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'Moral Monday' protest pits NAACP vs. N.C. Republicans

A new civil disobedience movement is gaining momentum in North Carolina.
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chris Seward
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chris Seward

A new civil disobedience movement is gaining momentum in North Carolina.

The "Moral Monday" protests, led by the local chapter of NAACP, started more than a month ago with some 250 supporters and drew crowds of about 1,600 on Monday, say organizers. The weekly demonstrations in Raleigh "are getting bigger and bigger," says Dr. Timothy Tyson, a Duke University history professor.

"People are coming from all over the state, even different parts of the country," says Tyson, who was one of 17 people arrested during the first rally on April 29. "I used to recognize most of the people. Now it’s a huge crowd."

The broad coalition of groups has been holding weekly nonviolent protects since late-April at the state’s legislative building.During the demos, the vast majority of activists remain outside the General Assembly but many enter the building. In the latest protests on Monday night, 151 arrests were made outside the doors to the state Senate chamber.

Organizers say they have been forced to take direct action following alarming "negative policies" of the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

The North Carolina NAACP chapter president, the Rev. William Barber, says people are angry that state lawmakers have voted to deny federal funds for Medicaid to cover 500,000 people through 2016, even though it would be mostly federally funded. He added that they have also taken unemployment benefits from 165,000 people and raised taxes on 900,000 to pay for tax cuts to 23 millionaires, and that the state legislature is also trying to roll back early voting, re-start the death penalty, repeal the Racial Justice Act, and implement a voucher scheme to hand out public money to private schools and implement spending cuts.

Dr. Tyson believes the motivation behind many of the policies is "ideological" and motivated by "big money" donations. Barber describes the measures as an "avalanche of extremist policies that threaten health care, education, voting rights. These folks are bringing something strange tainted with racism and class-ism."

At the heart of the issue is a schism between the "old South verse the new South," and he believes the policies are a desperate attempt to drag the state to a bygone era.

He adds that North Carolina has a history of being one of the more progressive southern areas. And with changing demographics, "their narrow-minded agenda doesn’t have much of a future." It seems that a large number of whites and Hispanics, from the working population to the very affluent, are joining the protests. “That’s what scares them,” says Dr. Tyson. In fact, since the start of the demos five weeks ago, 300 people have been arrested, including prominent historians Dr. William Chafe and Jacquelyn Hall, elected officials, medical doctors, educators and church ministers.

North Carolina’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, is urging an end to the weekly rallies. He has said that while lawful demonstrations are welcome, unlawful demonstrations are not, and cost resources.

A version of this story appeared on theGrio.

Host Melissa Harris-Perry covered the protest in person, and will have extensive coverage on Saturday's edition of "MHP." See a video below for more.