BY MARY SWANN PARRY
Many of us moved to North Carolina because of its Southern charm and the attributes of its economy and culture that made it stand apart from its Southern counterparts. Many more of us were born here and have always taken pride in the Old North State being a beacon of progressive values in the South. That’s why it stings so much to read local and national coverage of the current state of things in North Carolina. But while the legislature may be doing its best to undermine the ideals that make North Carolina unique, the institutions and values that have distinguished us for decades are strong, and are beloved by many. The good news is that we still have time to respond, change the narrative, and put this great state back on the path of progress.
The New York Times recently published a deflating editorial titled, “>>The Decline of North Carolina,” that hit a little too close to home for >>many of us. The piece refers to our state legislature as a “demolition derby” and lists the many cuts to funding and protections that we residents have held dear. It paints a picture of a new North Carolina – a state that doesn’t value public education and prioritizes its wealthy over the poor and vulnerable – a state where restrictions are placed on voting and on healthcare choices for women.
For many, this article was a wake-up call about what’s been going on in our state legislature this session and how those actions could impact their own schools, health, and jobs. Being dressed down by the “paper of record” is a warning shot for those who value our state’s reputation across the country and the world, and a clear sign of how quickly and dramatically those perceptions can change.
Many of the great things that attracted us to this state or made us want to stay are still here. We still have great public schools; we still have pristine natural areas that attract tourists from the beaches to the mountains; we still have cutting-edge hospitals and clinics that provide top-notch medical care; we still have institutions of higher learning that attract the best minds from all over the world here to do research, start companies, and invent new technologies. Those things that make us stand apart from other states in the region and across the country can be damaged, but they cannot be destroyed in the space of a single political cycle. The point is that our well-deserved reputation was established over decades and can’t be taken away overnight.
Now we must ask ourselves – do we want to be the generation known for dismantling our state’s reputation, or do we want to be the generation that saved it, and built an even stronger state for the benefit of our children and grandchildren? What the elected officials in Raleigh may not yet realize is that it’s the citizens of North Carolina – those born and raised here and those who came because of all that makes this a great place to live – who determine the true character of the Tar Heel state. And the citizens understand that our state is worth fighting for. It’s why so many are showing up at the Halifax Mall on Moral Mondays. It’s why they’re writing letters, making phone calls and staying informed. They’re looking after our state’s reputation by standing up for public education, women’s rights, voting rights, and the protections that make this great state shine. What the NYT observed about our state’s story and what’s at stake here ought to unify North Carolinians, whether you’re a transplant or a Tar Heel born and bred. Our history is a proud one, a successful one, and one we can still protect if we act now.