Locals join 'Moral Monday' protests
by Kellen Short
Joan Brannon, 66, said she found herself "in very good company" among about 120 people who were arrested Tuesday for disorderly conduct and failure to disperse at the Legislative Building. About 600 people have been arrested to date.
"I'm surprised how quickly this legislature is managing to turn this huge ship, and I don't like the direction it's being turned," Brannon said. "This was one way to let the elected representatives know that ... we are not happy."
The protests, led by the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, have converged weekly since April 29. Protesters typically begin on the lawn outside the General Assembly before a smaller group moves inside for a peaceful protest of singing, chanting and sign-holding that results in arrest.
The groups are protesting a number of decisions made in recent months at the state level.
Brannon said she is fed up with the loosening of environmental regulations, the termination of federal unemployment benefits, and the state's decision not to participate in Medicaid expansion. Brannon also said she's concerned about proposals to change the state tax system and other actions she fears will disenfranchise voters.
She said she felt compelled to participate because she, as a retiree, can afford to have an arrest on her record and doesn't have other obligations preventing her from participating.
"One of the most moving things for me is when all of those of us who had committed to an act of civil disobedience, we got cheers and applause and thank yous from the crowd that was there," Brannon said.
ASU history professor Jeff Bortz said he hadn't protested in years but decided to travel to Raleigh on Monday with a couple of Appalachian State University students.
Bortz did not volunteer to be arrested but said he was appreciative of those who did sacrifice to do so.
"I think that the Moral Monday has been the most effective protest that I've seen," Bortz said.
The Civitas Institute, a North Carolina conservative organization, created an online database of the names, ages, hometowns, occupations and party affiliations of those who have been arrested in the Moral Monday protests.
The Institute for Southern Studies, a progressive nonprofit, compared the listings to the White Citizens' Councils, which published the names of NAACP supporters during the Civil Rights Era to encourage retaliation.
Catherine Hopkins and Elizabeth Davison of Watauga County were among those listed on the database after their arrests June 3.
Davison, an ASU professor, said she decided to participate because she felt voting, calls and emails to her representatives were not enough. Her main issue of concern was gerrymandering, she said.
"I feel that given the current legislation that more drastic measures are just needed to get attention of this legislation," Davison said. "And I just can't stand by. They're passing what I consider to be an enormous amount of unjust laws at a very rapid pace."
Davison spent most of the night in jail alongside Hopkins, a Vilas resident who also was arrested.
Hopkins said she found the officers and protestors involved to be cordial and respectful, but she still felt vulnerable being handcuffed and loaded onto jail buses.
"Most of us had never been arrested or in custody before, so it was a little daunting," she said.
Hopkins said she spent about four hours in jail, at one time being shackled to seven other female arrestees. They underwent fingerprinting and mug shots before appearing before a magistrate to face charges.
The first set of 17 protestors arrested in late April appeared in court Monday in Wake County, pleading not guilty and challenging the arrests as unconstitutional, according to media reports. District Court Judge Dan Nagle scheduled the trials for late September.
Hopkins said her first appearance is set for Aug. 1. She said she isn't sure what to expect next but said she was proud she was able to make a strong statement for her beliefs.
"There was a sense of temporarily subjecting yourself to a lack of freedom in hopes of helping bring about greater justice," she said.