Photo by Rachel Nash
RALEIGH – For thirteen weeks, people have gathered in Raleigh to rally against the policies of the Republican-led General Assembly, as part of a movement that’s come to be called the Moral Monday protests. Since late April when the first 17 protesters were arrested, the number has grown to a final tally of 925. The legislature adjourned its tumultuous session last week, but that didn’t stop protesters.
In the largest crowd yet, they marched on the State Capitol Building in their final Moral Monday in Raleigh, shutting down streets as their message echoed across down town.
More than a thousand gathered on Fayetteville Street, facing the building where N.C. Governor McCrory conducts his business. A smaller group gathered at the State Capitol earlier in the day to demand a meeting with McCrory. Police kept the demonstration outside the building but said they would deliver the protesters’ letter to the governor.
In the past 12 Moral Mondays, the protesters have gone into the General Assembly, where arrests where made outside chamber doors. This time, the crowd gathered on the lawn of Halifax Mall and then marched in unison to their destination, chanting along the way.
Teachers from across the state came in droves, wearing red to represent public education. Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Teacher’s Association, was arrested at last week’s Moral Monday.
“Last week, the legislature passed a budget that will ultimately destroy public education in North Carolina,” Ellis said.
Ellis explained that this budget eliminates over 9,000 education positions, including teacher jobs, teacher’s assistants and education support personnel. It provides no raises for teachers and does away with a salary increase for those who earn master’s degrees. Perhaps the most controversial measure is the $20 million set aside for “opportunity scholarships,” which opponents have compared to a school voucher system.
UNC alum Rory Santaloci currently teaches in Efland and has attended many Moral Mondays. He said the budget, which McCrory signed last week, is an insult to teachers across the state.
“If the majority of our population is taught in public schools, a large portion of the budget should go to public schools as well. We’re talking about the future of our state and the future of our counties,” Santaloci said.
Santloci is going to grad school at NYU in the fall, but because of what has happened, he won’t be coming back to his home state.
“Before this law was passed, I was going to grad school with the hope of returning to North Carolina and getting a pay raise. I’m going to [grad] school in New York and the incentive to return and teach where I am from is no longer there,” Santaloci said.
UNC Alum Ashley Jones, who is in her third year of teaching, had plans to get her master’s degree this fall, but cancelled those plans.
“In the foreseeable future, I’ll always be paid as a first year teacher, and it is not very much. To know that it [teacher’s salary] won’t go up is really frustrating,” Jones said.
NAACP State Chapter President and protest leader Reverend William Barber said the Moral Monday protesters aren’t going anywhere just because the General Assembly has adjourned, exclaiming, “This state is our state!”
“We understand that we are not in some mere political movement. We’re not in some mere fight over 2014. We’re in a fight for the soul of this state, the soul of the South, and the soul of this nation. And when you are in a soul fight, you don’t give up easy,” Barber said.
Though this was the last Moral Monday in Raleigh, the NAACP will continue the rallies but move to different locations around the state. The next will be in Asheville on August 5, and there are plans to hold demonstrations in all 13 of North Carolina’s congressional districts.
“What would have divided us years ago has brought us together like never before. We know where we are. Anytime in the South, you see this many black folk, brown folk, white folk, gay folk and straight folk, and people of all faiths hugging each other, something is on the loose!” Barber said.
The first Moral Monday rallies were mostly made up of protesters from the Triangle area and members of the NAACP, but as the weeks progressed and the controversial legislation was unveiled, the crowds grew.
Paul Jones, a Clinical Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said, “This is my sixth visit here [to Moral Monday] to try to turn the hearts of the legislature back to the path of righteousness and caring, to save them from the path of sin which they have entered, and to bring happiness and fellowship back to North Carolina.”
The movement has captured national attention from media outlets such as the New York Times, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News, to name a few.
“I think it is obvious that this is gaining momentum and that the values that they are speaking to resonate with North Carolinians,” said Randy Voller, Mayor of Pittsboro and Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party.
For now, Mondays in downtown Raleigh will be a little more quiet until the legislature gets back to business.
To hear the radio version, click here:http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/protesters-march-in-epic-end-to-raleigh-moral-mondays/