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NAACP pickets at Roses store, protests GOP policies

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STEVE LYTTLE - slyttle@charlotteobserver.com
The Rev. Jay Leach, senior minister at Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, talks to a shopper arriving Wednesday at a northeast Charlotte shopping center containing a Roses store. Leach was among those picketing the store.

The NAACP picketed Wednesday outside a Roses store in northeast Charlotte, marking the organization’s new strategy to protest North Carolina’s swing to the political right.

The picketing was aimed at Art Pope, budget director for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and a supporter of conservative candidates and legislation that the NAACP and other organizations have protested in recent months.

Pope, who said in a statement that he was “shocked” by the picketing, is CEO of Variety Wholesalers, a chain of 330 stores that includes Roses and is owned by Pope’s family.

“Our goal is to explain to shoppers who owns Roses, who owns the stores – and how those people are using the stores against them,” the Rev. Kojo Nantambu, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg chapter of the NAACP, said in front of a Roses store at The Plaza and Eastway Drive.

The NAACP and the Forward Together Moral Movement has adopted the store picketing strategy as a replacement for its Moral Monday protests, most of which took place in Raleigh.

This week, picketers are distributing leaflets to shoppers at four Roses stores across the state. The effort began Monday in Durham and is scheduled to continue Saturday in Winston-Salem and Fayetteville.

In a letter to state NAACP President William Barber II, Pope said he was “shocked that you and your allies would demand any public official to support your political positions, by threatening a business which is not part of state government.”

But Nantambu said the picketing is necessary, because many Roses stores are in low-income communities, and he said those residents are most affected by recently adopted North Carolina legislation that cut unemployment benefits and Medicare and made significant changes in voting laws.

“People might think a business is supporting their community, but the money they spend is being used against them,” Nantambu said.

Picketers were not permitted onto Roses property Wednesday, so they took up positions at two entrances to a shopping center. They stopped arriving vehicles and handed out leaflets.

“Many people don’t really think about who owns a store,” said the Rev. Jay Leach, senior minister at Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte and a picketer Wednesday.

“This isn’t a boycott,” Leach said. “We just want people to know who owns the places where they shop. Once they’re informed, they can make decisions.”

Most shoppers Wednesday declined comment, but a woman who identified herself only as Angela said the picketers changed her mind.

“I planned to shop at a couple stores, but I didn’t go to Roses,” she said. “I didn’t know all the background.”

A couple motorists turned their vehicles around and left, after talking to the picketers.

In his letter to Barber on Monday, Pope said he was “saddened” that the NAACP targeted Variety Wholesalers stores. He said that while 22 percent of North Carolina’s population is African-American, more than 44 percent of his company’s employees and 37 percent of managers are African-American.

He said he disagrees with “some, but not all” of the NAACP’s positions but contended “we share a common goal of alleviating poverty.”

Nantambu said he wants Pope to stop supporting candidates and legislation that he contends hurt low-income and working-class people.

“We will continue to picket these stores during the Christmas shopping season,” he said.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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