RALEIGH — Nearly 200 protesters crowded inside the Legislative Building early Monday evening, singing, chanting and echoing many of the same concerns that demonstrators have for the past three Mondays.
As members of the state House of Representatives tended to business, North Carolinians dissatisfied with tax plans, education policies, health care proposals, welfare cuts, environmental deregulation and new voting policies grew louder and louder.
General Assembly police used bullhorns to tell the protesters to quiet down. You have five minutes to leave, an officer called out to the demonstrators gathered in the second-floor rotunda.
The crowd, diverse in age and backgrounds, was in Raleigh to take part in a growing protest movement organized by the state NAACP and others to highlight widening concerns about the impact of political initiatives coming out of the Republican-led General Assembly and governors mansion.
Forty-nine women and men were arrested, zip-ties binding their hands as they were walked onto a bus which took them to the Wake County Detention Center on Hammond Road for processing. The week before, 30 people were arrested, and the week before that there were 17 arrests.
Ive never seen anything like this legislature, and I pay attention all the time, Bruce Lightner, a Raleigh funeral home director and son of Raleighs only black mayor, told a crowd of protesters before he was among those arrested. We need this movement to grow every week and we need to be willing to sacrifice going to jail.
For the first time in more than a century, Republicans have been able to flex their full political muscle.
The Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, has been rallying demonstrators in April and May for what he has dubbed Moral Mondays to let Gov. Pat McCrory, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and state Senate leader Phil Berger know that some North Carolinians are willing to go to jail to protest the new direction.
The protesters contend the new-to-power legislators are dismantling decades of progress in public education, race relations, environmental protections and more. They are critical of proposed tax reforms that they argue would offer big breaks for state residents who make the most while pulling more from those at the middle and lower-income rungs.
In North Carolina, Gov. McCrory and his merry men, Tillis and Berger, are engaging in Robin Hood in reverse, Barber told about 150 people gathered before the protest at Davie Street Presbyterian Church, about a mile from the Legislative Building.
This week, many of the protesters wore yellow armbands to show the rising of labor like the sun, something that hadnt been seen in previous weeks.
They contend bills are designed to weaken workers rights in this state and make it easier for corporations and the people who control them.
The protest organizers called military veterans to the podium to speak against GOP-led initiatives.
Durham County Board of Elections chairwoman Carol Anderson said she worried about Voter ID bills and attempts to curb voting in the state rather than expand efforts to get more people to the polls.
One arrested protester, Leslie Boyd, drove to Raleigh from Asheville with a photo of her deceased son, Mike Danford. She spoke out against the GOP leaderships refusal to accept a Medicaid expansion under the federal health care reform, saying their refusal would limit health care access for nearly half a million people. Her son hadnt been able to afford health insurance because he had a birth defect that was considered a pre-existing condition.
Barber said, at an organizing session, that he thought the legislators should be more transparent. He argued that North Carolinas Republican leaders entertain advice from American Legislative Exchange Council, a largely private conservative group backed by major corporations that proposes model legislation for like-minded lawmakers, but has little time for the NAACP and their critics.
You should not be arresting us, Barber said. You should thank us for having the courage to tell it like it is.
One floor above the protesters, family, friends and curious legislative staffers watched the singing and chanting and then the arrests.
It is uncertain how much sway the protesters will have on the Republicans with whom they are upset. So far, they have not gotten an audience with GOP leaders.
Dallas Woodhouse, North Carolina director for Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy organization inspired by the tea party movement, said Monday night that he did not think continued protests would be effective.
They have to make their case in conservative legislative districts that abhor this kind of thing, Woodhouse said. I dont think this wins you many friends in the soccer-mom suburbs that you have to get on your side here, and I dont see anybody changing any bills because of this.
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat from Orange County, said she thought the demonstrations were having an effect, though.
She said people who do not keep up with the day-to-day business of the legislature see the publicity about the arrests and want to know more.
People will start asking why are they here, what are they protesting, Kinnaird said. Then they learn more about whats going on.