The start to yesterday's Moral Monday at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh was delayed a bit because of tornado warnings and a sudden spate of harsh weather, but pouring rain didn't dampen the spirits of the many hundreds of protesters who gathered at the Halifax Mall behind the General Assembly building to speak out against the raft of odious bills being pushed through the state legislature by the Republican supermajority.
The total number of arrests in six waves of what the NAACP-North Carolina has dubbed "Moral Monday" was brought to 388 by the 84 people (myself and a couple other Kossacks, including the fantastic joank, who was also celebrating her birthday through civil disobedience) who entered the General Assembly to sing songs of resistance, to pray in front of the doors of the second-story N.C. House chambers, and to hold up protest signs (which are prohibited in the building) and refusing to disperse. Click here for the News & Observer's photos of the arrests.
This week, however, an 85th arrest was made: Charlotte Observer religion reporter Tim Funk was handcuffed and detained by G.A. and Raleigh police officers for "failure for disperse." Funk was visibly wearing media credentials and was interviewing Charlotte-area clergy attending the protest and arrests.
We saw Funk amongst us, along with other journalists, and he was clearly taking notes in a notebook, interviewing clergy, not singing or praying, carrying no signs, and holding up his media credentials and explaining his role to the G.A. police officers when they made the dispersal announcements. Those of us near him also explained to officers that Funk was not a green armband (designating civil-disobedience participants) and was not among our group. Nonetheless,
Funk, who was wearing Charlotte Observer identification, was handcuffed and taken along with the arrested protesters to the Wake County magistrate’s office to be arraigned on misdemeanor charges of trespassing and failure to disperse.
Jeff Weaver, police chief for the General Assembly Police in Raleigh who oversaw the arrests, told The Associated Press that Funk did not heed a warning from officers to disperse before the arrests began.
Funk was taken to the Wake County Detention Center with the 84 civil disobedience arrestees and processed for charges, then released around 11 p.m. with the fourth busload of arrestees.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (Dem., N.C. District 1) and former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge were among the speakers at the protest and rally on the rain-soaked and muddied Halifax Mall that lies between the General Assembly and the Legislative Office Building in downtown Raleigh. Other speakers included representatives from the NAACP-North Carolina, clergy members from around the state, and members of other coalition partners sponsoring the weekly Moral Monday gatherings.
Butterfield called the avanlanche of nearly 2,000 GOP- and Tea Party-sponsored bills put forward in this legislative session "absolutely disgusting" and "devastating to low-income people." The list of bills, many of which were put forward verbatim from the playbook of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is exhaustive and clearly indicative of a concerted effort to gut public education, suppress voter rights, encourage gun ownership, deter public transparency of governance and corporate workings, and overhaul the state's tax system to encourage regressive sales taxes. You can read an abbreviated listing of the key bills here.
But Butterfield also noted that his colleagues in Washington and the U.S public are taking notice of what's being done under the cover of ALEC-funded "reform" in the Tar Heel State.
"It is a widespread movement that is gaining momentum," Butterfield said to the crowd of hundreds huddled under umbrellas taking refuge from a stormy downpour. "The nation is watching."
After the main speeches, the crowd of protesters accompanied the 84 people sporting green armbands to designate their willingness to enter the General Assembly building and refuse to disperse when ordered to do so by law-enforcement officers. We walked to the second-floor hallway in between the N.C. Senate and N.C. House chambers and gathered near the fountains while singing "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round." Clergy members from all around the state led us in prayer and words of support and encouragement.
The G.A. and Raleigh police allowed us to sing and pray for 15-20 minutes, then made an announcement that we had five minutes to disperse or we would be arrested. At that point, a few people peeled away and moved up to the third floor to support us, but most of those gathered outside the House Chambers remained, holding up signs (a prohibited act in the legislative building), singing, and praying.
Police were without except gentle and kind as they approached us, one by one, and asked each of us whether we were aware that if we did not leave, we would be arrested. When we acknowledged that we understood this, the officers respectfully encircled our wrists with plastic zip-ties, documenting each arrest carefully with videocameras. Each of us was gently guided to a nearby elevator and taken to a basement cafeteria, which is converted each Monday afternoon to an ersatz detention intake station. We sat quietly, some a little nervous, some in physical discomfort from the handcuffs, all buoyed by the determination that we've lawfully asserted our constitutional right to peaceably assemble and make our grievances known to our legislators.
As the room filled with arrestees, we were walked through the steps of the process and then taken to waiting buses. Quietly and surreptitiously, many of the detention and police officers let us know they supported what we were doing. It was a little difficult to hold back tears as they gently guided us into the buses while whispering their support.
Our five buses pulled out of the loading docks of the NCGA building to the cheers and claps of hundreds of supporters. Those of us whose hands were cuffed in front of us waved as best we could; others pressed their heads against the windows and shouted thanks for the encouragement. It was a great morale boost to be greeted by the voices of those who stood by us.
It was at the Wake County Detention Center (WCDC) where we noticed the small signs that our weekly protests are making a difference in North Carolina. With the arrests of more than 300 protesters (not 300 arrests but 300 arrested protesters, as once you're arrested for failure to disperse, you're not permitted back into the General Assembly until your case is adjudicated in 2-3 months), the WCDC has tweaked its processes to more easily accommodate the growing number of arrests each Monday. Last week, for instance, the 151 people arrested were submitted to the usual fingerprinting process, but detention officials have eliminated that step for the Moral Monday arrestees to speed up the process and decrease the strain and discomfort of those of us who are charged and processed.
This and many quietly supportive statements by detention and police officers let us know that Moral Mondays are no longer being taken as flashes in the pan, that state and county officials understand that Moral Monday has become a movement, not just a moment.
Our five buses arrived at the WCDC around 6:30-7:00, and by 10 p.m., the last of us who were on the first bus were heard before the County Magistrate and signed the papers acknowledging the three charges against each of us:
- Fail to disperse on command;
- Second-degree trespass;
- violation of Legislative Building policy, "willfully creating a disturbance in the N.C. State Legislative Building with loud singing and yelling, and/or displaying unauthorized signs in violation of G.S. 120-32.1(B)."
I was a little nervous when I was held for a few minutes alone in the magistrate's vestibule. Unlike the others in my group, I was accompanied by not just one officer but three. My name was carried on a Post-It Note to the G.A. police officers outside and brought back with a fourth officer. I admit I got a little shaky and my eyes began to tear up, wondering whether something was wrong.
But the fourth officer who accompanied me turned out to be Wayne, the G.A. Police officer who's been a constant support for me in these past four months of regular "GA sanity inspections" as a citizen lobbyist 2-3 days a week at the General Assembly. Wayne always makes sure I have access to a private area to recharge my electronic devices after I return to the GA building from a morning of meeting with legislators and staff and take up my place in one of the indoor courtyards to write and blog. He stops by my ersatz courtyard "office" each time to check on how I'm doing, make sure I have water, and joke about my not drinking coffee to support my "mad manic typing skillz."
Without saying anything, Wayne and one of his colleagues led an increasingly nervous me out of the magistrate's offices and into the release area, and as we turned a corner and the three of us were alone in a hallway, Wayne leaned in and said with a wink and a smile, "I just knew you were going to be here one Monday. Thank you for all you've been doing these past weeks and months, and thanks to all of you for what you're doing tonight. It matters." Teary-eyed, I leaned into his hug as we entered the release area and I was given back a large envelope with my water bottle, cell phone, keys, and identification. Wayne and I shook hands as I headed toward the door and freedom.
Outside, I was greeted with claps and cheers. I got a big hug from N.C. Sen. Earline Parmon, who's been one of my constant supporters each and every day I spend as a citizen lobbyist at the NCGA. One of the leaders of the N.C. Black Legislative Caucus and an ordained minister, Sen. Parmon comes to the WCDC every Monday night to greet every single arrestee, staying until the very last person is processed and released -- even last week, when 151 civil-disobedience participants were arrests and processing took until 5 a.m.
There was a little more paperwork (decidedly less somber) from the NAACP regarding its legal-defense system for the Moral Monday arrests, and then we all joined the growing number of those released who stayed to clap and cheer for those who were released after us.
Sen. Parmon joined me on one of the benches and we discussed the effects of the growing Moral Monday movement and how we can move forward. So far, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has refused to meet with any of us who are opposed to the odious raft of ALEC-sponsored legislation. He refused again on Monday when asked to meet with clergy members who came from all over the state to bring the voices and appeals of their parishioners to the capital. Sen. Parmon suggested one next step might be to camp out at the governor's mansion. Those of us who've been arrested are prohibited from stepping foot into the General Assembly building and the Legislative Office Building until our cases are fully adjudicated (although we can make appointments with individual legislators and have them or their staff escort us from the reception area to their offices and back). But we are not prohibited from the grounds of the governor's mansion and offices, just a couple blocks away.
By midnight, all of us had been processed and released. Throughout the evening, NAACP volunteers shuttled processed arrestees back to the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, where we'd started the afternoon with legal briefings by the NAACP legal-defense team, for welcome food and water. We talked about the Moral Monday movement and how it is taking root in North Carolina, how the whole nation is starting to notice what we're doing and why we're doing it, how we have a long and tough slog ahead of us.
And then, exhausted and sore but buoyed by the spirit of "peaceably assembling" together, we went home to our families, our kittehz, our beds. And we knew we are moving forward together taking not one step back.
Please join us for a Moral Monday at the N.C. General Assembly. You will not be asked to join those who risk arrest (but you will be well-supported and cared-for if your conscience prompts you to volunteer), and your support and claps and cheers will matter a great deal to those who do make that choice. Even if you can't come to Raleigh, you can support our civil disobedience movement by making a contribution of food or funds for legal defense
Forward together! Not one step back!