Commentary Human Rights

Women’s Equality Day Comes to North Carolina, Amid the Moral Week of Action

Emma Akpan

Organizers thought it was important to incorporate Women's Equality Day in the Moral Week of Action since many of the policies at issue, including the state's recent voter identification law, adversely affect women.

While I was in church on Sunday, I thought about the hard choices women face. My preacher spoke from a passage in Exodus about the saving of Moses. As the story goes, the pharaoh was planning to kill all the Hebrew boys in fear that they would eventually take over and rule over the Egyptians. To save his life, Moses’ mother and sister put him in a waterproof basket and sent him down the river in hopes that an Egyptian woman would take pity on him and adopt him. She did.

When I heard this passage, I immediately thought of mothers across North Carolina who are fearful that they will not have the ability to raise their children safely, with adequate education and health care.

On Tuesday, August 26, we will have the opportunity to highlight the hard choices women have to make daily during Women’s Equality Day, which honors the enfranchisement of women in 1920 and is now recognized around the country to address the diverse and important concerns of women. In North Carolina, the day coincides with the North Carolina Moral Week of Action, which is being held August 22 to 28 to expose the harmful legislation being imposed by North Carolina house leaders on all state residents. North Carolina organizers thought it was important to incorporate Women’s Equality Day in the Moral Week of Action since many of the policies at issue, including the state’s recent voter identification law, adversely affect women. 

My faith encourages me to ensure the health of my community. Like the women in the story of Moses, women in my community fight hard to make their voices heard and protect their children. Many women look to their faith communities to help support their families, and these faith communities across North Carolina work hard to support struggling families. They help with bills, child care, and spiritual and emotional support.

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But sometimes, this isn’t enough. Funding and resources at churches and other communities of faith are limited. Most churches don’t even have the budget to provide after-school care, tutoring, or other assistance for women and their babies.

We need to live in a society that does not have barriers to health, economic security, and safety so women won’t have to fear for the health of their bodies and the bodies of their children. Women should not have to be afraid that they cannot feed themselves and their families.

That’s why women of faith have been taking the lead in the Moral Mondays movement. We are tired of families living in financial fear and living without adequate health care. We believe it is the duty of the state to make sure our communities have access to good education, health care, and public safety.

Tara Romano of North Carolina Women United also recognizes the importance of women’s voices in the Moral Mondays movement. She was on the initial calls planning the Moral Week of Action, along with other women organizers who in early July had already begun to plan a Women’s Equality Day. That’s when leaders of the NAACP asked Romano to take the lead in coordinating the Raleigh event for Women’s Equality Day.

“Almost all the organizers were women, and most of the speakers were women,” Romano said. “This is a good opportunity in the NAACP to see that we are a big part of this movement.”

Since a diverse group of women were able to set the agenda, we have an opportunity to talk about reproductive justice in a more inclusive way. I’ve written how this was not always the case in North Carolina.

For me, reproductive justice encompasses much more than making sure women have access to contraceptives and safe abortion, but also making sure women have the financial security to raise children in a safe and healthy environment.

In the past year in North Carolina, the North Carolina General Assembly refused to expand Medicaid, a policy that would help many women be healthy enough to care for their children. Yes, pregnant women automatically get prenatal care under Medicaid, but a woman needs health care well before she decides to get pregnant. A woman’s health before she is pregnant can determine the health of her pregnancy and child, and good health reduces infant mortality. So yes, all women, mothers or not, need health care.

The assembly also cut subsidies for after-school care for their children. After-school programs are expensive, costing families up to $500 a month. With the subsidies, some families were paying as little as $9 a week for after-school care, care that included homework help and enriching academic activities that help their children succeed. Now families will have to scramble after school to find safe, affordable, and adequate care for their children.

We also live in a state that just passed a law allowing concealed guns in public spaces. This law is dangerous for women: Five women in the United States die each day from gun violence, often at the hands of their partners. What’s more, given the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the killing of Mike Brown, mothers are worried that their child may in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the loosening of gun restrictions nationwide makes our public spaces even more dangerous. All mothers should be able to raise their children in a community that is safe from gun violence.

The list goes on. For instance, our state legislators rid us of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which had helped many women in low-wage jobs stretch their paychecks a little more to pay bills. Shelia Arias, a mother of two children from Durham, will speak on the importance of the EITC for working families at Tuesday’s event. “It’s a way to help hard working people make ends meet and handle unexpected life emergencies,” Arias said, speaking from personal experience.

We also live in a state that has restricted access to voting under its new voter identification law, which disproportionately affects women, especially women of color and low-income women without the necessary identification. In some cases, these women will have to use their limited funds to purchase a new ID. In addition, the law has closed many voting sites and cut early voting shortEarly voting sites gave women who work inflexible hours the flexibility to vote. Now, women may be discouraged from showing up to the polls at all.

Women’s Equality Day gives us another opportunity to let North Carolina legislators and voters know why women should show up to the polls in record numbers on Election Day. We’re sponsoring voter registration drives and “get out the vote” efforts across the state to make sure that women, representing over half of the electorate, have what they need to make their voices heard.

In general, the day is a reminder that women in North Carolina need access to services that will help their families. We cannot continue to live in communities where women are constantly worried about how they will meet their most basic needs, like feeding their children.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”