If you squint your eyes really tightly and hold your head just so, you can almost see the white hoods and brown shirts on the hangers in the coatroom at the North Carolina State Legislature. Oh, yes, I know that’s harsh and hyperbolic, but to paraphrase Meredith Wilson’s Christmas song, it’s beginning to look a lot like the turn of the 19th Century . . . everywhere we go.
On June 3, 2013, I participated in a demonstration, organized by the NC NAACP, and an act of Civil Disobedience regarding the legislation passed and heading for passage in our Legislature. For example, one example among many, the plans to cut taxes on the rich and the corporations and make up for those cuts with an increase in sales tax – which means that the poorer you are, the heavier your tax burden.
I was arrested for my participation in the demonstration, and, while it was a difficult experience, my fear and pain and hunger was eased by two things. First, there were a lot of people with me, working with me to keep our spirits up, to remember our cause, and to cheer each other on as we progressed through the Wake County Detention Center. I am very grateful to the people who were arrested with me and to the people who greeted us with cheers as we boarded the bus to the detention center, several hours after the arrest, and greeted us with hugs and food when we were finally released pending our court date, several more hours later.
Second, my experience was nowhere near as difficult as the experiences of the people who came before me, the people who sat at lunch counters and sat at the front of the bus and marched across bridges into hostile towns and registered voters in the shadow of murderers. I cannot watch our Legislators erode the progress that was made at a much higher cost than I paid Monday night. I cannot ask people less privileged than I am to sacrifice what little they have to stand up for rights that should never have been challenged in the first place. I cannot gripe in the background and wonder why no one listens. I have to speak up in the light, stand with the people, and take the risks for myself.
As I said in the Legislature building on Monday: When I study the Torah, study the Bible, which I do a fair bit, and when I pray, which I do a little less, I always learn the same thing. Love your neighbor, be kind to the stranger, and pursue justice. So I have to act when I see that we are not caring for our neighbors when they need help, we are isolating the stranger, and we are stifling the voices of people who have every right to be heard.