Raleigh, N.C. — Whether protests will be staged at the Legislative Building for a third straight year is up to lawmakers, state NAACP President Rev. William Barber said Wednesday.
Barber led a couple dozen clergy members in a "preach-in" at the legislature as lawmakers began their 2015 session, saying he hoped a little prayer and discussion could sway some legislators to their side.
"We don't come here as partisan operatives," he said. "We come in the prophetic tradition of those who are commanded to stand up for the least of these and proclaim justice."
The weekly "Moral Monday" protests against the agenda of the Republican-controlled General Assembly led to more than 1,000 arrests during the 2013-14 sessions. Wake County prosecutors dismissed most of those charges after judges ruled in acquitting several protesters that Legislative Building rules were too restrictive on their free-speech rights. Building officials recently implemented new rules allowing General Assembly Police to set up free-speech zones.
Police blocked the ministers' path Wednesday as they tried to file past the Senate chambers, which Barber said was a violation of court orders regarding their protests and would be challenged. The group then headed off in another direction singing the civil rights song "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around."
Although Barber wouldn't commit to continued Moral Monday demonstrations, he said the groups that have protested legislative actions would continue to press lawmakers for change.
"We're going to stay. We're not going anywhere. We have a responsibility to stand up," he said. "If it's necessary for us to start our Moral Monday the same way we did in '13 and '14, we will come again and again and again."
The ball is in lawmakers' court, he said, expressing disappointment that legislative leaders wouldn't meet with him or supporters of the protest movement in recent weeks.
"Politicians do not get the right to do whatever they wish simply because they are elected," he said. "An election carries no mandate, no matter how big your margin is, to run roughshod over the state and federal constitutions or to trample on our deepest moral and religious values."
The groups laid out the following agenda for lawmakers:
- Reverse changes to voting in North Carolina, such as restoring same-day registration, expanding early voting and dropping the new requirement to show photo identification at the polls.
- Expand Medicaid as allowed under the Affordable Care Act to more than 500,000 working poor in the state.
- Raise the minimum wage and put an amendment on the 2016 ballot to index it so it keeps pace with inflation in the future.
- Repeal regressive taxes.
- Reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit and long-term unemployment benefits.
- Allow public employees to collectively bargain.
- Restore funding to public education.
- Provide raises to all teachers "without gimmicks." Last year, raises were skewed toward younger teachers, while longevity bonuses for veteran teachers were rolled into their pay.
- Repeal the Opportunity Scholarships school voucher program, which has been challenged in court.
- Reject attacks on women's health and environmental protections.
- Repeal the death penalty and restore the Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to use statistical evidence to show racial bias in challenging their sentences.
- Reform the criminal justice system.
- Advocate for fair and just immigration reform.
- Respect the constitutional rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of race, creed, age, gender or sexual orientation.