones Street where marchers will “deliver” the agenda to the General Assembly.

The event is being held on Saturday, February 10 for at least three reasons: 1) to coincide as closely as possible with the 98th anniversary of the NAACP’s founding on February 12; 2) to attract as large a number of marchers from across the state as possible (most of whom figure to be working families that would find a mid-week date difficult to make); and 3) because the event is not intended to be a “lobby day” (as in the traditional model in which attendees walk the halls of the General Assembly in search of lawmakers), but rather a “movement day” that will act as a catalyst to further action around the state throughout the 2007.

Indeed, organizers have made clear that they do not seek to supplant the annual “People of Color Lobby Day,” in which numerous organizations traditionally gather at the Legislative Building to lobby for specific bills and appropriations. That event remains scheduled for the following month.       

Why March

The need for the NAACP and its mission has evolved somewhat in the 98 years since its founding, but a brief look at the data makes it clear that the organization has a long way to go before it works itself out of a job. On any number of key indicators related to health, wealth and well-being, Americans of color – and particularly African-Americans – fare much worse than average Americans.

Numbers on Race and Inequality from the U.S. Census

  • $50,784 – Median U.S. household income for non-Hispanic whites in 2005
  • $30,858 – Median U.S. household income for African-Americans
  • 8.3% – Percentage of non-Hispanic whites living in poverty
  • 24.9% – Percentage of African-Americans
  • 11.3% – Percentage of non-Hispanic whites without health insurance
  • 19.6% – Percentage of African-Americans

In North Carolina, where one in five persons is African-American and one in four a “person of color,” the data are equally sobering and the reasons for action are even more compelling.

The “People’s Agenda”

In order to attack the challenges represented by these data, NAACP leaders have prepared a 14-point “People’s Agenda” that identifies an array of critical topics in need of swift attention from the General Assembly, the Governor, and the state’s congressional delegation. The agenda reads as follows:

1. All our Children Need High Quality, Well Funded, Diverse Schools. Our Constitution requires adequate and diverse schools. Act immediately to save our lost generation with adequate funding, Special Leadership Teams in failing schools, and fiscal accountability.

2. Livable Wages and Support for Low Income People. In addition to a livable wage, we must insure that no person goes hungry and that every person who needs child care gets it.

3. Health Care for All. All North Carolinians should have access to health insurance and prescription drugs. The state should fund innovative programs to combat public health problems that plague Black communities including HIV/AIDS; drug addiction; domestic violence; mental illness, diseases caused by global warming, teenage pregnancy; diabetes and obesity.

4. Redress Two Ugly Chapters in N. C. Racist History. The racist overthrow of the bi-racial l898 Wilmington Government resulted in 30 to 75 Black people murdered, scores of Black and White leaders permanently exiled, and trust between races still affected by this betrayal. From l947-1977 N.C. sterilized thousands of poor, mainly Black, women who lacked literacy skills by labeling them mentally retarded. The state must implement its “1898 Wilmington Riot Commission’s” recommendations and pay damages to the poor women it forcibly sterilized.

5. Encourage Participation in Elections. Support public financing of elections and same day registration.

6. Lift Every Historically Back College and University. Help them provide leadership to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

7. Document and Redress 200 years of State Discrimination in Hiring and Contracting. Document the State’s practices with racial minorities to justify constitutional goals to remedy this discrimination.

8. Help People Build Wealth and Stop Consumer Abuse. Provide a housing-purchase trust fund for low income renters; vouchers for wounded veterans who can’t find accessible housing; meaningful tax breaks for seniors who are being squeezed out of their homes, and protect against predatory lending and foreclosures.

9. Abolish Mandatory Sentencing and the Death Penalty. Start a Department of Correction/NAACP program to help train inmates for re-entry into society.

10. Put Young People to Work Saving the Environment. Establish an environmental job corps for young people who did not graduate from high school to re-engage them in public service.

11. Collective Bargaining for Public Employees. Help public employees work out issues with their employers in a mutually-respectful manner.

12. Protect the rights of our neighbors from Latin America and other Nations. Extend North Carolina’s arms in welcome to our brothers and sisters and make them feel at home.

13. Organize and strengthen our hodgepodge civil rights enforcement agencies and statutes.

14. Bring Troops Home from Iraq Now. We cannot address injustice at home while we turn our heads from an unjust war abroad.”

For those who care about attacking the root causes of the pernicious and persistent poverty and inequality that continues to afflict North Carolina, the hope is that “HK on J” will herald a new era of activism and grassroots advocacy is state policymaking. Whether it succeeds immediately in this ambitious goal or not, however, HK on J seems certain to bring something to state policy debates that has been missing for many years: a forceful and coherent demand that state leaders pursue a progressive agenda that takes on the state’s racial (and economic) divide in a direct and intentional way. It’s about time.