RALEIGH, North Carolina — To little national fanfare, the largest liberal protest of 2013 took place on Monday this week in North Carolina, with thousands in attendance and hundreds getting arrested.
For weeks, faith leaders in the Tar Heel State have gathered every Monday to give voice to women, the poor, and other groups under attack by the Republican-held legislature. (To learn more about how Republicans won back the North Carolina statehouse for the first time since the Civil War, read Ian Millhiser’s recent piece “How One Millionaire Is Turning North Carolina Into A Tea Party Utopia”.)
This week’s Moral Monday protest, which is being organized by the North Carolina NAACP with support from groups like the Advancement Project and the AFL-CIO, was the largest to date with more than 3,000 people in attendance.
Before the protest kicked off, it began in what many say is the most segregated place in American society: church pews.
But that wasn’t the case this Monday as approximately 250 people — closely split between black and white — filled the pews at Pullen Baptist Church to sing songs and pray together before the evening protest. Though the event was organized by the state NAACP, along with the Advancement Project, the majority of participants were white, and most were past or nearing retirement (if they could afford to do so).
Volunteers fashioned homemade green strips from loose fabric, which were given to anyone willing to be arrested that night. Anyone who had already been arrested was discouraged from doing so again because the charge was significantly weightier for repeat offenders.
Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday protests, set the tone for the day during his invocation. “How do you say cutting 500,000 people’s health care is the moral thing to do?” he asked, accusing Republican lawmakers of being closet liberals because “they liberally ignore most of the Bible.” “When you hurt the poor, you are not faithfully executing the constitution,” Barber continued, to thunderous applause.
Everyone you see in this picture standing behind Barber was arrested Monday evening. Read our previous article on their perspective shortly before getting arrested.
One unemployed man named Lee Creighton took the mic and explained the plight of the unemployed in North Carolina. Next week, 70,000 North Carolinians will lose federal extended unemployment benefits because of a new state law that reduces the maximum benefit an individual can receive. North Carolina is the only state to reject these federal benefits, which come at no cost to the state.
Officials estimated at least 3,000 people turned out, the largest Moral Monday protest yet.
People brought with them a variety of protest signs.
GOP lawmakers have largely dismissed the protestors, save for a few insults like Sen. Thom Goolsby (R) calling them “Moron Mondays” and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) accusing the protestors of not being from North Carolina. Many North Carolinians in attendance Monday took umbrage at these statements.
Jim Crow-style laws are being considered in the legislature, including a strict voter ID bill and other legislation to limit early voting, make it harder for people to register, and penalize parents of student voters.
McCrory and the legislature rejected an expansion of Medicaid in their state, despite the fact that the federal government would be footing the bill. As a result, 500,000 poor North Carolinians will not receive health insurance.
And plenty other creative signs.
Hundreds of protestors cleared a tunnel walk towards the state legislative building to cheer on those who would be going in.
June 24 protestors were led by 92-year-old Rosanell Eaton, who had already suffered under Jim Crow discrimination growing up. When she tried to vote at age 21, she was required (without forewarning) to repeat the preamble to the Constitution in order to register, a feat she accomplished on the spot. As her daughter Armenta explained, “She’s seen the good, bad, and the ugly. Now she’s seeing the ugly again.”
Others marched in behind Eaton, among hugs and handshakes and “thank you!” chants from the crowd, to be arrested.
Only a few hundred protestors could fit inside the building. Orders of magnitude more waited outside.
Inside, people chanted, sang songs, and gave speeches.
Reserve boxes of plastic handcuffs were readied by officers.
After ten minutes or so, an officer stepped in to tell the crowd to disperse and leave. “If you do not, you will be arrested,” he said as the crowd cheered.
There was a mutual respect between protestors and police; one reason being that public employees unions, including police officers, do not have collective bargaining rights in North Carolina, so Moral Monday protestors are airing their grievances as well. According to one protestor at the detention center, one officer even thanked those who were arrested because they were helping him get more overtime pay. In rare instances where some protestors started to yell at officers, Barber stepped in to stop and remind them who the true opponents were.
ThinkProgress spoke with one officer who was effusive in his praise of protestors, saying they are “very nice,” “orderly,” and “great to deal with.” “It’s hard to arrest people like this,” he said. “You want to arrest the bad guys.”
Here are people who arrested on Monday being loaded onto the inmate bus.
Outside, protestors cheered on those who were arrested and being loaded onto the bus, especially when officers carried walkers and canes for the elderly onto the bus.
Cheers continued as the first bus drove off.
After it departed, the crowd began chanting, “you’re gonna need another bus ’cause baby there are more of us.”
Eaton was released from the detention center at around 9pm as well-wishers cheered her on.
Many protestors returned to the Pullen Baptist Church afterward for a potluck where they traded stories and began to think about what more they can do next week.