RALEIGH — Researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill fanned out among the throngs of demonstrators outside the North Carolina statehouse Monday in search of demographic information.
Since Gov. Pat McCrory described the demonstrators as outsiders to Republicans gathered earlier this month at a Charlotte convention, participants of the Moral Monday protests have worked to let the GOP leaders know that their mass protests are homegrown.
Elizabeth Benefield, a 53-year-old professional fundraiser from Raleigh, stood by her 17-year-old daughter, Emily Grace, a rising senior at Broughton High School.
I want the legislators who are intending to roll back our rights to hear our voice and know were not in favor of it, the elder Benefield said, holding up her handwritten Raleigh Is In The House!! placard. Theres too much at stake, and justice will always prevail. They can pretend not to listen, but we cannot be silenced.
Many in the crowd gathered in the grassy Halifax Mall outside the legislative building held up signs with their home towns or ZIP codes listed.
Gray Newman, 49, a Mecklenburg County employee who said he thought McCrory would bring a more moderate political philosophy to the Capitol, hoisted a small placard with the numbers 28227, the ZIP code for Mint Hill, Newmans home.
For the seventh Monday since April 29, a growing crowd of demonstrators gathered late in the afternoon outside the legislative building to raise voices of dissatisfaction with the Republican majoritys legislative agenda.
Reflects state population
Fred Stutzman, one of the eight UNC-CH data collectors, did a sampling of the crowd asking 316 people their ZIP codes, race and age. Their findings showed that five of the respondents were from out-of-state and 311 were from North Carolina, overwhelmingly from the Triangle area but also from such metropolitan regions as Wilmington, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Asheville and Charlotte.
The average age of the protesters, according to the UNC researchers, was 53, with 25 percent under age 36. Sixty percent were female, and the racial breakdown largely matched the 2010 Census findings 79 percent were white, 17 percent African-American, 6 percent Hispanic and the rest were Asian, Pacific Islander, Indian or other.
The Rev. William Barber, the head of the state NAACP, which has organized the weekly events, described the crowd as a diverse representation of the state. He railed against the contentions that several thousand people gathered on the Halifax Mall lawn outside the Legislative Building were outsiders.
We are outside the influence of [Art] Pope, Barber said describing McCrorys budget director and influential political contributor whose organizations spent $2.2 million in 2010 on 22 state legislative races 18 of which his supported candidate won. We are outside the influence of the Koch brothers. We are outside the influence of the Tea Party.
The demonstrators were hoping instead to wield influence in North Carolina and change the tide of policies and votes rolling out of the GOP-led legislature and executive office of the governor.
Arrests nearing 500
Eighty-four demonstrators were arrested by the N.C. General Assembly police on Monday, bringing the total since April 29 to more than 480.
McCrory and all of those Republicans are voting in lockstep for things that are going to hurt the people of North Carolina, said Jennie Deloach, a 64-year-old, retired IT worker from Chapel Hill. Deloach said the main aim in joining the protests is getting the word out.
But Moral Mondays arent about convincing legislators their laws are harmful they dont listen or care, she said. Instead, protests should focus on reaching people who arent completely informed.
Duke theater professor Jay OBerski joined the line of people intending to get arrested. OBerski, a 21-year North Carolina resident, said he had not been to a political protest since the Iraq War, but the cocktail of meanness happening in the legislature prompted him to turn out. Its starting to branch out, he said.
Holly Jordan, 29, a teacher at Hillside High School in Durham, said she decided to get arrested on Monday because she was thoroughly upset with the education policies and budgets proposed. She knew that some of the Republicans had described their naysayers as aging hippies and outsiders who considered it en vogue to get arrested.
Theyre talking about these aged hippies leading this thing, Jordan said. If its en vogue, aging hippies arent the people to lead a trendy thing. This is a wide and broad movement.
Future voters listening
Several Democrats from the state House of Representatives were among the throngs outside and inside the Legislative Building.
Rep. Paul Luebke, a Democrat from Durham, noted: Each week, more and more people come from outside the Triangle. Itll be smaller in other parts of the state, but itll b a force in the elections throughout the state.
Luebke said he doubted the demonstrations were having an effect on his Republican colleagues but that they were effective in grabbing the attention of unaffiliated voters.
The unaffiliated voters are typically less interested in politics. They need a spark to get them more involved in thinking about policy, Luebke said. These rallies lead those who are less involved in politics to say, Whats going on there in Raleigh?
As an even larger crowd is expectednext week on the last Monday before unemployment benefits are drastically curtailed, Democratic legislators said they were buoyed by demonstrators upset by the same Republican policies troubling them. It shows that we do have some support, said Rep. Carla Cunningham, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County. This is a movement, but it belongs to them. Its grass roots.