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Clergy lead Moral Monday demonstration

By Anne Blythe and Caitlin Owens
ablythe@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH Despite tornado warnings across the state, several thousand demonstrators gathered Monday under rainy skies to continue the weekly protests of the new policies and laws coming out of the General Assembly.

This week religious leaders from around the state led the rally that resulted in nearly 60 arrests. A reporter with The Charlotte Observer, who was interviewing demonstrators, was among those detained on Monday.

But many who were arrested were clergy.

“We’re here to stand on the side of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed,” said Jason Williams, a clergyman from Charlotte who was not among those arrested.

Seven rabbis from temples in Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill issued a letter on Monday in support of the Moral Monday movement that has led to more than 350 arrests since April 29 and brought thousands of demonstrators to Raleigh to voice their ire about cuts to Medicaid and unemployment benefits that affect more than half a million North Carolinians. Their grievances also include: voter ID, women’s rights, the elimination of the estate tax and private school vouchers.

Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, Rabbi Ariel Edery of Temple Beth Shalom in Cary, Rabbi Jen Feldman of Kehillah Synagogue in Chapel Hill, Rabbi Frank Fischer of Chapel Hill, Rabbi John Friedman of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, Rabbi Raachel Jurovics, of Yavneh in Raleigh and Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh issued a statement on Monday, as individuals.

“Many of us have previously attempted to reach out to Assembly leaders for dialogue, and we have been ignored,” the rabbis said. “We therefore endorse the use of nonviolent civil disobedience to draw attention to the reckless and heartless policies currently passing into law in Raleigh. ... We recognize the need for solidarity at this time in North Carolina. The Jewish vision of social justice is broadly shared by all people of faith who are mobilizing this Monday, and now is the time to speak out.”

Other faith leaders, including Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese in Raleigh and Bishop Michael Bruce Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, issued a joint statement in recent days saying they shared the concerns of the demonstrators who have routinely participated in the Moral Monday protests.

In their statement, the religious leaders cited a letter from The Rev. Dr. Rodney Sadler of Union Seminary in Charlotte in which he summarized the effect of pending and enacted legislation especially on the poor, the aging and children, and called for a “fervent response from people of faith.”

This week, the demonstrators added a new grievance to their growing ire – Gov. Pat McCrory was quoted as telling a Republican convention in Charlotte this past weekend that the demonstrators were “outsiders.”

“Outsiders are coming in and they’re going to try to do to us what they did to Scott Walker in Wisconsin,” McCrory said according to an Associated Press report.

There were mass protests in Madison, Wis., when Walker, the GOP governor, moved to strip state workers of their right to collective bargaining. North Carolina state workers have no collective bargaining rights.

Mike Moore, a 62-year-old Rougemont resident who works at Lowe’s Home Improvement, held up a sign letting McCrory know that he was no outsider, that he was a North Carolinian unhappy with the political direction of the Republicans, who have control of both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than a century.

Moore said he was under no illusion that lawmakers would immediately change course and heed the criticism coming from the growing demonstrations.

“There is a tipping point, when it can’t be denied, it can’t be ignored,” Moore said. “The proof will be in the next election.”

Monroe Gilmour, 67, of Black Mountain, said the governor’s comments made it easier for him to make the 230-mile journey to Raleigh.

“I’m here because I’m sad for my state – that this reckless tea party monarchy has taken over a state we could have been proud of,” Gilmour said while standing among the group of demonstrators ready to be arrested. “Thousands outside are standing with us and we are standing with them.”

The Rev. William Barber, the head of the state NAACP which organizes the Moral Monday events, was not at the demonstration. Barber was at Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee with faith, labor and legal organizers strategizing on how to resist what they described as the “extreme agenda” being pushed by Republicans.

Maureen Sutton, 68, of Southern Pines, awaited arrest with a sense of peace settling over her. “This legislature has started so many fires, I’m not sure which one to try to put out first,” she said. “Partly I’m here because I think we have the right to be here – and for me, it’s also about self respect.”

Cheryl Carpenter, the managing editor of The Charlotte Observer, said in a statement that she thought Tim Funk, the reporter detained by the General Assembly police, was wrongly detained.

“He covers religion for us, and was in Raleigh to write about the Charlotte clergy as they protested at the legislature,” Carpenter said. “He was wearing Charlotte Observer identification, and one person there said he had a reporter’s pad and pen in his hand. He was in a public place and there solely to do his job as a news reporter. It is difficult to understand why he would have been detained.”

Hugh Stevens, a lawyer who represents the N.C. Press Association, also questioned why Funk was detained by police.

“It’s totally inappropriate to arrest a reporter if you know he or she is a reporter just doing their job,” Stevens said. “It seems to me once it is clear that somebody’s there in that role, they should just take them out of the line and say, ‘Get out of here.’ ”

Blythe: 919-836-4948
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