Moral Monday protesters rail against 'Mecklenburg trio' jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comAugust 19, 2013 

Moral Monday protesters on Monday gathered in the city that launched Gov. Pat McCrory’s political star to speak out against laws passed by the Republican-led legislature – and backed by the Republican governor.

One of the city’s largest protests – police estimated about 2,000 demonstrators – packed into uptown’s Marshall Park. They sang protest and religious songs, waved signs of discontent and railed against the legislature’s flurry of lawmaking they say is “waging war” on the poor, on voting and abortion rights and on the state’s public education system.

During the event, Gene Nichol, director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill, blasted what he called “the Mecklenburg trio”: McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius and Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews.

The three Republicans, he said, were dedicated “to waging war on poor people and granting more largesse to the wealthiest North Carolinians. Our governor and our General Assembly looked at those strong inequalities and decided to make them deeper.”

Republicans rejected claims from protesters, instead touting the actions of the General Assembly and McCrory.

In what was billed as the event’s keynote, the Rev. Dr. Dwayne Walker, pastor of Charlotte’s Little Rock AME Zion church, echoed the event’s theme.

“Everything this legislature and this governor are doing is moving us backwards,” he said.

He took direct aim at McCrory, who served a record 14 years as Charlotte’s 53rd mayor.

“Some of us in Charlotte thought you were a friend of all people. Many considered you a moderate Republican,” Walker said. “Now, Mr. McCrory, you have become the poster boy for the tea party. Even if we can’t change your mind, and even if we can’t change your heart, there is something we can change.

“We can change your address.”

Growing crowds

The Moral Monday movement, which has won national attention in recent months, began in Raleigh amid the conservative legislation that protesters argue fits the “right wing” agenda of the Republican Party.

Crowds of demonstrators grew in Raleigh as the weeks continued and the legislature cut unemployment benefits and passed laws that critics said would make it harder to vote and to get an abortion; used tax money for private school vouchers and removed teacher incentives to earn master’s degrees.

More than 900 protesters were arrested during the weekly demonstrations. None was arrested Monday.

A rainy day gave way to a steamy afternoon at Marshall Park, where the crowd stretched around the park fountain and the overlooking hill to a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. near Third Street. At the statute’s base, someone propped this sign: “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People.”

Most of the protesters appeared to be from Charlotte and neighboring counties, but some came from Asheville, Greensboro, Burlington, Rocky Mount and Durham as part of a vow by Moral Monday leaders to take the movement around the state after legislators adjourned in July.

Their intent was to drum up voting support to chip away at Republican majorities in both chambers and the governor’s mansion.

Signs of protest

As speakers lashed out against McCrory and Republican lawmakers, protesters waved dozens of signs. They included: “Stop the NC GOP Taliban,” carried by Islamic Center of Charlotte spokesman Jibril Hough, and “North Carolina, First in voter suppression, last in teacher pay.”

Hugh Ashcraft of Charlotte sat holding a two-sided sign. One side read: “Note To Pat & GOP: This Great State Is Not All About You. Show Some Sympathy For Others.” On the other side: “Take Back NC!”

“I am here for the teachers and for health care, and I’m here for the environment and voting rights,” said Ashcraft, 62. “This legislature has made it tough on all of them.”

Jake Hanson, 85, of Cabarrus County came with his wife to show his discontent.

“I am sick and tired of what North Carolina has done since McCrory became governor,” said Hanson, a registered Democrat who “regretfully” voted for McCrory. “He is not the guy I thought I was putting into office. I thought he was more moderate. I thought he had more care for the poor and for teachers.

“They – the governor and his legislature – are making a mockery of my state.”

Rex Bishop, 61, of Greensboro stood at one of the entrances to the park holding a sign with the state flag on it and this message: “Welcome to North Carolina: Set Clock Back 50 Years.”

“I should have made it 100 years,” Bishop said.

She recalled that as a college student she had to drive a friend to Washington, D.C., to get an abortion before federal law made abortions legal in North Carolina.

“I came here to speak up for women’s health care, for fairness to teachers, for making it easier to vote – not suppressing it,” Bishop said. “Everything that legislature has done has hurt just about everyone in this state – except for the rich.”

Sharon Landis, 77, of Charlotte came to protest new restrictions to voting. Last year, she took part in a voter registration drive and recalled a convicted felon who’d served his sentence.

“I told him if he was finished with paying his debt to society he could register to vote,” Landis said. “I will never forget his tears.”

Her sign read: “Enlarge the Electorate / Strengthen Democracy.”

More protests planned

Organizers have said they want Moral Mondays to continue. On Aug. 28, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, protesters will return to Marshall Park and a dozen other sites across North Carolina.

Several legislators and elected Democrats were among the crowd of protesters, including state Rep. Beverly Earle, Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell and Mecklenburg County Commissioners Chair Pat Cotham and commissioner Vilma Leake.

State Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Democrat who found himself in the minority of most Senate votes, said he thought the demonstrations would have an effect.

“If the people will lead, the leaders will follow,” Graham said. “This stirred up something in the souls of voters all over the state.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061 Morrill: 704-358-5059

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