(Damon Seils was among the arrestees on Monday.)
* UPDATE – An earlier version of this story said “at least 140” were arrested.
RALEIGH – The North Carolina NAACP resumed its “Moral Monday” protests at the state legislature in Raleigh Monday evening—and as organizers promised, this week’s demonstration was far larger than any that had come before it.
Despite the threat of rain, more than 1600 turned out at the State House, and at least 150 were arrested—including Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell, and Carrboro Aldermen Damon Seils, Michelle Johnson and Sammy Slade. (Technically the number of arrestees from the Board of Aldermen constituted a quorum.)
The number of arrests on Monday nearly matches the combined total of 153 from the last four protests dating back to late April—and while state legislators themselves seem undeterred, demonstrators say the growing numbers are a sign that North Carolinians in general are coming to their side.
“North Carolina’s waking up,” says Bishop Larry Reid, pastor of the Cathedral of Hope Church in Carrboro and one of many local residents who made the trip to Raleigh on Monday. “(They’re) waking up to see the effect of what’s going on (in) this legislature.”
The “Moral Monday” protests have been organized by the state chapter of the NAACP, led by chapter president Rev. William Barber—who’s called for a “wave of civil disobedience” against the policies being enacted by the GOP-led General Assembly, on issues ranging from voter ID to health care to education and beyond.
Chapel Hill resident Tye Hunter—also present at Monday’s protest—says it’s precisely that wide range of issues that has given the movement its strength.
“There isn’t a number-one issue,” he says, “(and) I think one of the great things about what Rev. Barber has done in building this coalition is that there are lots of issues and all of the issues are important.”
But even as the movement has grown (dramatically so this week) the tide of legislation coming out of the State House has not abated—and there’s still more to come, with the House and Senate making progress towards agreeing on a budget for the next two years. Bishop Reid says in spite of the swell of support, he doesn’t see the movement getting through to legislators—at least not yet.
“Honestly, I do not,” he says. “Because it would seem to me that with as much as (has) gone on thus far–we’re simply asking to be heard, and as a matter of fact we’ve spoken to some of our area representatives, and they’ve even been asked to be quiet and not speak out…it’s just horrendous.”
Still, though, Reid says he’s optimistic that the movement will soon make progress—though an important deadline is fast approaching.
“I do believe (we’ll make progress),” he says. “I really do…and we’re shooting for that before they close for the summer session, because we feel that if they close for the summer session–our efforts will not necessarily be in vain, but their ear won’t be quite as keen.”
Tye Hunter agrees, saying that while he doesn’t anticipate any sudden shifts from state legislators right now, the “Moral Monday” movement is only just beginning.
“Dr. King famously said that the arc of the moral universe bends slowly, but it bends toward justice,” he says. “We know this isn’t going to be resolved in a week or two weeks, or a month or two months…(but) we’re beginning a movement. This is the first of many steps–there will be legal strategies, there will be strategies involving mass demonstration, (and) there will be strategies involving the next election.”
Chilton, Seils, Johnson, Slade and Bell were the only local elected officials arrested at Monday’s protest, but they were far from the only ones there: numerous members of the Board of County Commissioners were also present at the demonstration, including Penny Rich, Mark Dorosin and Bernadette Pelissier.