Charlotte-area residents join thousands to take to the streets of Raleigh for massive march

People from around the Charlotte area joined thousands of others who took to the streets in Raleigh on a raw, cloudy Saturday to protest the policies pushed by Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature.

Arriving in private vehicles and buses, they were part of what was called the “Moral March” rally in downtown Raleigh.

The Rev. Jay Leach, senior minister at Charlotte’s Unitarian Universalist Church, walked with many of his church members, hoping to send a message to state leaders.

“The eyes of the nation are on Raleigh,” Leach said. “We’re holding up a vision to be the best we can as a state. We’re not putting down, we’re lifting up and saying to whoever is in power: Let’s do the best we can for all our kids, all our teachers and all our voters.”

As they waited for the crowds to begin marching, Leach’s group chanted, “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”

The “Moral March” is part of the HKonJ – Historic Thousands on Jones Street protests that started in 2007.

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 on Medicaid, unemployment benefits, abortion, voting and education.

Over the summer more than 900 people volunteered to be arrested for trespassing at the General Assembly. The protests continued after the legislature adjourned in July, with large gatherings in Charlotte, Asheville and elsewhere. The marches have drawn national attention to North Carolina and their organizer, NAACP President William J. Barber II.

Raleigh police didn’t release a crowd estimate, but according to The Associated Press, the permit application planned for at least 20,000. The number of marchers stretched for six blocks.

From Shaw to the Capitol

Marchers gathered at Shaw University and began walking toward the state Capitol, many carrying banners and signs.

Pamela Grundy with Mecklenburg ACTS, a public education advocacy group, helped carry an 8-foot puppet that portrayed a schoolgirl. Concerned about the General Assembly’s measure on education, she called the march and rally “an exercise in democracy.”

“The people are dissatisfied with what their elected officials are doing,” Grundy said. “And they’re letting them know.”

As she waited for the march to start she looked around the crowded streets near Shaw University and said, “It’s a fantastic day. It’s great to see all these different people.”

Russ and Amy Dean, co-pastors of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, also participated.

Russ Dean said he came because “I’m concerned about poor people.”

“Protest has never been my voice,” he said. “But this is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with many folks who are affected by policies and with colleagues who share my concerns.”

Elsewhere at the march, people carried signs with such messages as “I’m a native Tar Heel, a mother, teacher and voter and I’m FURIOUS,” “Remember in November,” “Stop the war on workers,” “Protect our vulnerable citizens,” “Expand Medicaid” and “Don’t cut the mental health budget.”

One woman held a 2-foot peace sign, and a man wore a T-shirt with the message “raise minimum wage.”

‘It’s beautiful and exciting’

The Rev. Dwayne Anthony Walker, pastor of Charlotte’s Little Rock AME Zion Church, and about 60 members of his congregation marched to the Capitol carrying a banner with the name of the church.

Looking around the streets packed with marchers, he said, “It’s beautiful and exciting to see so many people moving in the same direction.”

Walker said he was “absolutely appalled” by the General Assembly’s cuts in such areas as unemployment benefits and education, and by implementing a voter identification law.

“They’re trying to turn back the clock,” he said.

Walker hoped the march would call attention to what’s been going on in Raleigh and also encourage people to vote.

For him, it was a historic moment when “a group of people dared to stand up and take a stand for right.”

On the streets of Raleigh, Walker remembered with pride his grandfather, a minster who marched in Alabama during the civil rights movement.

Looking to the future, “I hope my grandchildren will be proud their grandfather took a stand.”

Staff writer Jim Morrill and The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed to this story.

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