North Carolina Voting Rights Trial Begins Monday

The case against a set of voting laws passed by the General Assembly in 2013 begins Monday in federal court.

The U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups, including the North Carolina NAACP, took issue with a series of voting laws the General Assembly passed in 2013. The Voter Information Verification Act, or House Bill 589, ended same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting. It also reduced the number of early voting days and requires voters to present a photo ID beginning in 2016.

Jasmyn Richardson is an attorney for the Advancement Project, an organization representing the NAACP in the case.

“We have a few big claims, to simplify them,” Richardson says. “The biggest one is under The Voting Rights Act.”

The Voting Rights Act is the landmark federal legislation of 1965 that outlawed racial discrimination in voting. Richardson says the plaintiffs will argue House Bill 589 conflicts with Section 2 of that Act.

“And under that section, we’re basically arguing that House Bill 589 as it is enacted places an unfair burden on African Americans and Latinos.”

Those racial minorities, Richardson says, use the voting provisions eliminated by House Bill 589 at higher rates than whites.

“Our argument essentially is that by taking that away, you’re taking away what a group of Americans, particularly African Americans and Latino Americans, had been accustomed to using,” Richardson explains.

Richardson says the plaintiffs will make several constitutional claims as well, arguing the bill applies differently to different people and that it places a burden on the general right to vote.

The state argues the laws are not discriminatory, but meant to increase confidence in the integrity of North Carolina elections.

Judge Thomas Schroeder will preside in the case. He serves on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Winston-Salem. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Memories on the Fault Lines of Race

Two people who wanted to be something else have grabbed our attention recently: Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP chapter president in Spokane, Wash., and Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion.

Dolezal, who grew up white, wanted to be black. She took every step she could think of to be a black person. Though her parents are white, she grew up with black siblings. She married a black man and has black, or mixed-race, children. She attended the historically black Howard University. Later, she worked enthusiastically and effectively to improve the lives of black people.

Bruce Jenner, who grew up male, wanted to be a woman. Many applauded, although some women said, “Oh no, you can’t be a real woman. You didn’t spend a lifetime with the terrible challenges that every real woman has to face.”

Although some African Americans welcomed Dolezal’s efforts to be a part of the black community, others said, “No. Only those who have actually suffered the challenges that all real black people face from birth can have a legitimate claim to be black.”

Dolezal and Jenner brought back an assortment of personal memories of encounters on the fault lines of race.

The late Maxine O’Kelly, an outstanding African-American leader, served on the UNC Board of Governors while I was Secretary of University. One day she explained to us that her very light skin created ambiguities and problems for her, so that she determined to marry someone with much darker skin, “so my children would never have to worry about people thinking they were white.”

Several years ago, at the request of then University of North Carolina-Pembroke Chancellor Joseph Oxendine, I worked for about six months in Pembroke, the unofficial capital of the Lumbee people. Some Lumbees have red hair and blue eyes, and others have very dark skin. These differences cause no problem for Lumbees. UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Malinda Maynor Lowery in her book, “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation,” lovingly and authoritatively explains that the identity of the Lumbee is defined primarily, not by the percentage of Indian blood, but by kinship, mutual recognition, and strong and longstanding connections to the land.

While we were living in Charlotte, my children were assigned to formerly all-black West Charlotte High School. Our children flourished, making us proud of their performance and of our connection with the school’s history. However, once an older woman in the school’s neighborhood jarred me when she said loudly and pointedly, “The white people have come and taken our school away from us.”

For many years, my family and I were active members of a predominantly black church in Charlotte, where our children learned at an early age the otherness of being a minority. But when I tried to take advantage of our commitment to the “black church” in my political campaigning, a black minister deflated my claims, saying, “That is not a black church. It is a white church that has black members.”

In “Civil Rights Journey: The Story of a White Southerner Coming of Age during the Civil Rights Revolution,” my brother-in-law, Joe Howell, explains how he and my sister were active in the civil rights movement in the deep South during the summer of 1964, at a time when the leadership of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) determined that white people would no longer be welcome in leadership positions.

Howell records his humiliation under the SNCC leadership on the same pages he describes the humiliations of the local blacks under the oppressive white power structure.

What are the lessons from these recollections?

I am not sure, except that when we react to those who want to change their lives dramatically or discuss our racial differences and attitudes, we should look for ways to communicate with kindness and respect.

“We Have Work To Do”: NAACP Hosts Police Chiefs, Sheriff

In the wake of the events of Ferguson, Missouri, a national debate has erupted over policing in local communities: are racial minorities unfairly targeted, and if so, what should police departments be doing to address that issue?

On Saturday, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP welcomed Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton, and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood for a two-hour forum on policing here in Orange County, with topics ranging from the role of police in schools to the use of deadly force.

Listen to Aaron Keck’s full story on WCHL.


Listen to Saturday’s forum in its entirety (approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes long). Additional highlights from the forum can be found below.


“The events that we’ve experienced in other parts of the country have made it clear that we have work to do in our own community,” said Diane Robertson, who moderated Saturday’s forum at the Rogers Road Community Center. About 50 people packed the room, including several elected officials.

At issue was the question of “implicit bias” in policing: do police officers unfairly target racial minorities, even without intending to? Blue, Horton and Blackwood all reiterated that their officers don’t intentionally discriminate.

“I think if you show raw data to the officers – which we have – they’ll say, ‘man, I’m surprised by those numbers, it doesn’t feel like it would be skewed,'” Chief Blue said. “I know for folks out there in the community it feels very obvious that it’s skewed, but for those officers, I don’t think there’s intentional effort to skew the data one way or the other.”

Chief Horton agreed. “When I was on patrol, I didn’t look at the race of the person I was stopping, I was looking at the car – if a tag was out, I’d stop the car for a violation – and I’m pretty sure that’s how it is now,” he said.

“We want to do the right thing,” Sheriff Blackwood added. “I don’t think anybody puts the uniform on with an evil heart.”

Diane Robertson questions the panelists. From L-R: Walter Horton, Chris Blue, Charles Blackwood.

Diane Robertson questions the panelists. From L-R: Walter Horton, Chris Blue, Charles Blackwood.

But even if there’s no intent to discriminate, there are numbers suggesting that minorities in Orange County do get singled out. About 20 percent of the traffic stops in Orange County involve black drivers, even though only 10 percent of the population is black – and when they’re pulled over, black and Latino drivers are also 2-3 times more likely to have their vehicles searched than white drivers are in the same circumstances.

Those numbers indicate a serious issue in our community – even if the cause, or the solution, isn’t as obvious.

Stephanie Perry (in attendance) discusses implicit bias with Sheriff Blackwood, arguing that officers will “congregate” in low-income or majority-black neighborhoods.


Sheriff Blackwood responds to Perry (in the most heated moment of the forum): of vehicles searched in Orange County last year, he says, 23 were driven by black drivers and 20 were driven by white drivers.


Diane Robertson replies to Blackwood: “(That) might seem almost 50/50, but that’s not the population breakdown.”


“We’re scratching our head about some of the same data,” Chief Blue said. “If I could figure out exactly why those disparities are happening, I would take action immediately, but I’m not sure either.”

Chief Blue says the CHPD will bring in trainers this year to help officers recognize and deal with implicit bias.


But all three police chiefs said they were committed to addressing the issue and improving the quality of policing in Orange County – in a variety of different ways. Many of those efforts are already ongoing: Sheriff Blackwood said his department is beginning to reward officers who speak a second language; Chief Blue said the Chapel Hill PD documents and reviews every single use of force by an officer; and Chief Horton spoke of community policing and similar efforts to improve communication between officers and citizens.

Chief Horton discusses the importance of communication.


And all three emphasized the importance of CIT, or Crisis Intervention Training, as an effective tool for training officers to de-escalate tense situations.

Chief Blue discusses the CHPD’s goal with respect to the CIT program.


Sheriff Blackwood describes a recent incident where an officer’s CIT training helped resolve a dangerous situation.


In addition to programs already in effect, Chiefs Blue and Horton both said they were hoping to roll out a body camera program in the next fiscal year.

Chief Blue discusses the benefits (and possible challenges) of body cameras.


And all of those efforts have had some positive effects. For one, Chief Blue says there’s been a steady decrease in the number of times his officers have had to use force.

“Those continue to trend down,” he said Saturday. “We investigate every single complaint we receive, and we require – even if we don’t get a complaint – any time an officer uses force, we document every single (instance). And those numbers are trending down.”

But while that statistic is promising, the larger issue persists. Sheriff Blackwood said it’s important for all of us to highlight our similarities rather than our differences: “I was always taught that when you take our skin off, we’re the same color; there is no difference, we’re human beings first.”

Sheriff Blackwood discusses the process of training for when to use and when not to use deadly force – a question that, for him, hits very close to home.


But moderator Robertson responded that there’s still a gap between that ideal and everyday reality. “We may be all the same on the inside, but we’re not all the same on the outside,” she said, “and I think the concern is that that’s having an effect on how people are being treated.”

And Chief Blue added that that gap generates mistrust, where officers and citizens can begin to suspect each other even when no one is doing anything wrong.

Chief Blue describes a “powerful phone call” he received recently from a resident.


The issues raised at Saturday’s forum will likely take years to address, if not longer. Chief Blue said his department is doing a great deal to tackle the problem – but it’s an ongoing project.

“This implicit bias stuff is tough,” he said. “Over two years ago we began a process of quarterly analysis of every single traffic stop by an officer, (requiring) supervisors to certify to me that they’ve had a conversation about their data…and that’s enabled us to have some important conversations, and I believe it’s laid the foundation for some of this implicit-bias training that we’re going to do…

“However, it’s very hard to know what’s in someone’s heart. We all bring bias into every encounter…so being able to talk about it together is, in my mind, the only way to bring it to a level of consciousness where you can feel bias creeping in and take some action in response.”

And insofar as we in Orange County are not immune from bias – and insofar as we are all human, as Sheriff Blackwood observed – our community is also not immune from the issues that sparked such a national outcry last year.

“This community really isn’t that far from Ferguson,” said Robertson. “That is, I think, why people are here today.”

NAACP Calls for Ouster of Assistant Principal at Chapel Hill High UPDATE: Assistant Principal Reassigned

NAACP members and local pastors are backing the angry mother of a 16-year-old boy in calling for the ouster of an assistant principal at Chapel Hill High School.

They’re calling Assistant Principal Julie Hennis “reckless” and “irresponsible” for the way she allegedly handled an alcohol-poisoning incident during summer classes.

“Had my son died, and I’d not even known it, what would they have been able to tell me?” asked Susan Headen, the mother of a 16-year-old African-American male high school student who, until recently, attended Chapel Hill High.

Headen told WCHL that on July 18, she arrived at Chapel Hill High School at 12:30 p.m. to pick up her son from summer school and take him to his part-time job at a veterinarian’s office.

She said he sat in the parking lot for about 20 minutes before she went inside to look for her son. There, she heard some frightening news from a school resource officer. Headen said the officer seemed surprised that she hadn’t received a call.

The officer told her that her son had suffered a seizure and bumped his head.

“I just stood there for a minute, and then I left and went to the hospital, where I found my son, with no name,” said Headen. “He was like a John Doe. They didn’t even know his name.”

She said she arrived at the Intensive Care wing of UNC Hospital to find her son unconscious, and attached to a ventilator. He had serious alcohol poisoning.

Even so, Headen said she had to drive back to Chapel Hill High School to pick up an incident report to bring back to hospital staff.

She said that when she arrived at the school, she spoke to Assistant Principal Julie Hennis, who was reportedly in charge that day.

Headen told WHCL that Hennis informed her that her son would probably be expelled for having alcohol on campus.

The worried mom spent the next 29 hours at the hospital, not knowing whether her son was going to make it. He did regain consciousness and recover, and has since transferred out of Chapel Hill High to Phoenix Academy High School.

Details have emerged since July 18. The student was reportedly found passed out in the school at around 9:50 a.m., three hours before his mom went looking for him. He was transported to the hospital by EMS technicians.

According to Headen, Assistant Principal Hennis did not notify her of the situation, but instead left a message with her other son to have his mother call the school. Hennis provided no details, said Headen.

Headen said that when she went back to Chapel Hill High days later for some explanations, she was told that that there was “no protocol” for handling such a situation during the summer.

News of the incident has outraged members of the local church community, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP has gotten involved. They’re asking for Hennis to be fired.

Ten pastors recently signed a letter to that effect that was sent to the CHCCS Board of Education. One of the signers was Minister Robert L. Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.

The letter also demands an investigation into the school resource officer on duty that day. According to Headen, the officer told her that “if this were a real emergency I would have gone,” when she asked him why he didn’t accompany her son to the hospital. The unconscious boy reportedly arrived there without an adult from the school.

At Thursday night’s meeting of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education, two members of the public spoke out about the incident.

One speaker, former Board of Education member Greg McElveen, adhered to the Board’s policy of not naming administrators, faculty or students during comments.

He made it clear, though, that he was criticizing Hennis, and he expressed disappointment to his old colleagues that she still has her job.

“There were clear standards of behavior and conduct that, no one disputes, were ignored and not followed,” said McElveen. “So, many of the facts are not in dispute. And despite that, it appears that that staff member may still be considered a valued employee in the district.”

Another speaker at the meeting, NAACP member Michelle Laws, spoke to WCHL outside the meeting room after she made her comments to the board.

She said she wanted to go on record to say this about the incident:

“Had this been a white child, and a black principal, without question – or assistant principal – without question, she would have been fired on the spot.”

Chapel Hill High School Assistant Principal Julie Hennis is white.

WCHL has reached out to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for comments about the issue, and we’ll keep you informed about any developments, as they happen.

UPDATE: Executive Director of Community Relations for CHCCS Jeffrey Nash told WCHL in an email that the school system declined to comment on the matter “to protect the names/reputations of the student and others involved.”

UPDATE:The News & Observer reported Friday that Hennis has been removed from Chapel Hill High School and will be reassigned.

“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.

Moral Monday Protests Postponed for Memorial Day

Memorial Day will postpone Moral Monday, the well-known demonstrations against the North Carolina General Assembly’s legislative session, which kicked off last week.

However, NAACP President Rev. William Barber announced the protest will resume with a different twist on Tuesday, May 27.

Demonstrators are planning to meet in the capitol at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday for a question-and-answer session with members of the legislature about the issues at the forefront of the movement.

Protests are scheduled to return to the regular Monday-evening schedule the following week.

Sondra Stein, president of Durham Democratic Women, says she plans on questioning the legislature’s laws toward issues she believes are most pertinent to North Carolinians: voting ID laws, denying health care, and cuts to public education.

“This legislature keeps on cutting resources and taking away from this fundamental source of enabling people to accomplish their dreams and their goals and get some place,” Stein says.

Carrboro Alderperson Sammy Slade was present at the first protest of the first full week of the legislative short session, and says he believes in the importance of continuous demonstrations against the North Carolina Legislature.

“As money is influencing politics in extreme ways now that the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates for money, it’s even more imperative for communities to organize to counter what big money represents and speak for the people’s values,” Slade says.

Stein, who also attended last week’s event, says she looks forward to the coming weeks, which she hopes will bring change when elections begin in November.

“I hope they’re listening and watching,” Stein says. “There were thousands of us who were out there once again on Monday night and we’ll keep coming back until we have some sign that they do care about what we’re saying.”

Winning Moral Monday

CHAPEL HILL – Last weekend, the “Moral Monday” movement entered its second year in a big way, as tens of thousands of North Carolinians—hundreds from Orange County alone—gathered in Raleigh for one of the largest civil rights rallies in the South in decades.

The march was electrifying, and it gathered national attention. But is that enough? At what point can we declare “Moral Monday” to have been a success?

How do you measure a movement?


“My estimation was about 25,000,” says Ashley Melzer, who was gauging attendance for Planned Parenthood. “We counted one little chunk of a building—there were 50 rows with an average of 35 people (each)—so we tried to eyeball what that might be all the way down the street. There were certainly areas that were denser, so it could have been more like 30,000.”

If Melzer is correct, then the so-called “Moral March” was the largest civil rights rally in the South since the Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965, nearly half a century ago. (And those marches peaked at 25,000—so last Saturday’s rally might have even been bigger than that.)

Whatever the final attendance, though, one thing is clear: the “Moral Monday” movement has exceeded all expectations, taken on a life of its own, and shows no signs of slowing down. Americans are notoriously apathetic when it comes to politics—but “Moral Monday” has spurred tens of thousands of North Carolinians to take to the streets, many even risking arrest. And while those people were certainly motivated by the policies enacted last year by the General Assembly, they didn’t all take to the streets organically based on those policies alone. It was also the movement itself—the active mobilization—that played a major role.

But is that enough? Can we, today, declare “Moral Monday” to have been a success, just on the strength of that mobilization?

Some local leaders say yes. “The big success is how widespread it has been and how it’s captured so many different people’s attention,” says activist Allison DeMarco. Carrboro Alderman Michelle Johnson agrees: “People are showing up to these rallies, (and) that’s surprising me—so I think it’s already a success from the amount of people that are connecting to it.”

Orange County Commissioners Penny Rich and Mark Dorosin add that the measure of success isn’t just the number of people in attendance, but their diversity. “I think down the road, when you go back in history and you look at this movement, you’re going to see that it was successful because it drew in so many people,” says Rich. “It wasn’t just the NAACP, it wasn’t just the women’s rights (advocates), it wasn’t just the environmentalists, it wasn’t just the teachers—everybody came to the table.”

Dorosin agrees: “It’s brought together such a diverse collection of North Carolina residents, so committed and concerned about the future of our state and what’s happening right now. By at least a basic measure of civic engagement and bringing together diverse interests for the common good, I think the movement’s already succeeded.”

Ashley Melzer goes further, saying success is not just about the big attendance at the big marches—but rather about how well the movement can motivate individuals to get involved on their own.

“I think what’s going to make or break the movement are the people who by themselves call a State Senator, or by themselves send a letter, or by themselves talk to their neighbor about voting,” she says. “It’s not going to be the big picture moments…it’s going to be the small people who maybe don’t get written up in the newspaper, who do it on behalf of this movement.”


But Melzer’s argument there speaks to a larger point. Increasing participation is an impact in itself—and certainly an important one, especially given that “Moral Monday” was initially a response to the new voter ID bill. But participation alone doesn’t seem to constitute success: the Occupy movement drew hundreds of thousands of people to the streets, but it’s harder to argue that Occupy was successful—because it’s harder to identify how it effected real change in government.

It’s that “change” that the Moral Monday protesters say they’re after—including a change in the makeup of the General Assembly.

“The most important thing we have to do is work on voter registration, get the vote out, and change the face of the legislature,” says Chapel Hill Town Council member Sally Greene.

County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier agrees. “This movement is not about changing what this current General Assembly does—success means that the people of North Carolina will come out and vote for individuals who will promote policies that are just and morally right,” she says. “And so success means that some of the people who are now in office in the GA need to be voted out of office. That’s what real success will be.”

But winning elections is going to be an uphill battle too, at least in the short term. Not only has redistricting solidified the Republican majority in the state legislature; it’s also President Obama’s sixth year in office—and the President’s party historically loses seats in that year’s election. (Beyond that, researchers have also found that social movements are less likely to succeed when their number-one goal is just to “kick the bums out”: it’s very difficult to remove people from power, even in the best of circumstances.)

But as State Representative Graig Meyer observes, even elections are only a means to an end. “We (in the ‘HK on J’ movement) have been marching for long enough that it goes back to when Democrats were in control of the GA,” he says. “So it’s not about who holds control of the government—it’s about what our government (does).”

Policy (and Perception)

Most of the people I spoke to agree with Meyer: the movement’s success, they say, depends ultimately on whether the General Assembly enacts their policy goals.

“Elections themselves are an important litmus test,” says Chapel Hill Town Council member Lee Storrow, “but elections are important because those elections dictate the policies that are passed.”

Michelle Johnson agrees. “Twenty years from now,” she says, “if we have policies that are actually going to support poor folks to get out of poverty, and to allow (everybody) access to voting…and (guaranteeing women) control over their bodies—once we see these things turning around, that’s the success.”

Others take the argument one step further.

“It just seems like decisions are being made that are so extreme, so extremely outside of what mainstream North Carolina wants, that I think to pull it back toward the middle—where it has actually been for decades—would be much more reflective of our state as a whole,” says Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle.

CHCCS Board member James Barrett adds: “I think for several decades, North Carolina was a progressive leader in the South, and in just the last couple years we have really turned back to a direction that doesn’t reflect the values that we have. I think success will be if we’re able to turn that tide and get back to moving our state forward.”

Sally Greene says that turn from progressivism left her “heartbroken.” “I moved to North Carolina almost 30 years ago because it was a progressive Southern state,” she says. “Raleigh wasn’t Montgomery, and Chapel Hill wasn’t Philadelphia, Mississippi. On the other hand, I knew about the Greensboro Four, I knew about Jim Hunt, Terry Sanford, Bill Friday. I was coming to a progressive Southern state…

“That’s the state that we have lost, and it breaks my heart, and I want to do what I can to take it back.”

Those are important points for the movement—because success is often about perception as much as policy. Notice the point Lavelle and Barrett and Greene all make, that the General Assembly today is outside the mainstream of North Carolina politics. That’s key. The sociologist Paul Burstein argues that social movements can succeed either by changing public opinion itself or by changing how elected officials perceive public opinion. “Moral Monday” seeks to do both: on the one hand, it’s trying to change hearts and minds—but on the other, it’s asserting that it doesn’t need to change hearts and minds, that “mainstream” North Carolinians already support the policies it’s calling for. (That’s why activists on both sides have fought so vigorously over whether “Moral Monday” is an “outsider” movement. Are the protestors mostly from out of state, coming here to tell us what we ought to think? Or are they native North Carolinians, stepping up to tell us what they already believe?)

Mark Dorosin captures the idea nicely: “I think the legislature is going to recognize that this is a movement of real North Carolinians, grassroots folks from around the state, (and) that they can’t be pigeonholed as outsiders or extremists,” he says. “And I think that policies will reflect that.”


Of course, Republicans in the General Assembly generally say they aren’t convinced the “Moral Monday” movement represents the mainstream. (Debunking the “outsider” argument didn’t have much of an effect.) So success, on a policy level, is still likely to be a long-term goal. That’s often the case with social movements, though—and those who turned out for last Saturday’s march say they’re both resigned to that reality and resolved to see it through.

“I spoke (at the rally) with several people who had protested the Vietnam War…and I think we all realized that while it took a long time, it did ultimately change American policy,” says County Commissioner Barry Jacobs. “The long view is probably the best view, considering that the legislature has written itself into office for much of the rest of the decade.”

Penny Rich agrees. “You have the General Assembly who are making a joke out of this,” she says. “They’re thinking that it’s not serious, they’re calling it left-wing propaganda. But when you have that many people show up on a Saturday morning…it’s not a joke anymore. Even though (they) might want to paint (it) as a failure, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think people are going to let up.”

“We just need to be patient,” adds Michelle Johnson.

But if those policy gains are going to be years in the making, we’re back to the original question: how do you measure a movement? Is “Moral Monday” succeeding where Occupy failed? (For that matter, can we even write off Occupy?) It’s hard. Academic research on social movements is limited, and even within that subfield there’s very little agreement on what constitutes “success.” The sociologist William Gamson argues that a movement succeeds if it wins “new advantages”—or in other words, if it achieves its stated policy goals. In the case of “Moral Monday” there are quite a few: repeal of the voter ID law; increased teacher salaries and funding for public education; extension of Medicare and unemployment benefits; expanded power for local governments to set their own policies; and the repeal of laws restricting women’s reproductive freedoms—for starters. Of course all of those are going to be difficult to achieve.

But it’s not impossible. Republicans in the General Assembly don’t seem to have wavered too much from their platform, but Mark Dorosin points out that they do seem to have pulled back on at least one issue.

“They’re going to raise teacher salaries,” he says, “(and) I don’t think that would have happened had it not been for the Moral Monday movement. So I think we’re already seeing the successes, even beyond just organizing and engaging folks.”


And maybe even that “new advantages” standard is too narrow. Sociologists Edwin Amenta and Michael Young say it’s not just about whether a movement achieves its stated goals—it’s about whether life gets better for the people it represents. (Their standard is called the “Collective Goods Criterion.”)

With that in mind, it’s worth noting one argument that kept coming back among all the people I spoke with. “Moral Monday” isn’t just about policy, they said—it’s about promoting a worldview, one of solidarity, togetherness, and mutual respect.

In other words: it’s about morality. Both on a societal and an individual level.

“I think the movement’s success will be judged by positive change and whether or not people feel more of their basic needs are being met,” says Alicia Stemper, “and (whether) we’re all taking care of each other.”

Annette Stone agrees: “There’s a shift back to something a little bit more moderate,” she says (that ‘turn back to the mainstream’ idea again), “that we as a people pick up our social hats and put them on and think about other people more, and be willing to share and help other people—as opposed to being the Me, Just Me, kind of society.”

And Carrboro Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell says that shift is part of a larger trend. “I think America is shifting culturally,” she says, “and this is what the transition looks like…(and) we will see this as one of those seminal points of pushing back, so that the emergence of the new culture can come forth.”

And if that’s the case—if the movement has as much to do with how we learn to treat each other as it does about state-level policy—then the success of “Moral Monday,” if it comes, will come not just from what they do in Raleigh…but also from what we do in Chapel Hill.

“Moral March” Draws Tens Of Thousands

Each year on the second Saturday in February, the North Carolina NAACP holds a march called “Historic Thousands on Jones Street”—“HK on J” for short.

Usually it draws a few thousand people. But this year, tens of thousands converged on Raleigh—hundreds from Orange County alone—for what became the largest civil rights rally in recent U.S. history. All to carry on a movement that’s still less than a year old—and showing no signs of slowing down.

Listen to the full report (in two parts), from WCHL’s Aaron Keck with comments from 13 Orange County residents and elected officials.

Click here.

Click here for Part 2.

They came by the hundreds from Orange County, by the thousands and the tens of thousands from across the state and across the South—and they all came with a purpose that was both widely varied and steadfastly united.

“I marched for social justice,” said Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier.

“I marched because I believe in a moral politics,” said newly appointed State Representative Graig Meyer.

“I marched because I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” said Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle.

“I loved what Rev. Barber said about ‘everybody wants a moral universe,'” said Alicia Stemper, “and I marched to make my statement that I too want to live in a moral North Carolina.”

“I marched because I’m a strong proponent of social and environmental justice, education–I’m an educator–and for universal health care coverage and access to health care,” said Carrboro Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell.

“I marched for the values that OC holds dear: education, (the) environment, equity, women’s rights, voting rights, (and) the rights of people to be represented by their state government in a real way,” said Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs.

And County Commissioner Penny Rich said she marched for a lot of things. “I marched mainly for women,” she said, “(and) I also marched for education…I marched because I believe in equal rights for equal love…I marched because I think it’s important that municipalities and counties maintain their own rights to govern…

“(And) I marched because, as a parent of two boys in North Carolina, it’s my job to make sure that their home is always someplace they want to come home to, and not move away from.”

They called it the “Moral March,” a continuation of the weekly “Moral Monday” demonstrations that galvanized progressives against the GOP-led General Assembly last year. Organizers expected about 10,000 to show—but as more and more busloads kept coming in, it became quickly apparent the final tally would be much higher.

Ashley Melzer was on hand to take pictures for Planned Parenthood. “When I first got up to the parking deck, there was no one there,” she said. “(But) when it got to be 10:30 or 11:00, all of a sudden there were people on every level, looking out (and) waving flags, everywhere.”

On the street, Town Council member Sally Greene arrived on one of two buses sent by the Community Church of Chapel Hill. “There were Unitarians from all over the country there,” she said. “We got over to Raleigh and emerged from the buses, and all of these banners that the Unitarians were carrying were orange banners with their slogan of ‘Standing on the Side of Love.'”

Randee Haven-O’Donnell was lucky enough to find a spot near the front. “There were hordes of people, crowds and crowds of people behind us,” she said. “There was a real sense of togetherness.”

Further back, Allison DeMarco was a veteran of several “HK on J” rallies—but never anything like this. “There were lots of people around us, young and old, and from all over–I saw buses from Goldsboro, there was a guy behind me who was coming down from Hertford–so it was really neat to see all these people gathering together,” she said.

For Annette Stone of Carrboro, the rally was a family experience. “My daughter was with me,” she said. “When I said what I was doing, she said ‘I want to be there too.'”

And Graig Meyer had meetings in Orange County that morning—but made it to Raleigh just in time.

“When I got to Fayetteville Street and saw the marchers coming the other way, and how many of them there were–it was a big blast of excitement in my face,” he said. “It was pretty amazing.”

I spoke with more than a dozen Orange County residents this weekend, regular folks and elected officials and everyone in between. They’d all been to Raleigh. They’d all come back energized. They all had their own unique experiences and their own unique reasons for marching—but in keeping with the intended spirit of the “Moral Monday” movement, they said those differences only made the whole experience stronger.

That’s a sentiment Ashley Melzer shared with County Commissioner Penny Rich and Town Council member Lee Storrow.

“(I was impressed by) all these different organizations working together, and all these different people: there were babies, there were old people, seeing a rabbi speak, and then an imam, and then hearing the reverend, people of different faiths,” said Melzer. Rich noted the wide variety of interest groups on hand: “I saw Carolina Jews for Justice, the NAACP, the teachers, (and) the women’s groups,” she said.

Storrow agreed, adding that the feeling of “collectively working together was, I thought, really empowering and really energizing.”

That in fact is the idea–at least according to the leader of the movement, NAACP state chapter president Rev. William Barber, whose speech on Saturday focused on the connections between all the disparate issues that have moved progressives to take to the streets.

“Reverend Barber speaks so eloquently of all the issues, in a way that encourages everybody from all walks of life to participate,” said County Commissioner Pelissier.

Carrboro Mayor Lavelle agreed. “(Rev. Barber’s speech) practically made your heart stop,” she said. “He spoke quite a bit about how this wasn’t necessarily a Democratic or a Republican issue, this wasn’t necessarily a conservative-versus-liberal issue, this wasn’t an us-versus-them issue, this was a North Carolina issue.”

Lavelle was only one of many Orange County elected officials on hand Saturday. Orange County’s elected officials have been vocal in support of the “Moral Monday” movement from the beginning, and Saturday was no exception: the crowd at “HK on J” included several Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members, Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens, a majority of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, nearly half the Chapel Hill Town Council, and nearly all of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.

County Commissioner Barry Jacobs and Carrboro Alderman Michelle Johnson both said they felt duty-bound as elected officials to be there.

“We all know that we’re under assault from a state legislature and a governor who have very little respect for many of the values we hold dear in Orange County,” Jacobs said, “and it was good to see people actually go to the streets in Raleigh, as part of a larger group, to say that we stood with our fellows.”

Johnson concurred. “The way that things are being run–this isn’t the way that I want to represent the folks that elected me,” she said. “And I feel like it’s imperative for me to be connected to a movement that’s bringing light to what’s really happening.”

Those elected officials joined hundreds of other Orange County residents, amidst a crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands. How large was the crowd? It’s always difficult to say. A press release from the NAACP estimated the crowd at 80,000-100,000, but that number’s likely inflated; Melzer says she estimated the crowd to be about 25,000-30,000, and Meyer said he guessed about 40,000.

One thing is certain: it was a larger crowd than anyone expected, and far more than any previous “HK on J” march had ever drawn. An article in The Nation magazine called it the largest civil rights march the South had seen since the 1960s. And maybe even that’s an understatement. To put the estimates into perspective: the famous Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965 peaked at 25,000.

“I think for every person there, each person probably represented two or three other people who had a work commitment or a kid’s soccer game or wanted to be there and couldn’t,” observes Alicia Stemper, who was also in attendance Saturday (with her partner Lavelle). “So just the sheer numbers (were) impressive.”

Regardless of the actual attendance figures, Saturday’s event was truly historic—and Orange County residents played a major role. Whether the movement will have an effect on actual policy in North Carolina remains to be seen, of course—but everyone I spoke to said they’re hopeful that a change is going to come.

“We sent a message to the State House, and we also sent a message to one another,” said Greene. “It was like no other experience to be in a crowd of that size.”

Lavelle too says the march has her feeling optimistic, in spite of everything. “Even though there’s so much despair in North Carolina about what’s been happening…surely there are people in the General Assembly who see some of the very valid points that we’re making,” she said. “And I felt like it was a demonstration that had to happen–that it was one of those days that was just really, really important.”

Forward Together Picket; Holiday Fire Safety; Feed 10,000

CHAPEL HILL –  The NC NAACP and the Forward Together Movement announced the kick-off of a statewide informational picket campaign aimed at NC Budget Director Art Pope.

The first two pickets were held Monday at 4:00 p.m. at Roses in University Mall and the Maxway in Raleigh.

The informational picket campaign is a statewide effort to raise awareness and demand that Pope call for a reversal of several laws and policies passed in 2013.

Pope owns Variety Wholesalers Inc.


Orange County Emergency Services is reminding residents this time of year is when safety is not on the forefront of the mind.

Most holiday celebrations include the lighting of candles, lighting of trees, or placing lights on the house.  Many of these actions can create fire hazards if not set up correctly, and December is the most active month for fires related to candles.

Some safety tips include: keeping candles 12 inches away from flammable objects, not using candles during a power outage, being careful not to overload circuits with lights, and keeping trees away from heating appliances.

For more information on safety tips click here.


This Sunday, Varsity Church of Chapel Hill is inviting you to take a bite out of child hunger.

From 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 n. at SmithMiddle School you can help package 10,000 meals for children in need of a solid meal.  The meals will go to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and Orange County School system.

The annual event called Feed 10,000 aims to do exactly as it says and help 10,000 children in the area.

For more information click here.

NAACP Pressing Legal Challenge After McCrory Quietly Signs Sweeping Voting Reform Bill

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – The NAACP and others are pressing ahead with a lawsuit after Governor Pat McCrory quietly signed into law a Republican-supported measure that makes sweeping changes in how and when North Carolina residents can cast their ballots.

Within hours of Monday’s signing, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it and two other groups had filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation.

There was no formal ceremony marking the bill signing. Gov. McCrory’s press office sent out a statement saying he signed the legislation, and also posted a 95-second message on YouTube giving his reasons. It would take effect in 2016.

Republicans have said the legislation is meant to prevent voter fraud, which they claim is both rampant and undetected. But non-partisan voting rights groups, Democrats and libertarians suggested the true goal is to suppress voter turnout, especially among blacks, the young, the elderly and the poor.