Demonstrators returned to the N.C. Legislative Building on Wednesday to mark the second anniversary of the start of the Moral Monday protests, and in keeping with the past two summers ago, people were arrested.
The Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP and the chief architect of the movement that gained national attention, said the demonstrators have a growing list of issues they want legislators to give attention to this session.
“We’re back because of the extremism and injustices hurting the people in North Carolina that in so many ways still exist in this General Assembly,” Barber said.
He reeled off a list that included expansion of Medicaid, dedicating more public money to public education, voting rights and women’s rights. This year, the demonstrators also plan to renew their push for a higher minimum wage and more jobs and to urge lawmakers to focus on those topics instead of what some describe as “social wedge” issues.
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The arrests started close to noon while the N.C. Senate was in session.
Lt. Martin Brock, of the General Assembly police, said protesters were cited for violating fire codes that call for a 6-foot pathway around the door when the chambers are filled to capacity. When the demonstrators in the doorway did not heed requests to leave, Brock said, they were charged with second-degree trespass.
Irving Joyner, a Durham lawyer with the NAACP who has represented other demonstrators arrested as part of the two-year movement, said late Wednesday that the fire-code violations seemed to be “specious,” but he had not researched the laws yet.
“I think we’ve already demonstrated that we will fight,” Joyner said, referring to the legal challenges of the more than 1,000 arrests in 2013 and 2014. “If we can establish it’s specious then we will be back in court.”
The event, which drew almost 370 people to the Bicentennial Mall between the Capitol and the state Legislative Building in the late afternoon, marks the second anniversary of the April 29 demonstration in 2013 that launched a political protest movement that has resulted in more than 1,000 arrests. The demonstrations began after Republicans gained control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than a century.
More than 900 people were arrested in 2013. Though many of the protesters went to court that year and in 2014, and some ended up convicted of the charges, most of the cases were dismissed after a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling for a Massachusetts case tied to protests there.
Demonstrators who gathered in the evening planned to engage in civil disobedience, too.
Todd Poole, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, released a statement on Wednesday calling the demonstrations “more political theater to push for their radical agenda of bigger government and higher taxes.”
“While there is still more work to do to keep the Carolina comeback going strong, their agenda would take North Carolina backwards,” Poole said in the statement.
The demonstrators disagreed. Not only do they plan to return to Raleigh in May for more protests, they plan to stage events in the home counties of some of the legislators they have selected for their “Hall of Shame.” Sen. Bob Rucho was one mentioned by Barber.
Anna Blackburn, a Harnett County resident, joined the demonstration in Raleigh on Wednesday after an unsettling conversation with her neighbors, she said. They told her that few of the issues that Barber and others have been fighting for during the past couple of years had much of an impact on her life. She does not rely on Medicaid. She does not have children in the schools. She worries though about what she described as a prevalent racism directed at her because she is Latina.
“I thought about that,” Blackburn said, with the red ribbon signalling her plans to engage in civil disobedience. “It does afffect me. It affects all of us. The problem is people have become complacent. I’m here to show my neighbors that I’m not complacent.”