The so-called Bathroom Bill is no more about bathrooms than the so-called Voter ID bill was about identification, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II told a gathering of about 150 people at Hill Street Baptist Church on Tuesday, April 26.
“Read the rest of it,” Barber said. The new law, HB2, takes away the rights of local governments to set their own policy on matters such as living wage and pollution, he said, adding that it takes away the rights of workers to sue employers for discrimination in state court.
“You can say we still have federal court, but it costs twice as much,” Barber told the racially and gender diverse crowd. He noted that since there are fewer federal than state courts, it’s a longer distance to travel for most people, and the statute of limitations to file suit is six months, compared to the state’s 3-year limit.
Facing an emotional, supportive crowd, Barber declared, “The coalition has to look like you here tonight. We have to fight together. We have to be united.”
Before Barber took the stage, UNC Asheville political science professor Dr. Dwight Mullen spoke about the State of Black Asheville, a class he has been offering since 2007, in which students study racial disparities.
Mullen recalled a student who proposed studying bicycle use in Asheville. Mullen thought the idea absurd. But the student found fewer sidewalks and bike lanes in predominately African-American neighborhoods, and more injuries and deaths. What’s more, Mullen said, during the semester, this same student’s friend was hit by a car and died from his injuries.
“Tenure is a wonderful thing,” Mullen said several times as he delivered statistics and spoke about how children in the same schools fared differently depending on race. He contrasted the outcomes for students in grades 3 through 8 in Asheville City Schools: 19.5 percent of black students, 77.2 percent of white students and 42.9 percent of Hispanic students reached proficient or advanced reading levels (using statistics from the 2012-13 school year, NCPublicSchools.org). More details are online at www.stateofblackasheville.org.
Barber said it will take a coalition of citizens’ groups to overcome gerrymandering, unfair voter laws and blatant power grabs by the current state government. He said the North Carolina NAACP is sponsoring a get-out-the-vote campaign called “Our Time, Our Vote,” which aims to register tens of thousands of voters around the state, and to help them get to the polls.
Barber was among hundreds of people arrested in Washington during a three-day Democracy Rising demonstration at the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, and he led a group of people in an anti-HB2 sit-in at the General Assembly Building in Raleigh on Monday, during which 54 people were arrested.