Local Politics

Despite new rules, Moral Monday protests return to legislative building

Posted May 18
Updated May 19

— New rules enacted last week aim to limit protests inside the legislative building, but Moral Monday supporters vow to continue the weekly peaceful demonstrations that resulted in nearly 1,000 arrests last year and spawned similar gatherings across the state.

The first Moral Monday protest of the legislative session will be this week, aimed at voicing dissatisfaction with policies and procedures supported by the Republican-led General Assembly. Demonstrators, often numbering in the hundreds and sometimes the thousands, gathered last year on the grassy mall behind the legislative building and on the building’s second floor, where the entrances to the House and Senate chambers are located. The protests mostly centered on voting rights, Medicaid and public education.

Under the new rules, which were last updated in 1987, any group making enough noise to interfere with conversation at normal speaking levels is creating a "disturbance." Singing, clapping, shouting and using a bullhorn were offered as examples of disturbing behavior – all common during last year’s protests.

The new rules also allow police or staff to order people out of the building if they think protesters pose an "imminent threat" of a disturbance, even if nothing has been done. If the visitors don't leave, they can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. The term "imminent threat" isn't defined in the rules.

“Constitutional lawyers are skeptical that the rules will pass constitutional muster, since Article I, Sec. 14 of the N.C. Constitution guarantees the rights of the people to ‘instruct their representatives in the General Assembly’ about how the people feel about the policies being discussed there,” said Al McSurely, a civil rights lawyer working with the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, which has led the Moral Monday movement.

Similar practices were in effect during last year’s protests, where hundreds were arrested by State Capitol and Raleigh police. Over 700 of those cases have yet to be tried, according to the NAACP. Some protesters were convicted of minor charges while others had their cases dismissed for a variety of reasons.

The Legislative Services Commission, which sets the rules, approved the new changes Thursday in a 7-3 vote. A Republican voted against the changes along with the committee’s two Democrats.

Democrats say the rule changes are a blatant attempt to keep Moral Monday protesters out of the legislative building. Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, described the changes as “common sense updates” and hopes this year’s protests are calm.

“I hope that it's respectful that they are in the people's house,” said Dollar, a commission member. “Certainly all groups are welcome to come to the General Assembly. We as public servants want to be sure that we are listening to all the voices in the state.”

Earl Johnson, a Raleigh pastor and Moral Monday protester, expects a large turnout Monday and thinks some will not recognize the new rules.

"People are going there to break them," he said. "We are here to show you (that) you cannot make up rules to silence the voice of the people of North Carolina."

The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, thinks the rules are “an attempt to bully and to intimidate the people of North Carolina.” The civil rights group described the new rules as “vague,” “overbroad” and “incapable of a consistent application.”

Moral Monday protesters plan to walk two-by-two through the legislative building Monday to engage in what Barber described as “constitutional exercises.”

"On Monday, we will dramatize just how dangerous to debate in our democracy this action by (Speaker of the House Thom) Tillis and their allies could be if it is not challenged by a movement," he said.

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  • Objective Scientist May 20, 5:27 p.m.

    As a very VERY INDEPENDENT independent I am certain I do not agree with all of Rev Barber's stances on issues... but neither do I agree with all of Tillis and McCrory's stances on issues! If the Moral Monday (MM) protesters do indeed interfer with the work of the Legislature... they should and must be removed from the building and the grounds. To what degree they can "protest" whatever the issue may be - without disruption of Legislative work - they must be permitted to do so... even if the Tillis-McCrory types don't like them being there! Some changes the Republican-led Legislature have made over the past two years... I agree with and like them. Others... not so much! I dislike that it seems the Repubs were determined to undo EVERYTHING the Dems had done... without even debating the relative merits. The evisceration of the K-12 teaching profession in NC is one example! I'm not one to become part of a "group demonstration"... but those folks have a right to do what they do!

  • IndependentAmerican May 20, 12:06 p.m.

    Let the protesters protest. But there were what, maybe 1,000 people there. Not enough to warrant all the media coverage. Take them off TV and see if they are still committed. Some will be, but the attention seekers will go somewhere else.

  • Proudly Unaffiliated May 20, 8:12 a.m.

    Rev. Barber claims to be a man of the cloth but he is directing lawlessness in order to advance a secular left-wing agenda.

    I am not sure he could discredit himself any more than this. Then again, maybe I am selling him short, the man may have further degradation in him.

  • Bill Brasky May 19, 6:24 p.m.

    Don't these people have jobs they could be doing while they're doing this instead - and with... View More

    — Posted by "Screen Name-8/20"

    Which is why the Moral Monday protests start after 5:00 pm

  • "Screen Name-8/20" May 19, 4:49 p.m.

    Don't these people have jobs they could be doing while they're doing this instead - and with the number of unemployed across the state who would dearly LOVE to have the jobs these folks aren't at today???

  • AliceBToklas May 19, 4:34 p.m.

    There are all kinds of rules for protesting in DC.

    — Posted by Danny22

    Let's all agree that there should be, and are, rules.

    All groups can choose to obey them our not. At their on peril.

  • Danny22 May 19, 4:11 p.m.

    There are all kinds of rules for protesting in DC.

  • AliceBToklas May 19, 4:09 p.m.

    ALICEBTOKLAS, I would also like to have a civil discussion (please read my other posts today)... View More

    — Posted by sinenomine

    Understood. They are a passionate group and the discourse can go overboard in the attempt to make a point. The real discussion needs to be much more civil. I dream that could happen here but it's difficult with some around screaming talking points from both sides.

  • sinenomine May 19, 4:04 p.m.

    ALICEBTOKLAS, I would also like to have a civil discussion (please read my other posts today) but it's difficult when the protesters at the legislature implicitly call people like me immoral because we might not agree with them down the line.

  • privilegesrevoked May 19, 3:55 p.m.

    Why are some people against groups expressing their opinions to the legislature? Anyone out... View More

    — Posted by AliceBToklas

    I for one think it is fine. I don;t agree with purposeful disruption through noise and... View More

    — Posted by foodstamptrader

    I recall during the DNConvention in Boston, the protesters (such as they were a small group)... View More

    — Posted by privilegesrevoked

    One small difference. The party conventions are not the actual government. They are basically a... View More

    — Posted by AliceBToklas

    The point remains, disruptive protests are held at arms length through rules at meetings of public bodies - municipal, county, state and federal.
    Try going to a local town meeting (or school board for that matter) and be disruptive inside the building.
    Do you not believe you will be removed?
    Of course you will.
    Free speech is acceptable within the framework of meeting protocol.

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