New rules, more arrests won't stop Moral Mondays

June 1, 2014 

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One of 14 demonstrators is arrested on charges of second-degree trespassing shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday after staging a more than 10-hour sit-in inside Speaker Thom Tillis’ office at the General Assembly. “Moral Monday” demonstrators refused to leave the office and demanded to speak with Tillis.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Why did the police wait until 1:45 a.m. last Wednesday to arrest protesters who were staging a “wait-in” inside the office of state House Speaker Thom Tillis?

Perhaps the police just got tired of waiting for the protesters to get tired of waiting. Or perhaps the police sensed that the legislature’s Republican leaders would prefer that the arrests take place when the public and the media were unlikely to be present.

Whatever the reason, benign or calculating, 14 people were arrested at Tillis’ office in the wee hours. They were continuing the tradition of the Moral Monday protests that have drawn attention to the legislature’s passage of conservative and sometimes mean-spirited laws.

The protesters didn’t want much, just a word with the speaker. They wanted to tell him to support the expansion of Medicaid and to help reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers. But the man who leads the House of Representatives didn’t care to meet last Tuesday with the group from the ranks of the represented.

So the group decided to wait until Tillis came in Wednesday morning. For that, they were arrested, continuing the spectacle of people being taken away in handcuffs for trespassing in the people’s house.

Recently, GOP lawmakers drew up a new set of rules for protesters who come to the Legislative Building. The revised rules bar groups from doing anything to “disturb, or create an imminent disturbance” at the General Assembly. Actions that could constitute a disturbance, the rules say, “may include singing, clapping, shouting, playing instruments or using sound amplification equipment.” The rules also ban signs on sticks or poles and allow for the confiscation of any sign that a General Assembly member finds offensive.

But tightening the rules didn’t stop thousands of Moral Monday protesters from showing up this past Tuesday, given that Monday was Memorial Day. And the rules will not stop them from returning Monday after Monday.

Clearly, Republican legislators didn’t expect Moral Monday to become such a big movement. Some 945 people were arrested during the last, catastrophic session on Jones Street, when Republicans attacked public education, teachers, the unemployed and the poor and sick. Some GOP legislators dismissed the protesters as the great unwashed, people with nothing else to do or just soreheads. In fact, the protesters represented doctors, soccer moms, the poor, the rich and all races – a cross-section of North Carolinians worried about the future of their state.

Republican lawmakers defend their tax cutting, budget cutting and their limits on voting rights and access to abortion by saying they are doing the will of the people. But the people don’t speak only on Election Day. The people – all of them – should get a full opportunity to speak and be heard every day. And that includes Mondays at the Legislative Building.

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