Op-Ed: Critical for African Americans to Vote in 2014

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In an op-ed published in the QCity Metro, Dr. Rodney Sadler and Caroline Smith write that in 2014 it's critical for African Americans to turn out. They highlight a series of bad decisions by Speaker Thom Tillis that have specifically hurt the African American community. From refusing to apologize for slavery, rejected Medicaid expansion and the voter suppression law, Speaker Tillis has been no friend to the African American community. From their op-ed,

Now that the Supreme Court is allowing North Carolina to enforce its radical set of anti-voter laws in the upcoming elections, African-Americans in the Tar Heel State have even greater reason to get to the polls on November 4 and combat the ongoing attempts to suppress the voices of minority, elderly, and low-income voters.

The reasons why North Carolina’s current extremist leadership is bad for African-Americans and other minorities are almost too many to count, but let’s start with House Speaker Thom Tillis’ vocal opposition to a formal apology for slavery. Tillis said an apology would represent “de-facto reparations,” among other equally noxious comments. While a "formal apology" is far from sufficient redress for the persistent horrors that continue to afflict the African American community, the acknowledgement of wrongdoing is a requisite first step. Tillis' blindness to that wrongdoing illustrates his inappropriateness to serve as a senator who represents our interests.

These extremists also prevented half a million low-income North Carolinians from getting affordable access to health care through Medicaid expansion. As a result, between 1,000-2,800 people die each year in North Carolina alone because they can’t afford treatment. But Speaker Tillis has no problem with this. He made his agenda clear when he said the GOP needs to “divide and conquer” people on public assistance. How many more of our poorest working citizens will die if Tillis is elected to the U.S. Senate? You can bet he will continue to divide and conquer on the national level.

Of course, there’s also the voter suppression law itself. The North Carolina General Assembly claims its legislation was intended to prevent voter fraud, despite a total lack of evidence that voter fraud is a problem in North Carolina. But even if we take them at their word, how does cutting the early voting window by 40 percent prevent voter fraud? How does eliminating same-day registration and provisional ballots prevent voter fraud? How does eliminating voting and preventing “Souls to the Polls” programs prevent voter fraud? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is that it doesn’t. But these measures DO make it harder for minority populations to cast their ballots. He is trying to silence us and hamper our ability to vote, and that is why we need to vote in record numbers!

Racial discrimination is alive and well in the Tar Heel State. Just think about Jonathan Ferrell, who was asking for help after crashing his car in the Harrisburg area of Charlotte when he was gunned down by police who thought he was a burglar. Or DeShawn Currie, the Fuquay-Varina teenager who was pepper-sprayed by police in his own home because neighbors thought he was a burglar. Or Lennon Lacy of Bladenboro, whose mysterious death by hanging was hardly even investigated.

And what of all the other incidents that didn’t make the news? Too often people see televised images from places like Ferguson, Missouri, and think, “Oh, that can’t happen here.” We need to stop the North Carolina extremists from using discriminatory policies to “divide and conquer” their political opponents, and the best way to do that is to vote them out of office.

Remember: Apathy amounts to unspoken approval of the status quo. The extremists in the General Assembly have passed anti-voting laws that disproportionately affect young people and minorities. They raised sales taxes and eliminated the Earned-Income Tax Credit, both of which disproportionately affect low-income and working-class families. They even tried to close Elizabeth City State University, the coastal region’s only historically black university.

If you stay home on Election Day, you’re allowing those who care nothing about you to govern you -- and you’re giving them the power to continue their destructive agenda.

Rev. Rodney Sadler is a professor of theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte. Carolyn Smith is a Greensboro activist and board member of Progress North Carolina Action.

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