The March For Justice


I recently took my sons to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro.  I was so impressed with all that they had learned in school about the topics in the museum.  And yet, it was clear that they thought of the Civil Rights Era as a distinct period of time.

The fallacy that the struggle for civil rights is in the past was dispelled almost as soon as we left the museum.  We watched the video filmed that very morning of activist Bree Newsome taking down the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina capitol. My sons said, “She’s brave!”

The previous week had included a number of events were steps of surprising magnitude on the march for justice. There has been such a very long fight for universal health care.  The advent of nationwide marriage equality had me recollecting a conversation that I had some years earlier where I made a bold prediction that we would “never see that in our lifetime.” And not too long ago I told a constituent that I thought the political stakes in North Carolina made it unlikely that we would see any effort to remove the Confederate flag from state printed vanity plates.

In asking my sons to think about the contemporary fight for justice, I had to reflect on my own role as an elected State Representative. Where do I stand in the ongoing push for justice?

While I am grateful that North Carolina has few publicly sanctioned displays of the Confederate flag, I do believe that it is time to take action on removing the flag from license plates.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans should absolutely have the right to a state plate, but they need to use a different symbol. I am already working with other legislators to push this forward this year, and I hope we will take collective action to do so.

After the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality, a number of people have asked me about the status of this year’s law (SB2) that allows magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from participating in marriages.  The Court’s decision probably has no immediate impact on that law.  It will need to face its own court challenge if it is to be knocked down.  After overriding the Governor’s veto of this bill, it is clear that the legislature will not change course on its own.  (I voted against the bill and to sustain the veto.)

I was a lead sponsor of a bill (H193) to address discriminatory profiling by law enforcement, but that bill has been completely blocked by the Republican leadership.  The House Budget does include an appropriation to support police departments and sheriffs who want to begin purchasing and deploying body cameras.  I supported an amendment to add this provision to the budget, but the Senate did not include a similar provision in their budget. Whether this is included in the final budget will tell us something about whether legislative leaders are serious about addressing the contemporary civil rights issues that have resulted in a severe breech in the trust between law enforcement and communities of color.

In the coming weeks, legislators will also be in a difficult debate about Medicaid services in North Carolina. In short, the House wants to have Medicaid administered by a provider-led network of hospitals and doctors, while the Senate wants a system run by managed care corporations. Nowhere in this debate will be any discussion of accepting federal Medicaid expansion funding that would offer health care to tens of thousands of poor and working class North Carolinians. No matter that our tax dollars have already paid for this service.  I hope that this is an issue that receives lots of attention in next year’s Gubernatorial race.

Finally, I have been fighting for tuition equality for undocumented students in our public community colleges and universities.  Prior to entering the legislature, I ran a college access program. I worked with dozens of intelligent, ambitious children who want to go to college and then spend their lives contributing to the United States.  What they need most is Federal immigration reform, but in the meantime, I’d like for them to have an affordable way to continue their education. Unfortunately, the bill that I sponsored to do this (H689) is also being blocked by Republicans.

Perhaps not all of these stands are popular, and I welcome conversation with any constituents who disagree with my positions because all voices deserve to be heard.  Down the road when my sons talk with their children about this era, I hope they’re able say that I stood on the side of justice.

This post was originally published in Graig’s monthly column for The News of Orange.