Protestors sing outside of the House and Senate chambers during a demonstration at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, North Carolina, Monday, May 6, 2013.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina—By 12:30 Monday afternoon the vans parked outside Emmanuel Baptist Church were loaded up with bottled water, bag lunches and rain ponchos for a long day of protest against the Republican-dominated state legislature. Emmanuel Baptist, an African-American church known around town for its social activism, provided three vans. The Rev. Nathan Parrish, of Peace Haven Baptist Church, drove the fourth. Some members of his more conservative congregation may not agree with him, he said, but he wanted to make sure that lawmakers in Raleigh know that many people from across the state oppose their policies. As Parrish pulled out of the lot, Mary Dickinson, a retired Spanish teacher, made an announcement: “This is what troublemakers look like.”
Monday’s protest was the fifth of what NAACP organizers are calling Moral Mondays, which take aim at the state’s assault on voting rights, healthcare, unemployment insurance, public schools and so much more.
In 2010, Republicans took control of the state House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. With their firm majority, the GOP redrew district lines for state Senate and House seats, securing an even more solid majority in the 2012 election. Voters also elected a Republican governor, the former mayor of Charlotte, Pat McCrory. Many assumed that his big-city background would make him a moderate, but McCrory quickly appointed Art Pope, the money behind many of the state’s Tea Party candidates, as budget director, and the legislature went to work.
Protesters came to Raleigh on Monday with a long list of grievances, beginning with measures the legislature passed early in the session to restrict early voting and registration. Protesters worry about cuts in unemployment insurance, the refusal to expand Medicaid to half a million through the federal Affordable Care Act, cuts in public school spending and a recent tax proposal that favors the wealthy.
So far, Moral Mondays have attracted a diverse coalition of protesters. In one van this Monday there were two ministers, one black one white, in the front seat; behind them a retired hotel chef and a former public-health researcher; in the next row, retired school teacher Dickinson and a retiree from Volvo trucks; and taking up the rear a 20-something former campaign worker for Obama, a friend, new to politics, and a local Hispanic rights activist.
“I have fretted, griped and worried that the Republican legislature is taking us back,” said Dehlia Carver, the former Volvo worker who lives in Kernersville, a small town just east of Winston-Salem. “I said, ‘It’s time to put my feet where my mouth is.’”
The first stop, two hours later, was the Martin Street Baptist Church, the staging ground for the weekly protests. The sanctuary was already full with the sounds of spirituals and preaching by the time the contingent from Winston-Salem arrived.