One People Under the Moon and Sun

Columbia   Our ACORN Home Savers Campaign committee had been in Charlotte, North Carolina and was scheduled for Columbia, South Carolina some 90 minutes away. Panic pedaling about massive numbers of visitors and traffic jams because of the 2 ½ minutes scheduled for the city because of the total eclipse, had us on the road at 530 am for an 8am meeting. Of course we were sitting at a McDonalds having breakfast and chatting by 7am within a mile or two of our destination.

The traffic seemed normal on the interstates. Reports from all around the country seemed to confirm something along the same lines. There was little panic and uproar, just heads facing the clouds.

We had ordered our special eclipse glasses, 100 times stronger than regular sunglasses, weeks before, and, yes, they were certified, so we had no worries. We had tried them on the night before in Charlotte, and initially were surprised that we were essentially staring at black, since the glasses emitted no light. Jamie Jimenez from Philadelphia finally shined a flashlight app from his phone right to the rim of the glasses and we saw enough light to believe we would be OK and full-fledged members of the geek parade.

We drove out of town to a small town called Blythewood which was in the band of totality. The park looked like a picnic area. We stopped at a wings-and-ribs place around noon that had a line by the time we left with parking lots full. Families stood by the hoods of their cars or crouched in air conditioning as the moon started its creep across the edge of the sun. We stood there and did the same. Some of our team had earlier planes, so after ten minutes or so, we decided to move up the highway. The next stop was right at the edge of totality about 35 miles from Columbia. Neon signs flashed warning cars not to just pull off the side of the road, and very few did, though I thought that would have been a pretty good idea. There were a couple of cars at a turnoff there, and we measured the eclipse again. It was all amazing, but we voted to be happy with almost 99% and move even closer to Charlotte.

The next stop at a Pilot truck stop the lot was full. People parked everywhere. There was a party and festival atmosphere. We failed to get ice cream, so the next exit we just pulled off by the side of the road. There was an 18-wheeler that had done so across the highway. We were going to see it through the next 20-minutes. A young African-American woman parked on the side of the road about 30 feet up from us minutes later. She was holding a baby, had a youngster in the back seat, and was clearly pregnant again. I walked up and asked if she wanted an extra pair of our glasses so she and the kids could see the eclipse.

A yellowish light was forming around us as totality approached. A breeze came up and the temperature dropped noticeably. Crickets suddenly started chirping and jumping. Nelson Griffin, one of our team from Detroit, was bitten by a ladybug?!? We were in awe at power of the universe, and humbled.

Our young mother and neighbor walked up and thanked us after the celestial show was over before we piled in for the run to the airport and home. It was an amazing display of the magic of the world, but it was also a brief period in America when we were actually one community, facing in the same direction, one people under the moon and sun, the way we were meant to be, and never are.


North Carolina Pushing Back

Charlotte  It’s sad joke when someone in North Carolina says with less than a smile, “Welcome to North Carolina, the new Alabama.” First, because Alabama is still doing all it can to continue to be the old Alabama, and secondly, because one of the top two fastest growing states is fighting a rearguard effort to try to move the state backward against the rising tide.

The good news is that groups like Action NC, the former North Carolina ACORN, on its own and in coalition with a good number of groups is fighting fiercely, and with some success, to push the state hard right political forces and legislators back towards the people. Our delegation meeting in Charlotte from ACORN’s Home Savers Campaign spent several hours in what ACORN Kenya always calls a “sharing” on a recent Sunday afternoon over pizza and sweet tea talking about these efforts, and we were encouraged.

And, delighted, when we heard the report of Action NC’s senior “warriors,” as they called themselves. Several of them told us of a trip they had made with people from other organizations to confront the leaders of the Federal Reserve in their annual meetings in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. More importantly they told us about how they were organizing other seniors in the fight to protect – and expand – their benefits on Social Security and to prevent the erosion of Medicare. The stories of deciding between paying for medicines or buying food were common in their work, but they also focused on the fight to make sure that the Affordable Care Act was protected and that there was not a Congressional raid on Social Security and Medicaid.

The “new” North Carolina, and especially their queen city of Charlotte, is also growing more diverse. The Action NC leaders had Carolina roots but had also living in New York, Philadelphia, and other cities before returning, so there were clear lines they wanted to draw, but the other difference had to do with the vibrant immigrant population, which has become a major part of Action NC’s work. The fight to save the differed action program for the Dreamers has been major for them, as well as continuing to push for immigration reform.

We were also encouraged to hear that they are now part of an ongoing voter registration program, not just waiting for the next election. We had all read about the North Carolina house of representatives having voted, admittedly before Charlottesville, Virginia, but that’s really no excuse, to grant immunity to a car deliberately being weaponized and driven into protesters. The governor, a democrat who won a squeaker election against the republican incumbent, partially over the bathroom issue and the business opposition and boycotts it triggered, has brought attention to the issue so hopefully that is one made direction that will run into a wall. The more people they and others register, the better chances we will have in the future in North Carolina.

We had an early bed check with meetings on tap, but we were delighted to see the fire in peoples’ eyes and the fight in their step in North Carolina, because this and other state by state battles are where the future will be won.