The demonstrators who have been railing against the N.C. legislative policies and agenda of the past two years plan to move their march from the state capital to the voting polls.
At a “Moral Monday” demonstration on Monday that drew nearly 1,300 people, according to police estimates, 15 protesters refused to leave the Legislative Building when asked. Their act of civil disobedience, which resulted in arrests and charges of trespass, brought the number of arrests and citations from civil disobedience over the past two years to more than 1,000.
“We have exposed the hypocrisy,” the Rev. William J. Barber II, head of the state NAACP and a chief organizer of the protests, told a crowd gathered on Halifax Mall before the arrests. “Now is the time to organize.”
The next phase of the protest against the legislative agenda that curbed unemployment benefits, failed to expand Medicaid, made sweeping changes to elections law and shifted public education money to private schools is designed to get more like-minded people out to vote.
Republican leaders who have shepherded the changes and the sharp political swing to the right in North Carolina say they are carrying out the will of the people who voted them into office. They say they have a mandate to cut taxes and curb state spending to spur economic growth and jobs.
The protesters dispute that and contend that new laws and policies are moving North Carolina backward, not forward. They cited recent poll results from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning organization, to bolster their contentions that the General Assembly and governor have taken a conservative agenda to “the extreme” right.
“We have a group of legislators and governor who are bent on tearing things down,” Barber told the crowd on Monday. “This is a time that we need a group of people who say, ‘Not on our watch, because we are here to be the repairers of the breach.’ ”
Barber encouraged his followers to spread out across the state after demonstrators broke from their “sit-ins” and “teach-ins” throughout the Legislative Building.
“Now is the time to take all of this and move to the next phase,” Barber said. “We will leave here and inaugurate the ‘Moral March to the Polls.’ ”
Though the demonstrators have lobbied for changes and different policies from the current General Assembly, many have said from the start – the first rally 60 weeks ago – that their long-term focus has been on the elections and making changes at the ballot box.
That hasn’t stopped the demonstrators from gathering outside the shiny gold doors of the General Assembly chambers and singing and chanting.
On Monday night, Carmen Hooker Odom, a former secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, came in from Manteo, where she has lived for the past year, to protest the legislators’ decision to turn down federal money to expand Medicaid.
“I just think the decision to deny Medicaid expansion is ludicrous,” Hooker Odom said while taking part in a “teach-in.”
Hooker Odom, who left her post in 2006, was criticized during her tenure for a mental health care reform described as a “chronicle of disappointment more than accomplishment.”
The former DHHS secretary said she has reached out to the current secretary, Dr. Aldona Wos, whose administration has been under fire for most of her tenure. Hooker Odom said she had not heard from Wos.
The former secretary said she has heard the criticisms that many of the problems today dated back to a time when Democrats were in charge.
“You can do that for the first six months,” Hooker Odom said. “But the Republicans have had control of both houses since 2010. To keep blaming it on previous administrations is not responsive.”