A federal grand jury has indicted state legislator Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R-Kinston) on a variety of charges related to misusing federal funds received by two nonprofit lending outfits he created “to alleviate poverty and increase economic activity and employment in rural communities.” The charges follow an investigative series by NC Policy Watch and include stealing $300,000 from the federal government, failing to report substantial income to the IRS, and using criminally derived money to purchase jewelry, an ice rink, a home and other gifts for his wife and daughters. The indictment also says LaRoque funneled federal anti-poverty funds into his political campaign and loans for himself and various friends. Yesterday, House Speaker Thom Tillis forwarded the indictment to the legislative ethics committee and encouraged LaRoque, who serves as Tillis’ Rules Committee Co-Chair, to resign.
Democracy NC Blog
Welcome to Democracy North Carolina’s main newsfeed. You can review all of our latest blog posts below, starting with the newest post on top, or you can visit our individual sections for more in-depth coverage:
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July 18th, 2012
Greetings all. My efforts to raise voter turnout all across the southeastern region have been dynamic, creative, and borderline exhaustive. I’ve done my share of speaking at engagements and canvasing the general public as they go about their day to day lives. Well, Tuesday was when the rubber met the road: Election Day. I guess election day is a mild overstatement. It was partisan runoff election day, so voting officials and experienced organizers alike accepted the inevitability of a less than impressive voter turnout. I, on the other, was optimistic, as I generally am about most of my organizing efforts. My “ace in the hole” was the fact that I had neglected to vote during the early voting period despite visiting the Board of Elections multiples times during that period. Saturday I missed my chance to vote because a Cumberland County Black Leadership Caucus event; afterwards I added “VOTE” in the crowded weekly planner because I couldn’t allow myself to become a hypocrite because of my organizing schedule.
Now the fun part, Tuesday around mid day I head off to my local polling site. It’s an elementary school where I’ve voted several times before, but this is the first time I’ve voted there while school is out, so I’m surprised to see that the location of the polling machines has changed. I navigate to the new room and it immediately reminds me of my elementary school days playing “Heads up Seven up”. . . The two polling workers have having a mild conversation while the two “judges” are heads down on the desk. Needless to say they were happy to see me, an actual voter. I proudly gave my name and then even more proudly observed that I was not even asked for my ID. In May I was asked for my ID and had to do some election day voter education about a certain veto that had been upheld. But this polite patriot was well trained (despite a lack of federal funding) and proceeded to enter my name into the computer. Oh, the suspense of one-fingered key entry! It reminded me of texting before QWERTY keyboards. Now for the bad news. . . because I did not declare a party in May when I voted, thus not participating in the partisan election, I don’t have a ballot for the run off election. Oh, the irony. In an election with a low turnout, I want to vote but literally can’t. I Immediately wonder how many new or returning voters who I’ve helped register or attempted to get excited about voting have encountered this procedural intricacy? Knowing that an oversight as innocent as this can easily counteract some of our efforts to get out the vote, I know I have to use these final few weeks of Democracy Summer to build momentum for August when voter education and empowerment efforts will be critical to combat the flow of corporate-money-fueled propaganda by way of text, TV, magazine, AND internet. Though this awesome apprenticeship/internship is coming to an end, my work is far from done.
July 17th, 2012
As we have reached the home stretch of our Democracy Summer experience, there lingers this sense of “sadness” amidst the enthusiasm and excitement of each day. Now, I placed quotes around sadness because that doesn’t necessarily describe the mood in the air, but it was the closest way to describe the daily joy felt with the thought of the impending departure we will make from the internship resting in the back of our minds. With that being said we were still rolling this past week and we have a busy and productive week ahead of us this week.
On Monday of last week we completed last minute preparations for our “Reconciling the People” Press Conference that was scheduled to take place the next day. We confirmed what order the persons that were speaking would go in and other logistics issues that needed to be properly fleshed out. The next day we were set to hold the press conference at the Charlotte School of Law at 2:00 pm; Robert, Zaina, myself and our Action NC partners Luis and Toya, were very excited for what we were about to do. The purpose of the press conference was to inform people with criminal records, and the general public as a whole, that those with a criminal background have rights that need to be honored and protected. We had Marshville Mayor Frank Deese give his testimony, so to speak, of his journey from being incarcerated for armed robbery to becoming the Mayor of Marshville. Zaina’s and my remarks were centered on the voting rights of those convicted of felonies and misdemeanors since Democracy North Carolina’s focus is on voting rights and empowerment within the state. I mainly alerted people to the numerous myths and falsehoods that circulate in the state of North Carolina about their right to vote such as if you were formerly convicted of a felony you’re are permanently disfranchised. This is not the case in North Carolina and as your right to vote is restored once you have completed parole and are “off paper;” from there all you would need to do is re-register to vote. In addition, those who committed a misdemeanor never forfeited their right to vote. Zaina talked about the statistics about the number of people still disfranchised in North Carolina even with this progressive policy in place.
Here is a portion of our remarks at the press conference:
The press conference went very well, and we stirred that momentum toward our efforts to continuously phone bank and reach out to Charlotte area churches for the “Souls to the Polls” training that we’re holding on July 18th, in conjunction with Shiloh Institutional Baptist Church and Rev. Dr. Thompson. While we were working on that, we continued our weekly tradition of registering new citizens to vote at the Department of Homeland Security building after naturalization ceremonies. I really enjoy seeing new citizens filled with elation once they have finally become United States citizens. I also wish that I could expose more people to these ceremonies because, even though I am aware that immigration is not just about our Hispanic or Latino brothers and sisters, many have been socially conditioned to believe so, and that creates unneeded division. I was bombarded with wide-eyed naturalized citizens looking to register with me as a representative for the League of Women Voters. I was glad to see this enthusiasm and I pray that this fire will continue to burn inside them and not wither under the broken promises that our country makes AT TIMES. I was motivated and my attentions again moved toward turning out our Charlotte area Churches for the “Souls to the Polls” training.
On Friday we put in work. We traveled all over this great city of Charlotte, that I love, visiting over 40 churches, including my own. We wanted to personally invite representatives to attend the training and hand them some information for them to review. We essentially used the whole day to make this effort successful, and it wasn’t just tiresome work; it was genuinely fun. This is the type of work and organizing I love doing because it gets down to the true grassroots where work is done. This is the difference between us and most of our causes and those opposed to them.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience and look forward to the last couple of weeks we are here, even Bob (Hall) making us all call 500 people during the week and over the weekend. Haha! We have developed relationships and partnerships that will last for some time to come and contribute to our growth. I thank Democracy North Carolina for this opportunity as it was exactly what I wanted to do this summer and exactly what I needed. I am very happy that I got to contribute to the progress toward a government “of, by, and for the people.”
July 13th, 2012
This week has been a continuation of some of the work that we had envisioned ourselves doing in the beginning: ending corporate personhood, organizing in colleges, and increasing voter engagement. We had our first kick-off event for our “We the People” Truth Tour titled “The Art of Democracy”, an event at central plaza downtown. Along with engaging pedestrians, we got to enjoy a fun time with fellow organizers outdoors drinking lemonade, watching short documentaries on money and politics as it pertains to the threat to our democracy, and throwing bags of “money” at our 6 foot 5 inches tall Uncle Sam. We shouted, “Help our politicians! They’re drowning in corporate money,” and saw their reactions as we gave them the raw facts. The street theatre gave us a chance to engage in productive dialogue, pre-register teenagers, and get some good media coverage—a productive and learning experience.
Amongst this, Tyshia and I were also able to lead a meeting on planning a Women’s Assembly in Winston-Salem in the month of September. It was not until that moment, that I realized that the Winston-Salem team is truly the story of Woman Power. At this meeting, I realized that our interests, whether that be as students or as women, always coincide with our interests in bettering our democracy. Democracy NC will be taking the lead as the presenters on “Civil Participation and Equality” at this assembly, and through this effort we will reach out to women across the city to step up in their churches for Souls to the Polls, in their work places, non-profit organizations or neighborhoods, to increase voter engagement and education. We’ve used our experience and connections as students and have made much effort in reaching out to Wake Forest University, Salem College, NC A&T, Bennett College and WSSU. We brainstormed with some key leaders and set some meetings so that we can go forth with a plan for getting out the vote for the November election.
It is now dawning on me that our internship is almost over. My how time flies when you’re having fun.
July 12th, 2012
This week has started off with our regular routine of Phone Banking, but this time we were focusing on a different issue: Getting People out to Vote in the runoff election!!!! Our team focused on Henderson County. We made a number of phone calls to inform citizens about the upcoming election on July 17, 2012 and gave them early voting information as well. What we found out as we started to make some of the calls is that a number of citizens were well informed about the upcoming election and were planning to vote; a decent number of them had voted already.
The Move to Amend tour stopped through Greenville, NC on Tuesday night and we were in attendance to hear David Cobb, an executive committee member, give a very insightful and inspiring speech regarding the history of the United States, the power that we as citizens have, and then went ahead to break down the Citizens United decision and how it affects us as citizens. He finished by encouraging us to band together to fight against this Citizens United decision. Melissa Price Kromm, the Coalition Director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, will be providing a video link to his speech soon. This is definitely something you should see!
Today marks the first meeting of Democracy Rocky Mounty, and we will be discussing plans pertaining to Souls to the Polls, Youth Outreach/September Voter Registration Awareness Month and the County Board of Election Outreach. We are very excited to be having our first meeting and looking forward to it being a success! We will be wrapping our week up with some Voter Registration in Kinston and we have a meeting scheduled to speak with Mayor King of Goldsboro, NC.
This week has been an exciting one thus far and we are looking forward to finishing this week off strong!
July 10th, 2012
Our July 4th event will probably go down as one of the highlights of my summer. Offering a space where members of the community could share their voices and express themselves proved extremely powerful and productive. Art has the capacity to go so far beyond entertainment purposes—it is a tool, an asset to the movement because it allows for alternative deliveries and engagements of a common message (in the case of our spoken word open mic event, VOTE!!) but more broadly, the message is to engage, to participate in political and social change.
Spoken word broken down is basically storytelling by a poet and listening by an audience. This symbiotic relationship of storytelling and listening is the way I believe organizing should be. Out in the field we are constantly listening to people; in order to serve, you really need to hear people’s stories, hear what they need and how you can help. Meeting people where they are should always be the goal.
On the surface what I have done in the past few weeks may seem disjointed, going from a spoken word event to meeting with a law professor about a local food justice initiative to planning a press conference highlighting the rights of people with criminal records—a continuously marginalized group. But in my perspective, all of the actions I have done this summer are inextricably tied. Black feminist queer poet Audre Lorde writes, “There are no single issue movements, for we do not lead single issue lives.”
The reason why I feel so strongly about political organizing and about participating in social justice movements is because of their fluid natures—we organize ‘of, by, and for the people’ so our approach and reckonings ought to be as complex as the constituencies we seek to serve.
This is a very different thing from asserting that organizers should stay preoccupied in the theoretical; first and foremost I seek to find practical routes of engagement that will result in measured improvements in the lives of people. But there always needs to be balance—a great spoken word piece provides vivid imagery, creativity, and a rhythm that allows the listener to become fully immersed in the words of the poet; but a great spoken word piece in my opinion also has a message, a story that needs to be heard and engaged with. Thus with organizing: though we may be thoughtful, analytical, and brilliant, ultimately our hands should get dirty and our brows sweaty and we need to be able to say clearly and concisely what we are doing and why we are doing it. Otherwise we will just be another meaningless hit rap song of the week making the rounds on Power 98 (!)
July 6th, 2012
Busy week of travel but interspersed with a couple days off, at least for those of us on the Greenville team. Killian and I made an unaccompanied trip out to Greenville this Saturday so as to give Jake some much-needed rest. Given the stultifying heat outside, we thought our luck was pretty good — registering nearly as many voters as we did at the biggest university in the state (i.e. State).
Monday, we packed a number of meetings into a jaunt out to Greenville. We talked with Calvin Henderson of the NAACP about how to best serve the communities that will benefit from additional voting sites and voter information. We made plans to attend the Pitt County Board of Elections meeting — as always, we’re positive but reserved with our predictions for the meeting. Now that HAVA funds have been definitively turned down, we’re reevaluating what constitutes a reasonable goal for these meetings. Right now, our main push is for more Sunday voting and one more week of early voting.
In stark contrast to their disappointing HAVA decision, the legislature had everyone in the office celebrating on Tuesday — the pernicious Photo ID Bill was not passed! Hundreds of thousands of voters in North Carolina just barely avoided this unreasonable, anti-democratic block to their voting actions. But avoid it they did, and we’re thrilled to see some of our work pay off. But the struggle continues and we’re already looking at ways that future legislatures may bring it up, and how to counter those backward steps for our state. Currently, we’re looking at how to use the Department of Justice’s rulings on Photo ID in other states (i.e. that it is unconstitutional) to combat in our state.
Now we’re finishing up the week, after an appropriately-timed holiday, by trying to figure out how to get more involved in the Pasquotank/Elizabeth City area, as well as how to be more effective with voter reg. A very exciting week with some encouraging omens!
July 5th, 2012
Why oh why North Carolina? Why do you send me on this roller coaster of success and disappointment? What is the root of the oppressive conservatism we witnessed in recent days? Why do elected officials across the state and on both sides of the isle seem to simultaneously laud and laugh at the democratic process?
These questions are on my mind at the close of the 2011-2012 session. This session, our most extreme elected officials seemed to carry the day. They managed to pass a laughable budget, cut deals to ram through a hurried fracking bill, and significantly weakened the Racial Justice Act. Despite a governor who stood firmly in the path of ultra-conservatives, the Senate’s veto proof Republican majority and strong contingent in the House bulldozed their way to the finish line.
The fate of too many key pieces of legislation depended on the intestinal fortitude of a handful of conservative Democrats in the NC House. On of those was my own Representative, William Brisson. I met with him in his office back in May. I am deeply saddened that during the session Rep. Brisson voted FOR discrimination, AGAINST the environment and AGAINST a better funded public education system. Other legislators also seemed to vote against the desires of their constituents or even their own earlier policy stances. For example, a few weeks ago I talked extensively with the board of elections in one Southeastern NC county. They were by far the most progressive thinking board I have encountered during Democracy Summer supportive of expanding early voting and releasing $4 million on federal funds to make elections run smoothly. Ironically, their representative championed the ultra-conservative agenda in their name!
Even more upsetting was the abuse of the legislative process we saw this session – midnight meetings, squelching much needed debate, kicking constituents off the second floor of the legislative building. Wow. During my internship, I’ve definitely witnessed the ugly side of politics.
But that serves as even more motivation for me to put forth my best efforts to get people registered to vote and to inform voters. The bottom line is: We need elected officials who represent us!
Luckily, the week came to an end much like many difficult or challenging times during life. . . with a ray of hope. The people of North Carolina successfully fought off new Voter ID and other voter suppression measures! That’s a major victory – crucial for the general election in November. Every flyer handed out, every phone call made, every conversation with an elected official (well, with a few notable exceptions) all seams worthwhile. In the face of maddening opposition and disappointment, the people of North Carolina were also triumphant. I’m so happy just to have been a small part of that effort.
July 4th, 2012
Click here to read part one.
After an exhausting week of interviews, I found myself rising early Saturday morning to volunteer at the “Juneteenth” festival in Durham. Excited to have an opportunity to “Get Out the Vote,” I set up my table four full hours before the festival started, hoping to catch people who were wandering downtown to check out the action. Four hours later, with no completed voter registration forms to show for my efforts, I laughed at myself for thinking that at celebration of political and civil rights my table would be crowded with people needing to register. I flipped through a novel and hoped that someone would approach me before my skin started blistering in the hot summer sun.
Finally, someone interrupted my reading with a tap on my table. A man with dark hair, dark sunglasses, and a Durham Bulls cap stood in front of me. He held two plastic bags filled with groceries in each hand.
“Hola. ¿Cómo estás?” he said slowly, testing my ability to comprehend. I responded with the usual niceties, hoping that my limited Spanish wouldn’t be exhausted too quickly. He gestured toward my “Register to Vote Here!!” sign that I proudly displayed on the front of the table. “Para votar?” he said. “Si! Para Votar!” I exclaimed, happy that he understood my broken Spanish. I was also happy to finally meet someone who may not have been registered.
As I shuffled around to find the voter registration forms and a ballpoint pen, the man suddenly put down his grocery bags and made a frantic “time-out” signal. “No papeles. No votar,” he said slowly so I could understand. I retracted my outstretched clipboard and stared down at the “SOLICITUD DE INSCRIPCIÓN PARA VOTAR EN CAROLINA DEL NORTE” inscribed across the top, hoping some words on the page would jump out and save me from the seemingly endless silence that followed.
The awkwardness that paralyzed my face soon departed, and a heavy, defeated, hopeless, shameful feeling settled in its place. I couldn’t help this man, not because I couldn’t communicate or he could understand the importance of voting and what was at stake in this year’s election, but because of just two words–”No Papeles.” It was hard to turn away someone who seemed so interested in fully participating in the community in which he lives and works. My exchange with him revealed more about the realities of democracy in North Carolina, and in America, than all of my interviews with clergy members combined.
Democracy NC Intern
July 3rd, 2012
It’s the fourth quarter and the ball is in my team’s possession, we’re not down but the score is tied with a few seconds left. That is the view I have for the duration of the Democracy Summer Internship and it is up to the Charlotte team to show up in the clutch. This past week was an eventful week that only reaffirmed the nature of the stretch we’re about to embark upon.
Monday, June 25, 2012 was a day that was symbolic and meaningful but at the same time brought disappointment, especially on a personal level for someone like me. Robert and advocates in Charlotte had been tirelessly working to ensure that Mayor Foxx and other supporting city councilpersons of the Capital Improvement Plan and the city budget plan had the community backing them for the opposition to see. The drama had unfolded before Charlotte’s eyes and led into the City Council meeting that night. There was a diverse group of us that came in support of the Capital Improvement Plan, and we coordinated the display of support through signs with messages like “invest in Charlotte communities now.” On the back of these signs was a huge “VETO” for all in the room to see. The Mayor left the dais and stood in front of those of us demonstrating our support so that the entire city council would know exactly who they need to consider before they made their decisions concerning the city’s future. Unfortunately the council punted on the budget and shelved the capital improvement plan for the time being. I later expressed my frustrations when a news crew asked me to say a few words about the decision or lack thereof from the council. I explained my position as a person that has grown up on the Eastside of Charlotte and watched it decay to an unrecognizable point. Projects in the Capital Improvement Plan would have gone toward the redevelopment of this area and the development of forgotten areas like the Westside of Charlotte as well. While we showed a strong sign of force, we unfortunately were denied the outcome that was best for Charlotte. Raising taxes may always be a roadblock in the way of ensuring that communities reap the same benefits as the rest of the city that it inhabits.
The next day after we continued to lick our wounds from the city council decision, we made headway in our planning and partnerships for the press conference on ex-felons and the franchise we have scheduled for July 10, 2012. We finalized when we would have our planning meeting with the allies we have in this endeavor and touched bases with individuals that had been difficult to contact before. It was very exciting to see the planning behind what we wanted to do for the public all coming together shaping an exciting next couple of weeks. On July 4th we will have our spoken word night call to action and on the 10th we will dispel rumors concerning ex-felons and their rights to the franchise. Out of the adversity we faced earlier in the week came a beautiful sunset sitting on the horizon, just within our reach. Like Psalms 30:5 states, “weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.”
The week only got better from there, as we awaited and eventually received the news that the Supreme Court of the United States upheld most of the Affordable Care Act. We all had a mini celebration in the Action NC office because of the shock and pure excitement for the moment and what it meant for someone like me. At a press conference with our Action NC allies Zaina and I explained just that. Students such as myself who will be in debt with student loans, who will have a tougher time than previous generations to find work after graduation, who were unsure if that student loan debt interest would double, who has plans to attend law school, and who doesn’t necessarily study in a field that reigns in the big bucks, would benefit from the provision that allows me to stay on my mother’s Healthcare plan until age 26. With all those factors you begin to understand just how much buying healthcare would not fit into that scenario. That was one of the highlights of my week and the summer, especially explaining to those that may be unaware, how beneficial it is for me. The human element pays off.
The rest of our week was interesting, to say the least, and very productive. We managed to sit two important leaders in our community down at a table and hash out their plans of action with Get Out The Vote here in Charlotte, and we managed to get them to agree! Friday we began inviting the many churches that we want to be involved with Souls to the Polls to our training on July 18, 2012 at Shiloh Institutional Baptist Church. In addition, I enjoyed hearing everyone’s voices, even if we were not physically in each other’s presence, just to share progress and some of the same challenges that we may be experiencing. To cap off our week we traveled to Union county for an event that served as an opportunity for community leaders in Union county and surrounding areas like Charlotte to develop concrete plans and solutions for problems within the county and for the election in the fall. It was a productive meeting and it also provided us with commitments for other projects that we are working on and need assistance with. It was an enjoyable meeting and we met many new faces and we even got to see Nancy, Democracy NC’s Southeast NC organizer, again.
I would definitely say the week was great and one of the more exciting of the summer for all the reasons I have stated. We’re only moving forward from this point on. The clock is ticking down and victory rest in hands of the Charlotte team.