Until Monday, Iona Grant had never attended a protest rally in her 102 years.
But the Statesville woman felt compelled to join about 250 others from across the state who gathered outside the Statesville Civic Center to protest policies endorsed by Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
“They’re hurting the poor,” Grant said an hour before McCrory was scheduled to address the Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards dinner inside the civic center. McCrory was delayed, police said, and did not arrive before the end of the two-hour rally.
Speaking at the awards dinner, McCrory acknowledged the protesters but said he disagrees with their stance. He told attendees that his administration is working toward what’s best for everyone in the state, Mitchell Community College President Tim Brewer said.
Protesters, led by the NAACP, convened in a county that has been a reliable GOP stronghold in recent elections. Iredell County voted 72 percent in favor of McCrory in 2012.
Their concerns ran the gamut from how the state has responded to the coal ash spill from a Duke Energy pond on the Dan River to North Carolina’s stance on teacher pay.
“She’s been very disgusted by the governor’s policies, with what he’s cut and what the legislature has cut,” Kay Holshouser, Grant’s private nurse, said.
Many on hand for the NAACP-led Iredell County Moral Monday rally held placards protesting the governor and Republican members of the legislature.
“Shame on You! Stop Hurting Children and Educators of Iredell County” read a sign held by Billette Hewitt, 64 of Statesville, who retired after 33 years with the Iredell County Public Library.
Leslie Boyd, 61, of Candler, held a portrait of her son, Mike Danforth, 33, who died in 2008 because he couldn’t obtain health insurance to treat his colon cancer, she said. He would have been covered under the federal Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, she said.
How could Republicans reject an infusion of federal Medicaid dollars for the state’s poor and call themselves pro-life? she asked.
Demonstrations called “Moral Mondays” began last spring in Raleigh in response to legislation passed by the Republican-led General Assembly. The protests are designed to keep a spotlight on what organizers view as regressive policies, particularly regarding Medicaid, unemployment benefits, abortion, voting and education.
Over the summer, more than 900 people volunteered to be arrested for trespassing at the General Assembly building. The protests continued after the legislature adjourned in July, including through large gatherings in Charlotte and Asheville. On Feb. 8, thousands of North Carolina residents, including from Charlotte, held a Moral March rally in downtown Raleigh.
The marches have drawn national attention to North Carolina and their organizer, NAACP President William Barber II.
A Moral Monday town hall meeting is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 31 at United in Christ Ministries in Eden over Duke Energy’s Dan River coal ash spill and the effects of coal ash in the state.
“We are guilty of caring about this state,” Barber, the rally’s keynote speaker, told Monday’s crowd in Statesville. “We are guilty of believing we can do better. We are guilty of making the decision that we will not go home and hide.”
Chamber President and CEO David Bradley said last week that the dinner was “an opportunity to recognize folks and businesses that have done extraordinary things to make this a great place. This is not a political event. It's a community celebration.”
But what makes this country great, he added, is that “people have an opportunity to voice their opinions in whatever way that is legal.”