Raleigh, N.C. — This week’s ‘Moral Monday’ protest is expected to be the last of the current legislative session as organizers will focus on voter registration – but not before ending with a few arrests.
The arrests of 15 protesters on Monday are the latest in a weekly exercise that some have questioned its effectiveness.
Democratic political consultant Brad Crone says the fact that people are willing to be arrested makes the protests newsworthy and that the organization and repetition of 'Moral Monday' help frame the debate.
“People who aren't engaged in the political process and who are watching it may be offended,” he said. “Some may agree with it. But it is the fact that it’s repetition. It is attention.”
Republican political consultant Chris Sinclair says the attention becomes noise if nothing gets done.
“Certainly, they’re entitled to their First Amendment rights, but what is (demonstrating) solving?” he asked. “What problem is that solving?”
Less than 20 people took part in the first ‘Moral Monday’ protest on April 29, 2013, but hundreds, and sometimes thousands, have attended the weekly demonstrations since. The peaceful rallies, led by the state NAACP to protest policies enacted by the Republican-led legislature, often result in dozens of arrests after demonstrators ignore police commands to quietly leave the Legislative Building.
Recent protests have focused on specific politicians:
• After a nearly 11 hour sit-in at House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office, 15 protesters were arrested during the early morning hours of May 28.
• The following Monday, 11 protesters were cited for trespassing after staging a sit-in inside the Capitol building. They wanted to deliver a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory asking him to repeal a number of “harmful policies.”
• On June 9, 15 protesters staged a “teach-in” outside Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s office with the intent of being arrested. But Berger spoke to the group for about an hour, and no arrests were made.
Lawmakers have tried to limit protests inside the Legislative Building, updating rules last revised in 1987 to allow police or staff to order people out of the building if any group makes enough noise to create a “disturbance,” hinder someone’s ability to have a conversation in a “normal tone of voice,” pose an “imminent threat” or if they’re holding signs.
Protesters countered the rules, which were passed before the legislative session’s first ‘Moral Monday’ in May, by placing tape over their mouths and quietly marching through the building two-by-two.
One month later, after subsequent not-so-quiet protests, Superior Court Judge Carl Fox struck down some of the rules, describing them as overly broad and vague.
Last week, demonstrators sang, chanted and held signs while making their way to the second and third floors of the Legislative Building, resulting in 19 arrests.
Both Crone and Sinclair men credit actual discourse, such as when Berger sat with demonstrators outside his office to discuss teacher pay.
“Are they focused on actually getting in front of legislators and being constructive instead of obstructive?” Sinclair asked.
Whether the arrests and weekly demonstrations were worth it will show in the final state budget and whoever wins in the fall elections.
“The process of making legislation and the process of being heard is messy,” Crone said.