Your Moment with Gene Nichol’s “Indecent Assembly” by Penny Smith – May 19

I’m finishing Gene Nichol’s Indecent Assembly (Blair Press, 2020) at the moment.  I recommended another of his books (The Faces of Poverty in North Carolina) earlier. Nichol, a member of the Law School faculty, also ran the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at Chapel Hill, which the Republican Board of Governors (the oversight committee for the state’s university system) shut down. They thought he was too critical of GOP members of the state legislature. He may have been accurate, but they tired of getting their feelings hurt.

Indecent Assembly comes with a foreword co-authored by Reverend William Barber of Moral Monday fame and is pointedly critical of the behavior of Republicans after they secured power in all three branches of our state’s government. It’s both timely and well-documented as well as both depressing and infuriating.

It’s so good, that I’m going to share sections with you over the course of the next week. Today’s installment is the author’s summary of what happened in North Carolina when the GOP came riding into Raleigh:

So a cascade of change rapidly came. Strict voter regulations aimed at curtailing turnout; repeal of racial justice guarantees; new and generous school voucher programs for private and religious schools; potent and demeaning abortion restrictions; expansive new firearms possession and carry rights; attacks on teacher tenure and representation; dramatic cuts to K-12 and higher education budgets; eased, ‘business-friendly’ environmental regulations; internationally derided anti-LGBTQ+ measures; brutal cuts to an array of social programs designed to assist the poor; a formal and consistent opposition to Obamacare and Medicaid expansion; the largest cut to a state unemployment compensation program in American history; massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Tar Heels and out-of-state corporations, accompanied by astonishingly, tax increases for low income workers – operating on the odd premise that giving money to the wealthy makes them virtuous and giving money to poor people makes them venal. (pp. 1-2)

And they gerrymandered the state in such a way that they were assured of staying in power. Although much of what they did was successfully challenged in court, they were able to keep those district lines in place throughout the 2010s through multiple court appeals.

What does Nichol hope to demonstrate with his book? “That since 2011 the North Carolina Republican General Assembly has waged the stoutest war against people of color and low-income citizens seen in the United States in half a century.” (p. 6) Not only have they tried to do in some of their fellow Carolinians, but “they have also attacked the foundations of American constitutional government as well.” (p. 7)

Nichol notes that his book is “about the politics of North Carolina, but it is also a warning beacon for other states as well.” (p. 9) A whole lot of what Republicans tried here has migrated to other Republican-dominated states. Our Assembly’s efforts were Beta tests for a GOP power grab; that party is now scaling up their efforts and it’s not simply a state government at stake: It’s our nation.