Moral Monday demonstrators focus on voter rights, education cuts

ablythe@newsobserver.comJuly 23, 2013 

— For the past two and a half months, the demonstrators who gather each Monday at the North Carolina Legislative Building to protest the Republican agenda have followed an orchestrated pattern.

They gather in a big open space, most recently the grassy Halifax Mall between legislative offices and General Assembly chambers for speeches, prayer, music and rallying cries.

Then those who plan to engage in civil disobedience walk slowly in the Legislative Building, wearing a green arm band to signify their plans to get arrested. They gather in a second-floor rotunda continue their protest and then peaceably wait to have their wrists bound in arrest.

This week, though, the routine was a bit off kilter.

The legislators were not meeting in the usual Monday night session, so demonstrators who planned to engage in civil disobedience to draw attention to their concerns arrived this week with toothbrushes and a few sleeping bags.

Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, pulled a new toothbrush from his pants pocket as evidence of his commitment to stay overnight in protest of the cuts to public education. But General Assembly police closed the building at about 7:15 p.m. and arrested Ellis and more than 70 others who refused to leave.

Though voter rights was the theme of the demonstration, many of the protesters rallied against the $20.6 billion spending plan released by Senate and House budget writers on Sunday night. The budget proposal takes a giant step toward the privatization of education, sets aside money for a Voter ID program, cuts government jobs in some places and adds them in others and sets a path for reorganization of state Commerce Department functions under a public-private partnership. The spending plan, the basis for policies, the structure of government agencies and ultimately the direction of the state, is scheduled for votes in the House and Senate on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is a budget full of voodoo economics that hurt teachers and public education,” the Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, said Monday as crowds of demonstrators gathered in the waning sunlight and legislative session.

Republican leaders have largely ignored the protesters who have gathered outside General Assembly chambers all but one Monday since April 29. Nearly 920 people have been arrested at demonstrations at the Legislative Building or Capitol.

Rick Edens, a pastor at United Church of Chapel Hill, was arrested on July 1 and was back among the demonstrators on Monday.

“... I and many others out here today don’t really think this legislature really reflects the will of the people of North Carolina,” he said.

Advocates of the Republican agenda dismiss the protesters as people who are bitter that the 2012 elections did not go their way. They argue that new policies and laws being adopted were the will of the voters.

But many demonstrators argue that the Republicans were victorious at the polls, in part, because of new legislative and congressional districts that were drawn in 2011 and more favorable to Republicans, who took control of both General Assembly chambers in 2010.

Bob Anderson, a Raleigh resident, was at the Moral Monday rally with Janice McLaughlin, hoisting a sign reminding people to vote on Nov. 4, 2014. The year 2010, Anderson said, was “the nadir” for Democrats. “That was the low point politically,” he said. But each week he and McLaughlin join the demonstrators with an eye toward the next elections.

The “Moral Monday” organizers have a multi-pronged approach that includes the rallies, a voter registration drive and legal challenges to legislation.

Barry Ragin, a Durham resident, said he came to the rallies to help him stay focused on what’s important to him and to see some of the people who have similar political views.

He worries, though, that between now and the 2014 elections that some people might forget some of the legislative votes and actions that drew them all together.

“Being motivated from now until November is going to be a challenge,” Ragin said.

Others, though, are more optimistic.

Mark Kleinschmidt, the Chapel Hill mayor, noted the diversity of the crowd gathered Monday night.

“This would be different if it was just like a small piece of the state population,” Kleinschmidt said. “When you look around, this is a piece of everybody. This is North Carolina standing up.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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