Recalling the start of Moral Mondays

Posted by Dan Barkin on March 25, 2014 

We are coming up next month on the anniversary of the first Moral Monday, April 29, 2013. Our coverage of the first demonstration was a story that held to the front of 1B that Tuesday morning, the local front. The photo showed a demonstrator being escorted onto a Division of Prison bus that had been pressed into service. She had her wrists bound by those plastic zip ties. The 17 people who got zip-tied were arrested for blocking the doors to the N.C. Senate chamber.

The next Monday, 27 people were arrested at the Legislative Building. The story ran on 3B, along with a picture of an elderly woman being arrested, her wrists zipped and tied.

The following Monday, I was filling in as Page 1 editor, and around 200 people crowded into the Legislative Building. Forty-nine people were arrested. The NAACP was calling this series of protests against the Republican legislature and governor “Moral Mondays,” and the term was starting the gain some traction and appear in press coverage. That, in itself, was an accomplishment for the organizers.

I remember wrestling with whether to put the story on Page 1. Being the seat of state government, Raleigh has its fair share of demonstrations and protest marches. So we are cautious about putting them on the front page, because we could have a demonstration or march on the front page a lot. But this thing was building, particularly the number of arrests. And what you put on 1A is also driven by what stories you have, and what is going on in the Triangle and the world on any given day. It didn’t appear to me that there was another story that gave this a lot of competition.

I wouldn’t say that the photo being offered for 1A made my decision, but it was a compelling image shot by one of our photojournalists, Travis Long. He captured an image of a woman who was either singing or chanting, being led away by a police officer, her hands in front of her, bound by plastic zip ties.

As I looked back at the coverage of the early days of Moral Mondays, I was struck by something. I know it was standard procedure, but it occured to me that the General Assembly police probably should have been directed to skip the zip ties. The optics were not good.

It would have been obvious to anyone that the protestors were not going to give arresting officers any trouble as they were being led off to the joint. The zip ties gave the photos a lot of, well, zip. People are getting arrested here. This is some serious business.

I am convinced that a lot of folks saw those zip ties and said to themselves, “I gotta get involved in this.” And the next thing you know, hundreds and thousands of people were showing up and Moral Mondays became a phenomenon.

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