When elderly women get arrested for protesting, people pay attention.
That’s what happened on Monday in Durham, North Carolina.
More than 200 people from various organizations including lawyers, students, preachers from across the state, physicians, leading historians, and a group of senior citizens known as the “Raging Grannies” held a peaceful “pray-in” and “teach-in” at the statehouse to protest the Republican-controlled legislature’s agenda. The grannies even sung some anti-war and anti-poverty protest songs.
More than 30 people, including some of the Raging Grannies, were arrested during the protest.
The reason for the protest is a bevy of bills that Progressives say target poor North Carolinians, including one that makes it harder for students to have access to pre-K education.
The North Carolina state House of Representatives passed the bill that narrows eligibility for the state’s pre-K program on Tuesday. The bill shifts eligibility from the federal poverty rate to 130 percent of the poverty level.
That, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, the North Carolina NAACP President and the convener of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People's Coalition, said, will take eligibility away from 30,000 children. There was already a list of 20,000 students waiting to get into pre-K programs.
Unlike many states, the North Carolina Constitution guarantees “a sound basic education to all children.”
The current legislature stands in violation of the constitution, Barber told TakePart.
Education, he said, has always been a major focus of the coalition, which is made up of 147 organizations. “We want high quality, well-funded, constitutional, diverse public education for every child.”
Barber said the coalition focuses on seven areas, including dealing with student poverty, 21st century classroom innovation, smaller class sizes, community and parental involvement, and investment in early childhood education by removing thousands of children on waiting lists.
The North Carolina bill that is being protested is part of a Republican agenda pushed by the state's GOP governor, Pat McCrory, who was elected last November.
Several of the bills that have gotten pushback from the Raging Grannies, and other groups, are similar to bills that have been introduced by Republicans in other southern states including Arkansas, South Carolina, and Louisiana.
Barber said many of the bills are pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a private conservative group backed by major corporations that proposes model legislation on an array of issues such as more vouchers and charter schools.
North Carolina, Barber said, is going backwards from a Progressive agenda.
“Last year, the legislature made $1.6 billion in education cuts across the board,” Barber said. “We were already in the bottom 40 for education in the country, now we’re 49th. We lost thousands of teaching jobs, but they [the Republican-controlled legislature] are promoting a voucher program.”
Two bills currently in the legislature would give authority to local school boards to create charter schools and form more flexible arrangements with district-run schools. These schools could experiment with various pay models and ask the state education board to waive the requirement that at least 50 percent of a school's staff hold instructional certifications.
Barber said the coalition will fight against the current legislative agenda by filing lawsuits, organizing a grassroots effort to visit 20 counties to tell citizens about their legislatures, and by engaging in “peaceful civil disobedience.”
“They have decided to be the George Wallaces of the 21st century,” he said. “They are using their power to close doors and close opportunities for students and the poor while undermining our own state constitution.”
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com