The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday January 19th

Professor van der Horst has a history of activism in his roots

The day he was arrested in an act of civil disobedience, Charles van der Horst overslept until 4 p.m.

On Saturday, van der Horst will speak at the Historic Thousands on Jones Street march on Raleigh.

He hopes he doesn’t miss his alarm this time.

Van der Horst is a professor of medicine at UNC Medical School and an internationally-known AIDS researcher.

He was arrested along with other Moral Monday protesters on May 6 in Raleigh for trespassing, violating building regulations and illegal gathering in the Capitol Building. The day before, he ran a relay race in California and grabbed a red eye flight back to North Carolina.

“It was a crazy 24 hours,” he said.

“(During the arrest) police were yelling things, but it was difficult to hear. It was like a Japanese kabuki drama.”

Police slipped plastic restraints around van der Horst’s wrists and led the protesters to a bus that took them to Wake County jail where van der Horst was booked and fingerprinted.

“The attached arrest documents shows that I was arrested for my ‘singing,’ something I am sure my family would say was completely justified,” he wrote in his journal, titled Letter from a Raleigh Jail.

Moral Mondays are not van der Horst’s first protests. He marched with his father during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, worked in the Vietnam anti-war movement in high school and appealed to the N.C. General Assembly in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

David Wohl, a professor of medicine at UNC Medical School, said he thinks van der Horst’s family and upbringing motivates him to protest.

“Charlie is a child of an era where people stood up for what they believe in,” he said.

Van der Horst’s father was a member of the NAACP in New York, and his mother was a Holocaust survivor.

“It’s a sense of justice that I think he gets from being the child of the Holocaust,” Wohl said. “I don’t think Charlie is the kind of person to just sit there when something is wrong.”

His activism has spurred him to spend time in Malawi and South Africa, building clinics for infectious diseases.

“I’ve seen the good work government can do,” he said. “I appreciate that I open the tap and I get clean water.”

The summer marked the first time Van der Horst had been arrested.

He found himself in jail with William Chafe, a history professor whose class van der Horst took his sophomore year at Duke University.

“He had great spirit, great sense of camaraderie and community,” Chafe said. “He sang along with all of us as we were taken to jail.”

Van der Horst said he was released without having to pay any money up front, but was not allowed to re-enter the legislative building until his court date on July 1.

“I walked out to cheers and claps from the supporters who were still there with fruit, sodas, pimento cheese sandwiches and Oreo cookies,” he said.

Van der Horst said the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid pushed him to join the Moral Monday protests. He believed that decision was based on politics, not on what would be best for the state.

“It’s petulant rage at the president,” he said. “The legislature has passed things I didn’t like before, but they’ve never been this obvious.”

Van der Horst, drawing from his medical background, said rejecting the expansion of Medicaid makes no medical, moral or economic sense.

“People still come to the hospital, so we’re still paying for it anyway,” he said. “But on Medicaid, they can get preventative medicine.”

He also protests voter ID laws, anti-abortion legislation and low teacher pay.

“For God’s sake, I think South Carolina pays its teachers more,” he said.

Wohl said van der Horst acted as his mentor in his early career, and that he continues to follow his example.

“He fights, he tells you what he feels and sometimes you may not like what he says.”

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