Largest Moral Monday crowd yet floods downtown Raleigh

ablythe@newsobserver.comJuly 29, 2013 

— A calm usually settles over the Capitol at the close of a legislative session.

This year, though, the historic lawmaking session was followed by a storm brewed by an agenda legislative leaders said was a necessary new course for the state.

Hoisting signs that said “First in Flight, 48th in Education,” “I Don’t Want a Tax Cut, I Want Good Schools,” and much more, thousands turned out for one more Monday demonstration organized by the state NAACP.

Three days after the close of the session in which Republicans controlled both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office, public school educators worried about the state of the state’s future led the charge against the present.

The teachers – the people tasked with preparing the state’s generations to come and often political moderates – arrived in Raleigh by busloads to show their unity and opposition against the new laws and policies just adopted.

Capitol police pegged the rally at Halifax Mall as the largest crowd yet to gather for the “Moral Monday” demonstrations.

This week was different from the previous Monday demonstrations that resulted in more than 920 arrests since April 29. The lawmakers left for home Friday after adopting a budget and a flurry of new laws and policies in the final week of the session. GOP leaders praised the session at its wrap as one setting North Carolina on a path toward reform echoing the will of the 2012 voters.

They contended their new course would make it easier for “job creators” whom, they argued, had been suppressed by policies and tax structures from the long reign of Democrats.

The GOP leadership did not engage the weekly Monday demonstrators.

“The demonstrations are typical of Democrats that have been soundly defeated not only in 2010, but in 2012,” said Claude Pope, head of the North Carolina Republican Party. “You have a Republican majority that is doing exactly what they were elected to do.”

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The Rev. William Barber II, head of the state NAACP and chief organizer of the protests, noted legislative leaders’ disregard for opposing voices as he looked out among the thousands crowded onto a city block beyond the state Capitol building on Monday. Demonstrators hung over the walls of city parking decks and chanted with a gospel choir leading choruses of traditional protest songs.

“Uh-oh,” Barber said. “They made ‘Moral Monday’ the talk of the nation.”

The demonstrations have brought a national media glare on North Carolina, setting the stage for lots of money from national organizations flowing into the state for both parties in the 2014 elections.

Jeremy Sprinkle, a representative of the AFL-CIO who lives in Raleigh, said he expected the state to be a focus of national organizations.

“To the extent that if you’re trying to get rid of the weeds, then you want to pull it out at the root,” Sprinkle said.

Others turned out Monday, knowing the legislators were not in the Capitol to bond with others who were upset about the direction the GOP leadership set.

“I voted for (Gov. Pat) McCrory,” Deirdre McNairy, a middle school counselor in Greensboro, said. “But this is not the platform that I understood him to have.”

McNairy and many other educators in the crowd were counting the days until the 2014 elections – 463 as of Monday.

Shannon Shanks, 40, a teacher from Wilmington who came to Raleigh on a bus trip organized by the N.C. Association of Educators, said she was concerned about many of the lingering effects of the session: Women’s rights, public education cuts and new policies shifting public money to private-school vouchers and voters’ rights.

“I’m ashamed of what our state has done attacking women, students and voters. You know they really messed up when they screwed with the mothers, the teachers and the women,” she said.

John Rees and his wife, Diane Rees, Raleigh residents for 41 years, said they moved to North Carolina from Ohio because they thought it was “a good moderate Southern state.”

A family with many ties to public school teaching, the Reeses said they were disturbed by the cuts to education and many other aspects of the GOP-led session.

“I would say it was disaster on almost all points – education, the environment, you name it,” said John Rees, a former public school teacher who worked as an engineer.

Rosemary Deane, 28, an Alamance County resident who teaches in the Orange County schools, held up a sign that said “I teach. I vote. I matter. Our children matter.”

Deane, an English as a Second Language teacher who just received her master’s degree, said she also was worried about the new policy that cuts higher salaries for teachers who have an advanced degree.

“If we don’t invest in teachers, we’re going to lose,” Deane said. “I think they’re looking at the bottom line; they’re looking at money. They’re not looking at the human side of it all.”

That, many demonstrators said, might be the bottom line for many in the 2014 elections.

The demonstrators left the capital on Monday – with organizers putting the crowd at 10,000 and Capitol Police Chief Glen Allen estimating at least 2,500 – promising that this was not just a summer fling.

They plan to fan out across the state with more events in the months to come.

“Forward together,” Barber shouted, “not one step back.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948