Chapel Hill, North Carolina - Recognizing that women's rights will take a devastating hit if Republicans return to power in 2012, Democratic women are rising to face the challenge.
Meeting in the capital of the progressive heartland of the South, the Orange County Democratic Women heard a rising crescendo of vibrant voices calling for political action against the surge of repression now coursing through the arteries of the nation's most embattled battleground state -- North Carolina.
Their annual Legislative Brunch in Chapel Hill sold out in record time. The lucky one hundred and fifty ticket-holders passed by the Occupy Chapel Hill demonstration now in its second week on their way to a bruncheon that none of them will never forget. Organizers said they could have sold two or three times the number of tickets in the supercharged political climate amid vast political preparations for an epic 'Battle of the South' next year.
President of Orange County Democratic Women, Renee Price, called the meeting to order and exhorted her audience of progressive women to stand up and fight for public offices once held exclusively by men.
To prepare the audience for the forthcoming keynote address by the liberal firebrand Professor Gene Nichol, Congressman David Price called attention to the class warfare waged by the richest one percent against the poorest: "America's richest four-hundred own more than the bottom one-hundred and fifty million Americans. The top one percent own sixty percent of our national wealth."
Describing North Carolina as a "swing state," Congressman Price declared that North Carolina was definitely in play for 2012 where Democrats are staging an aggressive campaign in the state that delivered their most tenuous of victories in the last presidential cycle. Obama became the first Democrat to carry North Carolina since 1976 when Jimmy Carter won the presidency. Obama won North Carolina with a razor thin margin of only 14,177 votes out of more than four million cast. "Just look at Wake County!" Price exclaimed, where Democrats turned out en masse less than two weeks ago and soundly defeated the Republican slate backed by Art Pope, North Carolina's billionaire henchman for the right-wing ideology of Charles and David Koch.
Brandishing a handmade sign proclaiming, "99%," the next speaker, popular State Senator Ellie Kinnaird, arrived at the bruncheon shortly after making her appearance before Occupy Chapel Hill at the Franklin Street Post Office. Articulating demands for economic justice and bank reform, Kinnaird raised the specter of Bush's wars and the explosive growth of America's national debt to define the current financial crisis as, "Trillions wasted on war!"
State Representative Alice Bordsen called for the syncopation of national and local messaging, while Democratic Women of North Carolina's Vice President, Joan Dressler, announced active organizations in sixty-one counties plus a strong alliance with Lillian's List, North Carolina's powerful and impressive stand-alone pro-choice committee dedicated to electing progressive pro-choice women to the General Assembly. In recent days, Lillian's List rallied five-hundred strong in Raleigh to hear a powerful message from Donna Brazile.
But, the day would belong to Gene Nichol, the outspoken professor of law at UNC, who delivered a riveting Jeremiad rippling with penetrating punchlines orchestrated against a leitmotif of bitterly incisive invective skewering the Republican radicalism now infecting the American electorate.
Gauging his audience like a shrewd football coach in a pre-game locker room, Nichol broke the emotional ice with a joke, "I saw Mary Chapin Carpenter at Memorial Hall the other night. She reported her favorite bumper-sticker: 'Palin-Bachmann 2012 - It's a No-Brainer!'" The crowd burst into peals of laughter.
Ripping right into the heart of the matter of Republican radicalism, Nichol sallied forth into oratorical battle:
And when they come together, for their version of debate and discourse; the crowd boos a soldier returning from Iraq because he's gay; they applaud the idea of letting Americans die unattended in hospital emergency rooms; and they cheer the efficiency of Texas' express lane for executions - a lane open only to the poor and marginalized.
Nichol's audience broke into applause; then he darkened his oratorical tone to lament the moral corruption of Wall Street and the current Republican front-runner, Herman Cain:
And despite clear proof that thievery, criminality and unyielding greed on Wall Street have directly caused the loss of at least eight million jobs in the last three years - for which we've bailed them out, and they've used the money to pay themselves obscene bonuses - a debate crowd this week cheered the declaration that fourteen million unemployed Americans 'should blame themselves, not Wall Street.' I'm not making this up!
Striking a chord with the audience of progressive Democratic women, Nichol zeroed in on the specter of Republican prejudice:
In the Congress, Republicans are so completely and unalterably focused on assuring that a brilliant young black man NOT be re-elected president, that they would say, over and over again, to millions and millions of uninsured, unemployed, uncompensated, unfed, un-housed, uneducated, unsafe, and now unbelieving Americans: 'Too bad,' your desperation is not as important as our intransigence, our pretend ideology; our belief that the only thing wrong with America is those at the bottom have too much and those at the top don't have enough. We've planted our flag. There we'll stand.
Nichol launched into a passionate excoriation of the Republican social agenda that targets: gays; women; students; middle class families; teachers; professors and Medicaid recipients while, "denying thousands of others the right to vote."
Nichol ridiculed the Republican domination of the North Carolina General Assembly as a confederacy of dunces:
Dominated by twin beacons - the Evangelical Right and the Tea Party. A Christian Right whose political agenda cannot be squared with - and is a formal rejection of - the Sermon on the Mount, and a Tea Party calling itself 'constitutionalist' - whose agenda cannot be squared, no matter how many tri-cornered hats they wear - with the Constitution of the United States."
Baring his oratorical knuckles, Nichol went after North Carolina's Speaker of the House, Tom Tillis, who recently enflamed every sector of the state when he attempted to foment strife between the sick and the impoverished. Nichol defined Tillis in chilling chiaroscuro:
But it should come as no great surprise from a gang led by a Speaker of the House who would say, and I want to be fair, get the words exactly right, Speaker Tillis, would say this: 'What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance. We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition. And we need to get those folks to look down on these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government.' I always have to stop for a minute and let that sink in. 'We have to get cerebral palsy victims to look down on the unemployed and destitute of North Carolina to treat them with appropriate disdain.'"
Then, Nichol took aim at the arch-villain of North Carolina politics, Senator Richard Burr:
Like Richard Burr's claim, on the floor of the United States Senate, a couple of years ago, that poor parents trying to secure Medicaid coverage for their children were 'pigs at the trough.' Pigs at the trough! On the floor of the Senate. Standing where Frank Porter Graham represented North Carolina! He should have been forced to resign!
The Democratic women burst into spontaneous applause. Now turning to his broader theme of the malignant Republican menace, Nichol stalked Republican prejudice against gays and schoolchildren.
Will we allow, for example, our government to say to our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers that we're so dead set committed to treating you with derision and disdain that we'll write into our constitution 'Thou shalt never have full dignity, full membership, full equality?'
And for Republican attacks on children:
Nor can we permit North Carolina to say to her children: 'We're too selfish, too greedy, too self-absorbed, too attached to our own tax breaks, to educate you to the best of our ability and your own! So we're going to descend to 50th place in funding for K-12, and demolish early childhood programs like Smart Start and More at Four. See kids, you came along at the wrong time. We're not like our parents. We won't do whatever it takes to give you the best chance in life. Our folks sacrificed to give us the richest opportunity they could muster. But we're not like them. It's more important to save a penny in sales tax. We have our priorities.
At this point, Nichol addressed the key issue in the minds of progressive American women - abortion rights:
Nor can we sit back and say we'll abide an abortion law that says to women, in their most vulnerable and intimate moment, 'We're going to make you undergo a sonogram procedure that has nothing to do with medicine. But that conscripts you, and your body, and your doctor into a state-mandated propaganda regimen to coerce and intimidate you out of exercising your constitutional rights. No step, no matter how intrusive, no matter how totalitarian, is beyond us. So certain are we of our religion and our politics. We demand them for you, too. We force them on you no matter how you might protest. God is on our side.
Turning to the most insidious threat to American democracy concealed in the Republican agenda, voter suppression, Nichol invoked the specter of the Jim Crow Era.
Our legislature has shown, we'll even go after people's right to vote. I would have thought given our history, given our premises of government, given the wars we've fought, given the civil rights struggles we've endured, and given the things we repeatedly pledge allegiance to, the one thing that would be agreed upon by all - the uncontestable in America - was the sanctity of the right to vote. . . . But our adversaries have pressed disenfranchisement into their agenda as well. Even racial disenfranchisement. Moving purposefully, knowingly, intentionally, strategically, cynically, to make it harder for persons of color to vote. Forgetting our past. Or maybe, in this case, embracing it. There are some sins against American democracy not meant to be forgiven.
Now modulating the tempo and impact of his delivery, Nichol attacked the power elite and broadened the vision of the economic justice movement to extend the limited focus on Wall Street to the entire corporate, legal, business and commercial network of American financial power.
But most of all, most profoundly, our challengers ask whether we'll continue to accept instead of vibrant democracy a government of wealth, by wealth, for wealth, through wealth. Whether we're untroubled, in the richest nation on earth, the richest nation in human history, with the highest levels of poverty, especially child poverty, in the advanced industrial world. The greatest gaps between rich and poor, by far, among the major nations, not only peers like Europe and the Commonwealth, but worse than China, India, Uganda and Bosnia. The greatest concentration of wealth in the top five per cent in a hundred years! A feudal regime of unemployment and stagnation for the rest! Cash register government! A politics of the Koch brothers, and Art Pope, and Wall Street, and John Roberts, and Nino Scalia, and Citizens United, and the Chamber of Commerce, and Bank of America - the malefactors of great wealth. Say, we're not going to have it - whether we'll occupy not only Wall Street, but - America. We are heirs to the greatest democracy on earth. We won't have it bought or stolen out from under us!
Preparing the Democratic women for momentous battle, Nichol reminded them of the origins of the United States.
This Party started over two-hundred years ago. And it STARTED in a fight. A fight between Jefferson and Hamilton. Jefferson stood strong for the future. Committed to democratic decision-making, citizen participation and humane ideals. Hamilton represented a gaggle of moneyed interests, happy enough to leave the rest of us out.
Bracing the audience for the titanic struggle of 2012, Nichol argued against defeatism, skepticism and cynicism.
And I know that some have grown cynical, and given up hope and they don't believe we can win these daunting battles. But imagine saying that to Harry Truman or Robert Kennedy or Cesar Chavez or Barbara Jordan or Paul Wellstone or Molly Ivins. Or think of saying it to John Lewis. Cynicism has no more place in the Democratic Party than privilege does.
In a thunderous voice Nichol released a cascade of riveting images and extolled his audience to action with a stirring litany that reverberated in the inner ears of every American heart.
So we ask you, again, ever more powerfully, to enroll your spirits, to enlist your hearts. To make this defining cause your own. To enlist your all! To enlist because . . .
Somewhere we read, and we believed it that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all are created equal.'
And somewhere we read, that we are, 'One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'
And somewhere we read that, 'History will judge us on the extent to which we have used our gifts to lighten and enrich the lives of our fellows.'
And somewhere we read that, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'
And somewhere we read, 'We have to believe the things we teach our children.' Believe them and make them real.
And somewhere we read that ,'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.'
And somewhere we read that, 'Whenever you did these things for the least of these, you did them for me.'
And somewhere we read, 'You reap what you sow.'
And somewhere we read that the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of happiness can be as one. They march not in opposite directions, but hand in hand.
And somewhere we read, 'No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.'
Harkening to his clarion call, every person in the audience rose to their feet applauding and cheering and calling for Nichol to address the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next year.
Urging her forces forward into the battle for the future, Renee Price adjourned the meeting, and the most progressive Democrats in the South poured out into the autumn sunlight.
Some made their way to Occupy Chapel Hill, while others went to their homes and neighborhoods to spread the word.
The Battle of North Carolina is now rising into a solid wall of surging political frenzy in the elections for Mayor and Town Council in Chapel Hill, as well as for crucial School Boards all across the state with key contests in Wake and Mecklenburg counties.
Democratic women are now leading the battle for their rights and the rights of others to live in the America they inherited, the America that is now threatened with imminent dissolution by Wall Street and its insidious Reaganite creed: 'Greed is Good.'
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