Raleigh, N.C. — Education, jobs, criminal justice and voting rights were on the agenda as marchers rallied in downtown Raleigh Saturday morning.
Demonstrators in the fifth annual HKonJ – or Historic Thousands on Jones Street – marched from Shaw University to the state Legislature Building on Jones Street. The rally was organized by 107 civil rights, religious and other groups.
The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said 4,000 people participated. State Capitol Police, however, estimated the turnout at 1,000.
Demonstrators and speakers pushed a 14-point agenda, emphasizing education, the economy and criminal justice system.
"If we don't address some of the issues of workers' rights, fair education and equality, then we all suffer because of that," demonstrator C.J. Suitt, of Chapel Hill, said.
"We stand in that tradition that still refuses to believe that inequality and injustice has the last word," state NAACP President Rev. William Barber said, noting that Saturday marked the 102nd anniversary of the NAACP's founding.
Barber and other speakers repeatedly referenced the move toward neighborhood schools in Wake County. The NAACP has been a vocal opponent of the policy, saying it would re-segregate schools.
"Educate our children. Lift our children. Invest in our children," Barber said. "That's the right direction, and that's the way forward."
Demonstrators were also concerned with higher education.
"We are fiercely against tuition hikes going on," University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student Rachel Holtzman said. They are "unfortunately, cutting access to higher education for a lot of students."
Speakers also sent a message to lawmakers. They expressed opposition to a bill that would require photo ID to voted and said they need a role in how an estimated $2.7 billion state budget deficit is closed.
"We will challenge Democrats who are not progressive, and we will challenge Republicans who attempt to revise history, saying that you're back after 100 years of absence," Barber said.
He told the new Republican majority in the state Legislature to recall the Radical Republicans who supported the end of slavery and Reconstruction efforts to help ex-slaves.
"You can't claim that history unless you govern in that philosophy," he said.
State Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said the GOP majority planned to seize the moment in making difficult decisions for future generations.
"The Republican Legislature is working to restore moral and ethical leadership back to North Carolina by pursuing policies that encourage free enterprise, family values, fiscal responsibility and individual initiative," Hayes said after the rally.
Barber also had a message for Gov. Bev Perdue: "Veto everything that's wrong."
Speakers urged the rally participants to join another event planned on March 9 to directly engage with lawmakers. They also urged people to get others registered to vote before November 2012.
Organizers and participants said that the past five HKonJ rallies have created a movement strong enough to confront lawmakers at the Legislative Building.
"This is the people's house. It's not their house. And it's so important we hear from all the people," Barber said.
"Look at Egypt. That's a perfect example. Talk about the power of the people," Holtzman said.