For Immediate Release
Worker's Rights the Focus for Moral Monday Demonstration as 20 Arrested at North Carolina General Assembly
Upwards of 1,500 North Carolinians assemble at legislature to speak out against bills that hurt labor, teachers, women - and against lies from Senate leader Phil Berger
RALEIGH - In a fourth week of peaceful protest at the North Carolina General Assembly during this legislative session, more than 1,500 people from across the state gathered on Monday to challenge the state legislature's extreme agenda and the regressive policies passed last year that have hurt workers. Members of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, labor unions, the fast food workers' organization Raise Up, as well as teachers' and women's groups highlighted the many ways in which budget proposals from state lawmakers are devastating for the poor, working people and most vulnerable residents of the state.
Yesterday, the Forward Together Movement introduced youth organizers who are kicking off Moral Freedom Summer - in which 50 trained organizers will be anchored in 50 communities across North Carolina to register and mobilize voters.
"The main reason for the short session is to pass budgets, but the budgets that we've seen pass here violate the constitutional principle to govern for the good of the whole," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, during the rally on Halifax Mall. "Each one of them is flawed and extreme because they start from the premise that when you get elected into office as an extremist, your primary role is to please the Tea Party, to please Art Pope and to please those who would take our state backward rather than to serve the population of North Carolina."
Following the rally, the crowd walked inside the General Assembly to petition their legislators, with a group of 20 North Carolinians arrested upon practicing nonviolent civil disobedience. These moral witnesses were cheered on by supporters who filled two floors of the building - singing, clapping and shouting to show their encouragement, as well as to proclaim to lawmakers that their voices will not be silenced. Their voices were further validated with a legal victory last week, in which a Wake County judge ruled that many recent changes to the legislative building rules (designed to prohibit protesters at the General Assembly) were too vague and overly broad to stand up to legal scrutiny, and thus overruled - allowing North Carolinians to freely challenge the status quo in the People's House.
"We are here today because workers are under attack," said MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. "Those who don't have jobs are called lazy. Those who want a living wage are called greedy. And yet our elected officials have doled out fat raises for their friends; they've cut taxes for their corporate donors; and they've even made it so that, unlike wages, campaign contributions can now rise with inflation. ... We are here today to bear witness to the unfairness and immorality of this double standard. But most of all we are here to bear witness to what can be - a state where people take care of each other."
"Elected officials currently in power at the statehouse, I am here to tell you that I suffer and struggle enough as a working mother making $7.25 an hour," said Crystal Price, a Wendy's fast food worker and mother who suffers from cervical cancer - and who falls into the health coverage gap created by North Carolina's refusal to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. "I don't need you passing bills that attack my family and myself, like refusing to expand Medicaid and eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit on top of everything else I have to go through."
"What they're doing in the North Carolina legislative building is immoral and unconscionable," said J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). "It is unconscionable to deny workers the right to bargain collectively. It is unconscionable to cut unemployment benefits to workers desperately searching for a job. It is immoral to deny Medicaid to half a million North Carolinians."
Alexandra Sirota, executive director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center debunked the distortions and misrepresentations that Senate Leader Phil Berger, Speaker Thom Tillis, Gov. Pat McCrory and their allies have proliferated about the Forward Together Moral Movement's agenda, saying that they would cost the state into the billions. When the Budget and Tax Center analyzed the movement's priorities of looking after the sick, poor, workers, teachers and students would in fact be revenue neutral.
"All three budgets we've seen [from North Carolina politicians] are constrained because our policymakers have chosen to cut taxes for the wealthiest in our state and reduce the dollars that are available for building stronger communities in our state," Sirota said. "Our analysis shows that if you take into account what is exactly aligned with the Forward Together Moral Movement priorities, that's a revenue neutral proposal that the state should be considering and that policymakers should be moving forward as they're negotiating their budgets."
"We have come to Raleigh today to say to our legislators that the laws and policies that you have enacted are morally wrong, and they need to be repealed," said Rev. Nelson Johnson, executive director of the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro. "We are a moral movement because we respect the dignity and worth of all of God's children."
Holly Jordan, a teacher for Durham Public Schools, spoke about last week's Moral Monday, during which Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger had a discussion with teachers, students and parents. "In their conversation, they made clear that educators will not be pacified by a raise at the expense of social services and teacher assistance," Jordan said. "And several of those educators are back in the building today to tell Senator Berger that conversation that's not followed by action will also not appease us."
"Two-thirds of all Moral Monday arrestees are women," said Janet Colm, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina and a Moral Monday arrestee. "Women know it's impossible to have equal rights without access to healthcare, or to fight poverty and racism without good education and jobs and voting rights. ... Women know the importance of voting, and that two-thirds of voters without ID are women. Women know about the minimum wage. A majority of minimum wage workers in our state are women. And women know we can take back our state."
As the young organizers led the crowd into the General Assembly yesterday to petition state lawmakers to repent, repeal these destructive laws and to restore confidence in their ability to govern for the good of the whole, Dr. Barber emphasized that the Forward Together Moral Movement's work was far from done.
"Not only are we going to fight out here, and fight in the legislative building," said Barber. "We are going to fight in the court, fight in the voting booth and fight everywhere."
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. The NC Conference of NAACP Branches is 70 years old this year and is made up of over 100 Adult, Youth and College NAACP units across the state, convenes more than 160 members of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People's Assembly Coalition, and is the architect of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement.