North Carolina

Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win. Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.
PFAW

Florida Puts Hold on Voter Purge, North Carolina Lifts the Veil on Voter ID Law

When we last checked in with the controversial Florida voter purge, advocates and media alike were speculating over what route Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner would take in 2014, with Detzner's office considering comparing its voter records with the US Department of Homeland Security's federal citizenship database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE). Now we know: the purge is off for 2014. Also this week, in North Carolina US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public.
PFAW

North Carolina School Board Votes to Keep ‘The House of the Spirits’ in Curriculum

Last October, a parent at Watauga High School in Boone, North Carolina asked the local school board to remove Isabel Allende’s internationally-renowned The House of the Spirits from the curriculum. After making its way through a multi-step county review process, last week the school board voted 3-2 to uphold the teaching of the book.

The fight to keep the book in the curriculum was backed by many supporters – including the author herself. In a letter to the Watauga County Board of Education, Isabel Allende wrote,

Banning books is a common practice in police states, Like Cuba or North Korea…but I did not expect it in our democracy.

PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan also spoke out against censorship to the school board. In his letter, Keegan wrote:

We trust that as educators you will uphold the right of all students in Watauga County to receive a competitive, rigorous education free from censorship. While individual parents have every right to decline reading material for their own children, they should not be allowed to censor the curricula for all students in the county.

The House of the Spirits is not the first book PFAW Foundation has fought to protect. In addition to speaking out about Allende’s novel, in the past year PFAW Foundation has advocated against censorship attempts aimed at Invisible Man, Neverwhere, and The Bluest Eye.
 

PFAW Foundation

Burr's Blue Slip Abuse Continues

North Carolina's Sen. Richard Burr still won't say why he is blocking Jennifer May-Parker's judicial nomination.
PFAW

PFAW Members Join Largest Civil Rights March in the South Since Selma

People from all walks of life marched together - from students and activists to lawyers, healthcare professionals, and teachers.
PFAW

Sen. Burr Invents New Rule to Hide Obstruction of NC Judicial Nominee

Burr's current refusal to publicly comment on a pending judicial nominee stands in contrast to his practice for previous nominees.
PFAW

NC Committee Upholds Teaching of Challenged Allende Novel

After Isabel Allende’s internationally-renowned novel The House of the Spirits was challenged by a parent this October, PFAW Foundation wrote to members of the Watauga County, North Carolina Board of Education, urging them not to remove the book from the county’s high school curriculum. Now, following a sustained outcry at both the local and national level – including from Allende herself – a county appeal committee has unanimously voted to uphold the teaching of the book.
PFAW Foundation

Isabel Allende Fights Against Banning of Her Own Book

When the teaching of Isabel Allende’s internationally renowned novel The House of the Spirits was challenged in a North Carolina school district last month, advocates from all corners spoke out in its defense, including PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan and North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti. Now, Isabel Allende herself has joined the conversation.

Yesterday the School Library Journal reported that Allende has mailed a letter, along with copies of her book, to the Watauga County school board, superintendent, and the principal of Watauga High School.

After acknowledging that being in the position of defending her own book is “unusual and awkward,” Allende points out in her letter that The House of the Spirits is “considered a classic of Latin American literature and it is taught in high schools, colleges, and universities in all Western countries, including the USA for more than two decades.” She expresses concern about the practice of book censorship in general:

Banning of books is a common practice in police states, like Cuba or North Korea, and by religious fundamentalist groups like the Taliban, but I did not expect it in our democracy.

Allende’s letter comes as the book undergoes a multi-step review process in the county. Last month an advisory committee comprised of teachers, students, and parents voted unanimously not to remove the book from the curriculum, but that decision has been appealed.

PFAW Foundation

After Outcry From PFAW Foundation and Others, NC School Board Rescinds Ban on ‘Invisible Man’

The North Carolina school board that voted to ban Ralph Ellison’s landmark novel Invisible Man from school libraries last week has now voted to reinstate the book, reports Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune.

Last week after hearing about the ban, PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan sent a letter to Randolph County school board members urging them to reverse their decision.  Area media outlets documented the local, national, and even international response.

The board listened to the outcry.  The Courier-Tribune reports that yesterday evening, the Randolph County Board of Education voted 6-1 to reinstate the book to school libraries in the county.  At the meeting, some board members reflected on their changing perspectives about censorship and constitutional liberties:

Lambeth said since the last meeting he had listened to other viewpoints and still was concerned about the book’s content and protection of students, but realized that the decision was about a child’s First Amendment rights and educational values, not his personal perspective.

Board member Tracy Boyles said he had wondered as he drove home from the last meeting whether he had made the right decision….He also reflected on his son being in the Air Force and ‘in war twice.…He was fighting for these rights. I’m casting a vote to take them away. Is it right of me? No.’

Fighting censorship has long been a priority of People For the American Way Foundation.  Freedom of expression – whether in schools, museums, or any public place – is a fundamental right of Americans that PFAW Foundation will continue its work to protect.
 

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Foundation Urges North Carolina School Board to Reverse Decision Banning ‘Invisible Man’

People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan sent a letter to members of the Randolph County, North Carolina, Board of Education today urging them to reverse their decision banning Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from school libraries.  Following a complaint from a parent, the board voted 5-2 on Monday to remove all copies of the acclaimed American literary work from school libraries in the county, Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune reported.

The Courier-Tribune is now reporting that the board may indeed reconsider the ban, noting that they plan to hold a special meeting about the book on Wednesday, September 25.

The full text of the letter is below:

Randolph County Board of Education
c/o Dr. Stephen Gainey, Superintendent
McDowell Governmental Center
2222-C  S. Fayetteville St
Asheboro, NC 27205

September 20, 2013

Dear Members of Randolph County Board of Education:

On behalf of our 816,840 members and activists, we urge you to reverse your decision to remove all copies of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from Randolph County school libraries, which was reported by Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune.

Since its 1952 publication, Invisible Man has been targeted multiple times for censorship attempts.  To be sure, it is a piece of literature that explores painful themes – one that, as journalist Roger Rosenblatt put it, “captured the grim realities of racial discrimination as no book had.” Yet despite the opinion of one board member that the novel lacks “any literary value,” Invisible Man is among the most acclaimed American novels of the past century.  It won the 1953 National Book Award for fiction and was deemed by TIME magazine one of the top 100 English-language novels since 1923. 

As an organization that works with elected officials, we recognize that school board members often face difficult decisions that require balancing the concerns of parents with the educational development of students.  But denying students access to landmark novels such as Invisible Man because of a parent’s complaint harms students’ ability to learn from and engage with the rich body of literature our country has produced.  In addition, multiple committees in your district recommended against its removal. 

Our nation’s education system is designed to teach students critical thinking skills – to expose them to new, and sometimes challenging, ideas.  This classic literary work must not be banned from schools.  We urge you to reconsider this decision, and to make this book available once again to students in your school district.

Sincerely,


Michael Keegan
President, People For the American Way Foundation

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and can express their views on a level playing field.
PFAW

PFAW Foundation Remembers Civil Rights Hero Julius Chambers

We here at People For the American Way Foundation are deeply saddened by the passing of Julius Chambers, a trailblazing civil rights lawyer and former People For the American Way Foundation board member.  In the 1960s, Chambers opened what became the first integrated law firm in North Carolina and later went on to lead the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.  Throughout his life, he fought and won cases on school desegregation and discrimination, including a case on public school integration – Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education– that went all the way to the Supreme Court and paved the way for the use of busing to counter segregation. 

But as the New York Times noted yesterday:

Mr. Chambers’s victories came with a cost. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Swann, his offices were firebombed. After his successes in 1965, his car was firebombed and two bombs exploded in his home.

His response was defiant; he said he would “keep fighting.”

More than forty years later, during a 2008 PFAW Foundation panel on the future of the Supreme Court, Chambers made it clear that he was still fighting.  He underscored his commitment to “us[ing] the courts to correct the injustices that we see still perpetuated today,” including discrimination against low-income people.

It is not difficult to see why the North Carolina NAACP chapter described Chambers as “a man of tremendous courage.” 
 

PFAW Foundation

Shredding the Constitution in North Carolina

North Carolina legislators introduce a resolution declaring that the state can establish a religion and that federal courts can't declare laws unconstitutional.
PFAW

Experts Discuss the Politics of Voter Suppression

The right to vote is the most fundamental cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Yet right-wing  governors, legislators, and election officials around the country have been working to make it harder for Americans to exercise that right, through voter ID laws, restrictions on voter registration, cutting back opportunities for early voting, and other suppressive measures.
 
On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO held a panel discussion with three voting rights experts, who discussed the impediments many voters face and proposed ways to boost voter participation as we approach the November elections. The conversation was moderated by AFL-CIO executive vice-president Arlene Holt Baker, and the three panelists included Tova Andrea Wang, writer of the recently published book The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding America’s Right to Vote, Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza, and Carmen Berkley of Generational Alliance.
 
Discussing the GOP’s assault on voting rights, Tova Andrea Wang read this statement from a legislator: “I don't have a problem making [voting] harder. I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should be something you do with a passion.” Wang then asked the audience to guess what era they believed this assertion was made in. Most estimated the late 1800s. The audience was incorrect—the statement was made in 2012, by Florida Republican State Senator Michael Bennett. Wang further explained that parties have been manipulating election practices for almost 150 years, and politicians continue to repackage the same voter suppression tactics to fit the current times. Over the course of history, forces have repeatedly tried to block voters. But in the past couple of years, we have seen these forces re-emerge with particular ferocity, as more and more states attempt to introduce voter identification laws and implement other voter suppression tactics.
 
Wang alluded to restrictions on early voting in Florida and Ohio and the illegal purging of voter registration lists as massive hindrances to voter participation.  According to the NAACP, in Florida, more than 32 percent of those who voted early on the last Sunday before Election Day were African American, and nearly 24 percent were Latino. Many African-American churches in Florida and Ohio organize citizens to vote on the Sunday before the election, and by eliminating this possibility, states are making it harder for minorities to cast their ballot. Wang also mentioned how Florida's Gov. Rick Scott’s staff combed through the information of 80,000 registered voters to find out who was not an American citizen, and thereby ineligible to vote. Scott found only one individual on the list who was not an American citizen—more evidence that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. 
 
Wang accentuated the importance of early registration and same-day registration as ways to increase participation. She stated that when North Carolina used early voting and same-day registration in the 2008 election, participation in the African-American community skyrocketed from 59% in 2004 to 72% in 2008.
 
Clarissa Martinez and Carmen Barkley continued the discussion, touching upon the barriers that Latino voters and young voters face. Martinez emphasized the need to combat suppression tactics and ensure that Latino communities are not confused with the election process. She advocated for the criminalization of deceptive practices and misinformation, which affect Latinos and recently naturalized citizens who may be unsure of how to navigate the voting process. Berkley, a campaigner for young people’s voting rights, stressed that since there are 46 million people under 29 who are eligible to vote this election, it is crucial to raise awareness and educate young people about the voting process. Many young people do not have a government issued ID or do not know the last four digits of their Social Security number, making them unqualified to vote in some states. Berkley stated that it is vital that we inform first-time voters in high school by using social media and creating online voter guides.
 
All panelists emphasized that we cannot let our legislators continue to cherry-pick who can vote by implementing suppressive laws that have proven to affect minorities and young people—a liberal-leaning demographic. The right to vote needs to be preserved, not stifled.

 

PFAW

North Carolinians Voting Today on Anti-Gay Constitutional Amendment

North Carolina voters today are casting their ballots on Amendment One, an extreme measure that would write discrimination into the state’s consitution and potentially take away important protections for all unmarried couples, gay and straight.

The amendment states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina. It would not only deal another blow to gay and lesbian couples in the state, who are already prohibited by law from marrying, but endangers protections for all unmarried couples, including domestic violence protections and health insurance coverage.

The Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families is running a handful of powerful ads showing Amendment One’s potential devastating impact. Here are a couple:

President Bill Clinton also recorded a robocall on behalf of the anti-Amendment One campaign. You can listen to it here.

North Carolina voters can find your polling place here.
 

PFAW

North Carolina Puts Anti-Equality Amendment on the Ballot

North Carolina’s Senate today passed a measure to put an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot. North Carolina is currently the only Southeast state that hasn’t amended its constitution to ban same-sex marriage, although it already has a statutory ban.

State anti-marriage amendments like North Carolina's are often put on the ballot to boost turnout for other elections – the Bush administration, for instance, was active in getting 11 anti-marriage amendments on state ballots in 2004.

What is remarkable about these amendments is that they change state constitutions to take away rights from citizens, while the traditional role of state and federal constitutions has been to guarantee rights for citizens, especially those who may not be popular among the majority.

It’s sad to see yet another state putting the rights of a minority at the mercy of a majority vote.

 

PFAW