Raleigh, N.C. — Leaders of what has become known as the "Moral Monday" movement have pledged to return to the General Assembly in May and pursue the same tactics that prompted nearly 1,000 arrests during the 2013 General Assembly session.
"Whether or not we will get arrested for civil disobedience will not depend on us," the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, said Wednesday. "The arrests will depend on the legislature, the leadership, and what they order."
Led by the NAACP, the Moral Monday movement tapped an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the Republican-led General Assembly. Although the causes for which protesters turned out last year varied, education spending, voting rights and the state's refusal to expand its Medicaid health insurance program for the poor were top of mind for many.
The weekly protests followed a pattern in which hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of protesters would gather on the grassy mall behind the legislative building late on Monday afternoons. Then, as lawmakers convened their Monday evening sessions, some of those protesters would move into the building. Some would sit outside the massive chamber doors on the second floor of the building and hold forth on their grievances. Sometimes there would be songs, other times speeches.
General Assembly police, with help from the Raleigh Police Department, would then arrest those protesters who refused to leave.
Since the end of the 2013 General Assembly session, some protesters have been convicted of minor charges, while others have seen their cases dismissed for a variety of reasons.
Barber said that there may be some changes to how the movement demonstrates but that the protesters plan to continue entering the building. One possible change, he said, would build on a ruling by a Wake County judge that building rules can't block protesters from holding signs and placards.
"If arrests come, the arrests will come not because we desire to be arrested, but because someone believes they have the right to take our rights to free speech and to instruct our legislature, and we will never give up that right," he said.
Barber said that those affiliated with the Moral Monday movement would conduct a voter registration drive this summer. As well, he said, on the week of Memorial Day, the movement will lead a lobby day on that Tuesday.
Spokeswomen for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis referred questions about how protesters would be handled to the N.C. General Assembly police. Chief Jeff Weaver was not immediately available to comment.
Dallas Woodhouse, president of Carolina Rising, a recently formed conservative nonprofit, said his group had applied for permits to hold demonstrations on the opposite side of the General Assembly building.
"You will see us offer to their message with factional information," Woodhouse said of the Moral Monday announcement. Woodhouse said his group would be "coordinating a policy response" to the Moral Monday protesters and highlight things like a dropping unemployment rate.