RALEIGH — Demonstrators gathered at the North Carolina Legislative Building as they have for 10 Mondays now, but many women wore pink this week to protest what they described as an assault on womens rights and access to health care.
The demonstration, organized by the state NAACP and drawing national media attention, came five days after the state Senate adopted an omnibus bill that would essentially close down all but one of the states abortion clinics. Police estimated the crowd to be about 2,000 people. Organizers estimated nearly 4,000.
Moral Monday organizers have organized next weeks demonstration to focus on women with women speakers scheduled to talk about the impact that new laws and policies will have on the states females.
Womens issues, however, were very much a topic this week. Janet Colm, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, was among the more than 60 arrested on Monday.
Before she was arrested, Colm, who has been at Planned Parenthood for three decades, said she did not make her decision lightly. In many ways she is a person of rules and order, and getting a traffic ticket, her only other brush with the law, troubled her greatly.
Though she has attended other demonstrations at the legislature, she said the Senates action last week, adopting the abortion bill with no notice that it was going to come to the floor, put her over the edge. She already was upset by many issues, including education policies, cuts to unemployment and health care access. Im really upset by what is going on in this state that Ive loved and lived in for 40 years, Colm said.
Moral Monday demonstrators tried to turn the focus toward numbers. They cited the 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians whose Medicaid benefits will be cut; the 170,000 unemployed North Carolinians who will lose emergency unemployment benefits; the reduction of the Earned Income Tax credit that will affect some 900,000 poor and working people; and the week of early voting that will be halted.
Their policies will have a negative impact on every dimension of our society, the Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, said. We need to expose the cost they are forcing on our state.
As the protesters mapped out their strategies through the end of July, Gov. Pat McCrory softened his language about the thousands of demonstrators flooding the statehouse each week to protest the Republican agenda.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, McCrory seemed to retreat from his language that they were outsiders trying to stir up trouble.
He asked that the discourse be respectful, citing himself as an example. To the point, McCrory said the term Moral Monday is a misnomer.
Listen, we should have respectful differences, but to say one is moral, which gives the reference that one is immoral, on a political dispute ... I think is quite misleading, he said. I respectfully disagree with some of those who are protesting against me, but from that disagreement Im not judging them on their personal character.
At the same time, McCrory said he welcomed lawful protesters and applauded the nonviolent tone. We ought to be very proud of ourselves here in North Carolina that we have not had violence, he said.
Still, he pivoted to say he agreed with law enforcements decision to arrest protesters, even though the Wake County district attorney has suggested citations are more appropriate. I believe if people break the law, they should be arrested, he said.
McCrory used the term respect often apparently moving away from his earlier comments about outsiders that insulted the demonstrators after a survey of those in attendance proved it untrue.
There is respectful debate and respectful differences of how we achieve our goals in this state and this nation, he said. One thing Ive always done in public service is show respect to those who disagree with me.