With a full lineup of speeches, music, poetry and more, a group of more than 100 people converged at Bridge Park last week in Sylva to celebrate the momentous march and express their own hopes for political change in the state.
Melinda Lowrance, president of the Hendersonville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spoke to attendees at the event and drew parallels between the civil rights movement of yesteryear and the challenges facing minorities today.
She said the activists couldn’t sit back on the accomplishments of yesterday.
“We are here today to bring the dream home,” Lowrance said. “True democracy begins today, not yesterday.”
She praised the 900 or so protestors who have been arrested at the Moral Monday rallies in Raleigh. She called the actions of legislators in passing new state voting laws “immoral and unconstitutional.” Opponents claim the new laws would have the greatest affect on the elderly, African Americans and the poor.
In the spirit of King, she urged unity in opposing such laws.
“We need each other,” Lowrance said. “We’re all family.”
The event was part of a larger, statewide movement organized by local chapters of the NAACP in each of the state’s congressional districts. In Sylva, religious leaders, politicians, educators and labor organizers addressed issues ranging from the new voting laws — requiring identification at the polls and limiting early voting windows — to education spending, health care and taxes.
Many also paid homage to King and spoke of carrying his dream into the future.
“It is never the wrong time to do the right thing,” and, “A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent,” were two King quotes repeated by speakers. Organizers of the event also referenced King’s call at the end of his I Have a Dream speech for attendees to go home and organize.
At the event, there were voter registration booths.
“Dreams take work,” said Michael Beadle, a Waynesville author and poet and emcee for the event. He encouraged each person in attendance to register 25 others to vote. “This is not a moment, it’s a movement.”
Mark Case, union organizer from Asheville, said civil rights topics such as voting rights and working rights are still essential to American Democracy. He said the rights of workers to unionize and collectively bargain for wages and benefits must not be abridged. He reminded the crowd that King was assassinated while assisting sanitation workers in labor efforts.
“It’s just as much an issue today as it was 50 years ago,” Case said. “Jim Crow laws in North Carolina have to go.”
Jonni Medford, a women’s rights activist from Bryson City spoke in favor of equal pay for women, citing that women make 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male colleagues for performing similar work. She spoke against new state policies that aim to limit access to reproductive health clinics, birth control and abortion.
“We must agitate and we must fight,” she said.
Valerie Summers, a political activist from Buncombe County, said the key to bringing about a change in policies was to organize and vote.
She urged the crowd to pick the right candidates, gather friends and family, and get them out to the polls on election day; attend meetings of their local elections boards to understand the new voting laws and ensure the changes are implemented in the public eye; and write letters to their local newspapers.
Even with more than a month until local elections and more than a year until national elections, Summers said time is short.
“We have no time to waste,” she said to the crowd. “Vote early and take others with you.”