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Why Environmental Activists Are Turning Out for Voting Rights

by Rachel Rye Butler

July 10, 2015

Democracy is the best tool we have to protect the environment, but it has to work properly. A healthy, functioning democracy means that decision-makers represent the people—not wealthy corporate interests.

A man waves the U.S. flag above the masses of protesters. Tens of thousands of people gathered at Shaw University in downtown Raleigh and marched to the State Capitol. Each year this fusion movement comes together in February to hold a mass people's assembly to reaffirm its commitment to the 14 Point People's Agenda and to hold lawmakers accountable to citizens.

© Jason Miczek / Greenpeace

This article was co-authored by Caroline Hansley and Rachel Rye Butler


Democracy is the best tool we have to protect the environment, but it has to work properly. A healthy, functioning democracy means that decision-makers represent the people—not wealthy corporate interests.

Those interests—including the fossil fuel barons putting profit ahead of people and the planet—have been using voter suppression as a key strategy in states across the U.S. Since 1975, they’ve used this strategy to “roll back New Deal programs, weaken labor unions, and reverse victories of the civil rights movement, undermining the strength and cohesion of the middle class, further enriching and empowering a tiny self-interested elite.”

This same strategy has been at work in North Carolina, where residents have for years fought against the coal industry and its toxic legacy while fossil fuel interests work to block climate solutions. Two years ago this August, North Carolina passed the first and most extreme voter suppression law following the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act. According to the NAACP:

“The North Carolina General Assembly knew that this law would discriminate against African American voters, but passed it anyway. Lawmakers were presented with significant evidence that the measure would make it harder for African American voters to participate in the electoral process.”

The North Carolina NAACP and other allies brought forward a case challenging the restrictive voting law, and the high-stakes trial is scheduled to begin in Winston-Salem on Monday, July 13.

The Moral Monday movement—which formed in 2013 to protest the pro-corporate, anti-rights agenda of the state legislature’s newly elected Republicans—is coming together in Winston-Salem as the trial begins for a mass demonstration for voting rights. This struggle has connected environmentalists with civil rights organizations, labor, and many others. Monday’s rally promises to be a vibrant showing of the multi-faceted movement for our democracy.

Here’s why—in their own words—voting rights matter to these North Carolina activists.

Why Are You Going? Voices of North Carolinians

Charlotte resident Shawn McDowell:  

“This onslaught we are marching against in North Carolina is part of a larger, world-wide attack on democratic rights, the environment, labor, and education. We need to understand how power really works. It’s time we took a hard look at all the things we are marching against and ask ‘who benefits from this? Who benefits from laying off teachers and closing schools?’ It’s a joy to see people all over the state answering the call to fight back against the war on working people, the environment, on women, and our constitutional rights. As we work to bring progressive change to the system, we must at the same time build independent, democratic groups and infrastructure.”

Durham resident and Greenpeace volunteer Kate Pierse:

“It’s important to me to participate in the voting rights movement as part of a wider movement to give voice to those that are voiceless in our society, to represent groups that are pushed aside as unimportant because they are seen as having no value to those in power. That includes the marginalized and the disenfranchised, and also the environment. We must present a united front against those individuals and groups who merely want to use people and nature for their own ends. We must insist that we are all equally worthy of respect under a true democracy.”

Charlotte activist Steve Rundle:

“I will definitely be at this Moral Monday march, not just to voice my opposition to the egregious voter restrictions undermining our democracy, but to stand in support and unity for a more equal and just world. Only by standing together for fairness and equal opportunity—on a host of issues that challenge us—can we achieve a socially just, environmentally sustainable, and equally fulfilling world for all people in all communities. That’s why I am showing up and taking a stand for justice with my brothers and sisters in Winston-Salem on Monday.”

Show Your Support for the Mass Moral Monday March for Voting Rights

Whether it’s allowing corporations to pollute our planet or legislators to disrupt our democracy, many North Carolina decision-makers have actively advanced an agenda that disproportionately benefits few and hurts many.

On Monday, join us in Winston-Salem for the Mass Moral Monday March for Voting Rights. If you can’t stand with us in person, lend your voice online!  Follow on social media using #MoralMonday and be sure to check @greenpeaceusa for updates. Don’t forget to join the nationwide call to restore the federal Voting Rights Act with #RestoreTheVRA.

Rachel Rye Butler

By Rachel Rye Butler

Rachel Rye Butler is a campaigner at Greenpeace USA

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