North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Fayetteville Observer on political change:
It’s hard to imagine how the political noise could get louder, how left and right could be more at odds. But we might have said that two years ago too, and now we know the answer: Yes, it could get worse.
But we also detect a rising voice out there in our communities, one that declares, enough!
More and more, those who inhabit the more centrist zones of liberal and conservative thinking are calling for a return to civility and a resurrection of that almost forgotten conception of politics as the art of compromise. That’s right — a political process in which both sides talk, negotiate and find agreement somewhere between their two positions.
The Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was the latest occasion to provoke political fury. It sparked angry demonstrations and the kind of uncivil behavior we’ve come to expect, and dread, whenever a controversial issue arises. But none of those protests changed anything. As much as dissent is an American institution, enshrined in our Constitution, it seldom changes the outcome of a political debate. Nor does it have much effect on election outcomes.
There’s really only one direct route to change — through the ballot box.
If you’re angry about what’s happening in Washington, whether it’s Kavanaugh or on a host of issues that engage both liberal and conservative Americans, have you gone to the polls in every election? No? Why not? Even more basic: Are you registered to vote? An appalling number of eligible citizens aren’t. How can people expect their complaints about government to be taken seriously if they don’t vote?
Fortunately, that’s an easily solved problem — if you have the will to do it. The State Board of Elections & Ethics has extended the voter registration deadline by three days because of Hurricane Florence. You can register at your county board of elections office or at any Department of Motor Vehicles office through 5 p.m. on Oct. 15.
StarNews of Wilmington on a utility alerting that it couldn’t continue water service during Hurricane Florence:
“We are in critical need of fuel to keep our water treatment plants running. We are exploring every avenue to find a fuel source. However, if we do not get the needed fuel within the next 48-hours, we will not be able to continue water service for public health and safety such as fire suppression and other life-sustaining activities. Also, our customers will be without drinking water.”
— Cape Fear Public Utility Authority civic alert issued at 10:09 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 16
To us — and we suspect many other Wilmington residents — the above warning was the most frightening moment of Hurricane Florence. Fortunately, a fuel supply was found, averting what would have been an unprecedented crisis.
CFPUA should provide a full report on what happened and how such a potential disaster can be avoided in the future. But from what we know at this point, the utility either had an insufficient emergency plan in place or, as some observers have suggested, communicated the situation very poorly. We hope it was the latter and that the short-lived crisis was not as dire as it seemed.
We want to make it clear that we are not looking to beat up on CFPUA — or any other public or private entity — for their work under the at-times-unprecedented conditions the region was facing three weeks ago. We are, however, adamant that a thorough and frank assessment be made of the response.
It is our understanding that, with traditional power gone, CFPUA relied on fuel-powered generators to operate its water-treatment systems, along with the pumps needed to get water into the elevated tank towers that then use gravity for distribution. A fuel supply for the generators obviously is essential.
In its alert of Sept. 16, CFPUA said, “Basically, Wilmington is currently cut off from the rest of the state. Needed resources cannot get here by roads due to extreme flooding.”
Fine. Plan B had failed. That’s understandable.
What concerns us, however, is this sentence: “CFPUA is now looking at ways to get fuel via ship or air.”
When we read that, we were stunned that CFPUA was “looking at ways to get fuel” rather than simply activating Plan C or Plan D or Plan E. If those redundancies were not in place, we have a big problem. If they were in place, CFPUA — as we noted above — did a poor job with emergency communications.
We understand that the agency was erring on the side of caution, but by using the sentence “It is with a heavy heart that we share this information with our customers” during one of the worst natural disasters in Wilmington’s history, we think it’s reasonable for already-scared folks to infer that no clear solution was at hand.
We hope that when all the details come out — and they absolutely must, especially since CFPUA already is running a trust deficit from its poor early handling of the GenX revelations — we will learn that this wasn’t the crisis it seemed to be at the time. If we really were that close to losing water, then the utility and the governing boards that hold it accountable must ensure that more layers of backup are built into emergency plans and then inform the public of what has been done.
During the few hours between the time CFPUA issued the alert and then announced it had found a source, we felt confident that the military or some other public or private entity would figure out a way to get the fuel here.
We assumed, however, that such contingencies were already officially in place. If they were not, should we assume they are now?
We appreciate the good work of CFPUA, especially in protecting the raw-water supply line at the U.S. 421 washout. (The vulnerability of the raw-water supply lines is another issue entirely, and involves other agencies, too.) But CFPUA must assure the public — and do so soon — that once the raw water makes it here, the agency has redundant emergency plans in place to clean it and keep it flowing.
Winston-Salem Journal on the Rev. William Barber receiving a MacArthur fellowship grant:
Last week ended on a high note as we received the news that the Rev. William Barber, a son of North Carolina, was one of the 25 recipients of this year’s prestigious MacArthur fellowship grants, an annual award given to artists, scientists and others who, as the MacArthur Foundation puts it, are “on the precipice of great discovery or a game-changing idea.” The honor, sometimes referred to as a “genius grant,” gives its recipients $625,000 over five years to use as they please.
“They don’t share these grants so that you sit down,” Barber told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Thursday. “They hope and believe you will do more things.”
We get the feeling that will be true in Barber’s case.
The foundation noted that Barber, a social justice advocate and the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, “is effective at building unusually inclusive fusion coalitions that are multiracial and interfaith, reach across gender, age and class lines, and are dedicated to addressing poverty, inequality and systemic racism,” the AP reported.
That’s a high recommendation, especially in a time that we think of as being especially divisive.
The foundation also said Barber was honored because of his work “to expand voting rights, health care, living wages, immigrant rights, public education and LGBTQ rights.”
Most of us are familiar with Barber because of his role in beginning the “Moral Monday” movement in 2013, which led tens of thousands of residents to Raleigh to protest the state legislature over issues such as voting rights, gerrymandering and LGBGQ rights. He is now co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of the movement begun by the Rev. Martin Luther King. Harvard University professor and social critic Cornel West describes Barber as “the closest person we have to Martin Luther King Jr. in our midst.”
As of last week, Barber only had tentative plans for how to spend the grant. “One of the things I always wanted to do is go places where people don’t have the resources to bring you and help empower communities,” he told the AP.
This award often is given to recipients who may not be the most prominent in their field but whose work — artistic or social — shows the promise of having an impact in the future. This year’s recipients include a poet, a biophysical engineer, a health economist, a violinist, a human rights lawyer, a painter, a psychologist, a planetary scientist and an investigative journalist, among others.
We realize that Barber is a controversial figure and that some disagree with his politics. But it would be difficult for anyone to argue against the causes for which he works — racial equality and empowering the poor. We would like to think that everyone could agree with his goals. Some would call them downright biblical.