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Originally published: 2014-02-12 12:44:15
Last modified: 2014-02-12 12:44:15

Wataugans join Moral March on Raleigh

by Anna Oakes

The crowd that gathered for the Feb. 8 Moral March on Raleigh included more than 100 people from Watauga County, a local organizer estimated.

The march was held as part of the eighth annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street People's Assembly, convened by the N.C. NAACP in conjunction with more than 150 other organizations.

Each year the assembly is held "to hold lawmakers accountable to the people of North Carolina" and to reaffirm a commitment to a 14-point agenda, including high quality education, a living wage, health care for all, voting rights, eliminating discrimination and other goals.

This year's march built on the momentum of last year's Moral Mondays protests, which were spearheaded by the N.C. NAACP and other groups to protest Republican-led legislative policies such as voting law changes, cuts to unemployment benefits, public education cuts and the decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The crowd gathering in downtown Raleigh numbered anywhere from 20,000 on the low end of estimates to event organizers' estimates of 80,000 to 100,000, according to media reports.

In a statement Saturday, the N.C. NAACP said the event lived up to its billing as "the largest gathering in the South since the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965."

"We are here to stay," said the Rev. William Barber II, president of the N.C. NAACP, to the crowd. "We have not, and will not, give up on getting to higher ground, on building a better North Carolina, a better South and a better America. We are going to move this state forward together, and we refuse to take one step back."

Locally, a group of people has applied for a charter for a Watauga County branch of the NAACP, and on Saturday the group transported 66 people to the march in a bus and van, said Marg McKinney, temporary president of the branch.

Dozens more traveled to the event in their own vehicles, she said.

"It was just a wonderful experience to be with that many people ... with such a varied bunch of people," said McKinney, who described the crowd as multiracial and intergenerational.

McKinney said the march was well organized and peaceful, noting, "I was not aware of any police except for traffic control."

Because of the large crowd, however, events tended to run behind schedule.

"I was at the back of the crowd, and we could not understand why in the world we weren't going anywhere," she said. "It was just because there were so many people, it was taking a while to get them in."

Although the people who traveled to the march were there for a multitude of different issues, the crowd united around a call to action, McKinney said.

"People will go back, just like we will, to work with whatever organizations are in their community and whatever issues are identified," she said. "I feel hopeful. The whole message is that we can get angry and upset, but we've got to work hard to get people to register to vote and turn around some of these decisions that were made in the legislature."

But across North Carolina, not everyone is united behind the goals and strategies of the Moral Mondays demonstrations and the corresponding "Forward Together" movement.

N.C. Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope held a press conference the day before the march, calling the efforts an "overtly partisan, left-wing political movement."

"Barber's use of inflammatory, divisive and offensive rhetoric has no place in the public arena of ideas," he said. "We need to have a respectful, political discourse here in North Carolina."

And Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, issued a statement calling the march "anything but moral" and "spearheaded by groups that support abortion and homosexual marriage."

HKonJ coalition partners include AARP NC, the N.C. Council of Churches, N.C. Association of Educators, N.C. Student Power Union, Equality NC, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, N.C. National Organization for Women, ACLU of NC, N.C. Justice Center, General Baptist State Convention of NC, National Farm Worker Ministry, Muslim-American Society Freedom Foundation, Action NC, Greenpeace NC, N.C. Housing Coalition, AFL-CIO of NC and many other churches and organizations.

Barber signaled a continuation of efforts later this year as part of the "North Carolina Moral Freedom Summer," announcing that a coalition of groups would place young organizers in counties across the state to engage in voter mobilization and education.

"Rev. Barber did stress that you can put bumper stickers on your car and you can stand in demonstrations, but it's really important to do whatever it is that you can do and you see needs to be done," McKinney said.