'Moral Mondays' Protest Agenda Of N.C. Legislature

In North Carolina, NAACP leaders are planning a seventh week of protests at the state legislature. The demonstrations have grown in size and number of arrests every week since they started back in April. Protest organizers oppose the social, economic and voting policies of the Republican-led General Assembly, and they want lawmakers to take notice. But it's not clear whether legislators will change their policies as a result of the protests.

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In North Carolina, protesters are descending weekly on the state legislature to criticize an agenda set by Republican lawmakers. The protests are called Moral Mondays. They started last month, initiated by the NAACP.

North Carolina Public Radio's Jessica Jones reports roughly 1,000 people, from teachers to clergy members to grandmothers, rallied at the statehouse last night.

JESSICA JONES, BYLINE: It was a rainy evening in the capital city of Raleigh, but that didn't dampen protesters' spirits.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) You know we've come this far by faith.

JONES: As singers performed before a sea of people hoisting umbrellas and hand-lettered signs, a group of white-collared clergy members gathered on a stage behind the legislative building. Presbyterian pastor Jimmie Hawkins told the crowd Republican lawmakers don't care about the burdens ordinary people bear.

JIMMIE HAWKINS: I was naked, and you raised the taxes on my clothes. I was sick, and you denied me health care. We stand here today in the name of our God who cares for the poor, because we are amongst the least of these, and therefore we stand together.

JONES: Last night's protest was the sixth so far at the legislature, which is led by a Republican majority for the first time since reconstruction. Organizers are angered by cuts to social programs, proposed voting law changes and politicians' refusal to expand the state's Medicaid program. North Carolina Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield was the star speaker at yesterday's rally.

REPRESENTATIVE G.K. BUTTERFIELD: This governor and this legislature are determined to take us down a path that will hurt good North Carolina citizens who are suffering through no fault of their own. It is mean-spirited, and it is wrong.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.

JONES: The state's newly elected Republican governor Pat McCrory supports many legislators' projects, including an effort to revamp the state's tax code. Meanwhile, state employees, especially teachers, say their wallets are getting thinner. Elaine Hoffman, an assistant principal, held up a sign, saying: Teachers have been betrayed.

ELAINE HOFFMAN: I have been working with teachers for the last five or six years who are still working on a first-year teacher's salary. Now, they're talking about taking away the supplement for graduate pay, taking away tenure. What they're doing to education is abysmal.

JONES: Some Republican lawmakers say they'd like to give more to schools, but rising Medicaid costs prevent them from doing so.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: The people united can never be defeated. The people...

JONES: Inside the legislative building, dozens of protesters who'd chosen to get arrested filed up to the second floor, just outside the House and Senate chambers. They held out their wrists to the police who handcuffed them with plastic restraints and led them away. Eighty-four people were booked last night, bringing the total of arrests since the protests started to nearly 400.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM MOORE: If the intent has been to use this as a way to convince the legislature of taking action, it hasn't happened.

JONES: Republican Representative Tim Moore watched the protesters from the doorway of his office.

MOORE: This is the people's house. It's open to the public, but just because it's here for anyone to be here doesn't mean anybody can come in here and just start making a lot of noise and disrupting the normal business.

JONES: Over the weekend, Governor Pat McCrory called the protesters outsiders who were inspired by statehouse rallies in Wisconsin two years ago. But rally organizers say they're homegrown. They don't plan to stop their work any time soon, and they'll be back next Monday. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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