Five years have passed since the birth of the Moral Monday protest movement.
Seventeen people, diverse in age and backgrounds, were among the earliest to be arrested. They were upset with the direction that Republicans newly in charge of the General Assembly and governor’s office were taking North Carolina.
They were united in dissent and a voice that grew louder and louder in its first year, resulting in more than 1,000 arrests at weekly demonstrations outside the halls of power where lawmakers charged a new, right-leaning political course for North Carolina.
On Monday, five years and a day after those 17 people were arrested, the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, the new head of the state NAACP and one of the 17 arrested in 2013, rallied 100 or so people on Halifax Mall gathered for the anniversary.
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“Forward together,” Spearman called out, repeating a rallying call that his predecessor the Rev. William J. Barber II repeated over and over.
“Not one step back,” the crowd called back to him.
The protesters have marched together, protesting election law overhauls, redistricting plans and other key pieces of the lawmakers’ political agenda.
They have been successful in the courts on many occasions, seeing laws overturned that created the racial and partisan gerrymandering that judges and challengers say makes it more likely that lawmakers are selecting their voters rather than voters choosing who they want to represent them in the lawmaking process.
Spearman became the leader of the organization in October after Barber, a fiery Southern preacher often compared to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., stepped down to take his fight for equality national.
Barber was on a flight to Washington, D.C., Spearman said.
Spearman, whose preaching style is different from Barber’s, has a similar mission.
The early protesters, Spearman said, “came out of a womb of oppression” to resist and push back.
“Today we return to the place of our birth to signal that we will continue to resist,” Spearman said.
“Like watchmen and women on the wall, we will not rest until we prove that our people power is greater than political power,” Spearman added.
Since the protesters began gathering at the Legislative Building in 2013, Republicans in power have described them as bitter partisans upset that Democrats no longer had the majorities they had for nearly a century.
They point to election results in 2014 and 2016 that continue to give Republicans supermajorities in both General Assembly chambers.
Their critics attribute some of the success to the redistricting that occurred in 2011 that has since been ruled to include unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
Last year, a panel of federal judges also found new districts drawn during the past decade after the courts ruled against Republican lawmakers to include unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders, a decision that’s been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though many of the protesters’ complaints have remained the same over the past five years, they have added new ones.
Now they are worried about changes that lawmakers have made to the courts and propose to make to election districts for judges who preside over cases questioning the constitutionality of their laws.
“Who have been some of our greatest supporters?” Spearman asked rhetorically to the crowd. “The judicial branch of government. Over and over and over again, we have won in the courts. So what does this General Assembly do? They work on dismantling the court system as we know it.”
Lawmakers have proposed new election districts for Superior Court and District Court judges. They also have floated the possibility of abandoning the election of judges for a selection process that gives lawmakers a say in who rules in the courtrooms.
Speakers at the rally highlighted education and immigration issues and urged those gathered to go vote and get others to vote, too.
“Take your resistance to the ballot box,” Spearman said.