Last week, President Obama said in his State of the Union address that "it should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank accounts, that drives our democracy."
As a native North Carolinian, hearing those words I couldn't help but think that the recent history of my state tells the story of what happens when exactly the opposite is true.
The right-wing takeover of North Carolina is a cautionary tale about what it looks like when the bank accounts of wealthy special interests are in the driver's seat of a democracy. Many of us have watched in alarm as billionaire Art Pope-backed right-wing forces attacked public education, undermined reproductive choice, and slashed the safety net once in place for struggling North Carolinians. In the past year, Gov. Pat McCrory has signed bills callously cutting unemployment benefits and blocking an expansion of Medicaid that would have provided health coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income people.
We've also witnessed the legislature set up what my colleagues Miranda Blue and Calvin Sloan at People For the American Way call a "cynical insurance policy" for these changes -- a series of laws that make it harder for everyday people to vote and easier for wealthy interests to sway elections with less public accountability.
Thank goodness, the people of my home state are fired up and fighting back. Last year the Moral Mondays movement, led by North Carolina NAACP president and PFAW's African American Ministers in Action member Rev. William Barber II, organized regular protests at the state capitol to advocate against these regressive policies. As Rev. Barber said: "We know our politics can be moral, can be merciful...can be just." Hundreds of people - from students to doctors to ministers -- were arrested for civil disobedience in pursuit of this vision.
The Pope-funded Civitas Institute in Raleigh has derisively described the protests as "Money Mondays" where organizers are "fighting to keep their spot at the public trough." But what we're fighting for isn't charity - it's justice.
This weekend I'm going back to my home state to join PFAW activists and countless others for Saturday's "Moral March on Raleigh." In what Rev. Barber is hoping will be "the biggest mass moral march on Raleigh since Selma," I'll march in a sea of people from all backgrounds, all generations, all faiths, and all races who are coming together across issues with a simple message: we want our state back. We want living wages for all workers, an end to anti-voter policies meant to keep people from the ballot box, and solutions for a system that allows our state government to be sold to the highest bidder.
I'm doing it because when I read about each new damaging policy pushed through the legislature, it's not abstract for me. I see the faces of my parents, my sisters, my friends, and my 5-year-old niece. I see how these sharp political shifts to the right are harming real people. And I'm doing it because I agree with Rev. Barber that our state's politics can become moral again -- that we can fight for, and win, a future where we honor the voices of everyday North Carolinians instead of corporations and the wealthy.
In the words of the Moral Mondays rallying cry, "Forward together, not one step back."