Many Network faithful have been writing in asking the general question, "What the heck is going on in North Carolina?" It's hard not to watch the news or read the paper without running across an update on the Moral Monday protests that have been taking place outside of the North Carolina Legislative Building. Moral Monday is a series of ongoing, nonviolent protests at the North Carolina General Assembly that has been happening every Monday since April 29 (not including Memorial Day) led by the NC NAACP. The protests are meant to demonstrate a push back against an "extreme" agenda that "includes cuts to education, social programs and unemployment benefits; rejecting Medicaid expansion; new restrictions on voting and labor rights; and restarting the death penalty."
On Monday July 8 the protests continued with several thousand people flooding the state capitol in Raleigh. I made the conscious decision to be one of sixty-four protesters arrested during this particular Moral Monday. Those of us ready for arrest lined up and marched to the Legislative Building, flanked by several thousand supporters. Once inside, we gathered in the rotunda outside the Senate and House chambers. Reverend Barber of the NC NAACP led us in song and inspirational words with supporters, including my two daughters, watching from the balcony above. Raleigh police gave us a five-minute warning to disperse and then began arresting us one by one. We were handcuffed, taken to the basement cafeteria and then put on prison buses headed for the Raleigh jail where we were photographed, processed and eventually released.
So why did I choose to be arrested? Because for me, enough is enough. In North Carolina, as in other states across the nation, decisions are being made by elected officials that will have dire consequences on the lives of children, youth and families. But here is the kicker – it would be a mistake to simply call this a Republican vs. Democrat issue. It is not. It is a moral issue. For us at the Network, we know that mental health challenges know no boundaries, especially political ones, so it is important that we approach this, not as a Democrat vs. Republican issue but as a moral issue that will have impact in communities across North Carolina and across the country.
Consider just a few of many statistics from the rapid-fire decision-making that is taking place in the North Carolina General Assembly in just the last six months:
- 56 percent - the percentage of tax cut in the latest edition of North Carolina Senate tax plan that will go to people who earn more than $940,000.
- 80 percent – the number of North Carolina taxpayers who earn less than $84,000 and will see their tax load increase under the latest edition of the Senate tax shift.
- 907,000 - low-wage workers in North Carolina who were able to claim the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2011.
- 0 - the number of low-wage workers in North Carolina who will receive the state EITC under the latest edition of the Senate tax shift. 100 counties in North Carolina had workers who benefited from the state EITC in 2011. By the way, 27 years ago - President Ronald Reagan called the EITC “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”
- North Carolina is the 39th richest state, and yet it ranks 12th for the percentage of children living in poverty – only 11 states fare worse.
- 1 billion dollars – The annual lost state revenue under the latest edition of the Senate tax shift when it is fully implemented.
- Nearly 2 in 3 uninsured low-income people who would qualify for subsidized coverage under Obamacare may be out of luck next year because North Carolina has not expanded Medicaid. 9.7 million out of 15 million potentially eligible adults live in states that are refusing the expansion or are still undecided with time running short. This decision will have very real human costs for families and communities.
- Devastating – The impact on public mental health services with the decision not to expand Medicaid.
Mental health is inextricably intertwined with public health and economic health. The broadside assaults on these three pillars with which we can measure the health of a community are coming from the NC General Assembly on a weekly basis. For a state that considers itself pro-business, the decisions that are being made in the General Assembly are ripping apart the economic and social fabric of communities across the state right before our very eyes. I can’t imagine many business owners who choose to look beyond a tax break would want that.
At the Children's Mental Health Network we pride ourselves on being a collective voice. My voice is but one of many, and we certainly don't always have to agree. But the one thing I think it is safe to say the collective voice of the Network agrees on is the importance of speaking out to ensure that youth with emotional challenges and their families get nothing but the best. And that means ensuring that we bring attention to what works for families and youth, what is innovative and exciting and what is not working and needs to be changed.
The beauty of Moral Monday is in its effect. It may not immediately impact what the media has come to call a “demolition derby” but it is making people sit up and listen. There is growing attention through local, state and national media outlets. Debates are now raging amongst folks who previously may not have been paying much attention. And, the protesters continue to grow in number and passion. There are many roles available for each of us who want to help protect our children and families. The actions of those who choose not to be arrested are just as important as those who choose to be arrested. For me, I will continue to actively protest and engage in public acts of non-violent civil disobedience.
President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network