RALEIGH — Two days after the eighth wave of demonstrators assembled at the North Carolina Legislative Building, Wake County Republican Party leaders described the weekly protests as just a test of wills.
Almost 600 demonstrators have been arrested by the General Assembly police since April 29, when the first wave of protesters was arrested as they protested the Republican-majoritys legislative agenda. On Monday, there were 120 arrests.
These protests are really just a test of wills, Donna Williams, chairwoman of the Wake County GOP, contended in a statement. After one hundred-plus years of Democratic control in state government, the people rallied last November and said, We want change. The protesters are not listening.
Three more people including NAACP state field secretary Rob Stephens were cited in a protest at the state Capitol on Wednesday evening. The trio made it clear they wanted to be taken into custody, locking arms, singing spirituals and refusing to leave when observers were told to exit and the building closed.
It was the culmination of an hourlong event organized by the NAACP in which about 30 young people went to the Capitol to present the governor with a list of pledges they want him to sign. The issues were the same that have drawn weeks of mass protests at the nearby Legislative Building including jobs, health care, education and voting rights.
None of the Republican leaders in the two General Assembly chambers have stepped out to talk with demonstrators. Gov. Pat McCrory described the throngs weeks ago at a Republican convention as outsiders. Arrest records and crowd surveys offer a different picture, with only a few of the protesters hailing from outside North Carolina.
Echoing other critics of the demonstrations, Wake County Republican leaders argued that taxpayers are bearing the burden of the disgruntled. They argue that law enforcement costs are mounting because agencies in Wake County are accruing overtime and compensatory costs. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has complained about the potential for 600-plus trials to burden the court system.
But protesters and demonstrators dismiss those arguments, pointing out that the arrests did not have to occur, that legislators could have met with the demonstrators as they aired their grievances.
The Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, countered the Wake County GOP statement, point for point. He argued that the real costs are the costs of the GOPs devastating, immoral and extreme agenda.
Williams contended the demonstrators were using the same failed 50-year-old playbook to protest legislature efforts that would create jobs, improve our economy, reform our tax code, safeguard our elections, and balance the state budget.
Williams also said: The people are tired, and these protesters are just on the wrong side of history. We thank Governor McCrory and our legislators for fulfilling their campaign promises.
Barber said the focus on taxpayer costs by critics of the demonstrations s an attempt to change the subject rather than respond to the criticisms of the protesters. He said marches, rallies and protests are a tried-and-trued political strategy.
They speak against it, and they ridicule it, Barber said. But what theyre doing is engaging in historical revisionism.