North Carolina “Moral Monday” protests battle right-wing agenda

RALEIGH, N.C. – A multi-racial crowd of over 2,500 people rallied outside the North Carolina State Legislature Building on Monday, June 24. 120 activists were arrested in an act of civil disobedience. The focus of this eighth “Moral Monday” was women and the labor movement.

The protests have been organized by the state NAACP along with other civil rights, labor and immigration rights groups, in response to the sharp rightward shift in the state’s politics that occurred in 2010. That is when, for the first time in more than 100 years, Republicans took control of both the House and the Senate. With redistricting, the Republicans increased their majority in 2012, and Republican Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, was elected governor.

Addressing the crowd, the Rev. William J. Barber, president of the state’s NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday campaign, said, “This isn’t a Democratic or Republican Party thing, this is a people movement, led by workers, black, white, brown, old and young, straight, LGBT, religious, atheists, and everything in between.” One of the highlights of the rally was when Rev. Barber hushed the crowd and then turned to the media and politicians being interviewed at the back of the stage. He asked them to stop, saying, “This isn’t a party. This is serious and this is about the workers and people in trouble.” His statement was greeted with applause and cheers.

The picture for working families in North Carolina is grim. The state has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country. This week the General Assembly (House and Senate) voted not to extend unemployment compensation, which will cut benefits for 17,000 people.

Currently 25 percent of children live in poverty and 23 percent of women have no health insurance. Gov. McCrory has rejected the call, under the Affordable Care Act, to expand Medicaid, which means that 500,000 people will be denied access to medical care. There are bills pending to tax Social Security benefits, and the legislature has done away with union dues check off (direct deductions from workers’ paychecks), weakening the state employees’ and teachers’ unions.

None of this is surprising given that the governor’s budget director is Art Pope, a member of the John Birch Society and a founding board member of the far-right billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. In 2010, Pope’s organizations spent $2.2 million on 22 state legislature races, and won 18.

North Carolina has also announced that it will go full speed ahead to implement new restrictive voting rules in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act.

Photo: N.C. NAACP President the Rev. William Barber speaks at the podium during the eight Moral Monday protest in Raleigh (PW/Harvey Smith).