Concern about the new Trump administration helped bring thousands of marchers to downtown Raleigh on Saturday in what organizers said was the largest-ever crowd at the annual HKonJ protest.
Criticism of the actions of the Republican-led General Assembly, such as passage of HB2 and the voter ID law, has provided most of the fuel in recent years for the march organized by the North Carolina NAACP.
But new Republican President Donald Trump and the policies he could enact with the GOP-led Congress on immigration, health care and civil rights motivated many from the coalition of left-leaning groups at Saturday’s march.
“A racist and greedy extremism that came to power in North Carolina four years ago now controls the White House and the Congress in D.C.,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP branch, at a speech before the march. “Millions are afraid.
“A loud majority is outraged and the whole world is in turmoil asking what can we do. Well, we know we’ve got a hard fight ahead, but we know how to win.”
Barber has been the leader of the “Moral Monday” movement that has protested GOP state policies in recent years.
The bottom line is while I don’t doubt the sincerity of those folks – they have every right to speak out and to gather and to be involved and have a constitutional right to address their grievances – but the agenda items they support have been soundly rejected at the ballot box by the people of North Carolina.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party
But Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, said Saturday that the people of North Carolina showed what they wanted by backing Trump on Election Day. He said the marchers are pushing a “far left” agenda that would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
“The bottom line is while I don’t doubt the sincerity of those folks – they have every right to speak out and to gather and to be involved and have a constitutional right to address their grievances – but the agenda items they support have been soundly rejected at the ballot box by the people of North Carolina,” Woodhouse said. “The people of North Carolina voted for Mr. Trump.”
The crowd Saturday lined the streets from Raleigh Memorial Auditorium to the State Capitol. Event organizers didn’t provide a crowd count but said the total was the largest in the 11 years of HKonJ, which stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street.
Opposition to Trump has led to other recent rallies in Raleigh, including the more than 17,000 people who are estimated to have attended the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Raleigh.
Several marchers said that Saturday’s rally was their first HKonJ and that they feel a need to become politically involved.
“I was pretty distressed about the election results,” said new marcher Andrea Phillips of Chapel Hill. “It was a way like I felt I could have power and control over what was going on in this country.”
Phillips, a state employee who helps people get access to health care services, said she came Saturday because she’s concerned about the potential repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.
We are in a political culture right now of activism where there are loud voices on both sides.
Tyler McKinnish, medical student at UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill
Support for the Affordable Care Act was also voiced by a contingent of doctors, nurses and medical students who marched in white coats. Their activism covered other issues, too, with chants such as “white coats for black lives” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and “white coats against walls” in response to Trump’s call for erecting a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
“We are in a political culture right now of activism where there are loud voices on both sides,” said Tyler McKinnish, a first-time HKonJ participant and fourth-year medical student at the UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. “I just want to be one of the loud voices on my side, our side.”
Concerns about Trump’s immigration and refugee policies, including his executive order temporarily banning people from seven majority Muslim countries, helped bring Kyle Woodward from Chapel Hill to his first HKonJ event. Woodward said it’s disheartening to see how his family members who are from Iran are being viewed as threats.
“It’s one thing to complain to people on social media,” said Woodward, an economics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill who brought his 15-month-old daughter Kat with a sign “Learning to March” attached to the baby carrier on his back. “It’s quite another to take up half your Saturday and go somewhere and stand for something.”
Anti-Trump signs, such as “IKEA Has Better Cabinets” and “Opposing TRUMP is not a POLITICAL decision, it is a MORAL ONE,” were carried throughout the crowd.
Barber didn’t hold back on his criticism of Trump in his two speeches Saturday, calling him an “extremist, narcissistic con artist” who is “obviously unsuited for the job of president.” He said they march “because it’s wrong to defend and excuse the lies and the fear and the hate of Trumpism” that has brought “extreme federal appointees and white nationalists into the White House.”
“It’s wrong and it’s racist and it’s demonic to (instill) fear into our immigrant and our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Barber said. “It’s wrong to build a wall to keep Mexicans out while you let the Russians in.”
Barber ended his main speech Saturday by encouraging the crowd to oppose Trump, Congress and the General Assembly.
“Bowing down is not an option,” Barber said. “Standing down is not an option. The guy in the White House is a mortal, not a god.”