“We today have been convicted for our convictions.”
Those were the words of North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber as he stood outside the North Carolina courtroom on Wednesday just after he and 11 other defendants were convicted of trespassing and breaking building rules while participating in the Moral Monday protests last spring.
These ongoing mobilizations, which have taken place since April, bring together workers' rights, women's rights, and racial justice organizations in weekly protests against an onslaught of far-right reforms unleashed by state lawmakers, who have been dominated by the GOP since 2010. This includes a repeal of the state's Racial Justice Act, which makes it illegal to pursue the death penalty based on racial bias, as well as a flurry of measures to erode workers' rights, social programs, early voting, school resources and access to abortion.
The 12 people who were convicted Wednesday by Wake County District Court Judge Joy Hamilton were arrested on April 29th and constitute just a fraction of the at least 930 people arrested so far in Moral Monday protests whose participation has swelled to thousands and included mass acts of civil disobedience.
They argued in court that they had been exercising their right to protest, and that orders to disperse were unconstitutional. "His order to leave the premises," defense attorney Scott Holmes said, in reference to North Carolina General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver, "was unconstitutional because these folks were engaged in political speech," according to WRAL.
The defendants, who were ordered to pay $100 in fines each in addition to court costs, immediately appealed their convictions.
A North Carolina NAACP source told Common Dreams that the protesters are not deterred by the convictions, with another Moral Monday demonstration planned for December 23rd to demand protection for unemployment and Medicaid benefits, and a large rally planned for February 8th, which is expected to draw thousands.
“We may be convicted for our convictions, but our convictions stand," said Barber. "So what are we going to do? We’re going to go back and mobilize and continue to mobilize.”