Our statewide Race to the Ballot voter registration and education tour launched last week in western North Carolina -- a region not known as a bastion for racial diversity -- with one supporter pledge at the conclusion of every stop: to rejoin the Race for the North Carolina Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)'s sixth annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street (or "HKonJ") March in downtown Raleigh, N.C., on Feb. 11.
With a theme of "forward together, not one step back," this year's HKonJ event -- North Carolina's largest gathering of progressive and civil rights groups -- takes on special meaning as the state faces one of its biggest human rights challenges to date: a constitutional amendment (otherwise known as "Amendment One") on the May 8, 2012, presidential primary that, if passed by a simple majority of North Carolina voters, would wipe out protections for all unmarried couples in the process of reaffirming the second-class citizenship of gay and lesbian people in the state they call home.
From a recent news conference organized by the NAACP and the HKonJ Coalition in Durham, N.C., leaders, including the civil rights group's national president, Benjamin Jealous, said the Amendment One vote banning a host of relationship recognitions and family protections joins a long list of concerns and causes ranging from poverty to the plight of the working class to voter suppression.
Jealous found that North Carolina's position as a swing state and the site of the Democratic Party's presidential convention makes ours a uniquely high-profile state for a showdown on these important socio-political issues.
"So goes North Carolina, so goes this nation," said Jealous. "And if we at the NAACP are committed to anything, it's pushing America closer to her ideals."
As Jealous hinted, North Carolina's progressive, Southern ideals are certainly under attack by Amendment One, a discriminatory measure that is one of many pieces of legislation coming out of a newly conservative North Carolina General Assembly targeting the protections of communities of color, women, public employees, lesbian and gay populations, as well as voters of all ages.
It's no coincidence, then, that Equality NC, one of the first LGBT advocacy organizations to join the HKonJ Coalition, and NAACP-NC, the first state chapter to help lead a fight of this magnitude against an amendment of this type, are now standing side by side in the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families, the state campaign to defeat Amendment One in May and turn the tide on LGBT discrimination in the South and beyond.
"It's a dangerous precedent when you allow a majority to vote on the rights of a minority," said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the state NAACP and the pastor of a Goldsboro church, during the NAACP press conference. "They're trying to give people, based on their sexuality, second- or third-class citizenship. We in the NAACP know what [this kind of discrimination] looks like." (Don't miss Rev. Dr. Barber's impassioned speech against Amendment One from the Equality NC Foundation Conference in November 2011.)
So, too, do campaign Coalition partners like Southerners on New Ground (S.O.N.G.), All of Us NC, and the Freedom Center for Social Justice -- all groups that bring much-needed intersectionality of race, class, culture, gender, and sexuality to North Carolina's fight to protect families who, for too long, have been considered "fringe."
As a good friend once reminded me, we can't get angry that everyone didn't come to the party if we didn't send out all the invites. With the Protect All NC Families coalition, not only were the invites mailed, but all RSVPed to attend.
And so as we travel from the mountains to the coast, through rural and urban N.C., passing out invitations to a Raleigh march on Feb. 11 -- an event with the one of the widest, most inclusive agendas of any coalition in this country -- I begin to see a vision of black, brown, and white, gay and straight, young and old people from different ends of the state, pushed so far to the margins that they find themselves all coming together against Amendment One under the same banner of "Forwards Ever. Not One Step Back."