By Chad Nance
Photos by Carissa Joines
“At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable,’ was his mildly cadaverous reply.”
– Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener
The North Carolina Legislature does its business behind massive doors covered in gold leaf. During the Moral Monday demonstration on June 23rd 2014, those doors would occasionally crack open and law makers wearing $1,500.00 suits would peek out as if to catch a curious and fleeting glimpse of the people that their legislation has been hurting. That is about as close as the politicians get to the people… at least the people who don’t fill their campaign committee coffers or funnel corporate money into hyper-partisan political messaging on television, the internet, and in print. As the people poured into the second floor rotunda, uniformed officers took up positions at the elevators to prepare to transport the 15 people they will arrest.
One man walked in wearing a Yakama while clutching ornately decorated Torah scrolls to his chest. Another man wore a pair of sunglasses, had a pink mowhak, and was wearing a pink, mesh shirt and purple, leopard print leggings. A young mother prepared to submit to arrest. Her husband was at home dying of cancer because he cannot afford the treatments that he needs. He will die and leave her with the children. On Moral Monday she went to Jones St. to let legislators know exactly the kind of pain they are inflicting on their neighbors in order to keep deep tax cuts for corporations and the already wealthy that were handed over last year. Young, fresh-faced and eager college kids were distributing voter registration forms and informational hand-outs. Their T-Shirts tied the Moral Movement in with 1964’s Freedom Summer where college kids from the North East headed south to face brutal rednecks bent on white supremacy and keeping black people from being enfranchised in any way. While the threat of violence and personal physical risk is no comparison to 1964’s struggle, but there is a serious attempt to suppress the African American voters of North Carolina. The campaign has been vicious and is being waged at the state and local level in a coordinated effort to put in place the tightest voting restrictions that North Carolina has seen since the days of Jim Crow.
Voting rights and the rights of LGBT North Carolinians were front and center of Monday’s demonstration. When the estimated 1,300 demonstrators left Halifax Mall to file into the Legislative building two by two they split up into separate working groups that “sat-in” at various locations around the building. After some voter registration drive work-shopping was completed everyone reconvened in the rotunda for the main thrust of the day’s demonstration.
With all of the discussion about registering voters and driving out to the polls, no one addressed the depressing reality that because of gerrymandering and a lack of opposition challengers in heavily Republican and heavily Democratic districts there is little to no chance of knocking off the incumbents in the 2014 cycle. The tables have been rigged and everything will keep coming up Red until the magnets are ripped out. Warms the heart to see these folks sitting out in the open (as opposed to behind closed doors and in secret ALEC conferences) come together to plot the over-throw of those that they see as their highly compensated oppressors.
By this point, with over 1,000 people arrested (15 on Monday) and dozens of Monday demonstrations, the general atmosphere has begun to take on the demeanor of business as usual. Moral Monday demonstrators “clock in” and the bald security guard “clocks in” with his troops. Some lawmakers will stand on the fringes of the crowd or, as is the case of Winston-Salem’s Sen. Earline Parmon, they will stand in the crowd, talk to voters, and observe the demonstration. Most legislators hide behind the golden doors. Sen. Thomas Goolsby who spouted off earlier in the long session calling Moral Monday, “Moron Monday” prowled the outside edge of the crowd in his own, prissy way like an internet troll in search of a fight. No one gave him the pleasure. Ironically only a few of the demonstrators seemed to have any idea who he even was.
While uniformed cops take up positions, another uniformed officer makes a public point of video-taping every single person and member of the press present. It is an old intimidation technique that has been used by authorities for decades. Everything proceeds peacefully with the Moral Movement “Marshals” keeping their folks from becoming truly disruptive. There have been no violent incidents during any of the Moral Monday actions and it was clear that there wouldn’t be any on Monday.
It is the diversity of the demonstrators, however, that is most striking. Protest movements from the anti-war movement to the Tea Party movement tend to be monolithic in a racial, cultural, or religious way- but the Moral Movement is an across-the-board collection of North Carolinians (“Traditional” and otherwise) who have come together to let the Republican Supermajority, and those who have spent millions putting them there, that their agenda is not a people’s agenda. Those in the moral Movement cl;early do not intend to sit quietly and acquiesce to what they see as the wanton selling off of North Carolina one small piece at a time.
The only anger displayed was by the bald security guard. He took offence when demonstrators did not heed his demands to quiet down. This reporter had already received a text from inside of the House chambers informing me that security was being pressured by Rep. Stam and House leadership to push the demonstrators out of the building because they were being loud and letting legislators feel their presence in a way that could be heard behind the golden doors.
According to the NCNAACP the next push is to the polls. This effort will begin on July 7th when the Moral Movement comes to Winston-Salem for the hearings over the NCNAACP’s law suit regarding voter suppression legislation that was filed in the last NCGA session. The Moral Movement will hold a rally in Camel City to coincide with the hearings. Many in Winston-Salem will welcome the opportunity to speak their mind as well. Should get interesting on the streets of Camel City this summer.