The tape symbolized protesters’ feelings of being ignored by the legislature in its policy making. Moral Monday protests, led by the N.C. NAACP, started last summer as a response to the legislation passed under the N.C. General Assembly after the GOP claimed control of both the legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in 140 years.
Protesters have advocated for a variety of issues, such as increasing funding for public education, expanding Medicaid in the state, supporting environmental protection and defending minority rights.
“We are here today to protect ourselves from this extremist assault on our traditional values,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. chapter of the NAACP, in his opening address.
He led the marchers from the First Baptist Church of Raleigh to the capitol building and then to the rally at the Bicentennial Plaza in downtown Raleigh.
Barber said this would be the first and last time the protest would be silent. Next Tuesday, protesters plan to organize at 9 a.m. to enter legislative building offices and talk to General Assembly members.
When asked about next Tuesday’s event, Barber did not rule out the possibility of a sit-in.
Familiar game, new rules
The General Assembly changed the legislative building rules last Thursday, allowing visitors on the second floor and banning the congregation of people on the grass in front of the building.
The changes come after nearly 1,000 Moral Monday protesters were arrested and charged with violation of building rules, failure to disperse and trespassing last summer.
Rep. Tim Moore, R-N.C., chairman of the Legislative Services Commissions, said in a statement to the (Raleigh) News & Observer that the rules were changed to balance openness and security.
“This is probably the most open building in state government,” he said in the statement. “So we want to keep it that way, but at the same time we want to make sure that it’s a secure place where, at the end of the day, the people’s business can be done.”
Groups can no longer reserve or use space in the legislative complex if they have more than 200 participants.
The updated rules also include banning signs on handsticks and actions that could disturb the legislative session, such as clapping or shouting. The new building rules said the examples of disruptive actions are nonexclusive.
The changes have been criticized for the potential for selective enforcement.
“The new rules are vague, over-broad and are incapable of a consistent application,” said Irv Joyner, the N.C. NAACP legal redress chair, in a press release.
Leaders look forward
Activists are looking forward to the summer as a way to boost voter turnout in November despite the state’s new voter ID law, over which the state has been sued by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Moral Freedom Summer, a new program led by the N.C. NAACP, will hire 50 young leaders in more than 25 counties to start local movements, said William Barber III, a field organizer for the Moral Freedom Summer program and the Rev. Barber’s son.
“Historically it has always been youth who have brought the fire and provided the strength to bring about true change,” he said.
This month’s primary election — which saw incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, win their parties’ nominations — only had about a 16 percent voter turnout.
Wilson Parker, president of the UNC Young Democrats, said he wasn’t surprised with the low primary turnout.
“There’s a cobweb of factors here, but I definitely think we’ll see a better turnout in November,” he said.
The younger Barber said the goal of Moral Freedom Summer is to increase voter turnout in the November election by 1 to 5 percent more than in 2008.
Parker said although the Moral Monday movements have been instrumental in bringing issues like the voter ID law to the forefront, he isn’t sure if that will directly lead to policy change at the legislative level.
But the younger Barber said there has been constant effort by the N.C. NAACP to open up dialogue with the General Assembly’s Republicans, especially Gov. McCrory and Tillis.
“We understand that the governor has a chance to do right by the people of North Carolina,” he said, “So continuing to reach out will be a critical component. It always has been, and it always will be.”
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