Art Pope’s indignation over NAACP-led pickets of his chain of discount stores is chuckle-worthy.
The conservative firebrand has been a longtime ally of policies and initiatives designed to keep minorities and the poor powerless and voiceless – all while, as president of Variety Wholesalers, Inc., he has made millions by hawking subpar clothing and trinkets to these very groups.
Pope has used his fortune to keep conservative think tanks well funded. His cash has been the lifeblood for the likes of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy – which aims to imbue right-wing philosophies into our colleges and universities – and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, whose policies to diminish minority voting rights and dismantle the Affordable Care Act have been roundly criticized. With such a divisive past, Pope was a strange choice for the state’s budget director, but, as we all now know, Gov. McCrory is quite strange.
Pope wasted no time in shaping the state’s budget around his own myopic beliefs. Teachers were put on the chopping block almost immediately. The cuts to teacher pay and tenure have had a devastating effect. A report released this week by NC Policy Watch states that teacher turnover in North Carolina has grown exponentially in the last year.
“Between March 2012 and March 2013, approximately 13,616 teachers left their districts, at a rate of 14.33 percent … The consequences of last summer’s raft of legislative changes affecting the teaching profession – including another year of frozen salaries, the discontinuation of supplemental pay for advanced degrees, and the end of teacher tenure-were not reflected in this report, leaving many to wonder what this year’s numbers will look like next fall,” according to the Policy Watch’s Lindsay Wagner.
NC NAACP President Dr. William Barber cited Pope’s disgraceful treatment of educators when he called on other Civil Rights organizations to join a series of Christmas shopping season protests at some of the Roses and Maxway stores that Pope owns throughout the state. Barber says Pope should also face repercussions for his part in the state’s slashing of the Earned Income Tax Credit for nearly a million families and rejecting expanded Medicaid benefits for half-a-million North Carolinians without health coverage.
“The (pickets are) letting Pope know that he cannot come for poor people’s money by day, and then use his political power to pass laws that crush their economic survival, limit their opportunities to healthcare and education, and restrict their right to vote. These untenable actions must be exposed,”
Henderson-based Variety Wholesalers, Inc. owns several more discount chains, including Super 10, Bargain Town, Bill’s Dollar Store, Treasure Mart and Super Dollar.
The pickets, a continuation of the Moral Monday and Forward Together protests started by Barber in the spring, began Monday at a Durham Roses. Yesterday, protestors picketed a Roses store in Charlotte. On Saturday, the movement is coming to Winston-Salem, when picketers will target the Maxway in Northside Shopping Center. Another protest will take place Saturday at a Roses in Fayetteville. Chapel Hill and Raleigh stores were also slated to be picketed.
In a public letter to Barber dated Dec. 9 and on Variety Wholesalers stationary, Pope tells Barber that he is “shocked” that he and his allies would “demand any public official support your political positions by threatening a business which is not a part of state government.”
He goes on to state that the pickets will negatively impact the employees of his stores, many of whom are minorities.
“Variety Wholesalers, Inc. and Roses Stores are an equal opportunity employer,” he wrote. “While the population of North Carolina is about 22 percent African American, over 44 percent of our employees are African American …”
Pope seems completely oblivious to the fact that his overabundance of black employees is a direct result of poverty and the lack of educational and employment opportunities available to poor folks, especially those with black or brown skin. These employees are not punching the clock at Pope’s stores because they have found their dream job.
Mr. Pope, the sub-standard wages and barely-there benefits you offer aren’t the be-all and end-all for your workers, sir. It is simply that their circumstances don’t allow them to do any better for themselves and their families.
The policies that Pope and his kind are pushing will ensure this seeming permanent underclass exists for the foreseeable future. It is a cruel cycle if you think about it. Pope makes millions selling crappy products to those who can’t afford better items. He then channels that money into groups determined to keep a gulf between the haves and have-nots by pushing for policies that create a whole new generation of poor and uneducated folks to shop at Pope’s stores and line his pockets anew.
Pope spent the better part of his professional life victimizing powerless people. We find it ironic and sad that he now wants to play the victim card. The NAACP has learned that the only way to get the attention of money-men like Pope is by reaching for their wallets.