Just after the opening ceremonies of the Rio games, a friend of mine from the Jersey shore visited Wilmington for a family event. I assured her, regardless of the gender identification of anyone in her extended family, bathrooms would not be an issue. I also suggested she check out a few of my favorite places. From her social-media posts, she enjoyed the family event, the beaches, the Riverwalk, and even some of our craft beers. When she returned to Jersey, she messaged, “It seems like a really nice place to live.”
As far as I know there are no plans for yet another Jersey family to retire here any time soon. But as I settled back to watch the 31st Olympiad, I was pleased at her assessment. I’ve been here 20 years and I’m still finding friends, fine places to eat, sections of our coastline, and stretches of the Cape Fear to explore. Those are a few things that make Wilmington, NC, a really nice place to live few things important to me. I was feeling warm and fuzzy about our state when Governor McCrory’s smiling face popped up in his campaign ad to remind us all of the North Carolina my Jersey friend didn’t see.
That’s not her fault. Sitting on the Riverwalk on the banks of our beautiful river, enjoying an umbrella drink or craft beer makes it nearly impossible to see our coal ash problems or the corruption that pollutes more than the water. She would have to be here a while to understand the complex systematic misinformation and cronyism that led to the recent resignation of North Carolina’s chief epidemiologist, Megan Davies.
Tourists don’t go to the doctor on vacation. They treat mild sunburn or major hangovers by going back to the beach and the bar and then going back to Jersey. The would need to stay more than a minute to understand the human impact of our governor’s failure to expand Medicaid, its negative impact on families, health care providers, and the state economy. Far from being a medal winning, this choice was termed a “moral failing.”
Listening to the laughter of the crowd and the crash of the waves at Wrightsville Beach, a tourist wouldn’t hear Reverend Barber speak or see people like you and me being hauled out of the Capitol building and placed under arrest for protesting other moral failings of the administration. It would be easy to consign voter suppression, gerrymandering and egregious civil-rights violations to North Carolina’s sordid past. A tourist might miss the July 2016 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to strike down North Carolina voter ID law as “blatantly racist.” Perhaps because there is such natural beauty here, tourists would need more than a few helpings of shrimp and grits to understand, when it comes to civil rights violations, the past is the present in North Carolina.
A Jersey visitor watching the Olympics from a hotel room might see McCrory and his down-ticket GOP candidates smile in their campaign ads and tout a salary of $50,000 for our teachers as somehow medal-winning. Not so much. That salary brings North Carolina from 47th to 42nd among the states. Jersey is usually on the podium. Our teachers barely make enough to make ends meet. Their salary is a pittance for professionals we entrust with our children. Being here for a week on vacation doesn’t show folks how one of the first things the McCrory administration did was slash teacher salaries, remove tenure and remove financial incentives for teacher’s to earn a master’s degree. Cut salaries after inauguration, raise them in an election year? Seriously?
North Carolina is a really nice place to live, but in some things that are important to me, we’re not on the podium. In fact, we’re not even in the race. When are the closing ceremonies of the McCrory administration?