A healthy lawn starts at the grassroots. You have to work the soil, add organic material and plenty of loving care, and soon you'll see a pretty patch of green. Get the picture? If you've got the love, and you're ready to dig at the grassroots, this story is for you.
The Independent called activists throughout the Triangle to help us identify 10 important social justice campaigns being waged in 2000 that need your help. For each, we offer a brief description and update our past reporting; we also supply contact names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, along with any other information that may help you to help them.
So get your hands dirty--plant seeds of hope, nurture peace and harvest justice in one or more of the following ways.
When North Carolina voters were asked a couple years ago whether our political campaigns are influenced too much by money, 93 percent answered "yes." And they're right. Spending on the '98 state legislative elections totaled $15.3 million, with incumbents outspending their challengers by an average of 2-to-1. When a candidate did spend twice as much money as the opposition, his chances of winning were 97 percent. The magic number was $150,000--25 candidates spent that much or more, and every one who did is now a member of your General Assembly.
Where did all that money come from? Corporations and special interests, says Peter Walz, an organizer with N.C. Voters for Clean Elections, a Raleigh-based coalition that is committed to giving elections back to the people. Businesses, through their political action committees, and wealthy individuals can give virtually unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns. And the General Assembly, whose members are the beneficiaries, has refused to do anything about the problem.
Fed up with the powers-that-be, progressive groups that have been fighting separately for campaign reforms have now banded together under the umbrella of NCVCE, Walz said. They include the NAACP, the N.C. Alliance for Democracy, the N.C. Association of Educators, N.C. Common Cause, and the N.C. Council of Churches. Their objective: passage of the Clean Elections Act, legislation that would provide public financing to candidates for state offices who agree to forego special-interest contributions. Similar measures have been enacted in recent years by Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont.
Action: First, spread the word. Invite a speaker to your civic group or church to talk about the Clean Elections Act. Ask your local officials to sign a resolution of support--500 officeholders have done so already. Ask your legislators--and their opponents--to pledge their support.
Contact: N.C. Voters for Clean Elections, 493-7722 (toll-free, 1-877-663-3257), or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
The rich are thriving, but the poor are still with us. The N.C. Council of Churches reminds us that, even in these good times, our state must confront serious problems of poverty:
The child poverty rate is 20 percent, and 25 percent for children under age 6.
The poverty rate overall is 12.4 percent, but it is 25 percent using income levels equivalent to one and one-half times the official poverty line, or $18,774 for a family of three.
Four of five families with children living in poverty have at least one adult who is working.
Incomes for white men with jobs are 27 percent higher than those of their African-American counterparts, and 37 percent higher than Latino men's.
"The poorest of the poor are not thriving," says the Rev. Collins Kilburn, the Council's executive director. "The inequalities continue."
The Council has launched a statewide, Jubilee Year 2000 campaign to promote economic justice by removing the root causes of poverty. The "jubilee" name is taken from a biblical text calling for periodic redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. A pastoral letter signed by the heads of 20 Christian denominations has just been released. "The poor need to have a voice if they are to achieve liberation from economic oppression," it says. "Such voice and strength are most likely to be found in organization and collective endeavor. Churches are called to support such developments."
Action: Hold a Jubilee 2000 service at your church. Review the covenant and invite participants to sign it. Lobby your elected representatives, bankers and business leaders to sign, and to use their influence in favor of economic equality. Signatures will be delivered at the end of the year to the newly elected governor.
Since 1991, when the Gulf War ended, more than 500,000 Iraqi civilians--many of them children--have died as a result of the United States-led regime of economic sanctions. Foreign Affairs, the authoritative journal on foreign policy, concluded in its May/June 1999 issue: "Sanctions [on Iraq] have contributed to more deaths than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history."
The U.N. Security Council has responded with an oil-for-food program, in effect putting the entire Iraqi nation on food rationing. It is, says Rania Masri of Raleigh, a national leader in the anti-sanctions movement, "as little solution as bread lines during the Great Depression."
Masri is seeking help with the "Abolish Sanctions in 2000 Campaign" organized by the Triangle Chapter of the Global Movement to End the War Against Iraq and the Iraq Action Coalition. "We need to send a strong statement to our representatives," she says. "We would like to inundate them with telephone calls and faxes demanding the immediate end to the war against the people of Iraq," Masri said.
Action: Tell your representatives to support the bipartisan letter to President Clinton initiated by Reps. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), which calls for de-linking the economic sanctions from the military sanctions currently in place against Iraq. The letter has been endorsed by 31 representatives, none of them from North Carolina. Members of Congress representing parts of the Triangle, including Reps. David Price, Bob Etheridge, Eva Clayton and Mel Watt can be reached through the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
Contact: For information about the weekly Chapel Hill vigil to abolish sanctions, call Andy Dabazinskas at 401-2307. To contact Masri, call 272-8685, or go to http://iraqaction.org on the Web; see http://leb.net/epic/ for a list of signatories to the Campbell-Conyers letter. For an organizing packet, e-mail email@example.com.
Nothing against pickles. But thousands of farmworkers across Eastern North Carolina work long hours for low wages under sometimes intolerable conditions to harvest the cucumbers that make them. This mostly Latino work force has few advocates on its side. One, a potentially powerful one, is the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a Toledo, Ohio-based union that came into the state several years ago.
FLOC's first target is the Mt. Olive Pickle Company in Wayne County. Mt. Olive is the South's biggest pickle producer. It gets most of its cucumbers from local farmers who grow them under exclusive contracts. In 1997, FLOC asked Mt. Olive to enter into a three-way labor contract with growers and farmworkers that would establish a union for the workers who harvest its cucumbers. Mt. Olive CEO William Bryan rejected the offer, and last spring FLOC announced a national boycott of Mt. Olive products. Most grocery stores in North Carolina still carry Mt. Olive products, however, and restaurants and food wholesalers also use them. "As far as the company goes, Mr. Bryan is not budging," says national FLOC organizer Mike Ferner.
Though the boycott extends into the 18 states where Mt. Olive sells its products, North Carolina will play a crucial role in whether it succeeds or fails. "We're central to the struggle," says John Olson, a Durham coordinator. "It's right in our backyard where these problems exist, and we ought to be taking an interest in it."
Action: Boycott Mt. Olive products and tell your friends to do likewise. Ask restaurants and grocery stores that you patronize to stop using Mt. Olive products. Send letters to Bryan (William Bryan, CEO, Mt. Olive Pickle Co., P.O. Box 609, Mt. Olive, N.C. 28365), or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with your views. Join local activists who leaflet shoppers at area grocery stores.
Contact: Call David Austin, 490-6707, about leafleting. Call Joan Preiss of the Durham-based Triangle Friends of the United Farm Workers, 489-2659, or send e-mail to email@example.com for information about FLOC.
Is the traffic so bad that you're reading this as you crawl along I-40? It's only going to get worse--unless you get active in the effort to stop sprawl. The Sierra Club, with three Triangle chapters, is leading the way with its "Challenge to Sprawl" campaign. "The Triangle is suffering the consequences of poorly planned growth--traffic congestion, air and water pollution, overcrowded schools, expensive new infrastructure, abandoned urban areas and older communities, and the disappearance of natural areas and farmland," says Mary Kiesau, the campaign coordinator. "Sprawl is the most recognizable and fastest growing threat to our quality of life and natural resources."
"We're interested in trying to make the Triangle more livable," says Thad Howard, chair of the Durham-based Headwaters chapter. His group is looking at traffic patterns and the way overcrowded roads decrease our quality of life. The Raleigh-based Capital chapter's "Save Open Space" campaign is aimed at getting public resources to acquire land and conservation rights before it's too late, says chair Vic D'Amato. "Natural open space in the greater Raleigh metropolitan area is disappearing at an alarming rate," he says. "Open space provides residents with recreational opportunities and a refuge from the urban environment. It also has broader environmental functions such as protecting water quality and providing wildlife habitat corridors."
Statewide, "Challenge to Sprawl" has adopted the goal set by Gov. Jim Hunt of preserving 1 million additional acres of natural open space over the next 10 years.
Action: Cooperation from elected officials is a key component to stopping sprawl. The Sierra Club chapters need help to pressure candidates for public office to work for smart growth and to monitor the decisions of municipal and county agencies.
Contact: Call Mary Kiesau at 833-8467; Capital chair Vic D'Amato at 834-7899 (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org); Headwaters chair Thad Howard at 544-9126 (e-mail thad.howard @duke.edu); Orange-Chatham's Sarah Bruce at 968-8406 or James Carnahan at 542-4386.
N.C. Peace Action would like David Price and Bob Etheridge to improve their grades--their peace grades, that is. Both U.S. House members--Price from his Durham-based district, Etheridge from a Raleigh-based one--will be hearing from the local arm of the national peace group this year as they seek re-election in November.
As we reported last week, Price and Etheridge both got F's from Peace Action for their votes on issues important to the group last year. So as part of the "PEACE VOTER 2000" campaign, they'll be asked--along with every candidate for national office--to make their intentions clear. Says national campaign co-chairman Bill Towe of Cary: "We will be raising basic questions about foreign policy and national priorities in the 2000 elections," Towe said. "Activists will also be a very visible presence on the campaign trail, 'bird-dogging' candidates with questions at public forums."
Peace Action will also get the word out via "massive distribution of voter guides comparing candidates' positions, and newspaper, radio and television advertising," Towe said, and it will use phone polling to identify committed peace supporters and make sure they get to the polls. Candidates in both parties want to avoid talking about nuclear weapons, trimming the military budget and cutting off weapons sales to dictators, Towe said. "Peace Action's PEACE VOTER 2000 campaign will make sure they can't duck these issues."
Action: Call Price and Etheridge to express disappointment over their F grades on peace issues, and urge them to do better in 2000. And help Peace Action make its presence felt by attending candidate forums to ask important questions about peace and foreign policy. Scores of` volunteers will be needed in late summer to assist in distributing voter guides. Lobbying opportunities are also available--for instance, on April 1-4, Peace Action will sponsor its annual "spring cleaning" trip to Congress.
Nuclear power advocates didn't worry much about where all the radioactive waste would go when the first generation of nuclear plants fired up three decades ago. That was unfortunate, because now Wake County may become host to the nation's largest repository of spent, high-level radioactive fuel-rod assemblies right on the grounds of Carolina Power & Light's Shearon Harris plant. Because the nation has no place to dispose of its high-level waste, utilities have been forced to come up with storage solutions that could drag on for decades.
That's what's worrying the folks at the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, a Durham-based watchdog group that is trying to stop CP&L's plan to more than double the number of fuel rods stored in four water-containment pools not designed for high-volume, long-term storage. NC WARN is challenging CP&L's conclusion that doing so will not increase the risk of accidents. "CP&L does not have data to argue the probability of severe accident is low," says NC WARN director Jim Warren, adding that discrepancies exist in its calculations regarding the technology for cooling fuel-rod assemblies.
So far, NC WARN has enlisted the help U.S. Rep. David Price and Sen. John Edwards to gather more technical information. Two nuclear safety experts hired by Orange County say the CP&L plan would "substantially increase the risk of a severe nuclear accident and radiation release to the atmosphere," Warren says.
NC WARN wants CP&L to use dry-cask storage for its high-level waste, the option of choice for most utilities. For the last 15 months, NC WARN has led the as-yet unsuccessful effort to get CP&L to hold full public hearings on the expansion plan. Eleven local governments and several editorial boards have joined NC WARN in calling for an "open and independent review" of the plan, Warren said.
Action: "Educate yourself and become involved," says Warren. Pressure CP&L to comply with NC WARN's request for a formal public hearing on all technical and environmental issues raised by the Orange County experts. Contact Price, Edwards, and other members of North Carolina's congressional delegation, as well as local politicians, to enlist their support. Ask media outlets to cover the issue. NC WARN is also organizing a boycott--with electric deregulation on the horizon, Warren is asking people to pledge that they won't buy their power from CP&L unless the company changes its position on the expansion plan. Inform CP&L of your decision.
Capital punishment has strong public support, right? Don't tell Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham or Orange County. These four Triangle governments, with strong public support, have passed resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions, joining some two dozen other organizations and church congregations around the state.
"Across North Carolina, people are raising their voices in moral indignation about our state's and our nation's fast and flawed march to death," says Steve Dear, executive director of the Chapel Hill-based People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, the group that began the moratorium drive.
"Many thoughtful political and moral leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, are calling for a moratorium," Dear said. "The purpose [is] to provide a cease-fire, a time for serious and deliberate public examination and debate over the administration of the death penalty in North Carolina. Passage of these resolutions will form the base of support to launch much stronger efforts in the N.C. General Assembly."
The goal is the passage of 100 moratorium resolutions by the end of 2000, including at least 15 local governments.
Dear's group is also collecting signatures as part of an international petition drive that so far has yielded more than 2 million signers. The petitions are to be delivered to the United Nations in December 2000 by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking.
Inequality in the administration of the death penalty led the American Bar Association to declare a crisis in due process in capital cases in the United States, Dear said. The ABA also called for a moratorium.
"By supporting the Moratorium Now campaign, concerned North Carolinians will be supporting those citizens whose rights and needs have long been marginalized--the poor and racial minorities," Dear said.
"The Southern states lead the nation in executions. Pushing North Carolina to the forefront of the moratorium effort brings hope to a region challenged to overcome a legacy of human rights abuses."
Action: Get your organization or congregation to endorse the moratorium. Urge your town council and county commissioners to do the same. Volunteer to collect signatures.
Contact: People of Faith Against the Death Penalty 1571/2 E. Franklin St. #3 Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514, 933-7567, or e-mail email@example.com for information.
For years, advocates of an international treaty calling for the elimination of "all forms of discrimination against women" have failed to win the day in the U. S. Senate, though it has been ratified by 165 other nations.
Not surprisingly, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) is responsible for blocking the treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has refused to consider ratification or conduct any hearings on it.
Last year, the Clinton administration indicated "an urgent need for Senate approval" during the 105th Congress. Because of Helms' intransigence, that never happened.
The 30-article treaty calls for specific actions signatory nations should take to eliminate discrimination against women, ranging from educational equity to ending forced prostitution.
On Nov. 19, eight of the nine women in the Senate introduced Senate Resolution 237, asking that the Foreign Relations Committee hold hearings and clear the way for a Senate vote on CEDAW by March 8, 2000--International Women's Day. North Carolinians for the Ratification of CEDAW, a coalition of approximately 50 local and statewide groups, has joined the push for passage of S.R. 237. They helped get the N.C. House of Representatives to urge ratification of CEDAW--the only Southern legislative body to do so thus far.
Action: Contact Sen. Helms and Sen. John Edwards through the congressional switchboard, (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support ratification. Urge Helms to allow committee hearings and a floor vote.
Contact: Call Jean Carroll of the N.C. Council for Women at 733-2455, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The idea had broad popular appeal: end welfare and put them to work. In 1996, President Clinton signed welfare reform into law, leaving the states with the burden of reducing welfare roles.
Justice advocate Barbara Earls of Cary, enlisted as part of a state task force to look at North Carolina's "Work First" program, has seen two things. First, there is a 57 percent reduction in the number of welfare recipients, and many of those who've moved from welfare to work have a sense of pride that they now earn a paycheck. Child care support, transportation subsidies and job-hunting help have been improved, she says. But the second thing is, the ranks of the state's poor are not shrinking. The jobs poor folks are getting don't pay enough for them--or their families--to make ends meet.
"We've got a state with too many minimum wage jobs," Earls says. "Most of these folks are moving from the welfare poor to the working poor."
Earls is now coordinating JUBILEE, a project of the N.C. Council of Churches. With the help of three "faith-community coordinators" in Durham, Orange and Wake counties, she is engaged in a "massive volunteer effort to supplement the growing needs of the working poor." Beside hands-on assistance--volunteers are matched with needy Work First families--Earls' group also trains congregations to do public-policy advocacy on behalf of the poor, including how to lobby the N.C. General Assembly.
The faith coordinators encourage congregations, Work First families and social services agencies to collaborate "so families will not just fall off the radar screen when they hit welfare time limits and get a job," Earls said.
Action: JUBILEE offers numerous volunteer opportunities for individuals and congregations interested in supporting families making the transition from welfare to employment. Earls has written a study guide called "Welfare, Work, and Poverty in North Carolina: A Bible Study/Action Guide." It includes a resource list of grassroots and policy organizations, child care resources, ministries with Work First families, government hotlines, etc. Cost: $15 each, or $12 for 10 copies or more. Write Earls, 975 Walnut St. Suite 205, Cary, N.C. 27511, or call her at 460-7666 (e-mail email@example.com) to order.
Contact: The faith-community coordinators are recruiting volunteers. Orange: Winnie Morgan, 732-1747, e-mail winnie@juno. com; Wake: the Rev. Stan Yancey, 250-1533; Durham: the Rev. Pebbles Lindsay-Lucas, 560-8153.