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Pickle Polemics
It's not often that a pickle company, a government agency and a farm workers union sit down together to talk about farm worker safety, but the stars must have been in alignment over the Duke campus last week. Through the auspices of a class on farm workers in North Carolina, Duke professor Charlie Thompson brought together representatives from Mount Olive Pickles, the North Carolina Department of Labor and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) to discuss FLOC's current boycott of the company's pickles--a boycott Duke has signed onto. FLOC called the boycott in response to Mount Olive's refusal to negotiate with the union on the subject of wages and living conditions for workers who harvest its cucumbers. Union activists hope the boycott will aim a spotlight on such issues as low pay, lack of benefits, exposure to pesticides and long hours in the heat. Mount Olive insists that cucumber farmers employing those workers are independent contractors, not company employees, and that workers are already covered by federal labor laws.

For much of the class, Mount Olive representative Lynn Williams and FLOC organizer Matt Emmick traded jabs, while Department of Labor spokesperson Regina Luginbuhl sat between them, looking out of place. But in the midst of it all, a farm worker in attendance suddenly dropped to the floor in a seizure and the debate came to a momentary halt.

The worker was part of a FLOC contingent and, according to Emmick, frequently has such seizures. The plight of farm workers, who are among the nation's lowest paid workers and rarely have health insurance, was suddenly cast in Technicolor for all to see.

The incident didn't resonate with everyone. Luginbuhl pointed out that farm workers are "free to seek other employment" if they don't like conditions at a particular company. Mount Olive CEO Bill Bryan, who was in the audience, refused to answer a question about the disparity between his salary and that of an average cucumber picker.

Near the end of the debate, Mt. Olive's Williams volunteered to go on a tour of cucumber farms with FLOC representatives. Encouraged, one audience member asked whether Mount Olive had considered working with the union so that the company might market itself as "farm worker friendly." Williams never responded, but the idea is a worthy challenge not only to the company, but also to the consumer, who might just have to shell out a few more pennies for that jar of pickles in order to treat the farm workers who put food on our table like human beings--like the ones in the audience with us last week.
--Jenny Stepp

Inside the Supreme Court: Whole Counties or Squirrelly Shapes?
Is it possible the seven members of the North Carolina Supreme Court are split three ways on the issue of legislative redistricting? If that's not it, where is their decision on districts devised by the Democrats who control the General Assembly--and challenged by Republicans? The State Board of Elections is waiting for a court decision before deciding what to do about primary elections, which were supposed to happen May 7 but are now completely up in the air.The court is controlled 5-2 by Republican justices, and if they were of one mind after oral arguments on April 4, a decision should have followed within a few days. Why? Because if they're going to order the General Assembly to draw new districts ... and leave some time to draw new ones themselves if the legislature deadlocks ... and time for new districts to be "precleared" by the federal Department of Justice ... and time for a new filing period for candidates ... and primaries by September ... with runoffs if needed ... and then elections by November ...

Let's hope by the time you read this, the court will have issued its ruling. Otherwise, we're going to need two elections, one for the legislature--sometime next winter?--and one in November for everything else, from U.S. Senate to Wake County clerk of courts.

One guess: The court is split 3-2-2 on the question of whether the state constitution's "whole counties" provision has any meaning at all given that it conflicts with the federal Voting Rights Act, which ensures that racial minorities won't be disadvantaged by state election laws.

In this scenario, the two Democrats on the Court, Justices Sarah Parker and G.K. Butterfield, think there's nothing wrong (legally) with the plan drawn up by the Democrats. Yes, it "slices and dices" the 100 counties, as a Republican party lawsuit charges. And the state constitution says "no county shall be divided." But the state requirement is unenforceable, as Butterfield implied in his questions, since at-large elections are an old-timey way of burying racial minorities in one huge, white-dominated district.

Obviously, though, the Republicans think it is enforceable--or else why did they stop the primaries by bringing suit?

Two of the court's Republicans, Justices Mark Martin and Robert Orr, seemed to be aiming at a middle ground during oral argument: The "whole county" provision retains some meaning, but it must be squared not just with the Voting Rights Act, but also with another provision of the state constitution that calls for members of the state Senate and House to "represent, as nearly as may be, an equal number of inhabitants." That can't happen if the representative from Wilkes County comes from a district of 70,000 people, while the nine from Wake County--elected at-large--all represent 630,000 folks.

Their idea: Read the whole-county provision to allow single-member districts within counties, prohibiting only the division of a county where part of it ends up in a district with another county (or counties). The one exception would be if county lines must be crossed to keep a black community intact within a so-called majority-minority voting district. That exception would apply in the 40 counties covered by the Voting Rights Act. The other 60, where few black voters live, are not covered by the act.

The advantage of this idea is that it would hem in legislators who now use the Voting Rights Act as an excuse to draw squirrelly looking districts for pure political advantage. They could still draw some funny shapes, but only if they stay within county lines.

The other three Republican justices, including Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, haven't yet tipped their hand. Is it possible that Lake and at least one of the others--Robert Edmunds or George Wainwright--are holding out for some sort of "pure" reading of the whole-county provision? A pure reading might say that in Wake County, one House district should be created that is majority-black (in and around Southeast Raleigh), but the other eight House seats must be elected at-large.

The problem with that, as civil rights attorney Julius Chambers argued in defending the Democrats' plan, is that while the rights of the black voters who live in the Southeast Raleigh district would be protected, those who live elsewhere in Wake County would be subsumed in just the kind of overly big, white-majority district the Voting Rights Act is meant to prevent.

It's possible to draw one majority-minority district in Wake and a second district that--while not majority black--has enough black voters to heavily influence the outcome of the Democratic primary. But if the second district must be at-large, Chambers said, "the plan that would have to follow would lead inevitably to a system of apartheid" in many counties.
--Bob Geary

No Mercy
Edward Lemons, 34, died the morning of April 22 on death row of liver disease. Gov. Mike Easley rejected a clemency petition from Lemons' lawyers without listening to arguments. He said the case was "not appropriate for either a pardon or commutation," notwithstanding that Lemons' death was imminent. Lemons' lawyers, Margaret Lumsden and Mike Unti, wanted the same chance they'd have gotten if their client was about to be executed. They'd hoped to convince Easley that Lemons, who alone among the three men convicted of murder in a 1994 Wayne County case was sentenced to death, actually had an incidental role in the crime and should be allowed to die in a hospice facility.

Easley, in a statement, said Corrections Secretary Theodis Beck had the authority to release Lemons for palliative care. Beck could have done so if he determined that Lemons was terminally ill and posed no danger to society. Last Friday, Beck decided Lemons did not qualify.

On Saturday, Lumsden and Unti expressed their disappointment, since Lemons at the time was barely conscious and could not sit up or stand on his own. Two days later, he was dead.

How Free is Free Speech?
Sometimes it was subtly voiced, other times it was overt. But one theme surrounding the Ninth Street anarchists' protest two Saturdays ago was the firm belief that law enforcement authorities would never let them legally hold a street party to express their political beliefs. Although the April 13 event had been widely advertised as a street party with free food, DJs and dancing, organizers stated repeatedly on Usenet groups and their own Web site that it was actually a protest against what they viewed as the usurpation of public space and our culture's over-reliance on cars. The group's unsuccessful attempts to close Ninth Street to traffic resulted in 15 arrests and multiple allegations of police brutality.

As we previously reported ("Ninth Street Now Free?" April 17), the group never attempted to get a permit from the city. One arrestee, Kieran Ionescu, told us at the time: "In my community, rich people can go out and pay for a permit to have a street party any fucking time they feel like it. You shouldn't have to be rich to do that. You should be the poorest of the poor and still be able to go and have fun in the street."

When asked if he knew how much it would cost to hold a street party legally, Ionescu said, "No, but it's clearly more than we could afford."

We decided to look into that.

"There's no problem with protests," says Capt. Terry Mangum of the Durham Police Department. "They just would have had to have a special events permit." And there's no fee for such a permit, says his colleague, Lt P.T. Williams who handles all the forms. "Absolutely none. We even pay the postage for mailing."

Depending on the type of public gathering, the city's Risk Management Division can require insurance to protect attendees and the city. But according to the division's Laura Henderson, that's not so if a group is exercising a First Amendment right, "not because there is no risk," she says, "but because we can't put a price on First Amendment rights."

Total expenses thus far: zero.

But our anarchists are right to worry about some costs. Mangum estimates that two officers would be required for an April 13-style protest--one for barricades on each end of Ninth Street. The ballpark rate for off-duty officers would be $20 per hour, he says, with a three-hour minimum. The math so far: $120, to close a city street for three hours to express a political point of view.

The city's special events application procedure also requires organizers to survey businesses affected by the event. A group wanting to close down Ninth Street for two hours on a Saturday afternoon would therefore have to poll every business in the affected area. A special survey form provides a space for businesses to voice objections. Police decide whether they are serious enough to warrant denying a permit.

So do the First Amendment rights of the anarchists rest in the hands of the Ninth Street businesses? Not quite. Unanimous approval is apparently not required for a permit to be issued. According to Police Captain P. R. Wiggins, "If the majority said it was OK, we could probably go ahead and do it. From my understanding, there doesn't have to be 100 percent agreement on this."
--Byron Woods

On the Dole with Carnival Cruise LInes
You are perhaps worried that Elizabeth Dole, should she be denied the U.S. Senate seat to which the major media agree she is entitled, will be left to canoe without a paddle in Salisbury, her new, old, honest-to-goodness-for-now residence. How will she keep house and hearth together for herself and her 100-year-old mother?Fear not. True, that job as First Lady didn't come through, and her Red Cross gig is over. But if, in an upset, Dole isn't elected to the Senate, she will not be forced to wait tables at Rufty's General Store & Market or guide tour groups through the N.C. Transportation Museum. That's because, contrary to impressions, Mrs. Dole is not currently unemployed. Should the Senate thing not work out, she can continue to serve as Godmother at Carnival Cruise Lines.

That's right, according to a press notice we found on the "Cruise News" Web site (, Dole was welcomed aboard the Carnival Cruise team last April by the company's president, Bob Dickinson. The occasion: the christening of its newest "fun ship," the 88,500-ton Carnival Spirit, at the Port of Miami, Fla. In her Godmother role, Dole took part in the dedication ceremonies, then joined 2,000 travel agents for a two-day cruise.

"Mrs. Dole's role as godmother marks the beginning of a series of introductory activities for Carnival," Dickinson announced. "We are very proud to have her name forever linked with this beautiful new vessel."

What a kick for North Carolina, too, to have the name of our next senator linked to the Carnival Spirit.

And she says there's no difference between herself and Jesse Helms?--Bob Geary

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