"They're not rational": 80-Year-Old Educator Speaks About Her Arrest in “Moral Monday Protests” Against Extreme Right-Wing Agenda in North Carolina

Yves here. NC intern Jessica Ferrer interviewed 80 year old Barbara Parramore, who was one of 57 arrested in North Carolina on May 20 as part of what has become weekly protests at the state General Assembly called “Moral Mondays”. Background courtesy Daily Kos:

These acts of civil disobedience are in protest of the Republican supermajority’s ramrodding of nearly 2,000 bills — many of them designed to decimate public education, deny/restrict access to health insurance, kneecap labor rights, seize local control from elected municipal governments, restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare, expand firearms permissions, eviscerate oversight boards, permit exploitation of public lands, implement “fracking” and other environmental abuses, and suppress voter rights — through the state legislature since the end of January.

Her bail was posted by the NAACP. I was told by her daughter Lynn Parramore that the police were for the most part “not hostile” but the process was designed to intimidate. She was put in zip handcuffs, which made it hard for her to balance when climbing stairs. She was frisked twice, X-rayed and scans of her fingers and hands were added to a Federal database.

Here is some footage from the protest. The police move in around 5:20:

Jessica’s interview:

Next Monday will mark the 5th “Moral Monday” demonstration in North Carolina. These nonviolent protests organized by the NC NAACP and its coalition partners are taking place in Raleigh, North Carolina—the capital—and the call for morality isn’t for rebellious teenagers. Protesters are marching to the legislative building to ask their public officials to rethink the laws they are trying to pass. 80-year old Barbara Parramore worked in the North Carolina public education system for close to 40 years. She participated in the last Moral Monday and was arrested for civil disobedience.

Jessica Ferrer: Barbara, you were a teacher for North Carolina for how many years?

Barbara Parramore: I had 37 years, ranging from being an elementary school teacher, middle school teacher, to a school counselor and then elementary school principal, but then I completed my doctorate and went to the College of Education at NC State University, where I was for 25 years.

Jessica Ferrer: And your experience as a teacher and a counselor, principal and a professor led you to participate in Moral Monday?

Barbara Parramore: Yes. And after I retired, for about 10 years I was active in doing curriculum audits with a team that went to different school districts. Also during the 1980s, when I was on campus, I was president of the North Carolina Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and another time for two years I was president of the North Carolina Teachers for the Social Studies, so I’ve been very active on a statewide basis for most of my career as well.

Jessica Ferrer: But what is the meaning of the name “Moral Monday”? What does that mean?

Barbara Parramore: That issues at stake with the range of legislative acts being passed and proposed are beyond just a legal question. There’s a moral aspect to this of what is fair and equal. Equality under the law, you know we say that, but to have laws that are implemented that are against equal opportunity raises it to a moral issue. In other words, the laws by being unconstitutional and violating human rights are going beyond human law, which makes it a moral issue. And I consider what I was doing a moral responsibility to speak up and to be willing to be arrested. It is a moral issue with me to be silent when I know laws being implemented are going to hurt children and youth.

Jessica Ferrer: When you heard about Moral Monday, what made you want to be a part of that?

Barbara Parramore: Well, having come to Raleigh in 1954 to teach, and that was the year that the Brown vs Board of Education decision was made in May, and then so my license to practice in education began when there were a lot of changes underway in education. And then when I was a school principal, the first school for special education students serving the whole city was at my school and the teacher’s salary was paid by the Woman’s Club, Senior Woman’s Club. So I’ve always been involved with activities sort of pushing ahead on what needs to be done, and also emphasis on the least among us. I’ve always been involved in education for the goals that we have that all children have an opportunity for a quality education. Now I keep up with the legislature when it’s in town and pay a lot of attention to public policy as well as laws, and so I’ve been concerned, ever since the General Assembly began working this spring, with the kinds of things they were considering and some of the laws they passed and then some that are proposed. I just believe strongly that we’re turning the hands back on the clock.

Jessica Ferrer: But you were arrested for civil disobedience.

Barbara Parramore: Yes. Yes.

Jessica Ferrer: Can you explain that?

Barbara Parramore: Well, I realized that was a possibility, and I’ve known some of the – like the first publication of arrests showed the picture of Bill Chafe from Duke University, who’s a retired history professor, and I knew him, and I thought well he’s paying attention to this, I need to pay even more attention. So I was willing to be subject to arrest. However, I do believe that I have a right to go into the legislative building and in the center part where we went. Now I know you can’t go into the chambers. So I think there’s a Constitutional question, the North Carolina Constitution, whether or not that we were really trespassing. And I made a pledge to myself when I went in that I would not sing or chant or say anything, so I never said a word during the whole time, although others were doing that, and some people were making talks after the Reverend Barber made a talk, like the economics professor from Chapel Hill spoke, a woman on the school board in Durham School spoke, a girl who just graduated from college spoke, and two others. But I never said a word. So in my own way I was doing a silent protest, although I was a member of that group. So I feel that if people like me with my background and experience and commitment to education don’t stand up, then who’s going to?

Jessica Ferrer: And you said that you believed that the legislature is moving backwards.

Barbara Parramore: Some of the laws are – well, there’s no need to have a separate law for the teaching of the multiplication tables and cursive writing. That’s up to the school board that’s appointed by the governor, and the superintendent of public instruction is elected by the people. That’s where policy for curriculum development should occur, and I just think that’s just a narrow-minded approach to checking on what’s taught in schools. There have been other laws in the past that I’ve objected to that were very specific, targeted at some special interest. For example, we had more liberal or responsible approaches to health education in the high schools and home economics, and there was a period when there was a lot of activity and the teachers were forbidden by law to mention anything about family planning or birth control, and I’ve forgotten how many years it was finally repealed, but again that was denying knowledge and information to young, you know, teenagers who certainly have a right to, you know, knowledge and facts. So that’s just an example of the legislature trying to be the super school board. There’s just a lot of things that seems to me are going to short- change the children in the long run.

Now, another thing I’m really concerned about: I am appalled at the wholesale criticism of teachers. It’s a demanding job in our society and I would say important. And yes, in large groups you may have a few who are not as effective as others, but there’s either a pending or just passed law to have teachers’ bonuses for AP classes depend on the test performance of the students. Okay, now let’s say I’m an AP teacher and I’m going to get a bonus if my students who take my history class, or chemistry, whatever it is, score well. Well, what is that going to encourage me to do? Not to include marginal students who might have undiscovered interests and talents, and so again making it more exclusive, less inclusive, and short change some children who might wake up to doing very well.

Jessica Ferrer: You’re 80 years old, correct?

Barbara Parramore: Yes.

Jessica Ferrer: And so, you’ve seen a lot of changes –

Barbara Parramore: Listen, you know, if I live 10 more years, it’ll be nearly a century. I have lived through – I could start with 1950, the last 60 years, 60+ years, and I’ve lived through it.

Jessica Ferrer: And so you’ve seen those changes, the Brown vs Board of Education, you know, getting –

Barbara Parramore: Yes. And the movement for special education. The point I’m making is that change that is substantive and meaninngful you’re taking the long term, it takes a while to change things. These little quick fixes, it seems to me, are very short-sighted.

Jessica Ferrer: Do you view the changes that the legislature is trying to make as quick fixes?

Barbara Parramore: Many of them are, and they are narrowly focused. Like the charter schools, a separate board for that. We don’t need but one head of the school system. See, it’s the North Carolina school system. It’s not individual. In other words, each local district is a part of the state. They’re not independent. In some other states they have independent school districts which means that they raise their own money and have taxes and so the local folks can vote their taxes and so on. But in North Carolina, it’s a statewide system. And the proposal to allow charter schools to be run by for-profit people or organizations is another thing that is – I mean, we should not be having anybody making a profit off of the public school tax dollars. And not all of them are doing that, of course, you know there are some very fine charter schools, and the purpose of the charter school movement I don’t have any quarrel with, but how it’s been implemented, again, is short changing some of the students that ought to be treated better than they are, narrowly focused purpose and – anyway the for-profit idea of it isn’t a bad one – as well as having teachers who are not necessarily qualified to teach.

Jessica Ferrer: So what was your arrest like?

Barbara Parramore: I had had the opportunity of reading what the faculty member the week before had experienced, so that gave me an idea. I was impressed with the professionalism of all of the law enforcement officials, officers. They were courteous. I didn’t feel any hostility or even impatience, because I know, you know, we were adding a lot of work, 55 or however many there were of us. I did, I was surprised at the – that there were two series, two different parts of having us frisked and fingerprinted and photographs made. I don’t understand that.

Jessica Ferrer: What do you think it would take for Governor McCrory and the legislature to see and hear from the protesters?

Barbara Parramore: I think a large, a greater number, a larger number of people. Because they’ve got to feel that a large percentage of the public is upset or concerned. In other words, as long as they think that it’s just a small number of people who have these strong feelings, it’s not going to matter to them. The protests have to get enough information out to convince people that the legislature needs to slow down.

Jessica Ferrer: And so would you protest again?

Barbara Parramore: Oh yes, yes. Now I’m forbidden to go anywhere near the legislative building, that whole complex, while this session is underway. I had to sign that in order to be released. But I can do other things.

Jessica Ferrer: Like what?

Barbara Parramore: Well, I’m communicating with a lot of people. I had another, two other inquiries wanting to know if I would be willing to be interviewed. What I’ll do is keep responding positively to any inquiry or messages like that.

Jessica Ferrer: But I have a question for you. The Republican platform is less government involvement, no big government, less regulation, and it seems that here in North Carolina there seems to be more regulating from a Republican governor, the first Republican governor in North Carolina in over 20 years, and then also a majority Republican legislature. Why do you think that is?

Barbara Parramore: They’re not thinking straight. They’re not rational. And they’re wanting to regulate more than even, you know – it just doesn’t make sense. And if they stopped to think about it, it’s going to increase government too. If these laws are passed they’re going to have to have somebody who has oversight and so on. However, I must tell you, I have had since Tuesday three different people, older, you know, senior folks who are Republicans tell me that they don’t agree with what’s going on. They weren’t mad at me. But I did get an e-mail today calling me, saying bullshit was the message, so I’m wondering how much of that I’m going to get. The question of how a thoughtful, educated publicly elected official could be so inconsistent is beyond me.

Jessica Ferrer: Do you think any of the changes will get made that they’re trying to pass?

Barbara Parramore: Well, they do have the power, and if they’ve got the money they can do some implementation.

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