Gov. Pat McCrory created a stir eight months ago when he described the protesters who gathered weekly at the state Legislative Building as “outsiders” coming in to North Carolina to “try to change the subject.”
Organizers of the Monday demonstrations immediately decried the description and gathered data to show the governor and other GOP leaders that the mass rallies were homegrown.
This week, as they tend to last-minute details of a march and mass rally scheduled for Saturday, leaders of the state NAACP are welcoming people from outside North Carolina. They have invited faith leaders from up and down the East Coast and across the country to join in their mass protest of what they describe as the “extremist policies” and “regressive agenda” adopted last year by the Republican-led General Assembly.
Buses are set to roll from Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, organizers say.
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Three of the four officers of the United Church of Christ national office will travel to Raleigh from Cleveland to participate in what organizers are calling a “Mass Moral March” and “the HKonJ People’s Assembly.”
People around the country are “appalled” at the example that North Carolina is setting, said the Rev. William Barber II, head of the state NAACP and an architect of the so-called “Moral Monday” rallies that resulted in more than 900 arrests last year.
North Carolina Republican leaders plan to hold a media briefing Friday at the party headquarters in Raleigh on “Rev. William Barber and the Democrat Party’s ‘moral march’ political rally.”
Efforts to reach Republican Party leaders on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Barber is coming off a statewide tour with stops in Asheville, Brevard, Burlington, Charlotte, Elizabeth City, Goldsboro, Greensboro, Hickory, Rocky Mount, Scotland County, Washington County and Wilmington.
He has rallied demonstrators across North Carolina to protest the General Assembly’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the federal health law, to scale back unemployment benefits for the chronically out-of-work and to divert public education money to private-school vouchers. The protesters have railed against changes to North Carolina’s election laws that add a voter ID component and have spoken out against tax reforms that they said protect the wealthy while cutting benefits for the poor.
In recent weeks, Barber has seen similar protests take shape in Georgia, where demonstrators gathered at the opening of the General Assembly there with “Moral Monday Georgia” to protest a similar agenda.
In South Carolina, the NAACP, labor groups and other organizations gathered at the opening of the legislative session for “Truthful Tuesday” rallies modeled after the North Carolina events.
“We’ve seen the spirit of Moral Monday spread,” Barber said. “Some people are coming to North Carolina to see what we’re doing so they can take it back to their states.”
The Saturday event builds on a tradition that began seven years ago with the Historic Thousands on Jones Street march named for the site of the N.C. Legislative Building where laws are made.
Since the first march, more than 160 organizations have joined together to offer an agenda for the legislature to consider.
This year’s 14-point agenda addresses a variety of issues. Among them:
• Support for public education and for the state’s historically black colleges and universities.
• Raising the minimum wage.
• Better health care access.
• Turning back 2013 election law changes.
• Environmental justice.
• Repeal of the death penalty.
Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, plans to travel from Cleveland to participate in the North Carolina events.
As Barber often does, Black quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate why he thinks it is important to join with some of the North Carolina churches that fall under the national United Church of Christ umbrella and speak out against policies they deem as detrimental to the poor.
He does not consider himself an “outside agitator.”
“This is America,” Black said. “North Carolina (some people might not believe it) but it is a part of the United States. We see these things as very related to the whole country. Certainly as Christians – and many of us are coming as people of faith – we identify with the least among us as being the hardest hit, and we think it’s important to speak out against that.”