Every Monday, for the past 11 Mondays, protesters have congregated in front of the North Carolina General Assembly building. Their numbers range from the hundreds into the thousands, week by week. North Carolina's "Moral Mondays" began months ago, after a series of new measures from the Republican-led state legislature cut unemployment benefits, turned down federal funding for Medicaid, and restricted voting. Add to that the more recent headline-ready series of anti-abortion bills making their way through state legislature, and the NAACP-led, progressive-leaning protests had a robust weekly ritual for those who oppose the GOP policies emerging from the legislative building.
This week, protesters were focusing on women's rights, pegged to the recent anti-abortion legislation. But the protests were also about the Zimmerman verdict, and about the series of economic issues that keep the demonstrators coming back to Raleigh, week after week.
Moral Monday is powerful. THIS is North Carolina pic.twitter.com/tS9IV1bBvc— The Mountain Goats (@mountain_goats) July 15, 2013
As of last week, over 700 had been arrested in front of the General Assembly. At least 100 more were arrested today. Often, those arrests came from acts of civil disobedience — which, in this case, amounts to volunteering ahead of time for arrest, and then ignoring a five-minute warning to disperse. Those who volunteer have taken to lining up while they await arrest.
At first, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory dismissed the protests as an astroturfing from outsiders. But the arrest records tell a different story: according to WRAL, 98 percent of the protesters arrested from April through early June were North Carolina residents. More recently, he's disparaged the character of those protesting, telling the following to the Wilson Times:
"I go out in the crowd all of the time,” McCrory said. "Frankly, yesterday I went out and talked to several of them and they were not very respectful. They did not represent the majority of those who call themselves moral by cussing me out. But that’s the way things go some times.”
Of those arrested, there's the 72-year-old Episcopal priest, who, after her June arrest at a Moral Monday protest, was barred from continuing to minister to prisoners as the Mecklenburg County jail chaplain. There are the Duke professors (and Duke pastors) who teach civil rights. Some have started to ask why the General Assembly, nicknamed the "People's House," is even sending out officers to arrest the protesters in the first place.
For those with a very short memory, it might appear as if the south suddenly conjured up a liberal protest movement this year (this is, of course, not true). But Southern progressive action is, it seems, having at least the beginnings of a "moment" in the national lens. Between Wendy Davis and Moral Mondays, the pushback against conservative majorities in state legislatures from the states' liberal minority population is now very visible. That visibility itself helps to confound a stereotype of Southern states held some more liberal Americans: that the South is authentically, permanently conservative. North Carolina, for instance, is a swing state: it went to Obama in the 2008 presidential elections, and to Romney in 2012. But that argument for Southern conservative authenticity isn't accidental: it's one that has been largely embraced by Southern conservatives themselves. Take, for example, Rick Perry's campaign comment directed at Ben Bernanke a thinly-veiled threat indicating that the entire state of Texas would "would treat him pretty ugly" if the Federal Reserve decided to print more money.
The Moral Mondays movement is led by a pastor, Rev. William Barber, who is the head of the state's NAACP chapter. Here's Barber, explaining the background of the movement to Time:
The Moral Mondays are the result of seven years of progressive organizing for a new Southern ‘fusion politics’—a new multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition with an anti-racist, anti-poverty agenda. Their goal, he continues, is “to directly attack the old divisions of the white southern strategy and what we believe were the shortcomings of the so-called Christian evangelical right that limits issues in the public square to things like prayer in school, abortion, and gender issues.”
While not every participant is religious, the idea has its basis in a large number of progressive-leaning religious communities in the state. Nevertheless, the idea of a protest movement with religious foundations that isn't conservative seems to be a complexity that has been lost on some critics of the movement:
In any case, the Moral Monday organizers intend to keep going in the coming weeks. Next week, they'll focus on public education and criminal justice.