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Rev. Curtis Gatewood: Senate bill would make it harder for college students, low income households to vote, as GOP-controlled legislature aims to revive Jim Crow practices

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Monday, another 73 protesters were arrested in front of the North Carolina General Assembly. That brings the total number of Moral Monday arrests to 920 since the demonstrations began in late April. The NAACP and other activist groups have challenged North Carolina GOP’s agenda of abortion restrictions, cuts to education, the elimination of unemployment benefits, and raising taxes on 80 percent of residents while cutting them for top earners. This week, protesters gathered at the Statehouse to oppose GOP plans to pass one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country and the elimination of early voting, as well as budget plans which paved the way for privatization of education.

Now joining us to unpack all this is Reverend Curtis Gatewood. Reverend Gatewood is a coalition coordinator for the North Carolina NAACP headquarters. From 2005 to 2011, Gatewood served as second vice president of the state’s NAACP. He joins us now from Raleigh, where ongoing Moral Monday protests have turned out thousands of people demonstrating against the GOP-controlled state legislature.

Thanks for joining us, Reverend Gatewood.

REV. CURTIS E. GATEWOOD, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, NORTH CAROLINA NAACP: It is a pleasure joining you. And I bring you greetings on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP.

And let me just say, while I’m saying NAACP, I’ll remind your audience that NAACP is not an acronym for the National Association for the Advancement of Chicken Plates. It’s not the National Association for the Advancement of Corporations and Politicians. It’s not the National Association for the Advancement of Coward People. We are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 104 years of blood, sweat, and tears. We were here 100 years before the Tea Party started, and we’ll be 100 years after the Tea Party’s over.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you so much for that breakdown. Well, let’s get right into it, Reverend. Can you explain to our viewers exactly what is in this Senate-proposed voter restriction bill? And can you compare it to the one that passed in the House last month?

GATEWOOD: Sure, Jessica. And thank you for the question. The bill that passed the House where–we had an issue with the fact that it discriminated against certain colleges. It would not permit IDs, photo IDs from private colleges. Well, this particular bill that’s being proposed and introduced by the Senate would not allow any college IDs to be acceptable. And as you know, we were already opposed to any form of photo voter ID because of the fact we’ve had 237 years we haven’t needed voter ID, never had voter ID. But now we’re hearing all of a sudden we need voter ID.

Another way that this bill is even worse than the bill that was already introduced, already passed by the House is that this bill will not accept any ID that has been provided by those who receive public assistance. We see that as another slap at the poor, whereas the bill that was passed by the House versus the Senate, that bill would permit any ID that’s been used, provided by those who received public assistance. That would have been sufficient.

DESVARIEUX: What is their argument against using those types of, those forms of ID?

GATEWOOD: Well, it’s hard for us to try to rationalize any of this, because we would not understand any of it. So I would prefer that we ask that question to them, because, again, we’ve been here 237 years. We haven’t needed any form of ID [incompr.] we have voter signature attestation, which would provide sufficient–if anyone wanted to come in and get–pick up the ballot, if they will sign their name saying, I’d be willing to subject myself to a five-year felony if I’m lying, that normally had been sufficient.

So we do not understand any of this, because the only thing that we can see– we have a narrow-minded agenda, but we have a continuously building coalition of people, a rainbow that’s beginning to expand as far as African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, progressive whites, and young people who are coming in with a mind that’s not set, that’s tempered with this old sense of racism of the old South. We have a young people who are now building coalitions and who are–and I think President Obama said it rightly when he said that younger people that we are looking at today, they are much better than us in how they are open-minded when they’re looking at straight versus gay, black versus white, old versus young. They are more open-minded.

So in order for them to be able to win, the only thing they can do is cheat and to try to narrow the electorate down to the narrow-minded agenda that they have. So the only way they can see that they can survive rather than changing their policies and becoming more just and more righteous, they’re trying to narrow down and cut down the number of people who would be voting.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And you just described just how diverse your the protesters are, your coalition is. Can you tell us a little bit about why you think so many people are willing to be arrested for this movement? Because by all appearances, this has been one of the strongest movements since the Occupy movement, really. Why are we seeing so many people willing to go to the front lines for this?

GATEWOOD: Well, it’s exactly what I said. They’re underestimating the will, the might, and the power of a broader and broader coalition of people. What has gone on over, I would say, probably since the past 50 years, there was this belief that if you could race-bait the poor, race-bait poor whites into believing that [incompr.] demonize a certain group of people, whether it be African-Americans or Latinos, and make them appear as if they are the ones who are receiving free assistance or undeserving assistance when we talk about Medicaid, when we talk about food stamps, when we’re talking about things that would actually help those who are actually struggling and working hard, if you can demonize that group and make them believe it’s them versus us, then what you’ve done is you’ve made–you’ve created an atmosphere where poor whites will vote against their own interests.

But now that we have an expanding demographic of people across the nation, you have an influx of Hispanics here in North Carolina, you have African-American voting right now or before, you have young people who are now emerging with an attitude that says, I’m about voting my best interests rather than propaganda, with that going on, then we’re seeing people who are also willing to join a movement that is about justice, that is about righteousness, that is about building upon what we have in common versus trying to divide us based upon what we may not–divide us against our own self interests. So more and more people are beginning to wake up.

And when we come and actually break down exactly what is going on and help to educate people on how denying a half-million people Medicaid will hurt all of us, whether we be black, white, Latino, young, or old, when we actually help the people to understand when you deny unemployment benefits to 170,000 people who are eligible for, who earn, who at no fault of their own lost their jobs, when you see that that’s going to hurt my grandparents or that’s going to hurt my brother or my sister, I think people are beginning to see. So as we break down these policies and as they start to become into effect, where people can actually feel the pain, then the more and more you’re going to see people coming out, the more you’re going to see, well, we’ve been tricked again because we’ve had people who are playing parlor tricks and using tricks against us to keep us divided.

They denied us because they could divide us, lie to us. But now God is beside us to guide us to demand jobs, justice, education, under one God as one nation. And the one nation’s coming together.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s look forward a little bit. We have the North Carolina legislature summer session approaching. What’s next for the movement? And could you describe some of your short-term and long-term goals?

GATEWOOD: Well, what’s next for the movement is we’ve decided that if they’re going to take a break and go home, then we’re going to go home where they go. In other words, we may suspend the protests down at the General Assembly as they go home. But we’re now working to make sure we have protests and rallies set up in the various areas where many of these representatives live. So that’s what we’ll be doing. We’re going to be organizing local rallies, local protests, voter registration campaigns throughout the state of North Carolina. And then when they come back, we will be back picking up the protest, picking up the Moral Mondays. And if it have to come down to Moral Tuesday, Moral Wednesday, Moral Thursday, Moral Friday, then so be it.

But we are not backing up. We’re not turning around. We’re not going to sit down. We’re going to stand up. We’ve seen this movie before. We’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the hat. We’re saying no to Jim Crow. We’re not going back. So we’re going to mobilize and we’re going to organize. And we have the strength, we have the intelligence, we have the intellect, we have the knowledge about the Constitution.

And also we have God on our side. We’re not allowing them to use the Bible to just pick out the issues they want. They want to talk about abortion, they want to talk against homosexuals, they want to talk to about prayer in the schools and overlooking the major part of the Bible which speaks to love, which speaks to poverty, which speak to what we should do with the oppressed to make sure that they’re inspired, to make sure that they’re included, to make sure they’re in love, that they are loved.

So we have all of the resources that we need. We have the will of the people. So while they may have a temporary majority, we believe that as the people continue to come together, as they continue to understand that we’re on the right side of history, we’re on the right side of the Constitution, we’re on the right side of God. And we believe this movement going to continue to expand.

DESVARIEUX: Well, we’ll continue to be following this movement. Thank you so much for joining us, Reverend Gatewood.

GATEWOOD: You’re certainly welcome. God bless you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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