by Bob Geary
(Update: To get on the list for text messages from the HK on J coalition as the General Assembly session moves forward, send your text to 46988 with ncnaacp as your message.)
Picture postcard day in Raleigh. That helped the turnout for HK on J, no doubt, as did — don't you think? — fresh images of people power from Egypt. I'm guessing between 2.500 and 3,000 were there in front of the General Assembly building. And for sure, a diverse crowd. White, black, brown, for labor rights, immigrant rights, education rights — equal rights. In contrast, I must say, to the Wake Republican Party turnout Tuesday night at the Fairgrounds: It, too, was an impressive crowd of some 1,000, but if more than two of them (Bill Randall and Tim Johnson) were of a color other than white, I missed seeing them.
"Looking at the crowd today," Darryl Hunt told the HK on J throng, "I do believe we will win." Hunt, one juror's vote away from being executed for a crime that, 19 years of imprisonment later, he was proven not to have committed, is a good witness when it comes to taking the long view.
Diversity and equal education were big themes, and the fight for diversity in the Wake school board's assignment policies was raised repeatedly as well as the importance of organizing to vote in the October, 2011 school board elections and municipal (Raleigh, Cary) elections. The Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president, said the 2011 voting should be "a referendum on regression" — not bothering to say whether he had the Wake school majority (elected in '09) or the new Republican majorities in the General Assembly (elected in 2010) in mind.
Barber didn't address the compromise student assignment plan proposed yesterday by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership, a business-supported group. I asked him about it afterward. Like other pro-diversity leaders I've talked with, Barber is withholding judgment until he can study the plan in detail.
In fact, he said, "the devil is always in the details," a statement that seems especially apt in this case — when the details, if they come, will be filled in by the same conservative school board majority that made its distaste for diversity apparent early on.
"The reality," Barber said, "is that we had a nationally recognized [assignment] policy until it was dismantled by five ideologues on the school board. "It bothers me that we are asked to compromise with them when we ought to be trying to do what's right."
Rather than seek a new assignment plan, Barber said, a better approach would be to restore and build on the old one with the same commitment to education excellence for every student that ex-Superintendent Bill McNeal brought to the task. "We've got to take a stand against resegregation and sacrificing our children's future," Barber said.
As always at events like this, folks were out with their literature about a variety of issues and future events. A few I picked up:
* Democracy North Carolina is battling the Republican push in the General Assembly for legislation requiring voters to have a Photo ID before they can cast a ballot at the polls. (Absentee ballot, no problem!) They want supporters to phone, tweet or otherwise let Gov. Perdue know she should veto this bad thing. For info: www.democracy-nc.org
* And the Green Party was out collecting signatures to get their candidates on the ballot in future elections. Info: www.ncgreenparty.org
* Great Schools in Wake, a progressive group, launches a new film series about civil rights and education issues. First up, With All Deliberate Speed, a documentary about the Brown v. Board case. It's at the Galaxy in Cary on Feb. 24, 6:30 pm. $5, students $3.
* "FBI and Grand Jury Repression" will be subjects of a conference next Saturday, Feb. 19 at the UNC School of Law, sponsored by the Triangle Committee to Stop FBI Repression.
* The NAACP's Barber and Gene Nichol, head of UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity announced a day-long conference aimed at "putting a face on the poverty issue," Barber said. Its title: A North Carolina Summit: Progress and Economic Justice in a Time of Crisis.