About 100 people rallied at the old State Capitol on Sunday, continuing a weeklong series of demonstrations opposing what organizers call the state legislature’s attacks on civil rights.
Each day of the “Moral Week of Action” has a particular theme, and Sunday’s was equal protection under the law regardless of race, creed, class, gender, sexual orientation and immigration status.
“Today the focus is on what this legislature, governor have done or have not done to undermine the rights of immigrants, the LGBT community, and why it’s so foreign to what we are as North Carolinians,” said the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP.
No counterprotests were evident as Sunday’s rally went on, with a handful of spectators watching from nearby benches. Leaders of the legislature’s Republican majority have criticized the “Moral Monday” marchers and defended their conservative agenda as having lowered taxes, expanded school choice and reduced business-stifling regulations.
The week’s rallies are organized by the NAACP and other groups involved in the “Moral Monday” movement. The first two rallies focused on economic issues and on education and criminal justice. Monday’s rally has a youth theme. The series culminates Thursday, the 51st anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, with a voting rights theme.
“It’s all connected,” Barber said. “This movement is not about everybody getting in their little separate silos, it’s about understanding that economic sustainability, educational equality, health care, environmental protection, disparities in the criminal justice system, and protecting and expanding voting rights and immigrant rights and LGBT rights and labor rights are all connected.
“That’s what Dr. King said, we are inextricably bound,” he said.
Oliver Merino came from Monroe to be a speaker Sunday, representing the state’s undocumented immigrants “to make sure their voices are not lost in all the noise,” he said.
Merino, 25, said he has “deferred action” status as an undocumented childhood immigrant.
“But we know that this program does not include everybody,” he said.
Speaking to the crowd, Scout Rosen of Charlotte described herself: “I’m queer ... I’m 19 years young, I’m a student, I’m a North Carolinian and I’m one nervous kid.
“Legislators seem to have forgotten this state belongs to people like me, too. And people like you,” Rosen said. “I’m here to tell you, you all better speak up at every opportunity, at every instance of injustice.”
Each rally in this series is beginning at Bicentennial Mall and proceeding to circle the Capitol building in emulation of the Biblical battle of Jericho.
“This is very close to my heart,” Carolyn Billings of Raleigh said as she waited on Bicentennial Mall for the rally to start. Billings said she has been involved with the “Moral Monday” demonstrations since they began in 2013.
“I like the categories that we’re going to deal with today,” she said. “I very much admire Dr. Barber and the way he is managing to keep us all peaceful but at the same time protesting.”
Next to her, Phil Fonville of Apex was carrying a camera. He said he’s been documenting the “Moral Monday” movement from “some of its very beginnings,” as a volunteer.
“I found myself getting increasingly angry about what I call the new atmosphere of exclusion being perpetrated by the occupants of that building,” Fonville said, gesturing toward the Legislative Building. “I just felt like I needed to do something constructive in order to try to effect some change.”
Joan McAllister of Raleigh wore a button on her hat that said, “I went to jail with Dr. Barber.”
“I worry about this country,” she said. “Except for things like this.”