Woe to those who make unjust laws,
To those who issue oppressive decrees,
To deprive the poor of their rights
And withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
Making widows their prey
And robbing the fatherless.
-Isaiah 10: 1-2
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and the recovery of slight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Our ancestors enshrined these ancient Judeo-Christian values into the North Carolina Constitution, which requires the General Assembly to adhere to Article 1, Section 2, stipulating that “all political power is vested in and derived from the people…and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.” Though we respect all faiths, we demand that our elected leaders do this and no less: work for the good of the whole.
And yet the far-right, Tea Party-backed ultra-conservative leadership of the General Assembly has attacked public education; assailed our voting rights; ignored the cries of the poor and unemployed; sought to divide us by race, income, region and sexual orientation; and tried to sell off our environment to the highest bidder; all in the service of private greed and far-right ideology. This attack on the most vulnerable among us comes at a turning point in our history, when everything we hold dear is on the line.
This is why the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly on Saturday, February 9, 2013 is more important than ever. If you believe we should defend our public schools, defend our voting rights, and defend our poorest citizens against the power of greedy corporations and far-right ideologues, march with us, stand with us and organize with us on February 9 and beyond.
What we have seen in the past couple of years makes it clear that our children and our future are at stake. Further, as wealth disparities increase, while early childhood education assistance, public schools funding, and other services needed to aid poor families are being cut, more and more families with children are being trapped into the ruthless cycle of poverty.
Here are some of the things the servants of wealth and power did on Jones Street over the past couple of years which make our mobilization and movement against them imperative and without question:
Throughout 2011 and 2012, we saw the ultra-conservative leadership in the General Assembly attack our public schools and our hard-working teachers, chopping half a billion dollars out of our classrooms. They stole into the General Assembly after midnight and butchered the budget, leaving North Carolina 49th in education—investing less in our children than Mississippi or South Carolina. They hacked 15.5% from the University of North Carolina system, forcing tuition hikes that have a devastating impact on minority, poor, and first generation college students.
They assaulted the poor and the unemployed, targeting even the hard-pressed middle class who are struggling to stay above the poverty line. Last year’s empirical data confirmed that poverty here has grown 22 percent during this recession; the median household income in North Carolina has dropped 12.3% since 2007, while the state lost 300,000 jobs. Roughly ten percent of our workforce is officially unemployed, though the real rate is much higher.
Only six states have higher unemployment; in the South, only Mississippi suffers more joblessness. Black unemployment is double that of the whole population. The gap between rich and poor is wider and deeper than during the Great Depression; one percent of Americans own forty percent of the wealth.
They voted to prevent Planned Parenthood from using state funds to provide health screening and family planning services to low-income women and families.
Maybe most disturbing of all, they passed punitive budgets that fire teachers and teacher assistants, lock at-risk kids out of Pre-K and Smart Start, slash services to people with mental illness, all while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest lawyers and doctors in the state.
Such unconstitutional and immoral cuts to child-centered programs have continued despite the fact a recent ruling from the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld Judge Manning’s decision which requires that ALL – “every at-risk child” must receive the opportunity to enter Pre-K programs such as More At Four, and not be denied such vital human services due to budget cuts or for any other reason.
This is not the time for the General Assembly to cut hundreds of millions from Medicaid, mental health, and critical services to poor communities. But that is exactly what they have done.
As also confirmed during our Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina this year where we traveled over 2,000 miles and looked into the eyes of the perplexed faces of poverty, the figures on poverty in North Carolina released (see data below) by the Budget and Tax Center (BTC) in September of this year (2012) are not just numbers, they represent the lives of poor children and other human beings and speak for themselves as to why we must MOBILIZE TO END POVERTY AND ECONOMIC INJUSTICE ON FEBRUARY 9, 2013 AND BEYOND:
- North Carolina’s poverty rate was 17.9 percent in 2011, statistically unchanged from the rate in 2010. The poverty rate jumped more than 25 percent since 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession.
- Nearly 1.7 million North Carolinians were officially in poverty in 2011, and more than 737,000 lived in deep poverty.
- The poverty rate for children in North Carolina was 25.6 percent in 2011, compared to 9.7 percent for seniors.
- People of color experienced higher rates of poverty. In 2011, 28 percent of African‐Americans, 34.9 percent of Latinos, and 27 percent of American Indians in the state lived in poverty.
- Median household income fell to $43,916 in 2011, down 1.8 percent from $44,726 in 2010.
When we see a poverty rate for children in our State as high as 25.6 percent, we must keep in mind, these children are not white, black, brown or red children; they are God’s children and our children, and we have to do right by them.
We suffer attention-violence toward poverty. We are in crisis – moral, political, economic. But when we see faces of poverty and hear voices of poverty, we can come together to change the institutional realities that sustain the systems of poverty. Anything less renders suspect our claim that our values come from our faith and from our constitution.
This is why we must march on Jones Street on February 9. And this is why we must stay eternally vigilant. We must have mass mobilization on February 9! We must have mass mobilization every day afterwards! And we must have mass civic engagement and voter participation!
In this moment, we must redouble our efforts and declare in both words and deeds: Forward Together, Not One Step Back: We will not be divided or defeated!
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
Rev. Curtis E. Gatewood
HKonJ Coalition Coordinator
Atty. Alan McSurely
Mrs. Debra Tyler-Horton and Mr. Reuben Blackwell, HKonJ Steering Committee Co-Chairs