NAACP tour aims to recruit more warriors for justice
The spirit of protest was alive and well when the N.C. NAACP’s Forward Together tour rolled through Winston-Salem last Thursday.
Dozens gathered in the sanctuary of Shiloh Baptist Church to hear about the latest pieces of controversial legislation being shopped around the Republican-controlled General Assembly and learn how they can get involved in the growing Moral Mondays movement, a weekly nonviolent protest at the state legislature.
NAACP Field Secretary Rob Stephens reported that the six week-old Moral Mondays initiative is growing by the week; more than 400 people have been arrested for civil disobedience in connection with the effort since the first Moral Monday on May 6. Stephens said the number of people who are actively participating in civil disobedience is unprecedented.
“That has never happened in North Carolina’s history – not in the 1960s, not anytime before,” he said, noting that Moral Mondays arrestees have ranged in age from 18-92.
The movement has attracted thousands of protestors and supporters, and Stephens said that the citizens across the state have been equally receptive to the tour, which covered 26 stops in eight days.
The tour was organized to help raise North Carolinians’ awareness of the host of bills state lawmakers have cranked out since Gov. Pat McCrory took office in January, cinching a Republican supermajority. Derick Smith, a political science professor at N.C. A&T State University, explained some of the recent bills, including voter ID laws to prevent what Smith says is a nonexistent voting fraud issue.
“You don’t really have to look too deep to figure out what’s going on in our General Assembly – our government has been hijacked by a group of lobbyists,” declared Smith, whose students were among “the first foot soldiers” in the Moral Mondays movement.
“…I believe that it’s time to reclaim democracy for the citizens of this state.”
Last week, Republicans killed the Racial Justice Act, a law sponsored by local Democratic lawmakers that gave death row inmates an opportunity to win a reduced sentence if they could prove that racism played a part in their sentencing.
Winston-Salem Branch NAACP President S. Wayne Patterson told the diverse group of attendees that solidarity is the key to the movement’s success.
“We can come together as a unified body,” Patterson said. “Black, white, Hispanic, old, young, male, female – it doesn’t make a difference because we are all citizens of North Carolina.”
McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis have refused to meet with NC NAACP President William Barber II and others to discuss the current legislative session and have allowed peaceful protestors at the General Assembly to be arrested. Tillis has been caught on tape “literally running away from Rev. Barber and a group of people who tried to engage him,” Stephens said.
“It reflects the public policy that they’re pushing through to ignore people,” he said.
A handful of attendees had firsthand experience with the Moral Mondays protests. Six men, Rev. Steve Boyd, Patrick Donnelly, Dr. Carlton Eversley, Norman Hill, Rev. Ron LaRocque and Smith, shared their experiences of being arrested and detained for as many as 12 hours as part of the Moral Mondays movement.
LaRocque, the pastor of Metropolitan Community Church, said his attendance was “simply a matter of faith.”
“Bills that further marginalize some of the most vulnerable citizens of our state, that is the very definition of injustice,” he intoned. “My faith requires me to raise my voice against injustice until God’s righteousness comes back into our state.”
Despite being arrested, Donnelly described his participation in the effort as “a wonderful experience.
“I got involved because I see what’s coming down the pipe from Raleigh and it truly upsets me – I’m outraged,” he said. “They’re focused on voting rights and everyone’s rights to vote. There’s nothing more fundamental than that, I think, to being American.”
Hill, a math instructor at Davidson County Community College, accompanied Donnelly at the June 3 protest, where more than 150 were arrested for civil disobedience. Hill railed against cuts in education funding and programs, especially pre-kindergarten programming, which he says has been a key factor in the state’s ability to increase its graduation rate.
“Education is something that’s really important to me,” Hill said. “Nothing’s more important to me than education, and I see that under attack.”
State Sen. Earline Parmon has been with the protestors, whom she affectionately refers to as “jailbirds,” every step of the way, even waiting outside the jail until the wee hours of the morning to greet them and thank them for their efforts. Parmon, a Democrat who represents the 32nd District, told attendees that Moral Mondays are making an impact on her conservative foes. She urged all those in attendance to also lend their support to the movement.
“God told us what He requires of us, and that is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,” she proclaimed. “We cannot be a part of the conspiracy of silence. If you do, you are a part of them.”
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