By Ben C.
Raleigh, N.C. — For nearly 12 hours on May 27 in the state Legislature building in Raleigh, a group of 11 fast-food workers and four clergy and community members held a sit-in at the office of Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. Part of the growing Moral Monday movement, the action called on Tillis and other right-wing leaders of the N.C. General Assembly to repeal the attacks on workers — specifically deep cuts to unemployment benefits, the repeal of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the denial of Medicaid expansion — that they had signed into law during the last session.
Tillis refused to meet with the workers and clergy sitting in his office despite his presence presiding over a session of the legislature just feet away from his office as the sit-in began; he instead had the group arrested at 2 a.m. on May 28.
Crystal Price, a 27-year-old Wendy’s worker from Greensboro, told the local media in Tillis’s office that she participated in the sit-in because: “I only make $7.25 an hour. And I have two kids and I’m a single mother. … I have cervical cancer. I don’t have Medicaid. I can’t afford it. Obamacare, I can’t afford it. … And I’m only getting sicker. So that’s why I’m here.”
Earlier in the day, several hundred people had gathered for a People’s Lobby and Advocacy Day, convened by the Moral Monday and Forward Together Movement. After visiting legislators throughout the building, the crowd gathered on the second floor of the building outside the Speaker’s office to show solidarity with the 15 as the sit-in began around 3 p.m. A crowd of well over 100, including this writer, remained in the building well into the night, packing the second floor and chanting, singing and praying to support the workers and clergy who were sitting in.
Less than an hour into the action, it seemed as though arrests were imminent as a group of several dozen cops filled the second floor and cordoned off the area outside the Speaker’s office. After another hour, in a sign of some confusion or a change in tactics in response to the growing upsurge of resistance mobilized by the Moral Monday Movement and the N.C. NAACP, all but a few of the cops left.
As hours passed and Tillis still refused to hear from those sitting in his office, the resolve and determination of the 15 and the other community members that had gathered only grew. Those in the office declared that they would not leave until their voices were heard by the Speaker. Around dinner time, boxes of pizza, drinks and other food were delivered by supporters to the demonstrators gathered on the second floor. Sleeping bags, blankets and other supplies were set up inside the office and in the hallway as the 15 sitting in and the more than 100 gathered in the hall prepared to stay the night.
At around 9 p.m., the building was closed and the crowd in the hallway was ejected from the building. They continued to rally outside as the 15 remained in the Speaker’s office as they again expressed their determination to stay throughout the night or longer if needed.
Around 2 a.m., as the sit-in entered its eleventh hour, the police moved in and arrested the fourteen that remained in the office, charging them with trespassing and violating building rules.
Mobilizations against the right wing will continue
In the spring of 2013, the North Carolina Moral Monday movement began to mobilize opposition to an onslaught of attacks by right-wing legislators. Spearheaded by the N.C. NAACP and the Rev. William Barber II and built on a foundation of years of coalition building among a broad spectrum of organizations, the movement has raised resistance to the right wing’s attacks on voting rights and women’s rights; the denial of Medicaid expansion; tax cuts for the rich on the backs of workers; the expansion of fracking; deepening budget cuts; the criminalization of youth of color; and much more.
This platform of racist and anti-people legislation has been driven by N.C. House Speaker Tillis, Senate President Phil Berger, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and State Budget Director Art Pope. Pope is a multimillionaire who also funds and directs a network of right-wing organizations that have helped to author or support many of the reactionary policies that top their agenda.
Throughout the 2013 legislative session, the Moral Monday movement brought tens of thousands of people to protest at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh every Monday in an effort to stop these attacks. Throughout the summer, nearly 1,000 people were arrested as they engaged in civil disobedience.
The Moral Monday movement has galvanized a powerful uprising from below that has only picked up steam since it began last spring. At the conclusion of the 2013 legislative session, more than 100 Moral Monday demonstrations and events were held throughout the state.
The banner of resistance to the right wing expressed through the Moral Monday movement has also been picked up in other Southern states — most notably in Georgia, along with South Carolina, Florida and other states.
The 2014 legislative session in North Carolina convened on May 14, and the weekly demonstrations began again on May 19. Several thousand people traveled from across the state for this first Moral Monday demonstration. Many wore tape over their mouths to protest a harsh new slate of ‘building rules’ that the legislature enacted to try to undercut the ability of the movement to demonstrate inside the legislature building. The last time the committee that passed the new rules had met prior to this year was in 1987.
Despite legislators’ attempts to dampen the movement, it is stronger than ever. The eyes of people across the U.S. are on North Carolina, not just for the severe laws that have been passed here, but also for the example of resistance to austerity and the right wing that is being made through struggle here. Moral Monday demonstrations are set for every upcoming Monday as long as the legislature is meeting during this short session.