Returning to rally each year
Many participants in Saturday’s Historic Thousands on Jones Street march have come to the event year after year — some rallying for a particular issue, others condemning state policies in general.
Bill Adams, a former teacher from Raleigh, has come to the rally for the past few years in support of women’s rights, a living wage, Medicaid expansion and increased funding for public schools, among numerous issues.
“I taught for 41 years, and we need to stop taking money away from public schools and funding the vouchers,” he said. “Old men have no right to tell women what to do with their bodies.”
Adams said he got so fed up, he recently moved to England.
“I ran away from this underfunded country.”
Randy Voller, former chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said he’s also a regular attendee. Voller said he’s been supporting the event since it started in 2007, advocating for a range of causes.
“These are not partisan issues; these are issues that are good for all North Carolinians — expanding voting rights, expanding Medicaid, public education — these are things we should all care about.”
Paul Gurewitz, a resident of Marshall, said he feels the state has been taken over by a group of political cohorts, and he sees the rally as an attempt by the people to get rid of cronyism in politics.
“I moved here 40 years ago when North Carolina was considered one of the more progressive states, especially in the South, and now we’re sort of the laughingstock of the country,” he said.
Also in the crowd were students from El Centro Hispano, a Durham-based group dedicated to helping the Hispanic population in the area. Many of them were attending the rally for the first time.
“They are very young,” said Silvio Balcazar, a director in the center. “They are growing into this community, and they have the right to speak.”
Medical pot bill lights up in NC
Passionate medical marijuana supporters from across the state rallied together — clad in pants and jackets decorated with pot plants, handing out hemp bracelets and waving signs decorated in green.
“There are no negatives to legalizing medical marijuana,” said Ignacio Almazan, a Fuquay-Varina resident and leader of the Triangle chapter of N.C. NORML, a pro-legalization group. He said a legal medical market will yield tax revenue that can be invested in education and other priorities.
State lawmakers will discuss medical marijuana on Tuesday at a hearing at the N.C. General Assembly, Almazan said, where doctors will speak alongside cancer survivor Rebecca Forbes of Fuquay-Varina.
After Forbes was diagnosed with lymphoma, she treated herself with cannabis oil for four years — and by the time she started chemotherapy, her cancer was nearly in remission.
“I took the cannabis oil all the way through my chemo, and had no adverse reactions to the chemo,” she said.
She still takes cannabis oil every day and just passed her six-month cancer checkup.
“My doctor rubbed me on the head and said, ‘Are you still taking that cannabis oil?’ and I said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’” she said.
House Bill 78, filed on Wednesday, would create a state medical marijuana program. Patients would apply for a medical marijuana card, consult with their doctor to determine the right strain for their condition and be monitored while taking the drug.
Anita Budsak, a nurse from Concord and leader of her local N.C. NORML chapter, said she’s hopeful that this year’s version of the bill will pass.
Budsak said she understands that state officials want to test marijuana at the medical level before full legalization. But she’d like to see recreational marijuana become a reality.
“It’s OK to drink it up, booze it up all night, go home so drunk you don’t know who you are, but God forbid you light up a joint.”
A living wage of $15 per hour
Though the economy has largely rebounded since the 2007 recession — corporate profits are up, stock prices continually break records — workers have seen their wages struggling to keep up with inflation.
One of the most common refrains from Saturday’s march was the need for a living wage of at least $15 an hour.
Angie Wells, a member of the Communication Workers of America union in Charlotte, said a campaign called Raise Up is leading the push to increase the federal minimum wage and advocate for more union rights.
“We all know once there’s collective bargaining in the workplace, the minimum wage is just the beginning,” she said.
Art Smoker, a retired pastor from Mars Hill, said he’s signed multiple petitions in favor of raising the minimum wage.
“It does not make sense for us to not be paying a living wage and then our taxes are making up the differences,” he said. “If people want fewer taxes, then raise the wages.”
Smoker said he’d also like to see immigrants who are living and working in the U.S. have an easier path to citizenship.
“Already they are working, and let’s make their work legitimate and equal so that they can fully benefit like the rest of us citizens,” he said.
Part of the plight of workers here stems from the fact that North Carolina is a right-to-work state, which takes away the incentives for state workers to unionize, Wells said.
“We’re fighting collectively with our brothers and sisters who are state employees as well,” she said.
UNC sophomore Catherine Blalock toted a poster combining puns on “50 Shades of Grey” and the 2015 State of the Union, when President Barack Obama discussed equal pay for women.
“Hearing the stat that women lose $420,000 over their working life because of the equality gap in pay, that’s just something I felt strongly about,” she said.
Protecting NC’s abortion rights
Dozens of demonstrators wore pink hats in solidarity with women’s rights — and some of them also carried unique accessories to help promote their cause.
Lynn Harris of Wilmington, a member of Grandmothers for Peace, held up a pink felt sack shaped like a uterus that she had sewed herself. It was stuffed full with the names and contact information of legislators who she said are against women.
She held the uterus out to people and asked them to reach in and see who has been in their uterus.
“You can then email or call that legislator and say, ‘You were in my uterus today; could you please stay out?’” she said. “I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, since the ‘60s, and I shouldn’t have to be still trying to promote women’s rights. It’s been over 40 years; it’s time.”
Ashley Harris of Zebulon said she’s a social work student with a strong passion for abortion rights.
“I feel like government needs to stay out of a woman’s body, and you have a lot of men that are making decisions with no female input at all,” she said.
Maddie Majerus, co-president of the Reproductive Justice Club at Appalachian State University, said her club is focusing on crisis pregnancy centers, which she said pose as medical centers but don’t offer abortions or abortion referrals.
“(They) seek to pull people in who are looking for those services and try to persuade them to not get an abortion,” she said. “Look them up — they are really gross.”
She said her group is also pushing for comprehensive sex education in public schools.
“(It’s important to have) access to not only how to use a condom, but also if you’re not in a heterosexual relationship, how do you have safe sex?” she said. “Right now, it’s very ‘Mean Girls’ sex ed — if you have sex, you’ll get pregnant and die.”