A Letter to My Son
Dearest Everett Lewis,
Your mother and I are madly in love with you. We’ve been overcome with joy since you were born on February 7th. You’re healthy, adorable, sweet, and full of infectious positive energy.
We want the best for you and have the same concerns as many parents. Will you meet developmental milestones? How will we afford daycare, healthcare, and college? Will you make friends easily? Are we doing a good job raising you?
My greatest fear though – the one that gives me stomach pains, keeps me up at night, and brings tears to my eyes – is that you’ll grow up in a place unfit for a child.
I love North Carolina. I love its beautiful mountains and beaches, charming towns, good weather, delicious food, rich culture, and warm people. I grew up in and around Asheville, where your Nana and Zayde still live, and attended Buncombe County Schools and then the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where your Aunt Bobbi went and your Uncle Sean now goes. After graduation, I spent five years trying other states on for size, but none fit quite right, at least not as well as the Tar Heel State. In 2009, your mom and I returned to the place I’ll always call home, with the intention of staying for the foreseeable future. I wanted to be near family and friends and to give back to the state that had given me so much.
I think you could love it here too. Sadly, I’m not sure we’ll find out.
You see North Carolina has historically been a conservative, yet moderate state on the national political spectrum, with some exceptions like Jesse Helms. There was hope it was moving to the left after President Obama carried the state in 2008. However, rich ultra-conservatives, fearing they were losing North Carolina as a Republican stronghold, started pumping big money into the state. As a result, in 2011, Republicans gained control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time since 1870, and in January 2013, Pat McCrory was sworn in as the state’s first Republican governor in 20 years. Now, if we stay here…
You may not receive a good education. Public education is under attack through resource starvation, under-regulated charter schools, skyrocketing tuition at public universities, and attempts to remove classroom size caps, eliminate Personal Education Plans, close UNC campuses, privatize K-12 education (e.g., vouchers, tax credits, and savings accounts), and expand high-stakes, standardized testing.
Your mother, a public school teacher, may be mistreated. Teachers are under attack through inadequate salaries, elimination of teacher assistant positions, and attempts to ban payroll deductions for association dues, eliminate tenure, and implement performance pay.
You and your friends may be mistreated. Children are under attack through corporal punishment, excessive out-of-school suspensions, law enforcement officers in schools, prosecution of all 16- and 17-year-olds charged with a crime as adults, and attempts to make it easier to transfer children ages 13-15 to the adult criminal system and require parental consent for sexually transmitted disease, mental health, and substance abuse treatment.
You may not have clean water to drink or clean air to breathe. Our environment is under attack through fracking and attempts to destroy the state’s renewable energy program.
You may be shot. Public safety is under attack through attempts to allow guns in bars, restaurants, courthouses, and schools.
Children are sponges. They soak up what they see and hear. Soon you’ll be aware of the messages currently being sent by state policymakers. If we stay here, I’m terrified that you may internalize…
Classism. The 1.7 million North Carolinians living in poverty are under attack through cuts to unemployment insurance, long waiting lists for housing assistance and childcare subsidies, denial of Medicaid expansion, and attempts to reduce or eliminate the state Earned Income Tax Credit, require criminal background checks for federal food and cash assistance, and privatize Medicaid with managed care. There’s also no mandatory living wage or collective bargaining.
Racism. People of color are under attack through the closing of the Latino Affairs Office, mass incarceration, attempts to eliminate the Racial Justice Act, and disparate impacts of most of the aforementioned attacks.
Sexism. Women are under attack through wage gaps and attempts to criminalize the exposure of breasts, make it more difficult to have an abortion, and require a two-year waiting period before filing for divorce.
Xenophobia. Immigrants are under attack through the Secure Communities program, denying undocumented students in-state tuition and eligibility for state financial aid, and attempts to issue special licenses.
Homophobia. People who identify as LGBTQ are under attack through Amendment One, the appointment of Buddy Collins – who has a long history of opposing anti-bullying measures aimed at protecting LGBTQ students – to the State Board of Education, and attempts to overturn the UNC’s gender non-specific housing policy.
I can’t bear the thought of you learning that injustice, suffering, and despair are inevitable; that human rights aren’t for all humans; and that hate and vitriol are normal.
Time will tell whether the current, frightening political climate will continue and your mother and I, consequently, must flee the state for your sake, and for our own mental health and happiness. Although I’m not sure where we’d we go in light of the stranglehold capitalism seemingly has on all corners of the globe.
Unfortunately, right wing extremists may continue to take our state backwards because of their efforts to chip away at democracy through redistricting and attempts to require voter identification, curtail early voting, and eliminate same day registration on Election Day and Sunday voting. In other words, conservative lawmakers are doing their best to stay in power by suppressing the votes of people of color, low-income people, the elderly, immigrants, and college students.
Nonetheless, I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to stay and you’ll find out how wonderful North Carolina can be. I’m hopeful because, as your Uncle Sean recently reminded me, political swings like this are short-term, the far right is well-funded but few in number, and the majority of The People, where power truly lies, don’t want to see the attacks continue. I’m hopeful because, in the words of Mohandas Gandhi, “All through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall.”
In the meantime, I make two promises to you. First, I will love you and teach you compassion, idealism, resiliency, fairness, and kindness. I will protect you from what my dear friend, mentor, and comrade, Lewis Pitts, calls “the virus of despair and pessimism” and fill you with what he calls “spiritual Gatorade.” And I will surround you with a beloved community that’ll do the same.
Second, I will continue to fight for justice. I will do so to be an example to you, to help ensure a brighter future for you and your friends and family, and to channel my moral outrage into a positive action, rather than allow it to weigh too heavily on our home. As Joan Baez said, “Action is the antidote to despair.”
I’m so excited to watch you grow, develop, and become part of the next generation of freedom fighters. Hopefully that can happen in North Carolina.