Protesters rally at State House against budget as lawmakers pass it

·3 min read

Jun. 25—"The eyes of the entire nation are upon us," James McKim, president of the Manchester NAACP, declared Thursday at a State House rally held to protest social policy issues that Republican leaders inserted into the state budget.

Even as lawmakers, 25 miles south in Bedford, were voting to pass the budget, speakers condemned the "backdoor" tactics that led to inclusion of abortion restrictions, school vouchers and restrictions on how discrimination can be taught in public schools.

Gov. Chris Sununu was in his office but did not make an appearance at the rally.

Those who gathered carried signs addressing issues as diverse as women's rights, racial justice, education funding and that perennial New Hampshire bugaboo, property taxes: "Keep your budget off our bodies," "No ban on divisive concepts," "Public money should not go to private schools," and "NH Reps stop increasing our property taxes."

A golden retriever who attended with her owner wore a sign that read: "This budget is worse than anything I've rolled in."

Grace Kindeke, program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee in New Hampshire, pointed out the crowd was intergenerational, from older folks who had been part of the Civil Rights movement to a younger generation called to action after the deaths of Michael Brown, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

"In New Hampshire, we dare to imagine a budget that works for our communities," Kindeke said. "We dare to imagine a Granite State that is truly welcoming, truly inclusive, truly equitable, that truly starts to really fulfill the promise of the multi-cultural democracy that maybe our founding fathers didn't intend, but that's what they're getting."

Deb Opramolla from the Poor People's Campaign said the budget's "backdoor budget cuts" will adversely affect the services she and other parents of disabled children depend upon from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"We need a people's budget," she said. "I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors who have gotten me this far and like them, I will rise like the phoenix. I'm asking you to rise with me."

The crowd cheered its support.

Opramolla also had a message for the governor: "If you sign it, you own it."

One of the youngest speakers got some of the loudest applause. Emma Lubic, a student at Bedford High School, spoke in opposition to the restrictions on how public schools can teach about discrimination.

"The whole point of teaching history is to prevent it from repeating," Lubic said "If we don't teach kids the true history of our country, how are they going to be able to help fix the mess that they were given?"

Some women at the rally dressed in red "handmaid" costumes, which have come to represent oppression of women's reproductive rights at similar rallies all over the country.

Alyssa Antman, public affairs organizer for Planned Parenthood's New Hampshire Action Fund, said the budget "is a disaster for New Hampshire's reproductive health, and it rolls back our rights and freedoms."

Attorney and former Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky likened the Republican leadership in the State House to a cicada, the noisy insect that has been plaguing central and southern states in recent weeks, "who crawls out of the ground, does their stuff and then we have to clean up after them."

Warning that what's happening in New Hampshire is part of a larger trend across the country, the NAACP's McKim led the crowd of 200 in a chant: "We will stop them."

But if their efforts fail and Sununu signs the budget into law, McKim told them, "You should feel free to exercise your right to vote out of office any legislator who voted for this bill."

That prompted the crowd to start a chant of their own: "Vote them out."

"There's a saying: How New Hampshire goes, the rest of the nation goes," McKim said. "Don't let our nation down."

swickham@unionleader.com

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