Moral Monday crowd rallies for women's rights; more than 100 arrested

ablythe@newsobserver.comJuly 15, 2013 

— The 11th Moral Monday demonstration at the N.C. Legislative Building was supposed to highlight women – their leadership, rights and issues that have a strong impact on them.

But as crowds of women and men gathered on Halifax Mall outside the legislative officers and General Assembly Chambers, it was a father with three black sons who delivered an emotional rallying cry.

The Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, the chief organizer of the demonstrations that have drawn thousands to the capital city since April 29, had not planned to attend this week.

But after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman, the Florida man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, Barber decided to leave the NAACP National Convention early and return to North Carolina for his “own personal renewal.”

Two of his sons were with him, 30 miles from the Florida courthouse when the verdict came in Saturday. Soon to be 50, with hopes of being a grandfather some day, Barber said he was angry, hurt and depressed at what he described a “wink of Southern justice” similar to what happened in 1955 when three white defendants were set free after the killing of Emmett Till in Mississippi.

“The thing that became clear to me, through all the anger and hurt I was feeling for the lesser value the racialized Southern culture places on black life, is that I needed to come home to talk to my other kids, and I needed to be here with you,” he said. “When you are hurting, you need to be around some people who still believe in the possibility of us being one people.”

Barber said his oldest son’s eyes welled with tears as Fox TV commentators described Martin, with his gray hooded sweatshirt and a bag of Skittles, as a teenager whose image instilled fear in the armed neighborhood watch volunteer who pursued and killed him. Zimmerman claimed self-defense under Florida’s “stand-your-ground” laws.

“My son turned to me and said, ‘Dad, they want to emasculate us all,’ ” an emotional Barber told the throngs gathered on Halifax Mall.

Barber turned his focus to North Carolina and the Republican agenda that got a scathing review in The New York Times last week.

“They want to take our voting rights, they want to hurt the poor,” Barber said. “This legislature has gone gun-crazy.”

Barber told one of the largest crowds yet – police estimated 2,000, organizers put it closer to 5,000 – that he came back for another reason, too.

“I also came back to tell all of us, ‘Let’s stand our ground,’” he said.

Monday’s protest, which led to more than 100 arrests, came days after Gov. Pat McCrory clarified a statement about his mingling with protesters.

In response to a question about whether he planned to engage Moral Monday protesters, McCrory told a Wilson Times reporter last week that he goes “out in the crowd all the time.” Then a day later his spokeswoman clarified his statement, saying he meant he encountered protesters while walking along the public streets of Raleigh.

His comments sparked several parody social media pages, and on Monday several in the crowd held up signs that were take-offs on those pages.

Leigh Zaleon, a Chapel Hill resident, hoisted a sign that said: “Where in the World Is Pat McCrory?”

Mollie Earls, 32, a designer who lives several blocks away from the Capitol building where McCrory has offices, made a sign with her boyfriend that showed the governor and his budget director Art Pope with wooden Pinocchio noses.

Earls was upset with the governor for what she described as a retreat from a position he staked out during his campaign in which he said he would not sign any new abortion restrictions into law.

Last week, McCrory said he would sign a House bill that would increase regulations of abortion clinics. Several pro-lifers were also in the crowd on Monday with signs advocating abortion restrictions.

Republicans have described the protests and protesters as North Carolinians and “outsiders” who are bitter that their party and policies lost at the polls in 2012. McCrory said as much in his response to The New York Times editorial, praising legislators for making “the tough decisions that we were elected to do.”

The Wake County Republican party has organized an event on Tuesday to thank legislators for the new agenda.

Moral Monday demonstrators plan to keep protesting through the end of July. Next week’s rally will focus on voting rights and the impact on public education and criminal justice.

Barber pointed out at the start of Monday’s demonstration this week that, throughout it all, women have been leading the charge.

“When we started Moral Mondays and the first group went to jail, the women were at the front line,” he said. “The sisters are here, the sisters have been here and the sisters are here to stay.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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