RALEIGH — State NAACP President William J. Barber II laid out goals for a diverse coalition of groups Saturday afternoon at a rally attended by thousands of people from all over the state and the nation who marched, sang, chanted, cheered and even danced through downtown Raleigh.
Organizers said the Mass Moral March was intended to push back against last years Republican-led legislation in North Carolina.
Barber called for well-funded public education, anti-poverty policies, affordable health care for all that includes the expansion of Medicaid, an end to disparities in the criminal justice system on the basis of class and race, the expansion of voting rights and the fundamental principle of equality under the law for all people.
We will become the trumpet of conscience that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called upon us to be, echoing the God of our mothers and fathers in the faith, he said. Now is the time. Here is the place. We are the people. And we will be heard.
The mammoth crowd that gathered in downtown Raleigh represented a variety of causes that joined last years Moral Monday protests, but the event also brought in groups and individuals usually on the fringes of state politics.
Susan Fariss of Mocksville drove three and a half hours to hold up a sign supporting the legalization of medical marijuana.
I have several health problems that cause me pain, Fariss said. I have tried Vicodin and different muscle relaxers, but no matter what Ive tried, Im in pain. My doctor told me he could not prescribe it, but he recommended medical marijuana.
Holiday Clinkscale, 60, of Raleigh climbed atop a big potted plant on Fayetteville Street and twirled an American flag above his head. He wore a leather jacket decorated with red, white and blue stars and stripes. Clinkscale wore the regalia on behalf of depressed African-American men.
Black men in Raleigh couldnt wear red, white and blue after the Civil War when we were freed, or they would have been executed, he said. You see a lot of black men here today looking depressed.
In solidarity on issues
Wake County attorney Daryl Atkinson was at the march, but the look on his face was one of purpose.
Atkinson, who volunteered to represent some of the people arrested at last years Moral Monday protests, said he had a long list of reasons for attending the rally.
Everything from trampling on our voting rights, to the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, not extending unemployment benefits and not expanding Medicaid. The list goes on, he said.
Hannah Osborne, a student at N.C. State University, said she came to the rally Saturday morning to promote womens rights and a womans right to choose. She and her father, Dale Osborne, a pastor at Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, held purple signs that read Stop the war on women.
The march, known as the Historic Thousands on Jones Street, or HKonJ, was organized by the state NAACP and Barber. He and his group drew national attention last year for organizing the Moral Monday demonstrations to protest what they called immoral legislation enacted by Republican leaders including Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis. Those policies included new abortion restrictions, an election-law overhaul that will require voter ID and cuts to unemployment benefits.
The McCrory administration tried to restrict a previous Moral Monday event. In late December, a Wake County District Court judge overturned a decision by the administration to keep demonstrators off state Capitol grounds and confine the events to Halifax Mall, a big grassy area enclosed by the state office and legislative buildings.
The procession of marchers Saturday stretched across six blocks for well over an hour, from its starting point at South Wilmington and South streets, turning onto Davie Street and turning again on Fayetteville Street. Raleigh police didn't release a crowd estimate, but police spokesman Jim Sughrue on Saturday said the march organizers submitted a permit application that planned for 20,000 to 30,000 people. Organizers say last years event drew 10,000 people.
Conservatives stand firm
The organizers called the event a Moral March on Raleigh, but for those on the other side of the political aisle, it is the organizers of Saturdays march who are unethical.
The so-called Moral March on Raleigh is anything but moral, Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, said in a news release. It is spearheaded by groups that support abortion and homosexual marriage.
Dissenters were notably few, but marchers at the beginning of the route were sternly warned by Alan Hoyle of Lincolnton. He was outfitted in a rough burlap garment that covered his red sweatshirt and blue jeans, and he held a sign that read, Abortion, Adultery, Homosexuality, Sin. Christians Repent. Americas Judgment is Here.
God says, youre already defeated! Hoyle thundered in response to passing marchers who chanted, The people united, can never be defeated!
On the eve of Saturdays march, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope called for a more civil discourse in light of his partys overwhelming victory that put a GOP governor in office and gave the party control of the General Assembly for the first time in 140 years. Pope said that Barber has a right to protest but that hes protesting on the wrong side. Pope characterized previous Democratic administrations under former Govs. Mike Easley and Bev Perdue as corrupt and inept but said the Republican majority still welcomes ideas from the other side.
What we are saying today is that civil discourse needs to return, Pope said.
Not a small minority
Leading state Republicans say that they are offended by Barbers divisive rhetoric and that the state NAACP leader has been anointed the de facto head of North Carolinas Democratic Party.
Pope called on state Attorney General Roy Cooper and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, both Democrats, to clarify whether they endorse Barbers far-left agenda. Cooper is expected to run for governor against McCrory in 2016, and Hagan is up for re-election this year.
Barbers moral march is nothing more than a partisan political rally endorsed by the Democratic Party and fringe far-left groups like MoveOn.org and Planned Parenthood, which have recruited liberal activists from other states to attend (Saturdays march), Pope said.
But Mark Peterman, a state employee who lives in Raleigh, said state leaders should realize that the demonstrators do not represent a small minority.
We want to show the governor and the legislature that we are here to stay, he said. As time goes on we need the governor and the legislature to do what is right for all people, not just a small minority of business interests.
The annual march takes place the second Saturday of February and has grown over the years since it started in 2007. Organizers claim partnerships with 150 groups representing teachers, working families, religious leaders and civil rights advocates.