A “pray-in” in front of the North Carolina state Senate building ended with a group of 17 people — elderly ministers, college students and civil rights advocates — being handcuffed and jailed yesterday.
In the first of a series of planned nonviolent actions, Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina NAACP state conference president, led prayers and songs to protest a round of Republican-backed bills that would limit Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, reduce state funding of unemployment benefits by $700 million, and cut preschool access for mostly poor and working-class children. Barber’s group was also seeking national attention to legislation that, if passed, would make voting more burdensome for college-age, elderly, undocumented and previously incarcerated people.
Barber told reporters, before getting jailed, that “rightwing extremists in the state legislature and the governor’s office are acting as if they want to go down in history as the George Wallaces of 21st century by standing in the door of progress.”
The voter bills would impose a strict photo ID law, cut early voting, strip away voting rights for the formerly incarcerated and cause college students’ parents to pay a $2,500 tax if their kids vote at a different precinct than their home residence.
Barber called the voting restrictions unconstitutional and described them as “poll taxes”—a reference to Reconstruction-era fees specifically designed to prevent impoverished, recently emancipated black people from exercising their constitutional right to vote.
“The extreme ideology coming from the North Carolina legislature, with its attacks on the poor and working people, is alarming enough,” said Penda Hair, co-director of the civil rights organization Advancement Project. “Even more shameful is that the lawmakers who have taken control of the House and Senate are now trying to rig the rules, and disenfranchise certain voters, in order to remain in power far after this legislative session.”
These arrests came on the same day that President Obama nominated Charlotte mayor and North Carolina rising political star Anthony Foxx for Secretary of Department of Transportation. Also today, a Brookings study found that last year African-American voters turned out at a higher rate than white voters in November.