‘Moral Monday’ protests aim past Raleigh
CHARLOTTE (AP) — For the Rev. William Barber, Moral Monday protests are more than just weekly demonstrations drawing thousands of people to Raleigh.
They’re part of a major North Carolina movement, uniting coalitions fighting for social, economic and environmental justice over divisive legislation by Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly.
Now Barber, the president of the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he’s moving to the next step – coordinating Moral Monday demonstrations in the state’s 13 Congressional districts.
He held the first one last week in Asheville that attracted thousands. Demonstrations are planned Aug. 19 in Charlotte and 350 miles east in the coastal community of Manteo.
They also plan protests across the state on Aug. 28 — the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech.
The Rowan County NAACP announced last week that the organization hopes to organize local religious leaders to encourage voter registration and possibly participate in Moral Monday protests.
Republicans took control of the North Carolina Legislature in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction and cemented full control of state government with the election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in November, 2012. That put them in prime position to implement a conservative platform.
After McCrory took office in January, lawmakers moved swiftly.
The General Assembly refused to expand Medicaid to about 500,000 more people, cut unemployment benefits and abolished the earned-income tax credit, which serves low to middle-income people. They also passed a voter ID law that shortens early voting by a week and ends same-day registration.
Lawmakers also cut taxes for corporations, and the $20.6 billion state budget that McCrory recently signed into law cuts pay for teachers with graduate degrees, ends teacher tenure and included a measure that for the first time will allow taxpayer money to be used to pay tuition at private schools.
“With their extreme immoral acts, the legislature has attacked the very soul of our state,” Barber said. “People are disgusted by it. This is not the North Carolina we want.”
Environmentalists warned that the effects of numerous GOP-backed measures could be felt for generations. They pointed to the removal of key scientists and environmental experts from state oversight boards, rollbacks of clean water protections and a measure making it easier to build landfills near parks and wilderness areas.
Republican leaders praised the legislative accomplishments, saying they enacted reforms critical to providing greater opportunities to North Carolinians.
McCrory has said he was “very pleased” with the session and that there were more good changes done in the last six months than in the last 30 years.
But the sharp rightward turn in Raleigh provoked weekly protests at the legislative building that drew thousands from across the state and resulted in about 930 arrests. The changes also garnered national media attention.
“When you see people go to Raleigh for 13 straight weeks, go to jail together … you know this is more than just a momentary event,” Barber said.
Barber said the Moral Monday movement has resonated with people across party lines. Last week, he was invited to meet with a group in a predominantly white church in Mitchell County. The church in the western North Carolina mountains was filled with Democrats, Republican and Independents.
He said they were disturbed by the extreme “mean-spirited” legislation that attacked teachers, unemployed workers, voting rights and the environment.
Barber said he has been working for years to build bridges with other groups to work on problems facing North Carolina.
“It just didn’t start with this Legislature. It started because seven years ago we began building a new fusion model in North Carolina. The NAACP and several other organizations said that we needed to come together – those that fight for education equality, those that fight for health care, those that fight for criminal justice reform, those that fight for voting rights and issues like poverty and jobs and labor rights.”
But clearly the GOP legislative effort has united the movement that he predicts will grow.
“The pain is not going to get better, it will get worse…What people are protesting now is just what the Legislature has passed. In the months to come, the pain of what they have passed will become a reality. It is going to fuel people’s commitment to fight against it even more,” he said.
Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political science and history professor, said it’s unclear how Moral Monday will translate in future elections.
Republican lawmakers redrew North Carolina’s legislative and congressional boundaries two years ago to favor their party. During the 2012 elections, the GOP padded their majorities in the House and Senate and won nine of the state’s 13 U.S. House seats, compared to six before.
“I think the lines have been drawn so solidly that for at least a couple of election cycles, the Republicans have insulated themselves,” Bitzer said. “What Democrats probably have to recognize with the state Legislature is, it’s going to be a long road back. They have to be strategic in targeting the districts they can be competitive in.”