Demonstrators trying to raise a ruckus about the North Carolina legislature’s swing to the political right put tape across their mouths and paraded quietly through the statehouse Monday.
Days after the Legislative Services Commission changed the rules for North Carolina’s Legislative Building, demonstrators who sang, chanted and protested loudly last year changed their tactics, too.
Protesters were still outspoken outside about the effects of policies and laws adopted last year, when Republicans wielded power from both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
But inside the building where those laws were made, protesters marched two by two in an eerie silence through the facility and out the back door toward Halifax Mall. There was no civil disobedience.
Capitol police estimated the crowd to include about 1,500 people. NAACP representatives put the crowd size closer to 5,000.
Also Monday, a small group that supports the 2013 legislative agenda held a “welcome back” rally near the Great Seal of North Carolina at the entrance to the statehouse.
The coalition included representatives from the John William Pope Civitas Institute – a conservative-leaning organization that receives funding from the family of Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director – and Carolina Rising, a new group. They discussed taxes, unemployment changes and other economic reforms that they contend will take the state in a more prosperous direction.
The Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina chapter president of the NAACP and architect of the movement supporters call “Moral Monday” that is spreading across the South, pulled the gray masking tape off his lips outside the building and spoke to those following him.
“We’re going to spend some time in deliberate silence,” Barber said, reacting to the new rules that prohibit visitors from being loud enough to disrupt conversations. “You ought to have a little righteous indignation. For you to be able to expose what they’re doing, you’ve got to put tape on your mouth.
“I know one thing, when someone tells you you’re going to be arrested for speaking in a normal voice, all of us will be arrested, because what’s normal?”
Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr., a Democrat from Durham and a lawyer, questioned the constitutionality of the new building rules.
“The standards they created are vague,” McKissick said. “The only reason for them to be amended is to suppress free speech.”
Dallas Woodhouse, a Republican strategist representing Carolina Rising, said the protesters should be praising state lawmakers. He cited the falling unemployment rate as evidence that GOP initiatives were having an impact.
“It is good policy that is creating good results with continued tax relief and reform, regulatory reform and unemployment insurance reform,” Woodhouse said.
But the protesters countered those falling rates with details about the long-term unemployed being bumped off unemployment roles and no longer being counted in the falling rate.
David Canady, 62, of Raleigh was out on the Bicentennial Mall with a sign protesting many of the laws and policies passed last year. He is retired from state government, he said, after working in the unemployment insurance division.
A small sign he held up expressed his sentiments: “N.C. Republican legislators = U.S. Taliban.”
With fiery oratory burning inside them, the demonstrators tried another new tactic – a Love Feast, inviting those with opposing views to “break bread” with them and discuss their differences.
“Let us break bread together marching on,” was recited between the “Forward Together, not one step back” chant from 2013.
After sharing bread outside in the political love feast, clergy among the demonstrators took bread to the offices of House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
Neither legislator was in Monday. Berger was out of town for family obligations, his spokeswoman said. Tillis, who is engaged in a run for the U.S. Senate, was in Washington to attend a U.S. Senate fundraiser.
After 945 arrests, at the series of Monday protests last year, no one was charged Monday night.
Barber left open that possibility in the coming weeks but did not reveal what the tactics for next Tuesday would be. “Moral Monday” will move to Tuesday because of the Memorial Day holiday.
“We’re not going to have people telling us we can’t come in our own house,” Barber said. “We can’t stand for that. Tyranny must be challenged.”
Staff writers Andrew Kenney and Josh Shaffer contributed to this report.