RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Moral Monday movement to protest changes in North Carolina public policy that organizers believe are extreme and hurt the state won't abate in 2014 and will spread to other states, its leader said.
Activists from a dozen states attended a meeting in Raleigh earlier this month to learn how to hold similar protests in their states.
"There is no stopping this deep, moral, constitutional critique of public policy," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, which began the protests. "It is a must."
Among those attending the meeting in Raleigh was Democratic state Sen. Hank Sanders of Alabama, where groups were already holding Truth and Justice Tuesdays based on Moral Mondays. Georgia also plans to demonstrate against laws there.
"I think Moral Mondays in North Carolina is more advanced than in other states," Sanders said. "This was an opportunity to learn exactly what they're doing and find additional ways to fight these repressive laws. They have mobilized not just hundreds, but sometimes thousands of people to participate."
The meeting helped Sanders, who was a part of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, but who said he still got tips on how to give Truth and Justice Tuesdays more impact when the Alabama legislative session resumes Jan. 14. "Sometimes people get hung up in Democrats and Republicans or get hung up in black and white," he said. "What Moral Mondays teaches is that you attack extremism. You don't attack Republicans or Democrats. You don't attack whites or blacks. And it's important to have a moral basis for fighting. You're dealing with right and wrong."
In North Carolina, the protests began in April and continued weekly as the Republican majorities that control North Carolina's House and Senate passed a number of laws that the NAACP and its partner organizations opposed. They included rejecting Medicaid expansion for up to an estimated 500,000 low-income workers under the federal health care overhaul; a significant overhaul to the state's tax system and rewriting the state's voting laws that place new restrictions on casting ballots. Gov. Pat McCrory, the first Republican governor in 20 years, signed the tax and voting bills into law.
Republican leaders in North Carolina have painted the protesters as not representative of the majority of North Carolinians and dismissed their claims that they are hurting the state.
More than 930 people, including Barber, were arrested during the 2013 legislative session as part of the protests as they moved weekly from the outdoors into the Legislative Building. After the session ended, the NAACP held events across the state, including Asheville, where an estimated 10,000 people showed up. Barber, who was convicted of two counts related to the protest earlier this month, is appealing the District Court judge's decision.
The protests will continue next year starting with a planned march in downtown Raleigh on Feb. 8 and continuing when the North Carolina General Assembly goes back into session next May 14, Barber said.
In addition to the protests, the North Carolina NAACP and other groups sued the state over the new voting law and will be back in federal court this summer, seeking an injunction to block provisions of it from taking effect until after a trial the following year. The law cut the early voting period by a week, increased access for partisan poll watchers and eliminated a popular high school civics program that encouraged students to register to vote in advance of their 18th birthdays. Also at issue is a new requirement for voters to present government-issued photo identification cards at the polls starting in 2016.
"The 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer is a big deal in North Carolina," Barber said, referring to the 1964 campaign to register black voters in Mississippi.
The Moral Mondays protests will spread to Atlanta when the legislative session opens in Georgia on Jan. 13, said Tim Franzen, Atlanta economic justice program director for the American Friends Service Committee. "A lot of us are looking at it as a Southern strategy, the kind of Southern strategy that hasn't existed in many decades," said Franzen, who also attended the December session in North Carolina.
Moral Mondays has a different underpinning than other protests because "we really are reclaiming the language or morality," Franzen said. "Moral Mondays frames the discussion around these austerity measures, around morality. State budgets are not random shopping lists. They are our moral compass. ... Our state budgets are immoral. And it's important to frame it that way; that we look at state budgets as a moral priority list.
That first protest will focus on Georgia's refusal to expand Medicaid there, he said, adding that Barber has agreed to lead a workshop that first day for the activists. They won't start with arrests, although participants are willing, Franzen said. "A lot of folks, regular everyday folks, have said they'd like to sign up to be arrested," he said. "That's not something an organizer experiences every day."
Medicaid expansion is also one of the issues in Alabama, along with voter suppression, immigration and public education, Sanders said.
Both Franzen and Sanders said the Moral Mondays protests are a good way to protest even though the demonstrations in North Carolina haven't stopped the legislature from enacting these new policies and laws.
"Whenever you fight, you win," Sanders said. "Victory is in the struggle. It's important to keep fighting, and the changes will come. You don't expect change to come right away. You have to keep fighting and fighting effectively. I believe Moral Monday is an effective technique, and I believe changes will ultimately come."
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