Photo by Rachel Nash: Michelle Johnson, of the Carrboro BoA, meditating in peaceful protest
RALEIGH – The 12th Moral Monday in Raleigh focused on voting rights in response to the proposed changes to state election laws, which many have said will harm voter rights. Seventy-three people were arrested, bringing the running total to 925 since the rallies began in late April.
“I think every citizen should be guaranteed the right to vote. Requiring an I.D. is not difficult for many of us, but it is for some. I don’t think it’s fair to suppress anybody,” said Chapel Hill resident Rif Riddick.
As this legislative session comes to a close, the N.C. NAACP said that won’t stop them from taking their protests across the state. Moral Monday convenes next week on Fayetteville Street for the march to the State Capitol Building. Throughout the month of August, local Moral Mondays will take place in select cities and communities across the state, including one in the works for Asheville, called “Mountain Moral Monday.” On August 28, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the NAACP will hold events in each of the 13 congressional districts in North Carolina.
It was likely the last time this legislative session that the Moral Monday crowd would gather inside the General Assembly, in protest of what they call the “regressive policies” of the Republican-led legislature.
State House leaders moved their Monday night session to 4 p.m., three hours earlier than normal, leaving the protesters in a mostly empty building. General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver announced that the building would be closing and said those who remained would be arrested. The protesters kept going nevertheless.
Before the event moved inside, Pastor Richard Edens of the United Church of Chapel Hill was one of more than a thousand rallying for voting rights on the lawn of Halifax Mall. Edens was arrested on July 1.
“With this country, with this state, with our community, it is supposed to be something that is expansive and inclusive. What we have seen with our legislature over this past year is something that has been exclusive and is narrowing its interests and keeping people out. Voting rights is just one thing where they are limiting who can participate,” Edens said.
Senate Republicans unveiled a new voter ID bill last week that would limit the forms of photo identification accepted at the polls. The new measure would require voters to show one of seven types of photo identification issued by the government, such as driver’s licenses, passports, non-driver I.D.s, and military or veteran cards. It’s more restrictive than the House version, as it would eliminate cards from UNC system colleges, state community colleges, local governments, private employers, and law enforcement agencies as acceptable forms of photo identification.
Matt Hughes, Chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, said he is worried about the negative impact this legislation might have on future elections.
“I think it is clear that this is being done to prevent students from being able to easily access the polls. I think that’s because the belief is that those are liberal voters, and they’ll be voting for Democrats and to me it is trying to play on an unleveled playing field,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he was also concerned about proposed legislation that would shrink the early voting period, end Sunday voting, and end same-day voter registration.
The election law changes normally would have been subject to authorization under the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court’s recent decision exempted North Carolina from federal review until a new process is created by Congress.
Another issue against which the state NAACP is taking court action is the redistricting maps for North Carolina’s legislative and congressional seats drawn by Republicans in the Legislature. State Democrats and others challenged the redistricting, calling it racial gerrymandering. Earlier this month, though, state Superior Court judges rejected their arguments and upheld the legislative and congressional boundaries.
“I do believe that the judges who ruled on the redistricting case are really off base. The maps that were drawn do not respect county lines like they are supposed to. The districts have really been gerrymandered and they really have to be looked at and re-drawn,” Hughes said.
NAACP State Chapter President and Moral Monday leader Reverend William Barber announced that the civil rights group will appeal the court’s decision.
“This legislature has eviscerated past commendable policies and taken us in the wrong direction, harming low-income and disadvantaged people in so many different ways,” said Jim Kocher, a resident of Chapel Hill for 30 years.
View of Moral Monday from atop the General Assembly