We Heart: Deb Butler’s “Melt-Up” on the North Carolina House Floor

North Carolina lawmakers weren’t prepared for battle on September 11—but Rep. Deb Butler, in the face of a sudden and unexpected legislative maneuver from her colleagues, still stood up for democracy.

(Gerry Dincher / Creative Commons)

Democratic members of the state House were told that there would be no votes cast during the morning session that Wednesday, and some spent the day instead with constituents and organizations to mark the anniversary of 9/11. But within five minutes, Republican lawmakers called a vote on their proposed state budget—which the Governor had vetoed.

“Most people might think that this is a partisan power grab, but it is really more ominous,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at a press conference. “This is about thwarting the governor’s ability to move us forward on education and health care and clean air and water.”

The legislators succeeded in overturning the veto, but not without outcry:

At the 5:10 mark of the audio, Saine makes his motion. A woman can be heard saying “What?”

At the 5:19 mark: Moore tells the clerk to read the bill. Democrats then scramble to find microphones and object to the motion.

At the 5:33 mark: As Democrats are objecting, Moore asks if there’s “further discussion, further debate?”

Democrats shout to Moore that they were told there would be no votes during the morning session. But at the 5:45 mark, Moore responds “That was not announced..”

At 6:05 on the audio, with Democrats yelling at Moore, he instructs the clerk to open the vote.

“This is a travesty of the process and you know it,” Butler shouted.

At the 6:21 mark, Moore tells the clerk to “lock the machine” — preventing more voting — and to count the vote.

Three minutes later, Moore reads the results as Democrats shout over him.

One distinct voice which emerged during the mess was Butler’s. “I will not yield,” the House Democratic whip declared to the House Speaker.

In a press conference the day after the vote, Butler didn’t back down. “North Carolina is better than this,” she said to a crowd on the front lawn of the Legislative Building. “What happened yesterday was a shameful, shameful display.”

When Butler described the moment as a “meltdown,” someone shouted that instead, it was a “melt-up.” She agreed. “What I did was remarkable only insofar that it happened in that building,” Butler urged those present. “We all have the capacity for that.”


Carmen Rios is a self-proclaimed feminist superstar and the former digital editor at Ms. Her writing on queerness, gender, race and class has been published in print and online by outlets including BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic, the National Women’s History Museum, SIGNS and the Women’s Media Center; and she is a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. @carmenriosss|carmenfuckingrios.com