Roughly 600 people gathered outside the Legislative Building in Raleigh on Monday as part of a growing wave of protests called Moral Mondays, which have now led to 153 arrests over four weeks.
The protests are a backlash against a wave of policies by the Republican-controlled North Carolina Legislature that have been among the most staunchly conservative in the country. Policies that are being considered or have already become law include cutting Medicaid and unemployment benefits, instituting voter ID, promoting school vouchers, raising taxes on the poor, rolling back environmental standards and limiting felons' voting rights.
"We are here to say we will not allow it," said NAACP state president the Rev. William Barber, who led the gathering. "This is not about black people. This is about all people: white, black, Latino."
The group of protesters consisted largely of older adults, mostly white but also black and Latino, from leftist organizations focused on immigration, education, the environment, gay rights and women's rights. Since the protests began on April 29, the number of arrested has grown each Monday—from 17 to 30 to 49, and 57 this week.
Each week, protesters first chant and give speeches outside the Capitol. "I was just so excited at that point," said Leigh Bordley, a Durham school board member who was arrested. "It's so easy to feel powerless in the face of everything that's happening. It was amazing to be able to act."
Bordley and others who were arrested led the crowd inside, where they gathered in a rotunda outside the senate chamber. Around 30 law enforcement officers, from the Raleigh Police Department and the General Assembly Police, were waiting inside, coils of zip ties lashed to their belts.
Ivanna Gonzalez, a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, was among those who spoke while blocking the chamber entrance. "As a woman, I am here to remind legislators that this body is mine," she said. "As an immigrant, I am here to remind them that everyone in this country came from somewhere else."
Protesters hoped to gain an audience with House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, but neither were present. Tillis' office declined to comment on the continuing protests.
Rep. Chris Malone of Wake County was among several Republican legislators who watched. "It makes me happy we live in a country where people can protest," he said. "We all want the best for North Carolina, we just have different ways of going about it."
But Malone, a former Wake County school board member, added, "This is not Wake County schools and those methods won't work here," referring to 2010 protests against a Republican majority on the school board that led to arrests.
As in previous weeks, professors and clergy made up the biggest contingent of those who were led from the rotunda handcuffed, after refusing to leave when asked by General Assembly police. Charges included second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse and violation of building rules, according to General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver.
A crowd of around 300 gathered outside the Legislative Building to cheer on the arrested as they were walked out in handcuffs and loaded onto buses headed for the Wake County Detention Center.
"It was an amazing feeling, not just to know that they were cheering for us but that they were all here to support North Carolina," said retiree Gayle Shepherd, who was among those arrested.
Barber led the crowd in song and chants for more than an hour as arrestees were processed. "We do not enter into civil disobedience lightly," said Barber. "I still believe that Speaker Tillis and the other Republicans who are going to hurt our state's most vulnerable might still listen."
The last protesters were not released until 4 a.m. Tuesday, but each was greeted by a group of roughly 40 supporters, serving homemade lasagna and other refreshments at the detention center on Hammond Road.
The oldest arrestee was 92-year-old Beth Cricker of Chatham County. Along with the others, Cricker recorded a personal statement for YouTube after her release. "I felt very frustrated [at policies that would hurt children], and that's why I decided to get arrested," she said, breaking into tears. "I think we need to get organized and win, because so much is at stake."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Moral Mondays march on."