Half a century later, North Carolinians rally to keep MLK dream alive

ablythe@newsobserver.comAugust 28, 2013 

— A half-century after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked the world to strive toward a colorblind society with his often-quoted “I Have A Dream” speech, crowds gathered simultaneously in 13 towns and cities across North Carolina to echo the civil rights leader’s oratory.

In “Taking the Dream Home” rallies organized by the state NAACP, crowds gathered on courthouse steps and in public squares to continue a march toward that goal. They also gathered to criticize North Carolina’s governor and General Assembly for election law changes, public education funding decisions and health care decisions that they consider a march back in time.

Nearly 300 people gathered outside the Wake County courthouse, several blocks from the state Capitol, to continue a fight against laws and policies that drew thousands of protesters to Raleigh earlier this summer.

As speakers highlighted similar concerns – sweeping changes to North Carolina’s elections law, the routing of public education money to private-school vouchers, stricter regulations on abortion clinics, the blocking of Medicaid expansion and unemployment benefit cuts – NAACP members monitored voter-registration tables.

Paul Collins, a member of the Democratic party state executive committee, looked out over the people gathered under the gray Raleigh skies and said he was not troubled that the throngs were nowhere near as large as those who congregated for the “Moral Monday” demonstrations. He discounted any ideas that the energy from the demonstrations this summer had dissipated.

“The thing is, there are also 13 of these happening at the same time,” Collins said.

Rallying in Chapel Hill

Nearly 400 people filled the square Wednesday in front of the Chapel Hill Post Office. Police closed one lane of Franklin Street, the town’s main drag, shortly after the rally began to accommodate the crowd.

The Raging Grannies, a group of older female activists, opened up the rally recalling the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Vicki Ryder, who wrote a special song for the occasion, quoted King’s speech when she advised the crowd that “an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.”

“If he were with us today, he would be crying for the oppression that is here today, and he would say, no more,” Ryder said.

At the close of the historic 2013 General Assembly session – in which, for the first time in more than a century, Republicans had control of both houses and the governor’s office – Republican leaders described their new agenda as one that would move North Carolina down a more pragmatic and fiscally responsible road.

They contended that the changes they made would create an environment in which private business would create new jobs.

McCrory targeted

But those at the “Take Home the Dream” rally disagreed.

During a week in which Gov. Pat McCrory told a business group in Asheville that his administration had received negative and critical publicity about his economic and tax policies because “it was too complex for journalists to understand,” speakers lauded the media for grasping what was happening in North Carolina.

“Governor McCrory and the legislators need to understand that we don’t want cookies, we don’t want cake, we want a bigger piece of the pie,” said MaryBe McMillan, the secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, alluding to the plate of cookies McCrory gave to a group of women protesting new abortion clinic restrictions outside the governor’s mansion. “We deserve more than crumbs and condescension.”

Near the end of the rallies, some of the more than 900 protesters arrested during the “Moral Monday” demonstrations took the stage to great applause.

In Chapel Hill, Laurel Ashton, field secretary for the N.C. NAACP, said North Carolinians have no choice but to become angry at the detrimental changes Republicans have made in Raleigh this year. She said people have no choice but to come together and organize against the changes.

“We have no choice but to dream the impossible and make it a reality," she said.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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