Joining 100 marchers of many faiths and backgrounds while walking 15 miles on Highway 401 was intense, often fun, and inspirational. Beginning on August 1, the NAACP Journey has now covered 700 miles as it approaches the Virginia border, and prepares to march into Washington, DC, on September 15 and 16. In North Carolina the focus is all voting rights, as NAACP President Cornell Brooks joins NC Conference President Reverend William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays and mobilizer of tens of thousands of North Carolinians against the relentless attacks by the Governor and legislature on voting rights.
Voting rights in North Carolina are at a fifty year low, with turnout of citizens down around 40%, similar to the 1960s level. Barriers to registration, limits on early voting, and other measures have been designed and adopted solely to cut the working class electorate, and help elect the right-wing Republicans that now dominate.
But we were filled with hope and even optimism as we walked along Highway 401, despite a heat index well above 100 degrees in the bright sunshine and cloudless sky. We walked two by two, changing partners and learning new stories of what brought this band together in this amazing march. A few had marched most of the distance from Selma. Many like myself were there for a single day. But we all knew that on our watch voting rights are being destroyed purposely across our nation, and no longer only in the South.
No other democracy uses pre-election day voter registration- and that alone cuts voting by 30%. No other nation has voting primarily on a work day. No other nation draws election districts so that practically no one in most states knows what district they are in, and how that changes between local, state, and congressional elections. No other democracy considers money speech and corporations people, and — on top of all the voting restrictions — allows billions of dollars to pour into our elections in increasing amounts.
Despite that, I walked with CWAers and other union members, NAACP members from North Carolina and across the South, Reform Rabbis carrying a Torah along the entire 860 miles, Common Cause leaders and students, environmentalists from Sierra and Greenpeace. We were paced by an 84-year-old woman and long time NC progressive, leading with Cornell Brooks who has already walked more than 500 miles himself, barely breaking a sweat.
When we reached Shaw University we were joined by students at the oldest Historically Black College for the final few blocks to the state Capitol. There we heard Cornell and Rev Barber inspire us to not only march on to Washington and rally at the Capitol on September 16, but to be ready to demand action by Congress with civil disobedience if necessary.
“No more business as usual!” is the battle cry of America’s Journey. Voting rights, Black lives, Jobs with Justice, and education are all linked on the Journey, and in our hearts and legs. We are building a common narrative that unites us in a new populism, and a movement that can grow and sustain us.