NC lawmakers go home, but ‘Moral Monday’ protesters will return

ablythe@newsobserver.comJuly 28, 2013 

MORALMONDAY-NE-061713-TEL

Demonstrators hold hands during a recent "Moral Monday" at the North Carolina State Legislative Building during an act of civil disobedience opposing the Republican legislature's agenda Monday, June 24, 2013. More than 900 have been arrested in during "Moral Monday" demonstrations.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— The legislators might have finished their historic session and headed for home, but the demonstrators who have gathered on Mondays for the past three months will be back in the capital this week to protest what they describe as a sharp, screeching turn to the political right.

The NAACP, which has led the weekly resistance against the new Republican laws and policies, has organized a march and “Mass Social Justice Interfaith Rally” for Monday.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, whose president was arrested last week at the 12th weekly demonstration at the General Assembly, is organizing bus trips and carpools from across the state and neighboring states for what they’re calling a “protest walk.”

The Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP and chief architect of the “Moral Monday” demonstrations, said he was deeply troubled by the results of the first legislative session in whichRepublicans controlled both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office in more than a century.

The Republican leadership largely ignored the demonstrations that resulted in 926 arrests and glaring national media attention on North Carolina. The GOP supermajority charged ahead with a budget and new policies that make cuts to public education, shift tax dollars to private-school vouchers, cut unemployment and Medicaid benefits, reform tax laws to provide a flat tax rate bringing larger breaks to corporations and the state’s top earners, while also hiking taxes for some of more modest means.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, and Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, praised the session at its wrap as one setting the state on a path toward reform echoing the will of the 2012 voters.

‘Open for business’

Many in the Republican party contend that the new course they are charting hangs an “open for business” sign for “job creators” whom, they argue, have been stifled by policies and tax structures from the long reign of Democrats.

“We have worked tirelessly over the course of six months to enact reforms critical to providing greater opportunities to our state’s citizens,” Tillis told the Associated Press.

“Despite fierce resistance and overblown partisan rhetoric from the left, we did exactly what millions of voters asked us to do,” Berger told the AP.

The session ended at 2 a.m. Friday for the Senate and 10 hours later for the House. It also resulted in looser gun laws, tougher regulations on abortion providers, sweeping election-law changes that national voting rights advocates described as “mean-spirited,” intentionally “chilling” and “a full-scale assault” on voting.

To amplify public disapproval of the abortion restrictions, Planned Parenthood in North Carolina and allies are holding a “stand with women” veto vigil beginning at 10 a.m. Monday and Tuesday outside the governor’s mansion on Blount Street.

The NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the North Carolina Association of Educators and other critics of the GOP’s sharp swing to the political right plan to continue their fight in the courts with legal challenges.

“Now we go to the next level, where our lawyers kick in,” Barber said.

One more rally

But on Monday, protesters plan to gather at 5 p.m. at Halifax Mall outside the N.C. Legislative Building and march to the Capitol for one more Monday rally before spreading out across the state with another phase of their political strategy.

There will be voter registration drives and more localized rallies in the state’s congressional and legislative districts. Though the new election laws make paid get-out-the vote drives illegal now, the NAACP has been encouraging “Moral Monday” demonstrators to each go home and register 50 people to vote. “Look at your neighbor and say, ‘You get your 50, I’ll get mine,’ ” Barber often repeats at the Monday demonstrations.

The 920 who have been arrested since April 29 at the Legislative Building or N.C. Capitol hail from 60 of the state’s 100 counties – from one person from Cherokee County on the westernmost tip of the state to seven people at the easternmost tip of Dare County.

The bulk of those arrested hailed from the Triangle, with Wake and Orange counties each representing 178 of the people arrested and Durham 173.

Thirty-eight people from Buncombe County were arrested at the demonstrations and 49 people from Mecklenburg County, the governor’s home county.

Gov. Pat McCrory, who did not engage the protesters, described them as “outside agitators” at a Republican convention in June.

Twenty-four people who listed out-of-state addresses on police reports were among those arrested, 10 of whom were from New York.

Civitas: It’s about money

Throughout the summer, online pieces critical of the demonstrations have been posted by the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank that has been largely funded by the family foundation of Art Pope, the governor’s budget director and a major contributor to Republican candidates.

Civitas has maintained an online database of the arrested that includes age, race, employment, hometown, and, in some cases, salaries, if the person arrested is a public employee.

In addition to a “Pick the Protester Game,” which invited people to match descriptions of the protesters with their mugshots, Civitas also tracked state grants that have gone to or through such organizations as the NAACP, the NC Institute of Minority Economic Development, Self Help, the YWCA, Action for Children, El Pueblo – which represent just some of the groups that have long stood with the NAACP on pushing a social justice agenda.

“Liberal protesters at the General Assembly have been claiming they are acting in the name of morality, but a new Civitas study shows the role played by money…,” a July 8 post states.

As the crowds swelled, so did criticism of the media from political allies of the Republican majority. Critics claimed the media were not as critical of the “Moral Monday” protesters as they had been of tea party organizations.

Barber dismissed such criticisms as barbs from critics unwilling to talk about the issues such as the impact of the cuts, new laws and policies on the unemployed, the poor, the oppressed and on children whose school classrooms will have fewer teacher aides and possibly more students. Some of the demonstrators have been teachers, public employees and people whose salaries come from state grants, he acknowledged.

“This is just another one of those smoke screens,” Barber said. “Civitas wants to talk about other people’s money when they get 99 percent of their money from Art Pope. They can’t debate us on the issues so they pick up these tactics of the 1950s used in the civil rights movement.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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