by Victoria Petermann
Yesterday was an unusual Moral Monday. Session had ended for the day and legislators had gone home. But that did not deter the regular crowd of Moral Monday protestors. Those participating in civil disobedience were even prepared to stay overnight and some came with toothbrushes. The protest yesterday was focused on the voting rights bill that just passed the house; a bill that would unfairly target students, minorities and the elderly. People were also speaking out about the budget that was passed on Sunday that contained, among other things, massive cuts to public education. And of course, people were fired up about SB 353, which as of last Monday, was expected to move any moment.
Demonstrators gather in the legislative building.
The demonstration yesterday showed how even though the legislative session is winding to a close, Moral Mondays are staying strong until the end. I got a chance to talk with Kaori Sueyoshi, a junior at UNC Chapel Hill and life-long North Carolinian, who was participating in civil disobedience. Sueyoshi was an intern with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina last summer and is currently working with Planned Parenthood in Washington DC for the summer.
Could you tell me about why you are here today?
I’ve been in DC all summer, I knew I would come to Moral Monday any chance I had. My passion is women’s health, so those attacks have devastated me personally. As a feminist, I see that the personal is political. Every time there is another attack on women, which seems to be all the time nowadays, I feel the urge to come out and use my activism to show that I don’t agree with what my government is doing.
There are a million reasons I am here today. I am here because of the results of the Trayvon Martin case where it became clear that the people who hold power through unfair elections will further oppress already marginalized populations any chance they get.
I am here because if you can’t win a fair election then you don’t deserve to be in office.
My family is another reason I am here today. I am the only citizen in my family; they are all permanent residents so I’m the only one who can vote. The restrictions they want to put on voting hit really close to home. The opportunity to vote means the world to me. It should by no means be made inaccessible in any way to the citizens of North Carolina.
You’re participating in civil disobedience today; could you tell the story of how you came to that decision?
I very aware of my privilege, I was born and raised in Chapel Hill, received a quality education and now I am at UNC furthering my quality education and I know that I’ve had opportunities that if the NCGA continues with their ridiculous antics of cutting education funding, cutting teachers aids, and more, that the kind of education I received and allowed me to come into my own will be prohibited to the young people of North Carolina.
I also recognize that getting arrested is a privilege for me as well. I am able to get arrested. I was able to take off work today and I have a family who supports me. Hundreds of people before me have been arrested. There have been community leaders; people I respect, like my high school teachers, professors, and family friends who have put themselves on the line. It became clear to me that this is the strongest gesture I can make for now to the people who have stood up for me: by standing up for myself and for others.
You said women’s health and reproductive justice are your main issues, tell me why?
Since coming to university I finally learned to be okay with my race and be okay with my gender. Although I have had a somewhat sheltered, so to speak, and safe life, it became clear to me that to be colored and to be a woman are some of the greatest burdens a person can carry in the United States. While I recognize that my race is not targeted by many of these laws, like voting restriction, as others are, I find that reproductive justice is an intersection of issues that are very personal. People too often forget that women are human beings; to use their bodies as political objects and take away their ability to make decisions for themselves about what is right for them is not the kind of logic I believe in.
Has it been difficult, since you’re working in DC this summer, to be so far away from these issues that you care about and affect you?
Oh definitely; it hurt so bad when I couldn’t be here the Moral Monday after HB 695 was passed through the senate. I just wanted to be back in North Carolina with the people I work with regularly on these issues. To see the director of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina get arrested was very inspirational but at the same time I think it’s tragic that someone like her, who is in the health sector, feels it is necessary to participate in civil disobedience in protest of what the legislature is doing to women’s basic rights to health care.
I’ve been phone-banking every chance I can in D.C., calling my friends, people I know from campus and making sure they know what’s going on down here and to get them out to Moral Mondays.
What do you expect to see in regards to student involvement at Moral Mondays and subsequent protests with the start of the semester?
I’ve been very, very impressed with the student involvement so far. But I know there is more formal organizing going on with the students from UNC and other schools to keep growing the movement into the school year. Since everyone is really paying attention now, I expect to see an increase in the number of students participating in protests against these attacks on North Carolina.
Kaori Sueyoshi is a junior at UNC Chapel Hill, majoring in Political Science and Business.
Victoria Petermann is the Moxie Project Intern at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina this summer. Victoria is a North Carolina native, born and raised in Raleigh. This Fall, she will begin her Junior year at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studies Geography and Women’s Studies.