Seils: ‘Moral Monday’ Charges Against ‘Orange County Five’ to be Dropped

A member of the so-called “Orange County Five,” a group of elected officials arrested during Moral Monday protests last year, told WCHL on Friday that the Wake County D.A. will drop his case, along with those of his co-defendants.

Carrboro Alderperson Damon Seils was arrested on June 3, 2013 inside the state legislative building during “Mega Moral Monday” protests. Four other elected officials from Orange County were arrested along with him.

They include: Former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton; Carrboro Alderpersons Michelle Johnson and Sammy Slade; and Chapel Hill Council member Donna Bell.

Seils said he received news on Friday from his lawyer Mark Dorosin, a UNC civil rights attorney and Orange County commissioner, that all of the trespassing-related charges would be dropped.

“According to our attorney, the D.A. is planning to dismiss those charges, in both District and Superior Court,” said Seils.

Seils said Dorosin informed him that the defendants should receive formal copies of the dismissal “sometime within the next two weeks.”

Interim Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum announced earlier in the day that he would dismiss hundreds of Moral Monday cases, citing Wake County Superior Court Judge Don Stephens’ recent dismissal of trespassing charges against Moral Monday protester Leonard Beeghley, a Durham pastor.

Stephens’ ruling was triggered by a U.S. Supreme Court decision from June that struck down protest-free “buffer zones” around abortion clinics in Massachusetts. The Supreme Court found that law unconstitutional.

Seils said that because of Stephens’ ruling, the D.A felt that he couldn’t successfully prosecute most of the Moral Monday cases.

“It’s an ironic kind of connection with a case relating to abortion,” said Seils. “But in this case, it confirms something that I’ve said since the day we were arrested, which is that I believe that we were arrested unlawfully.”

Seils said he had not had a chance to speak with his co-defendants yet, as of early Friday afternoon.

20 Arrested At Moral Monday

RALEIGH — Nearly 20 people were arrested outside the doors of the state Senate chamber at the North Carolina General Assembly, two days after a judge struck down building rules regarding demonstrations.

Hundreds of protesters streamed into the second and third-floor rotunda of the Legislative Building Monday, taking full advantage of a ruling in Wake County Superior Court regarding rules enacted this year. The group celebrated the court decision with loud singing, chanting and shouting just before the Senate met.

The arrests during the weekly “Moral Monday” rally focused on collective bargaining and raising the minimum wage.

One protester who was arrested said she hopes state senators hear voices like hers who have to struggle to make ends meet as a single mom working at a fast-food restaurant.

Barber: Moral Monday Rally to Focus on Workers

The North Carolina NAACP and the Forward Together Moral Movement will hold what’s being billed as a Mass Moral Monday at the General Assembly on June 16.

In a conference call with reporters last week, movement leader Reverend William Barber said that today’s rally will focus on how policies implemented by the Republican-controlled state government have affected hourly workers.

“Now that all three budgets are on the table, from the North Carolina House, and the Senate, and the Governor’s Office, the next Moral Monday will include a mass rally to expose the vast and far-reaching impact of the systematic attack by the extremists in our legislature, led by Berger, Tillis and McCrory and others on poor people, workers, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women, and others throughput our state,” said Barber.

Today’s rally comes just a few days after the State House approved its $21 billion budget, which some have praised for being more moderate than the Senate version.

Some of those observers are people working in public education, who are relieved that teachers’ tenure rights are not being threatened in the House budget.

Donna Coffey and Jamezetta Bedford, the chairs of the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro Boards of Education, respectively, told WCHL recently that they’re also glad to see that the House didn’t explicitly put teacher-assistant jobs on the chopping block.

But Barber told reporters he sees a game being played, perhaps to benefit House Speaker Thom Tillis in his U.S. Senate campaign against Sen. Kay Hagan.

“The political game that they are playing with these budgets is now becoming very clear,” said Barber. “Senate leader Phil Berger and his colleagues present an extreme-to-the-nth-degree piece of legislation, in the budget.

“Then the Speaker of the House, Thom Tillis, presents a budget that’s extreme, let’s say, to the fourth degree that is supposed to appear as moderate. The reality is that they are both devastating budgets for the poor, the vulnerable, for public education, and for workers.

“We are not fooled by their game, and their political jockeying to try to promote Speaker Tillis in a statewide campaign.”

Monday’s events begin with a 4 p.m. press conference at Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, followed by a 5 p.m. gathering at Halifax Mall behind the General Assembly.

Sen. Berger Meets Moral Monday Protesters

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina General Assembly

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina General Assembly

North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Republican representing Guilford and Rockingham counties, sat down and talked for nearly an hour with 15 protesters that had staged a sit-in outside his office Monday night at the Legislative Building.

“We know that he is in the building here,” said Guilford County Elementary School Teacher Todd Warren. “We are going to remain here until he comes to meet with us.”

That was Warren addressing fellow protesters and members of the media outside Senator Phil Berger’s office Monday, a little after 7 p.m.

The protesters, mostly educators, stated their intention to stay there until Berger appeared. They wanted to share their feelings about the recently released State Senate Budget, which would offer 11 percent teacher raises at the expense of tenure, and cut up to 7,400 teacher assistant positions statewide.

At around 8 p.m., Berger did appear, and a chairs were pulled into a circle so that he and the protesters that had filed in from the earlier Moral Monday protest on Halifax Mall could talk about teachers’ issues.

During the conversation, Berger asked protesters if they could find the money to pay for teacher raises and teacher assistants, in a way that didn’t involve raising taxes.

“There are some things that, I would assume, are non-negotiable as far as y’all are concerned, OK?” said Berger. “Well, there are some things that our folks feel are non-negotiable, and a tax increase is one of them, OK? So, if, uh…”

“That’s not a tax increase – it’s a repeal of a tax cut,” one protester interrupted, to laughter and chatter from other teachers.

“That sounds like a tax increase to me,” Berger answered over the other voices.

Near the end of the discussion, which got testy at times, Berger promised protesters that he would talk with them again.

Satisfied that Berger had met with them, they left, and there were no arrests.

Before Berger showed up, Christoph Stutts and some fellow Chapel-Hill Carrboro teachers stood outside the legislative chamber, across from where the protesters had gathered, and peered inside as Senators chatted.

Stutts teaches social studies at Carrboro High School, and he’s been an assistant football coach for nine years.

It was his wedding anniversary, and he decided to bring his son to what was the first Moral Monday rally for either of them.

Outside on Halifax Mall, they had joined an estimated 750 protesters, many of them dressed in red shirts in support of education.

“I remember when my own mother – when I was growing up in Washington, D.C. – took me to City Hall, to protest in support of public education, and the kind of impact that Mom and I were able to have” said Stutts. “And I want to show the same thing to my son.”

VIDEO: Eleven Cited at Moral Monday

Eleven protesters were detained by police near Governor Pat McCrory’s office in the Capitol Building in Raleigh Monday night, and released with citations about two-and-a-half hours later.

“I think they just don’t want the image of us being hauled out in handcuffs for coming to try to talk to our lawmakers,” said Chapel Hill resident Manju Rajendran of NC WARN. “But we think it’s pretty criminal when our lawmakers refuse to talk to the people.”

Rajendran was one of 11 people cited Monday just after 5 p.m. near the governor’s office in the Capitol Building.

She told WCHL that a larger group of protesters assembled in the building earlier that afternoon.

When police announced it was time to leave at 5 p.m., most did.

But 11 of them refused. They were detained briefly, and released to a cheering crowd at around 7:30 p.m.

They’re scheduled to appear in court on August 15, on charges of second degree trespassing.

For most of the protesters, the evening started with hundreds gathered in Halifax Mall, outside the Legislative Building, which was locked to visitors.

The Senate had the day off, and is not scheduled to convene until Wednesday. The House was in a brief skeleton session earlier Monday afternoon, with no votes planned.

The main themes of Monday’s rally were the environment, and health care.

Protesters had fresh grievances regarding both issues. On May 29, the legislature quickly turned around a bill to allow fracking permits in North Carolina, and Governor Pat McCrory is expected to sign it into law shortly.

Jerry Ensminger is co-founder of The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, an organization of Marines and Naval personnel dedicated to protecting the rights of those exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune between 1957 and 1987.

From the stage, Ensminger called the fracking bill “insane.”

“I am a registered independent voter,” said Ensminger. “And the only reason that I am telling you that is this: Chemically contaminated drinking water, cancer and birth defects are omni-partisan. They have no party affiliations, and they devastate on a non-partisan basis!”

Protesters who were already angry over the refusal of McCrory and the Republican-controlled legislature to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act were now livid over the $21.1 billion budget that passed quickly in the Senate, shortly after midnight on May 31.

The budget includes Medicaid cuts to the elderly and disabled.

That angered Leslie Boyd of Candler, North Carolina.

She began her address to the crowd by talking about her son Mike, who died of colon cancer on April 1st, 2008, two years before the Affordable Care Act was passed.

According to Boyd, Mike was denied insurance because of a birth defect that made him susceptible to colon cancer.

She had some stinging words for conservative lawmakers that have blocked Medicaid expansion.

“Don’t tell me you are pro-life,” said Boyd from the stage. “You are not! You are not pro-life until you say that every single human being deserves health care.”

Former North Carolina Americans for Prosperity Director Dallas Woodhouse was there, as promised, to poke fun at protesters by handing out what he called “sun-shaped stress balls,” which were basically soft little yellow squeeze toys that looked like little suns.

Woodhouse, whose new conservative advocacy group is called Carolina Rising, explained his intentions to WCHL, while his lone companion, who appeared to be a young woman in a sun costume, stood by.

“You know, a lot of protesters, despite the fact that things are getting better in North Carolina, more people are going to work than ever before – two hundred twenty-five thousand jobs created since the first GOP budget was passed in 2011 – they just are very down, and we wanted to bring them some sun today.”

Most hardly seemed to noticed him, but his sunny sarcasm earned Woodhouse a few glares from people in the crowd. One elderly woman resting under a shady tree with an oxygen tank looked like she could have incinerated him with her eyes.

Woodhouse also caught the notice of the NAACP’s security for the event, who told Woodhouse that organizers had a park permit, and he wasn’t welcome.

“You’re not invited,” he said. “So you’re going to have to move back to the sidewalk.”

Before they moved on to the Capitol Building for the release of the 11 protesters inside, a few rallyers stuffed letters to House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger into the cracks of the locked front doors of the Legislative Building,

The leader of the Moral Monday movement, Rev. William Barber, told rallyers that next week’s gathering would focus on education.

Moral Monday, Back on Regular Schedule

Originally posted 7:08 p.m., May 30, 2014

The ongoing Moral Monday protest is back on regular schedule Monday evening, after Memorial Day last week moved activities to Tuesday.

That’s when 14 protesters of Republican policies in the General Assembly refused to leave House Speaker Thom Tillis’s office for nearly 10 hours, and were arrested early Wednesday for second-degree trespassing.

At a Durham NAACP office press conference on Friday, movement leader Reverend William Barber previewed today’s demonstration in Raleigh.

“Moral Monday will focus again on health and environmental justice,” said Barber. “Yes, we will gather again at the General Assembly at five o’clock. Yes, we will put a face on these policies.”

The rally begins at 5 p.m. at Halifax Mall, behind the General Assembly Building at 16 West Jones Street.

A pre-rally meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, located at 1801 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh.

“No One…Knew They Were Going To Do This”

Last week’s “Moral Monday” demonstration at the General Assembly took a surprising turn when fifteen protestors occupied the office of House Speaker Thom Tillis – and refused to leave until he agreed to meet with them.

Nearly twelve hours later, 14 of the demonstrators were arrested. (The fifteenth had gone home.) They never did meet with Tillis, but the sit-in drew a great deal of public attention – all from an action that appears to have been spontaneous and unplanned.

Orange County resident Mark Marcoplos has been active in the Moral Monday movement since its inception last year; he was one of hundreds of arrestees last summer. He was there last Tuesday as well to observe the sit-in – and he says as far as he could tell, even movement leader Rev. William Barber was unaware the 15 demonstrators were about to do what they did. Otherwise, he says, the demonstrators’ tactic (so far) has been to follow the new rules established by the state legislature for public behavior in the capitol – while calling attention to the fact that they’re observing them. (WCHL’s Aaron Keck called that approach “conspicuous obedience.”)

Marcoplos and Keck sat down for a conversation on the WCHL Afternoon News on Wednesday, the day after the demonstration.

When asked what was next for the movement, Marcoplos deferred – but Rev. Barber said this week that demonstrators would be challenging the new rules directly in future protests.

‘Tillis 15′ Join Rev. William Barber for Moral Monday Press Conference in Durham

Most of the so-called “Tillis 15” who staged an overnight sit-in at Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis’s office this past Tuesday, and got arrested for it, re-assembled at the Durham office of the NAACP for a press conference Friday morning.

One of them, 27-year-old Wendy’s employee Crystal Price of Greensboro, is a single mother of two making $7.25 an hour. She has cervical cancer, and no insurance, and she’s angry at the State government’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

“I get on my hands and knees, crying because I’m in such severe pain at times,” said Price. “It hurts so bad, I can’t go to the hospital. I just sit there on my hands and knees, crying for hours.”

Moral Monday leader Rev. William Barber led the press conference, and he said that the June 2nd Moral Monday rally will focus on health care, and the environment.

Dr. Perri Morgan is the Director of Research in the Physician Assistant Division in the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Duke University Medical Center.

“Next Monday, doctors, nurses other health professionals, are going to be in Raleigh at Moral Monday,” she said, “and we’re also going to be back on Wednesday to meet with legislators one-on-one and talk about health care, because we’re deeply concerned with the decisions of this legislature.”

Morgan said that bills would be introduced in the House and Senate next week to reverse last year’s decision not to expand Medicaid, and she urged the Republican majority to change their votes.

“This year, our lawmakers seem intent on doing even more damage to our Medicaid system, and to needy patients” said Morgan, “since the budget proposed in the Senate would cut Medicaid and hinder the ability of thousands of blind, disabled and elderly patients to get the health care that they need.”

She called on medical professionals to form a “White Coat Brigade” to fight for better health care in North Carolina.

Volunteer lobbying for Medicaid expansion at the General Assembly will begin Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

Community Organizer Manju Rajendran of NC WARN had a message for legislators about North Carolina’s environment, as a fracking bill that passed through the legislature awaited Governor Pat McCrory’s signature.

“We hope you’ll repeal fracking; legislate an environmentally just coal ash solution; and make Duke Energy pay for a comprehensive cleanup,” said Rajendran. “Let’s transition our state to clean energy, before it’s too late.”

Of course, the main media spotlight at this coming Moral Monday rally will be on the protesters’ entrance into the General Assembly, and whether they adhere to rules recently set by an in-house commission.

The new rules bar signs on sticks, singing, clapping, or anything that creates a “disturbance.”

Barber has indicated that those rules will not be obeyed. Two weeks ago, protesters mocked the rules by filing into the General Assembly with tape over their mouths.

At the Durham press conference, Barber wondered aloud whether the May 28th arrests for the sit-in at Tillis’s office were even constitutional.

“Tillis said in 2011 that was his House,” said Barber. “Y’all check that. Y’all wrote that. He said that – to the media. He convened a committee that wrote these rules. So I feel kind of sorry for the officers. Because they’re being pushed to do stuff that really makes no sense. The rules can’t trump the constitution.”

Member of ‘Tillis 14′ Sit-In Speaks About Protest and Arrest

A 78-year-old retired Unitarian Minister from Chapel Hill was one of 14 people arrested for refusing to leave State House Speaker Thom Tillis’s office on Tuesday.

“I’m proud to be facing trial on July 11th,” said Rev. Dick Weston-Jones. “I’m proud of what we did, and I wish the rest of the people in this state would make the demands to our legislature that they’ve got to start acting to solve the problems that the people have, instead of repressing the people.”

Rev. Dick Weston-Jones is a retired, but still-active Unitarian Universalist Minister who’s lived in Chapel Hill for 12 years.

He and 14 other Moral Monday protesters were grouped together for a mission at Raleigh’s General Assembly building this past Tuesday.

It was the day after Memorial Day, so protesters led by Rev. William Barber made up for not being there Monday by trying a different approach.

They split into groups that would visit the offices of lawmakers before the legislative sessions began.

Weston-Jones’s group, which included clergy and fast-food workers, was assigned to the office of Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is running against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan for her U.S. Senate seat.

When they discovered that Tillis wasn’t in his office, they began a sit-in that involved singing and clapping.

That’s when they first encountered General Assembly police.

“What they said originally was, simply that ‘You are disturbing the General Assembly,’” says Weston-Jones. “Which, in fact, was not even meeting at the time.

“But they said, ‘You are disturbing them, and you may not continue this. You should leave this office.’

“And we said, ‘No thank you. We will stay here until we have a chance to talk with Speaker Tillis.’”

That never happened.

“He knew exactly where we were and what was going to happen,” says Weston-Jones, “and he avoided us. An so we decided to tell the world – to tell North Carolina that the Speaker of our House was not going to be there with us. And that proved to be true, all the rest of the evening. He never showed up.”

The so-called Tillis 14, however, hung in there, after one of the original 15 needed to go home to make sure she could take her son to school the next morning.

The group camped in Tillis’s office for nearly 10 hours, until police began arresting them at around 1:45 a.m.

They were ordered to place their arms behind their backs, and police put plastic restraints on their wrists.

“They put them on so tightly that they dug deeply into my wrists – both of them – and left deep red marks,” says Weston-Jones. “I could hardly move my arms when they took us out of there, and put us, in my case, in a squad car.

“And I was so jammed into the squad car that I could only sit sideways between the door and the seat in front of me.”

Weston-Jones says that, apart from the tightness of the handcuffs, he felt that the police were “very nice” and “acted appropriately.”

He says that most of the protesters’ time in custody at Wake County Detention Center was spent sitting on stainless steel benches, while waiting to be charged.

They were finally charged at around 6:45 a.m., according to Weston-Jones, with misdemeanor second-degree trespassing. The protesters were released on their own recognizance and ordered to appear in court on July 11.

They are also barred from the General Assembly Building. Weston-Jones says he finds that “offensive.”

“It’s still my General Assembly, just as it is yours and everyone else’s,” says Weston-Jones, “regardless of whether I have been arrested for appearing there, and just taken into custody.

“But it is still my General Assembly, and I hold them accountable for their behavior.”

Dick Weston-Jones became a Universalist Unitarian Minister in 1963. He has a long history of involvement with protests going back to the civil rights era.

About 50 years ago, he and three other clergy members were arrested in Selma, Alabama for, as he remembers it, appearing “mentally ill in public” while they were walking down the street in a white neighborhood.

He recalls being detained with about 350 other people that night in an African-American community center, as police threatened to bring in the Ku Klux Klan to deal with them.

Weston-Jones says that, fortunately, Selma authorities didn’t follow through with that threat. However, in 1965, his colleague James Reeb, another white Unitarian minister, was famously murdered in Selma by a gang of white supremacists.

Since the early 1960s, Weston-Jones has been involved in protests that addressed issues such as the Vietnam War, and nuclear weapons tests.

Along the way, he’s usually managed to avoid arrest.

Weston-Jones says he joined the Moral Monday movement because he’s angry about the General Assembly’s actions over the past year – particularly those regarding public schools, Medicaid, and unemployment compensation.

“I’m not in this to get arrested, or do some kind of game,” says Weston-Jones. “I want to say, and I want others to say to the legislature, what we want them to do and how we want them to act.

“And I don’t expect them to always agree with me. But I do expect them to hold the interests of all the people in high regard.”

He and other participants in the May 27th sit-in at Thom Tillis’s office will appear for a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Friday, May 30, at the North Carolina NAACP office, located at 114 West Parrish Street in Durham.

Volunteers Lobbying On ‘Moral Tuesday’

Memorial Day may have pre-empted Moral Monday activities this week, but only for a day.

Volunteers for the movement will convene at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at Halifax Mall behind Raleigh’s General Assembly building.

Rather than hold the usual early-evening rally, protesters opposing the policies of the Republican-controlled General Assembly will receive a policy briefing on the mall.

At around 2:30 p.m., volunteers will split into small groups that will visit legislators in their offices.

Expansion of Medicaid, restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit, extension of unemployment benefits and support for public school teachers are just a few of the topics planned for these citizen lobbying sessions.